Anatomy of Murder

A murder case has many layers: the victim, the crime, and the investigation. To truly understand it, you need to dissect each piece of a tragic puzzle. Join Anna-Sigga Nicolazzi and Scott Weinberger every Wednesday for an insider’s perspective, as they reveal to you the Anatomy of Murder.

Buried in the Basement (Mark Koster)

Buried in the Basement (Mark Koster)

Tue, 15 Mar 2022 07:00

A new homeowner discovers a missing man’s body in the house. A cryptic note and, surprisingly, a Pomeranian dog send investigators on a cross-country hunt for a killer.

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If you're looking for a new show unlike anything you've ever heard before, check out audio Chuck's latest series killed. Each episode of killed covers a story that you may have never read because it was killed before it got published. I'm Justine Harman, who some of you may know from my show OC swingers, and I'm here to bring these dead stories back to life binge killed right now to get the full story. Hi everyone, Ashley Flowers here and I have exciting news to share. My debut novel, all good people here is officially out now. Our fans are blowing up our social talking about it. You do not want to be left out and the worst thing that could happen is for someone else to spoil it for you because there are some wild twists in this book. If you love true crime content, mysteries, and a grown up Nancy Drew style detective work then I have a good feeling you won't be able to put this book down. So what are you waiting for? Grab your copy of all good people here now, wherever books are sold. There are a lot of these cases that are out there where all you need is for somebody to just dig in. When we do an investigation like this, you know, there's a lot of things we can learn. Grab those phone records, look through and start piercing things together. Investigation doesn't tell us, tell us why we went from a body buried in a basement. What happened to getting a confession? I'm Scott Weinberger, investigative journalist and former deputy sheriff. Dolazi former New York City homicide prosecutor and host of investigation, discoveries, true conviction. It's anatomy of murder. Before we even get to today's story, we want to just talk a little bit about the general subject matter that it relates to and that is buying a home, specifically when you think about or wonder whether someone has died there before. In fact, there are some buyers who don't even think about going through with a purchase that they may have been really interested in. Because of that, now the laws differ from state to state in some sellers must disclose. And in others, only if the buyer asks. And I think I'm probably the kind of person who would ask something like that. But we want you to think about this. What if no one knew that someone died in the house before you bought it? Now, on top of that, what if the dead person was still there and no one knew? That's what we're going to be talking about in today's episode. Before I started, I don't think they had a murder for like 60 years and the first year I had three. In the first three years I was in office. This is Ben Smith, the County Attorney for Sac County, Iowa. And on November 5th, 2012, SAC city police got a very disturbing call. The call came from a new homeowner who was known for buying fixer uppers and then renting them. He was doing renovations for this one story house he had purchased, which just sits on the edge of town in SAC City and looking at the home itself from photographs. It's a single frame home, one story, basically a box. It wasn't a very nice home, it was dilapidated to a certain extent. As part of his remodeling, it included the basement, and when he tore down the walls, he was so startled by what he found he had to call 911. They got a phone call from the local Police Department in SAC City indicating that they believe a body was discovered in the basement of a home. Ben Smith, along with investigators, mobile forensics, local PD, all the regulars that you would imagine ended up going to the crime scene. I went to the scene in addition to utilizing state detectives for their expertise in these matters, because we don't have these things very often. The law enforcement and I went through the main door of the home almost directly down into the basement, and the basement wasn't finished, and parts of the basement actually still had a dirt floor. The team waded down into the basement through a maze of garbage to try to describe what this basement looks like to you from the photographs that we were given. First of all, it's just a mess. And with that mess, it's hard to make heads or tails of what is even there, or how it got there, or what belonged and what just accumulated over the years. Besides all the trash, there are old space heaters and clothing with these various retaining walls. Just seemed like there was like a labyrinth of retaining walls, like, you know, block cinder block walls. Used containers of detergent all over the floor, scattered everywhere. And then you had your set of mechanicals in the corner, which are your oil tank and your burner and things that a normal house would have. But you really don't know what's out of place because ultimately, in a sense, this was a secondary trash receptacle for the homeowner where he just threw things down there or was somebody trying to cover something up? It was almost as if somebody you know, decades ago had plans to finish the basement and they just never did. Think about it from investigators perspective as they're going down the stairs into that basement. The basement had low ceilings. In the corner next to an above ground oil tank is a large water heater laying on its side, and that's where the homeowner made the initial discovery, almost as if it was placed there to cover something up. The story that had been told from the guy that was fixing up the home, he said he was, you know, back in this quarter. He said he lifted up the water heater and then started pulling off blankets and clothes and pieces of wood and then saw what he thought was like a Halloween costume. In looking at the autopsy and the crime scene photographs of this person now just this body, there's only one word really describe it, and that's mummified. It's exactly the type of thing that when you're watching certain movies that they're showing that has been dead, that now comes alive. You can almost picture the skin stretched and not to get gruesome. And it talked to how long this person had been there before they found him. You couldn't identify him. His skin was very leathery. His body was very thin. When I say sin, I mean like flattened. There's a reason that they portray Freddy Krueger a certain way because they know the fear factor involved when you see that. And while we're talking about a human being, this was exactly what investigators saw. There was about £10 of Kitty litter there were on top of his body, so that would have masked descent and any odors preserved. You know his body. So, diving into this a little bit more, Kitty litter primarily is composed of clay and crystals, crystals made from silica gel, which is a chemical similar to dessicants. It's a material that maintains dryness and eliminates all humidity from the air. You've probably unpacked a box recently with a small silica gel packet right inside. In this case, investigators believe the Kitty litter also kept the victim skin pretty much intact, although it was not in any condition. For them to make a positive ID based on that. I am told that there's some bodies that are exhumed that aren't so well preserved, so it was very unusual to say the least. The only way I was able to really make out the body from a distance in the photograph was the clothing. I mean, he's wearing a Plaid shirt and blue jeans, and that stood out more than anything else. And then when you look closer, you see his two hands folded lying across his chest. It starts to make sense what the intent was here to bury a body, add the cat litter on top and hope no one would ever find it. The medical examiner determined that the manner of death was homicide and the cause was strangulation, and net was based upon the broken hyoid bone. When I come to find out later is that that's a very difficult bone to break just by, like an impact, that is a bone that breaks almost only when there's constriction around the throat. And using dental records, they were able to conclude that the person whose body they had found was a previous resident of that very home, a person named Mark. Roster so the question now is who is Mark and more importantly, who killed him? Mark Koster was one of 11 children. That's right, eleven children, and he grew up in Iowa. He had gone to a junior college and then served two years in the Marine Corps before being honorably discharged. Before settling in SAC City, Mark lived in both Texas and Florida, and even though he had a large family, he was said to live a very quiet life, a bit of a recluse. He got up in the morning and he tinkered with an old computer and played poker online, and that's his life. He did enjoy fishing. And playing cards, he came from a very large family, so it was surprising to me that his family members, they didn't seem to like know him. But in the years that preceded his death, he had estranged himself from his family. It wasn't as if they didn't want to be part of his life. He just kind of isolated himself. But in the summer of 2009, when Mark was about 58 years old, his family did in fact take notice of Mark. It was back in 2009 that Mark's brother was contacted by the utility department about his unpaid utility bills. His mailbox was overflowing with mail, and bank had notified law enforcement and the family that there had been no activity on any of his accounts. But then, after several months from not hearing from him, they did decide to file a missing persons report. It was also with this giant caveat that, hey, Mark sometimes does this, you know, sometimes he just goes away, but never before had he just gone and not told somebody. And as soon as that missing persons report came in, it didn't take long before police went to the home. They searched it, they canvassed the surrounding areas, they spoke to people nearby, but they didn't get any tips that led them to Mark's whereabouts. Did you remember law enforcement telling me that they had gone through the home maybe twice with search warrants looking for them as part of the missing persons case? So you might be saying to yourself, wait a second, they searched the home back then and they didn't find him? Well, yes. How in the heck did they miss a body? I thought, this is going to look really bad. That's what I thought at the time. But remember how we just described the home to you? Well, that is the exact home that police found when they searched it all those years before. And when they were able to get into the home and they walked around, there was nothing that indicated to them that anything was wrong. When they headed down to the basement, it looked like a basement. That was full of junk. How could they have known that his body all along may have been behind one of those walls, hidden underneath a large water heater? There's no way they could have known that. I was in the basement and I would have never found it unless you told me where it was, and the person who purchased the home had been in that basement for weeks cleaning it up and hadn't found it. After two years of no sign of Mark Costa, no bank account activity, no debit card activity, his family petitioned the Iowa District Court of Sac County to have mark legally declared dead, a death by accident or other violent means. It was the first time for the judge and the first time for the attorney that anybody had ever gone through the process of having somebody declared legally dead. I thought that the proceeding itself was really interesting, and again, maybe that's my lawyer ishness they thought it was even a word thinking it out, but that they had a jury of six people that looked at all the facts surrounding Mark Koster disappearance, and they found by clear and convincing evidence that he had suffered death by accidental or other violent means. And Mark was actually declared dead in October of 2011. I even remember joking with this attorney and Jess were like, OK, you guys are going to get this. This declaration of death, and he's going to show up the next month, and then it was a year later that he was actually found dead. Missing persons case now turned homicide investigation now the police know that Mark has been officially murdered. They're on the search for his killer, and the best way to look for clues is to revisit the evidence and information found during the initial missing persons investigation. Two searches of his home were conducted back then, and at the time, no signs. As I mentioned earlier, a foul play. All of Mark's clothes were still present in the home, along with all of his personal possessions, and that's a real sign there. His vehicle was also in the garage. So to you, Anna Sigga, what's your thoughts about the condition of the home? I thought it was really interesting when you saw from the autopsy that he was strangled. Well, that usually will give us evidence of a struggle. You know, the strangulation cases that I've had, you can see signs of how that attack occurred. And I really think in this case, the condition of the House has got to play into that. Two things really stand out to me about this killer. Number one, he had to know the layout of the house. He had to have been thinking about where can I place a body that may not be found? And the second thing is knowing that he had time because Mark didn't live with anybody else, no one potentially wasn't visiting work on a daily basis. And that would mean that Mark likely knew his killer. But what leads to this next clue is really interesting. On the glass door in the back of Mark's home, they found a note. Said to whom it may concern, gone to Florida with Tom for the winner. See you in the spring and then it had mark and then it had a phone number. So we're going to put this out here right now. As it turns out, that phone number wasn't marked, it was the telephone number for an extended stay resort in Florida and investigators reached out to that location and they did not have any record of a mark or Tom staying there. And while there's lots of questions surrounding this. Note from how did it get there and who put it there? Is it real or just a ruse? The one question that's the forefront of investigators wind who's Tom? Most of you probably know that I love a good mystery, and playing games on my phone is sometimes exactly what I need when I'm taking a break from work. Enter June's journey. It's a hidden object murder mystery game set in the heart of the 1920s. You search for hidden objects and collect clues across thousands of vivid scenes to help June as she investigates the mysterious death of her sister. With new chapters every week, there is always a new case waiting to be cracked. You can chat and play with or against other players by joining a detective club. Now celebrate the game's fifth anniversary with a two week birthday Bash, June's journey Golden Soiree. Exciting surprises await in June's journey every single day during the 5th anniversary celebration from September 19th to October 2nd, including special events, daily rewards and unique decoration items. Follow the official Junes journey Facebook page and become an. E-mail subscriber for even more perks, including a chance to win one of just 10 gold plated charm bracelets, joined the 5th anniversary party now through October 2nd. Download June's journey for free. Available on Android and iOS mobile devices as well as on PC through Facebook games. All investigators had at this moment looking into the murder of Mark Costa is what they gathered during his missing persons investigation, which was not much but the fact that his body was buried in his own home by someone potentially named Tom based on the fact that Tom's name was on a letter. Enforcement did was canvas the neighborhood and follow up on the leads in the missing persons case. They discover from a neighbor that Mark wasn't living alone. A neighbor she had indicated that she had seen. Somebody had identified himself as Tom that had been living with Mark for a number of months. This is a significant lead, the 1st in this investigation, a pretty good description, even as specific as this unusual characteristic. She described him as being very tall and had a little Pomeranian dog, and we carried around in his hand like a clutch purse. And that is a pretty specific thing, right? It isn't just the type of dog, but it's the way that he carries a dog. So it really does go to that. When they find this person, which at least hopefully they do, that, you're going to look not just for the person, but his dog. It was the Pomeranian dog that stuck out to her the most is this seemed to be more of a feminine type, you know, and that's why it stuck out to her. We've had cases before where the idea of somebody was some characteristic about that person that stood out. Obviously in this case it's a Pomeranian dog you carry like a clutch purse. And the other case in Brooklyn, the guy had a glass eye and that was unusual. So I looked up Pomeranians on this website, and it took a poll of more than 2500 people in America and asked them their favorite breed of dog. And Pomeranians ranked 121 out of 193. So that's a pretty low number. And you know, I look at dogs like people, and there's all shapes and sizes made for all different ones of us, but it's certainly going to make them much more uncommon. So that is something actually pretty big for current detectives to work off of. Of course, next step is to look into any Tom that may have been in Mark's life and bingo, they identified an individual, Tom Falke, who was living in Kansas City area. And so this is a friend that throughout the years on multiple occasions Mark had actually shared residence with. They went down and were convinced this was the guy. You know who else is this Tom? So once investigators located Tom Falk and brought him in for questioning, they were able to confirm his story that he was in Kansas City at the time that Mark was alive and well. He had employment records. Law enforcement asked this Tom folky, well, who else did Mark associate with? Tom eventually gives investigators a different name. This Tom folky says the guy that you're describing sounds like John Green. And these three, they had known each other for years, say John Green, Tom Falke and Mark Hoster all live together. You know, some place in Texas. So honestly, how do you evaluate Tom Falke's story about pointing fingers at this potential other person now, this new person in the investigation, John Green? You have to think about it like this. If what he's saying is true, that he's the real Tom and he was never there, and that certainly seemed to bear out the guy that he's describing, the guy with the Pomeranian dog whose name is actually John, John Green. Well, why is he going by another name? Remember, the neighbor actually saw a guy that matched now John Green's description, but he used Tom, and that's the same person that's listed on the note outside of Mark Foster's home. So is it this John who's now pretending to be Tom to now? Point him in the direction of this friend. Really just the flip of what you have to wonder when investigators speak to Tom Felke. So while investigators have to look at all of the possibilities, finding John Green is of utmost importance. And so we obtain basic information about this John Green. And as you can imagine, there's more than one John Green, but John Green was living in Florida at the time. Even though John Green was a transient, that at least was one of his issues. He had serious gambling problems and according to his estranged wife, it caused a lot of friction in a lot of relationships that he had. There was significant legwork that was undertaken in order to place this John Green Insect City. So ultimately they think that they know which John Green in Florida is the person they're looking for. But now they have to prove that connection between this guy John Green in Florida and the person who was living with Mark Foster over 1500 miles away in Iowa. So how are they going to go about that? Which leads to my favorite type of evidence. What they did have was digital forensics. I obtained phone records for the mobile phone that public records had associated with John Green. This is significant in a lot of different ways because the telephone company, they first indicated to me that they only kept records for like 2 years. But here's the problem. This is 2012, and Mark was last seen in 2009. Just do the math. If phone companies only keep their records for two years, over three years has now passed. What does Ben Smith do next? We've talked about this before in several other episodes. There are prosecutors who are involved in these homicide cases from the jump. But here's what's really interesting to me about Ben Smith is the place that he's from SAC City. You know, he is the elected DA, but he's an office of one. That means that any crime that takes place in SAC City, which has a population of about 10,000, he's the one in charge. So he has to know everything from your, you know, lower level drug offenses to economic crimes. And here now, Homicide, where he really has to know it all, or at least to be able to figure it out all. There in SAC City, Ben Smith isn't just a civil servant serving his community, but also his country. I've been in the National Guard since 2009. I received my Commission and my unit deployed last year. I think it's really interesting how Ben got into law, first of all. You know, he grew up with this family that was very embedded with foster care, and he had lots of adopted brothers and sisters along the way. Yeah, he probably had 3550, you know, Foster siblings growing up, and he really felt for the way that they found themselves treated by the system. I was always driven by kind of a a sense of justice. He also admitted that it wasn't just that that led him to law. Honestly, I did it because I thought it would impress a girl and it was just a somebody I had a crush on. I'd love the piece about impress a girl. You know, I cracked up out loud when I heard it because I you hear it and you know that he is being like, OK, it's not just because I wanted to do good things is I thought it was going to kind of get me somewhere with this girl. I'm not going to lie, you know, as to the true nature, why does anybody want to go to law school? Because they want to do. Justice and they wanted to set people free? Well, yeah, I mean, I guess that was part of it. But then when you also look at his background that it really is much deeper actually, too. It's that it's his relationship to so many children who have been put in foster care. And it really talks to how he is a guy who is going to understand people and the value of all people, including people that society has somehow sometimes seemingly forgotten. And that's exactly why he was just the right person to understand the value of Mark Costa's life, and to get more Koster justice. So I had spoken with somebody that that worked at this company, this mobile phone carrier company. I know they just don't delete things. I know they don't. I know that they that they exist somewhere and they may have a policy. I just I I know that for a fact as I was communicating with this employee and I just was trying to relate to her and I went back to the well and I asked him very, very kindly, nicely, politely. I was snoozing them in effort to see if they could maybe expense some additional. Efforts to find, you know, the older records she provided an Ave saying well. You know, they do keep them in this format, but they're kept at this location and you always get, you know, catch more flies with honey than vinegar. And I've always subscribed to that theory. It was Ben Smith himself who dug into the records. And I I have to say here, I found that pretty amazing. As someone who has analyzed these types of phone records, you want to pull your hair out when you're going through it. The typeface starts to blur in front of your eyes and then you have to keep going to your charged if it's a recognizable number, and then you have to look up numbers. You know, it is endless, thankless work. I went through every single phone number and there was hundreds and hundreds of pages of records. Then hours into scrubbing, line by line, entry by entry. There was one call that stood out. I was able to identify a phone call to a Police Department in Mississippi for I think it was like half an hour long. You know, here we have a homicide in Iowa tied to a person in Florida who's calling to Mississippi. Now I've got my Rand McNally map out here. 900 miles South of SAC City is Madison City, Mississippi. 300 miles South is where you cross the border into Florida. I was trying to make something out of it, trying to determine timing distance. Does it mean anything? And to me it kind of still feels random, but also stood out was that there were multiple calls during the same time. That he would have supposedly been in SAC City with Mark Foster. So that gave law enforcement the ability to reach out to law enforcement and Mississippi and say, why is this person calling you? Why is John Green calling you? Why are you talking to him multiple times over a couple of days in the time frame that this time was in SAC City? But here is the odd thing about when SAC City investigators were contacted by Mississippi Law enforcement, they find out that John Green was a missing person too. The Madison Police Department indicated that they had received a report of a missing person in John Green as being that missing person. But that actually gives more reason that it could be at least involved with Mark's murder. And here's why it obviously raises the question, if he's not in Mississippi, could he have been in Iowa? And the answer was yes, John just kind of fell off the earth at the same time that this Tom was in SAC City. And in looking at his background, it's some of the things we learned about him which makes it all the more likely that he is a guy who might just have been ended up living in Mark Foster's house, right? You talk about his gambling and that he had an issue with that, that there was friction in his marriage, that he moved around a lot to the point that he was known to be transient in where he lived when he moved around in a van so he could really get up and go whenever he wanted. So they need to rule him in or out. So really the only way to figure it out now is hopefully to find him. And interview him. That's not going to be so simple because it's not like he's just living down the street and local police can go speak to him. Tons of red tape. And then you have to find the guy. You have to be reasonably certain that he's there because otherwise you're flying down for no reason. You have to coordinate with local law enforcement and the arriving jurisdiction. And so even though we identified John Green, we had phone number for him and we had his last known residence. We had to be reasonably certain that when we got on that plane that, you know, we were going to find him. In order to coordinate a search for someone out of state, law enforcement in Iowa needed to get the cooperation of several jurisdictions in this search. If I'm looking for someone in the state of Florida and I'm from Iowa, I've got to go to that local city or county jurisdiction and tell them what the situation is and would they be willing to lend assistance. And almost always they say they would. Now, remember, in order to affect an arrest in a different jurisdiction, even interview somebody, you need to have that jurisdiction present during any in custody. Situation. So they ultimately find John Green. He's not in Mississippi, he's not in Iowa, he's not in Florida. He's in Georgia. I'm looking at my map right now and I could tell you where he's been over the last few years is looking more like a weather forecaster for a hurricane. It is all over the place. And it was the Georgia Bureau of Investigation that located him out in the middle of nowhere. Literally. Like in the mountains, living out of a camper. So local authorities armed with now a button camera, which is exactly that. It's a camera that they wear on their shirt that is recording what they're doing. They set out to go where they think this guy is living, and they go up there under the guise of like, they're searching for somebody else. They're searching for, you know, somebody who had done something in the area, and they're just canvassing themselves. And when they go there, they see someone fitting that description. While he's talking to Georgia, Bureau of Investigation has this Pomeranian dog in his hand. They come back and they say to SAC city law enforcement, Yep, we found him. We've got your guy. It's very likely that this was the same individual that was living with Mark Hoster prior to Mark's disappearance. They also have to keep tabs on him while they're making their way there to make sure that he doesn't just get up and go to another state. And this next step will highlight why I love digital forensics. The search warrant that Ben and his team were able to obtain was directed at a cell phone company, the one that was connected to John Green cell phone. That company was able to turn on his GPS locator without him knowing and track his movements every 15 minutes. You know, I was laughed to myself. I was like, I wonder why he thinks he has to charge his phone all the time. You know? Like I bet his phones just like died. After we're fairly convinced that he was staying and at least the Jacksonville area consistently for extended period of time, we booked the flight. So now Iowa investigators and Ben Smith are heading to Jacksonville. Finally, they're going to meet the person that could be responsible for Mark's murder. As we're in the airport, the GPS coordinates all of a sudden start showing John Green's phone like heading like into Georgia from Jacksonville to Georgia and you all are assets are on the ground in Jacksonville. Fortunately for us, he stayed relatively close to the Jacksonville area and it was in the parking lot of the casino. They approached and they asked him. We have a missing person's case. We're hoping that you could help us, maybe narrow some things down. Just said that he knew Mark Foster and that he would help and voluntarily came back to the Sheriff's Office there in in Jacksonville and brought his dog. On that date, the Sheriff's Office, the only interview room that was available was a room that they normally interview victims of crime who were children. So the setting for this interview is not your typical setting. This was a bright room with couches. It was like a living room. It wasn't your small desk with two chairs, with a spotlight hanging down, you know, like fist pounding on the table. It's just a casual conversation with him, you know, and his dog was there, you know, they went and got water for the dog. And in looking at the video and stills of that interview, you could even see that in their body language that there is everything casual about this conversation. And that makes it much more likely that the subject of that interview, John Green, will be willing to talk. I'm watching everything in real time. I'm in another room with a couple of the sheriffs from the Jacksonville Sheriff's Department. We have an incident involving Mark Foster and we and like I said, I'll get into all that. But we started was we interviewed all, we talked to his family, and now we've been talking to all his friends and we were told that you guys have been pretty good friends for a long time. At the beginning of this friendly interview, John Green willingly talks about how he does know Mark, and he just says that they were really good friends and how they used to work together in Texas. Have you ever been to Iowa? OK. He goes on to deny that he's ever been to Iowa, which is a risky move, I'd say, because the first piece of useful information they could throw back to him is say that you're not truthful because we have information otherwise. So they put it in their pocket quietly. They don't do anything with it, at least for a while, and they just move on. You haven't talked to him lately then, or. So it's almost like I picture this interview like this. Thick braided rope and they are slowly pulling him in bit by bit. The last time you talked it was by phone or e-mail. Do you remember? I don't know, probably by phone. This is really where I saw the interview start to turn. I will talk to the folky brothers fault with their with the first names. Tom and Tim, he pretty quickly says, hey, you know, rather than focusing on me, you should be looking at the two faulty brothers. So this could be the first indication that John and Tom were actually pointing fingers at each other. Tom is actually the one that you know, he felt you two were closer than Tom and Mark were an investigators need to get as much detail as possible to determine who had the method, motive and opportunity to commit this crime and the conversation goes on. For a while, and it isn't really getting them too far, and that's where you see them start to turn the pressure up just a notch. You know, you're not being really clear with us. Because you've been to Iowa, haven't you? Let's say something when we do an investigation like this, you know there's a lot of things we can learn, but what our investigation doesn't tell us. Doesn't tell us why. They're letting him know the gig is up, they know it's him, they know that it's him that did this to his friend, but they're giving him the opportunity, if he chooses, to take it, to fill in the blanks about the why, you've been very truthful to us except for the part that you've been dying. You actually went to visit Mark for a period of time and I. And I would like you to talk to us about that because I know it and you know it. I mean, our investigation is very clear. We have witnesses that ID. You and I have been to. It's a dark time in my life, man. And and how long did you stay with him? Stay with Mark about a month. About a month. I mean, something must have happened between you and mark at that time. Mark was crazy. He was down on everything. So what? What is this? I think you know John. John, you know why we're here. You know why we're here. I'm sorry to tell you, but Mark is dead. OK. And you were the last person to see him alive. This is the first time investigators mentioned that Mark is dead. It's been 26 1/2 minutes and they've never said this to him, and Green's reaction is nothing. He doesn't ask what happens, he doesn't show any grief. He just sits there as if he already knew this information. Something happened between you 2. Did Mark lose it? Needing to tag you and something happened. What happened? Investigators are paving a path to confession. They're giving John Green the opportunity to tell his side of the story. What you guys want to know? Well, we want to know what happened. John. Tell us what happened. Did he also lose it? And you guys got in a fight? Did you and Mark get physical? Were you defending yourself? Did you guys actually get a fight and pushed him? He fell and hit his head. Why? Did you feel it necessary to strangle him? I mean, I don't know. What? What? What happened? But Green quickly tries to shift the investigation away from himself again. What do you think? What? It's like, OK, so you're saying that your investigation is clear. Tell me what your evidence is. He wants to know from them to lay it all out. You know, what do you think happened? You know, he's looking for options and wanting to know really what the investigators would be willing to tell him or admit to him the evidence that they're holding. And of course they're not going to do that. But he kind of tries to take on the role of questioner at this point, probably because he's trying to quickly figure out what it is that he should say next. Where it was kind of like a big fat nothing he's gonna tell us to go # sand. The conversation was just was going down this one path where, you know, you had to take a shot. And there comes this point when really the only option left is to ask him the ultimate question. And the investigator said, did this happen at night or during the day? Just that question. And John Green puts his head down and he said the night. So you're like, oh, holy cow, did he just remember what time of night it was? Goodnight. Goodnight. Inside everyone of their minds they must have been saying, this is it, we got them. But again, they're not going to let that on. You start developing a different line of questioning and you know, ultimately he explains his version of events. So what happened? He came after me with a bat, OK? He was crazy. How was that my computer? He came after me with a bat and just simply defended myself. I just simply defended myself. We'll explore that defense in a moment, but there it is, John Green putting himself in that basement on the night of the murder and the murder weapon in his hands. I was at my computer and he came across and flung that man hit me. When he came after the bat, what did you do? How did you? Would you be able to grab the bat from him? What happened? He hit me with it. He claimed the two were face to face, struggling over a baseball bat. I choked him out with it. He choked him out of the bat. Green said he overpowered Mark Costa, got ahold of the bat and used it to choke him out. By its very nature, strangulation is a lengthy mode of death. So hearing him say that he was defending himself, well, it doesn't have the ring of truth at all. It's normally not a reactive form of defense, but a proactive, intentional act. So even if maybe something happened that they started to fight initially, at some point the threat is gone and that is when that legal self-defense. Ceases to exist. So they really knew at that point that they got him and they're just going to try to keep him talking as long as they can. Can you tell me, can you show me how you choked him out? Once I got it from him, I hit him back with it. He went down, I went down on top of him, and he kept struggling and I kept pressing. And once you choked him out, then what happen? I had remorse. If this was truly self-defense, why didn't green call the police and why did he leave a note with a Florida hotel number with Tom's name? People a lot of times say, well, if it's self-defense, wouldn't you call the police? And while maybe, but again, there's no law that you have to notify the police of really anything. So I never want to have to rely on that type of argument. Yes, it's an obvious question that doesn't make a lot of sense to me, but I'm more interested in the crime itself because that's what I need. Proved that it was him and that what he did was criminal. So it's really more about the levels he went to hide this body that really speaks to that. He is purposely trying to hide evidence of a crime where if it was really self-defense I would almost have expected him to have flipped out of what he had just done and just taken off at best. Was to avoid the odor. I didn't know what to do under my circumstances. For years people wondered what happened to Mark Costa, and now we know that answer. The question that is left is why. You were on the computer. What was he mad about? What was he, what was said between you two before that actually happened, he's seen irritated for? A few days. He was mad at me earlier about dinner. I didn't cook the chicken right. An argument over food we've heard people being killed for less than other stories, and while it may be completely plausible, doesn't really matter. And the answer is yes. If that's your story, perhaps a judge or a jury would show some mercy. Without being there, motive is kind of an interesting one on this, but everything that we have heard about these two and their own personalities, it does kind of ring true at least that this started as a fight that went wrong and probably to me. Green's anger reached the point that he then turned his anger from fighting into active homicide, intent to kill. After the interview, on March 25th, 2014, officers arrested John Green for Costa's death. Three days later, he was extradited to Sac County Jail. Later that year. On December 8th, Green's trial began, but the trial didn't last long. I did the opening and the first witness was one of the two local PD officers that had gone to Florida. They had him explain, you know why law enforcement, we do certain things. The officer responded and said, well, when the bad guys do this, this is what our response is. Not that John Green is a bad guy, but just explaining the process and that was Bing, Bing, Bing, Bing, Bing. Everything stopped. The defense attorney, you know, stood up objected. Jury leaves the room. Because right there, well, that is prejudicial bad guys. Well, Green has not been convicted of any crime. He hasn't been found to have committed a crime, but by the police even talking about him in this general sense of being one of the bad guys, which is basically what the assumption would be that he meant to put green in that category. Well, now they have to have this conversation about what does that mean for a trial, because that's a big nono and that's exactly what happened next. Defense attorney makes his argument and there's no way there's going to be a mistrial just based on that. I mean, it took us like a day and 1/2 to impanel the jury, you know, this is not going to happen. After John Green's defense counsel objected, the judge sustained the objection and declared a mistrial. And the reason that's such a nono is you can't convict someone because they are quote UN quote bad or they've done bad things before. There has to be evidence for this crime and this crime alone. So that is why the law takes very seriously anything outside of the four walls of evidence of that crime that is brought in to that courtroom. I think the misconception is that a mistrial is a terrible thing, but in this case that was a good call by the judge because it could have been used for an appeal later on. The judge that made the call into mistrial, a lot of the emphasis on making that decision was that it was at the early stages. Now, here's something that many people don't know about this case. Before trial, Green was actually offered a plea deal, perhaps even with a confession in hand. As you always say, investiga, nothing is a slam dunk. To defendant Sean Green, he's a very likable guy. He just was very, very personable. The state attorney General, assistant Attorney General myself, decided that it would be beneficial for us to consider a plea deal because he was likable and would relate to a journey despite the fact that he buried the body. He would come across as being sympathetic. We offered him a deal, manslaughter probably. I think it was a 10 year sentence. That's not something that we came to lightly. There was a lot of consideration involved in the family, reluctantly. Agreed and we offered it to him and he told us to pound sand. Or remember, he said it wasn't a crime at all, and while he felt remorseful, he said he felt bad. He said he was defending himself. So at that point, very often the answer is, well, I'm just going to roll the dice and see what a jury says, and that seems to me maybe what he's doing here. Months later, on March 30th, 2015, the case goes to trial again, and at that trial, Green took the stand. He did not deviate from his story, but he didn't present as well and he just was not likeable. He was like the exact opposite of likeable. Just very callous, you know, and his actions that followed the struggle. There was another challenge facing Ben Smith in the state's case against John Green. During a pretrial motion, the judge ruled against the state and allowed the victim, Mark Kosters mental health records to be admitted, showing he did have a violent temper in the past. And I hate to say this, but he wasn't the, you know, upstanding businessman in the community. You know, he was a recluse. And so the danger is that, you know, the juries be like, Oh no, he's a throwaway person, but that may be his life didn't have as much value as, you know, somebody else's. That was a concern of mine, too, is it's just human nature, I think. In the end, the jury did find value in Mark Koster's life, and they returned a guilty verdict for second degree murder. He was sentenced to 50 years in prison, serving at least 35 before he'd be eligible for parole. You know, there was something else in our conversation with Ben that really struck me, and that was that. He ultimately pulled this case back after trial to have the defendant resentenced to a shorter term. It's just to me, it wasn't justice. It just did not sit well with me. And I'm not trying to be cliche about this. I took an oath and swore to do justice. Him sitting in prison for a fight that started with his friend for the rest of his life was not justice. Somebody told me, well, he lost, he gambled, he gambled because he was a gambler, he gambled by not taking the plea deal, and he lost and therefore he should suffer the consequence. And I just disagree with that. And it's this interesting thing to me. I really had to think about it for a while, about whether I agree with it or whether I don't because the jury and judge had spoken. So I'm going to say this, and rather than talking about the end result as far as the number of years, it really speaks to the human element in all this work and the true empathy that Ben Smith feels with all his work in this case and for all concerned. And that really is part of being a good prosecutor. He did something very bad. He took somebody's life, but I always thought it was a self-defense case. Ultimately, in the habeas side we revisited we, me, the state. I offered up a deal because he did raise some ineffective issues that I believed had merit. Not wanting to have to try this again, we offered up an arrangement that would have him serve three times as much time as our initial plea offer that the family was OK with. In this case, he has to serve, I think 15 years before he can get out. I love that he was eager to talk about this particular case because it hadn't received much attention in the media or by anybody else. And as homicide prosecutors, we all can get exactly why. You know, there's certainly high profile cases I've handled them in. Many prosecutors have, but that is not the bulk of our work. Most of them never make headlines or get into the newspapers at all. But yet for the victims of those crimes, their families grieve. Just the same. And Ben Smith wanted to make sure that this case got the attention that Mark Koster got the attention that he deserved to. I respect the fact that Ben looked at this case, and he seems to do with all of his cases that each individual one has its complexities and each individual one requires perhaps its own definition of justice, not just a rubber stamp. For me, it all comes down to the consideration of the family of the victims and the community. We shouldn't forget Mark hoster. He deserved to live out his days exactly how he wanted and to die naturally. And not at the hands of a so-called front. Anatomy of Murder is an audio Chuck original produced and created by Weinberger Media and for SETI Media. Ashley Flowers and Summit David are executive producers. So what do you think, Chuck, do you approve?