tv Dateline MSNBC July 3, 2022 2:00am-3:00am PDT
just keep walking because i don't really have anything to say to him, except, i told you so. i told you that i was innocent. >> so he was. so he is. >> that's all for this episode of dateline. i'm craig melvin. thanks for watching. thanks for watching. >> i'm craig melvin >> and i'm natalie morales. >> and this is dateline. ♪ ♪ ♪ a sprawling southern family farm with a pair of churchgoing grandparents at its heart. >> they are definitely the most loving individuals i've ever met in my life. >> there was no way it was supposed to end like this. >> she took me about a hand and said diane and charlie have been murdered.
>> the former church deacon, and his wife. who on earth would want them down? >> it does not make sense. they were loved by everyone. >> everyone, maybe. but their own daughter who admitted to a bitter, simmering dispute. >> it's been a long family feud. >> her stepfather won her dead so she could get her property back. >> evidence pointed to her boyfriend as an accomplice. >> you have that blood on your shoe, he was there. >> or, was he? >> no hair, no fingerprints, no dna. >> nothing. >> a once loving family now gripped by suspicion. >> i had a lot of people in my ear saying she did it. >> with the terrible truth rip them apart? >> this cannot be happening. ♪ ♪ ♪ >> welcome to dateline. a daughter, battling her demons and her mother and stepfather for control of a 1 million dollar property. after their double murder, police started to wonder just how far bambi bennett will go
to get what is hers. they followed a bloody trail of evidence deep inside the families dispute, exposing ugly secrets and suspicions. but unmasking the murderer would prove far more complicated. here is dennis murphy with "the deed". ♪ ♪ ♪ >> the old farmhouse in shambles now. the fields, back in the day, so lush and productive, gone to sea. the farmhouse, empty. time was the farmland in this county, some of carolina's finest. bambi bennett's granddad owned this spread, and had plans for generations to come. >> that barn needs to be a tobacco barn.
my grand daddy built that. >> so it was a tobacco property? >> yes. he did farming, and tobacco. >> bambi's roots here are as deep as the old oak tree draped in spanish moss that still stands in the front yard. they say land is worth dimes, because it's the only thing that lasts. truer words might never have been spoken. in this case, a beautiful piece of land, turned out to be nothing but trouble. this is where bambi bennett's family was ripped apart by an act of cool, unspeakable violence. ♪ ♪ ♪ bambi, her given name, was a fun, feisty good old girl, country through and through. >> i was at my grandparents growing up, and we garden, we had a big yard, a huge yard. >> you are a country girl?
>> yes. >> but she endured her share of heartache even at a tender age. her parents divorced when she was only six. mom remarried, and then a few years later, came the terrible day she will never forget. >> my daddy, and my granddaddy passed away on the same day. i was 12 years old. >> all of the sudden you lost the two important man in your life? >> yes. >> it was a bewildering and tragic day. so much sudden loss to absorb, young bambi, not yet a teenager, paid no mind to her grandfather and father's wills. but it turned out, she had been left the entire homestead, all 240 acres of it, to be held in trust until she turned 18. ♪ ♪ ♪ not long after bambi inherited the farm, her stepfather, charlie, moved the family onto the property, her property. most everybody called him big charlie. bambi called him daddy. >> daddy loved hunting, fishing. he always had fish fries and oyster roasts, always people down at the barn. >> you called a step father
daddy, easily can do that, right? >> yes. i have always called him daddy. >> big charlie was a deacon at church. he started a small business installing glass, converting the old tobacco barn into a shop. bambi's mom diane worked as a secretary in the public schools. they were a respected, happy couple, salt of the earth. >> she was the backbone of that family. >> bambi's cousins, jessica and amy loved their aunt diane. >> their car, literally, stopped in front of their house, would break down, she would go and make sure you had a meal, you were warm. while she was doing that, big charlie would fix the car. >> good mom? >> fabulous mom. outstanding. >> her biggest thing was she wanted to make sure her kids are protected.
and their hearts were protected. >> and her daughter bambi would need a lot of protecting. the girl was growing up in a rush, married to her high school sweetheart and divorced after a few months. by the time she was 24 years old, she had another failed marriage, and was struggling as a single mom, trying to raise two boys. cody and nathan. >> that had to be tough, keeping your household going? >> yes. >> things went from bad to worse. bambi started popping painkillers. >> the old story? just gobble them down when you can get them? >> i like how it made me feel. >> bambi was a single mom, hooked on pills and sitting on a piece of land worth a small fortune. diane decided it was time to intervene before say, another whirlwind husband du jour got with of the property. >> when you put it in my name, obviously, it would be protected. >> and so, she signed the deed to a property over to her mom.
and then bambi signed over her heart, sending cody and nathan to be raised by their grandparents. she calls it her lowest point. >> i did not know to do, i knew it was the right thing. she wanted to take care of them, she loved those children. >> it was a crushing loss, no question. but bambi agreed at the time that the boys were better off. they loved diane and charlie. >> very loving, did a lot of outdoor stuff, they spoiled us to death. >> nathan, how about you? >> they were the most loving individuals i ever met in my life. my grandma was a sweet woman, everybody says so. >> with the boys living at the grandparents, bambi tried to get her own life back on track. that is when she met rick gagnon, a new higher at charlie's glass company, an instant attraction. >> i have always liked the bad boy image, you know? he had the goatee, shaved head. we just had a good time together. >> it was a serious relationship? >> yes, it was. >> rick was also serious. he confronted bambi about her demons.
>> i told her, if she wanted to be in a relationship, she had to do something about those pills. >> by the spring of 2005, bambi felt she had turned the corner. she and rick found a home of their own in myrtle beach, after a long struggle, she was ready to be a mom to her boys again. >> i was getting on my feet, and i wanted cody and nate there with us. >> grandparents charlie and diane agreed, reluctantly, to let the boys move in with bambi and rick. but new solar had the boys moved, then diane was making the case to get them back. >> mom was concerned. >> the key wants to hold on to the boys? >> she said she would like for them to, you know, continue to stay with her. >> boyfriend rick thought bambi could not catch a break with her family. >> everybody pretty much treated bambi like crap. it stemmed from issues that diane, charlie and bambi had. >> those issues were simmering
into an angry family problem. and then, a few weeks after the boys were turned over, it happened. it was april 12th, a tuesday morning. bambi called her mom, no answer. then charlie was late for work. one of his boys went up to the house to look for him. moments later, he called 9-1-1. >> she's laying on the floor, there's blood everywhere. >> blood everywhere? >> yes, ma'am. >> inside, things were chaotic. an appalling sight. big charlie and diane we're dead. the old farmhouse they loved so well was now a crime scene. >> at a grisly crime scene, some small stray drops of blood might just provide a huge clue. >> coming up -- >> we urge someone involved in that crime was -- >> as great evidence? >> it is, if you can reach out. >> when dateline continues. ozempic® tri-zone.
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>> the horror disk i discovered inside that farmhouse confuse both the caller and the 9-1-1 operator. but what happened to charlie and diane was all too clear. she was found lying next to her bed. big charlie, sprawled on the bathroom floor. each had been shot multiple times. both by then dead for hours. horry county sheriff phillip thompson's cellphone erupted with calls about the shooting and he rushed to the scene. not to investigate. charlie and diane were his best friends. >> they weren't just mine, they were everybody's friends.
we'll remember is how good they were. how kind they were. and what good people they were. >> down at her house in myrtle beach, about 30 minutes from the crime scene, bambi was getting ready to go antiquing with her mom. she called her cell. one of charlie's glass company workers answered. >> i said, "can i speak to my mama please." he said, "bambi your mama and daddy are dead." >> just like that? >> yes. and i said, "what? " he said, "bambi, someone broke in here and killed them. shot them." and i just dropped the phone and it started crying. >> when bambi arrived at the house, yellow caution tape blocked her way. police were everywhere. >> my mom was freaking out. >> rick tried to comfort bambi. young cody turned to him to. >> and i remember rick, he was near me. i was crying on his shoulder. it was a madhouse that day.
>> in those moments, it seemed the whole county had gone mad. the murders of diane and charlie came hard on the heels of two other vicious killings nearby. the suspect, a man all over the news, named stephen stanko, was still at large. >> they were looking for stephen stanko, when charlie and diane parker were discovered. >> vivian skipper was charlie and diane's neighbor. she runs a flower shop nearby. tell me about the feeling that day? could you feel it in the air? >> you could feel it in the air. i was in the flower shop. >> probably not too thrilled about the idea. >> i didn't even want to go home. it was pretty bad in horry county that day. >> when i first arrived, while i'm looking at is an opportunity to get oriented to the crime scene. >> the man responsible for making sense of the crime scene was prosecutor fran humphries. then deputy chief solicitor for horry county. had the house been tossed? >> it had.
this appear to be a home invasion, burglary. >> first take on it? >> first take. home invasion. >> it was a gruesome crime scene. the bathroom, awash in charlie's blood. there was blood spatter in the bedroom where diane laid. but several feet from diane, there were noticeably a few small droplets. >> it appeared that someone was involved in the crime, not the victims. they were a bleeder. >> why can't that be from one of your two victims? >> it appeared that big charlie never left the area of the bathroom. it is apparent that diane died where she lay. >> so, it looks like your shooter or intruder is bleeding? >> it's bleeding. >> it is great evidence? >> it is if you can match it. >> wall type crime scene techs process the house, investigators talked started taking statements. big charlie and diane had a
large family and knew a lot of people. >> they talked with everybody. the list of people that we talked to is exhaustive. >> a parade of friends, employees and family, those brought down to headquarters for interviews. including bambi and her boyfriend, rick. >> they did gunshot residue test on all of us. >> including you? >> yes. >> they had me remove my shirt with my pant legs up. they took my shoes. took pictures of my shoes. tops, buttons. >> both but bambi and rick, told police they spent the night at home. never left. with the interviews complete, police drove rick and bambi back to the farmhouse. everyone was gone. bambi says she realized she left her purse with her phone and car case in the detectives cruiser. she decided she would take her mother's vehicle to get home. >> we didn't have any way to get in touch with anybody. we didn't have anything. and i told rick, i said, see if you can find mama's purse. herself phone. >> so, he went in the house. >> police had hadn released the crime scene, but it still looked like one. detectives told the family they would have to clean it up. so, when rick says he went into fetch diane's car keys, he found himself tiptoeing through a bloody mess. what were you seeing?
>> all the blood and just one of the most horrible things i had ever seen. >> rick approached the bathroom were charlie had been killed. he said he noticed bambi, through the window, pacing in the backyard. >> she was calling out, "mama, mama." she was crying, screaming. i stepped into the bathroom, trying to step around the mess as best as i could. and i shut the blind. >> you closed it because you didn't want bambi to see the bloody room? >> that's right. i remember saying to bambi, "i think i stepped in some blood in the bathroom." i was wiping my shoe off on the sand. she was telling me to wash my shoes. so, i get blood in her mom's truck. >> it must have been eerie being in the house that night? >> yeah. extremely. >> it was an eerie moment. one that would haunt bambi and rick for years to come. >> coming up -- bambi makes a stunning admission. >> there's been a long family feud. >> over the land? >> a long time. >> when "dateline" continues.
that neighborhood, in the countryside, with break-ins? >> not that i know of. it has always been a wonderful place, it just does not make any sense. >> was this more of the murderous rampage of the notorious steven dtanko, who was all over the news? no said prosecutor fran humphries, who knew he had been sighted in georgia at the time of the murders, 200 miles away. >> so this awful thing at the farmhouse, you know associating that with him? even in the public mind? >> oh, truly at that time, law enforcement knew, he was physically in augusta. >> rather, humphries focused on evidence coming from the parker crime scene. he quickly came to believe this was more than a bungled home invasion. >> it was apparent nothing had been taken, at least nothing that you would suspect to be taken in a burglary. >> humphries fought back to some curious statements bambi had made in her interview with police.
she said she had given it willingly. >> so, you sure you are okay to sit down and do this? >> i'm not okay, but i want to help you. >> soon after the interview started, bambi said he had began describing in detail, a feud within her family. an issue with the land bambi owned, and her parents were living on. >> that's been a long, like, family feud. >> right. over the land? >> a long time. >> according to humphries, bambi and diane argued over who should control that property. >> diane wanted to make sure that property was for the kids, i think she had become convinced that bambi would not be in a position to manage that property. >> i love this girl, my daughter. but she is beyond hope. >> right, she can't be trusted. >> bambi did not agree. >> she wanted it back. >> i want to get back.
>> but humphries learned the land was not the only hot button between bambi and her mother and stepdad. bambi admitted they also argued over the raising of them these boys, nathan and cody. >> well, some of the issues where your parents did not want the kids to go back to you guys, or anything like that? >> well, yeah. i understand my mom, and that was hard for, you know to give them back. at first, we were angry. you know, at each other. and being ugly to each other. >> i was not comfortable with bambi having custody of those children. >> in fact, four months before the murder, a mother daughter shouting match over the care of the boys got so out of hand that diane called 9-1-1. the responding officers arrived with his dashcam rolling, just moments after bambi had stormed away. >> i'm going to bother. you >> know, you are not bothering me at all! >> she explained the argument to the officers. >> she usually just does what she wants to do, picks them up, she does not provide anything for them.
>> diane went on to say she felt threatened by her daughter. >> she got in my face, jerked the phone out of my hand when i was calling. >> and then, came this chilling pronouncement. >> it's just, but if anything happens to me, you'll know that she is the responsible person. >> how telling is that? >> she was in fear, in grave fear. >> by now, humphries suspected bambi was somehow involved in her parents murders, but was skeptical she could commit a double homicide on her own. so the prosecutor turned her attention to bambi's boyfriend, rick gagnon. >> he was in line with bambi, extremely faithful to her. >> and according to humphries, willing to do anything for her. >> you have the daughter and boyfriend who seem to be in some kind of conspiracy with their egos? >> well, an agreement to accomplishing a goal. >> the alibi that bambi and rick gave detectives, that they were at home and leading up to the murders, was difficult to
prove. each gave the other as a witness. >> they said, we were at home, you know. rick was, there i was there, my boys were in the next room. >> the prosecutor began to wonder, could this mysterious blood droplets at the crime scene be linked to rick and bambi? >> the evidence has not come back, we did not know -- >> you did not know if someone else has been in the house? >> it could have been richard gagnon. while humphries waited for those results, he took a look at some of rick and bambi's belongings, including their shoes. >> yes, what did the lab analysis say about that? >> that it was big charlie's blood. >> the prosecutor did not buy rick's story about stepping in blood while looking for bambi's mothers carcass. the texas also found what they thought was blood on one of bambi's boots. >> you know have to people of interest, there's no telling what's going on. >> ten days after the murders, humphrey's asked both rick and bambi to take polygraph tests. both agreed, both show deception.
>> rick gagnon show deception. >> police then sat both rick and bambi down in a separate booth, for another round of questioning. this time, the gloves were off. >> do you want to be charged with something? >> are you charging with anything? >> answer my question. >> i did not do anything. >> they hoped for a confession, or the very least, that she would give up rick. she did not do neither. >> you don't want to be charged. >> no. i'm not going to be charged because i did not do anything. >> we are done, lock her up. because, you're not gonna tell us anything? we will lock you up. put some handcuffs on, are charged with two counts of murder. >> but the detectives were not yet done trying to break bambi. on the way to her booking, bambi said the hammer came down hard one more time. >> now, they surrounded me like a pack of wolves and said, go get those crime scene photos of her mom and dad. and i said, no, no, no. and that was trying to cover my face.
and they were pulling my hands over my face. and he said, you did this. you. >> detectives said the same thing too rick gagnon. >> they arrested me, that was pretty much it. if bambi did it, then i had to be a part of it. ♪ ♪ ♪ >> so, there it was. a daughter and her boyfriend, partners in love, suspected of murder. the alleged motive was basically, get the deed to the land and resolve the custody issue of the boys in one bloody rampage. horry county could sleep easier tonight with case closed. but was it case solved? >> coming up, a new family few breaks out between bambi and her sons. >> i had a lot of people saying, she did it. i presented her. >> when "dateline" continues. ugh-stipated...
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that becomes after tropical storm warnings, that were issued for both south and south carolina saturday, forecasters were expecting rainfall, and localized areas of flash flooding over the holiday weekend. after call informed near the south carolina coast. the storm can still bring down pores, it's expected that it will completely dissipate by sunday night. into sunday morning. back to dateline. >> welcome back. i'm craig melvin. investigators charged bambi bennett and her boyfriend with two counts of murder. bambi's own sons didn't believe in her innocence. but there was one man who did. he was prepared to fight for her freedom.
returning to "the deed" here is dennis murphy. >> bambi bennett sat in horry county jail cell, stunned. she had just been charged with two counts of murder. >> i thought, i'm just having a bad dream. this cannot be happening. not only were my parents just murdered. now, i'm being accused of being the one that killed them. i said, y'all have lost your mind. i said, this doesn't make any sense. i didn't do anything wrong. >> but to prosecutor fran humphries, it made perfect sense. >> the motive is unavoidable in this case. bambi needed her step father and mother dead so she could get her property back. >> property valued at north of 1 million dollars. >> the classic question that people in your line of work pose as well, who benefited? >> bambi. >> as far bambi's boyfriend, rick, humphries believed she persuaded him to carry out the deed. >> but they said the prosecutor
had it all wrong. they insisted they would never do anything to harm diane and charlie. bambi downplayed the family drama over the land, despite calling it a feud during her interrogation. >> she wants the land. that is the most ludicrous thing ever. it was given to me by my daddy to begin with. even though it was in mama's name, if i wanted the land back all i had to do was tell mama that. >> also absurd was the allegation that she would kill her parents over disagreements about how to raise her boys. >> who does not have disagreements, ever, with their mother or their father? me and mama didn't always agree on the upbringing of cody and nate. but that doesn't mean i'm going to kill my mama because i don't agree. that is ridiculous. >> but by now, even some of bambi's family believed she was responsible for her parents'murders. including bambi's own sons,
nathan and cody. you lost your grandparents in the most awful fashion. and then your mom is swept away from your life in minutes. >> it's just crazy. you don't know who to turn to. >> when did you come to the idea that maybe she was the one who did this? >> it was a mixture of things. i had a lot of people in my ear saying that she did it. when i came to the conclusion was she basically put it in rick's head for rick to do it. >> i only thought she had something to do with it from what i have been told. >> i resented her. i hated her. i did it want to see her face ever again. >> it seemed bambi's supporters were so few and far between. but one who did believe in her innocence was her attorney, jim irvin. >> everybody rush to judgment in this case. >> the way jim irvin saw it, the prosecution's case against bambi was a week, circumstantial one, that hinged on a bunch of theories as to motive. >> what always bothered me about this case, when you look at the gunpowder residue, there was none on bambi hands. >> that one bit of hard evidence detectives thought they had against bambi, what
they thought was blood on her boot, turned out to be nothing. >> detectives said, we got her. the dna on this boot is going to belong to one of the two people. they couldn't even say it was dna. >> as for the polygraph tests, detectives said bambi failed to pass? according to irvin, those results were suspicious. >> the last question they asked was, "have you told me everything you know about this case? " if i ask a detective that same question, he couldn't pass it either. it's too broad a question. >> bambi sat in jail for six months. they were hoping she would flip and tell them the story? >> that's exactly what they were hoping. >> finally, the judge said enough is enough. prosecutor humphries had to let bambi go. >> it was apparent the evidence was not sufficient to bring her case to trial. >> didn't have the goods? >> just wasn't there. it wasn't there.
>> and yet, she's the foundation of your theory. >> there's no question about it. >> for the time being, bambi was able to put horry county jail in her rearview mirror. and with it, rick. by now bambi had cut ties with her old boyfriend. sounds like she had your back, rick, and then she didn't. >> yeah. >> what happened? >> jail changes people. you know? >> rick was hoping it would be just a matter of time before he too would be released. the forensics they had against you. there was no here, there's no fingerprints, there is no dna. >> nothing. >> but he did have charlie's blood on his shoe. to humphries, that evidence was part of a bloody trail from the crime scene that was about to lead both the prosecutor and rick gagnon into a courtroom showdown. >> coming up -- one of rick gagnon's fellow inmates comes forward with a damning story. >> he's been given a fairly detailed account of what occurred that evening. >> stuff that had a bit in the newspapers. >> no. >> when "dateline" continues.
the yard. >> we would walk around, do laps. >> the jailyard buddy was named robert mullins, a petty crook who seemed strangely interested in rick's troubles. >> did he want to talk to you about the case? he was grilling you? >> yes, all of the time. >> but then, it seemed everyone who was from south carolina, who wanted to more more about this case and it's two beloved victims. it took three years, but in 2008, the state was ready to try rick gagnon for the murders of charlie and diane parker. a camera was rolling as prosecutor fran humphries began his case. >> this is purely evidence, which establishes a motive. rick gagnon ended the lives of these two people. >> as humphries recalls, the case against rick was always motivation, strong, evidence, week.
not much more than a drop of charlie parker's blood on a shoe, when that came right down to it. even so, humphries told the court, the blood put rick at the murder scene. >> he had a story about it, it was not water, he had a story. >> humphries recited rick's version of how blood it gone into the shoe, how he went into the house to get a set of car keys, sometime after the crime scene had wrapped up. >> he looked to his right, which was the window, leading in to the bathroom, where charlie died. he noticed the blood. >> rick said he worried bambi, facing outside, might look in the window and freak out all over again. >> he went in, stepped through the bathroom and closed the blinds. >> and then he stepped in blood? that's the story? but it did not hold up? >> the case was already closed. >> that was the gut, the crime scene photos, say the prosecutors taken hours before rick supposedly steps inside that house. notice the bathroom blinds are drawn. humphries argue that rick could
not have closed the blinds, because they were already shut. the prosecutor says the defendant was lying, though he believed rick had told the truth about the murders, to at least one other person. the states star witness, robert mullins. >> he called on the jailhouse informant, probably, but some people call him "the jailhouse snitch". >> he is a snitch, no question about it. but we learned from mullins that most is he had been given a fairly detailed account, by gagnon, of what occurred that evening, about the crime scene looked like. >> in fact, he said mullins was the first to tell police this piece of bombshell news. gagnon mentioned an accomplice in the killings. >> the only way he could have had that information, was from someone at the crime scene, who participated. >> and then, the prosecutor tried to spin an inconvenient fact in his favor.
those mystery blood drops found the murder scene had been tested. the dna was not a match to rick, but to an unidentified male. that, said the prosecutor, actually supported what mullins said, that rick had an accomplice. humphries believe the evidence was enough to put the defendant away. he only wished he could make the same case against rick's old girlfriend. >> what about bambi? she was not being tried in this courtroom? >> it was a travesty. >> you think it's honest? >> i think so, figuratively. >> and that is just how rick played it out in his cruiser. he told the jury, this was the story about a spoiled woman, bambi bennett who manipulated her boyfriend, rick gagnon into doing her murderous dirty work. get back he did, get her mother in law. >> he had heard from bambi how her parents were not fair to her, that they had her land, her parents were horrible people, they were taking advantage of me. >> to make things right, argued the prosecutor, the dutiful boyfriend and his right-hand
man entered the house and hunted down bambi's parents in their nightclothes. the jury had just heard a drama of southern gothic proportions, gripping with family, greed and hatred. now, it was time for an entirely different story. >> none of the puzzle pieces fit. >> rick's defense team, including attorney barbara pratt, told the state that it was heavy on fiction, light on facts. >> they had a puzzle, neat little pieces, but the pieces were not exactly right. >> the state was so desperate to prove this, that it clung to the word of a jailhouse snitch and career criminal. >> a fellow who is there to cut himself a deal, get some assistance in his own case, it's not likely to be credible. >> not only was the snitch not to be believed, the defense told the jurors, but the state was also trying to confuse them about the mystery blood found at the crime scene. the bottom line, said pratt, the dna from that blood the cleared their client of the murders. >> the dna did not match. and we knew the dna was not
going to match rick. >> she knew that, she said, because rick had an alibi for the night of the murders. he had been asleep in myrtle beach with his family. >> the most challenging part of the case was the blood on rick 's shoe. to explain how it got there, rick took the stand. he pointed out that on the morning the bodies were discovered, police had examined them thoroughly, and found nothing. >> there was blood on my shoes that morning, i would have been arrested right then and there. there was no blood on my shoes that morning. >> that came later, he said, when he stepped into the blood soaked bathroom. despite that police photo, he insisted the window blinds or open, and he simply worried that bambi might see the horror inside. >> i went inside, i shut the blinds. i did not think she needed to see that. >> he testified the blood got on his shoe at that moment, not before. >> did you go into the house, and kill charlie and diane, at the instigation of bambi? were you in a conspiracy to kill those people? >> no, sir.
>> so, who did kill the couple? we do not know, say the defense, but it was not rick gagnon. with that, the jurors filed out to deliver. rick weighted with his attorneys, and the woman many felt to be at the heart of it all held her breath. >> coming up, the jury renders its verdict. >> i did not know what to think anymore. >> but it is not the end of the case, because finally, investigators learned who have those mystery blood drops at the crime scene. >> they said they identified the killer. >> when "dateline" continues.
>> welcome back. the jury was about to decide rick gagnon's fate. but the verdict would not be the end to this twisted tale. could the resolution to this case finally put a bitter family feud duress? here's dennis murphy with the final chapter of "the deed". >> jurors in rick gagnon's murder case deliberated for only a few hours. when they filed back into the courtroom, he read their faces and new. they had found him guilty. >> two counts of murder. received two life sentences. >> it's called the "pine box sentence". you're going to get out of the system in a pine box, when you're dead. bambi bennett said she didn't want to be in court for the verdict. her attorney jim irvin called
him culture with the news. >> here i am thinking, oh my gosh, could he have done this? and then, i'm going in the back of my head, there is no way he could've did this. >> rick felt as though he had been sandbagged. >> i believed that if god saw fit to have me go home, i would go home. >> and that thought was about all he had left. faith in god and a good appellate lawyer. in this case, bob dudek. >> in my 22 or 23 years of being in an appellate defense attorney, rick gagnon was one of only about two, possibly three people that i genuinely believed was innocent. >> that certainty would mean exactly nothing to an appeals judge. unless bob and rick could come up with new evidence. then, in 2009, a year after his verdict, rick had an encounter in prison with yet another inmate.
>> and it was all excited about something. >> authorities in tennessee, the prisoner told rick, had just arrested someone for a home invasion there. >> he told me he said they identified the killer. >> that man's name was bruce hill. when fact tennessee authorities ran his dna through the database, they had a match to the mystery blood found at the parker crime scene. in 2011, a jury convicted hill of the murders of big charlie and diane. his motive for the crime was never firmly established. but who is bruce hill? >> do you know that name? >> no. >> did you ever see him at the farm property? at the job sites? >> no. >> but rick's lawyer needed proof that there is no connection between the two men. so, he paid hill a visit. >> bruce hill was shown a picture of rick gagnon and his words were, yeah, i've never
seen that [bleep] before. bruce had been unambiguous and was very blunt that he did not know rick gagnon. >> bruce hill had to do now was admitted that in open court and gagnon might go free. hill flatly refused. once again, rick was out of luck, but not hope. >> it was the first piece of good news i had had a no long time. you know? it was exciting to see what god was getting ready to do. >> and there were developments? >> yes, sir. >> namely the arrival of a new inmate. >> i was in the chapel at the time. it was my job assignment. he was brought into the chapel. >> one day the man opened up and stunned rick. >> he said he'd known a guy in jail named, wait for it, robert mullins. the very same who testified against rick. the man then said that mullins had shared a secret. he had lied about rick's involvement in the murders. >> i mean, i already knew it. but to hear somebody else say it --
>> mullins had lied? >> yeah. >> he was proud of what he was able to do? >> yeah. >> now this snitch-on-snitch story had the appeals judges attention. >> the judge had to make a determination that the result of the trial was probably have been different -- >> because mullins story was that important getting the conviction? >> right. >> the judge vacated rick's conviction. saying the new county solicitor, the one who had replaced humphries, coterie false charges if he wanted. the senator said, he did not. >> so, in 2013, after eight years inside, rick gagnon walked out of prison. he settled on the carolina coast now. married with children. >> just the smell of the ocean. it's like freedom. it was a terrible thing that i went to prison for something i didn't do. it's changed my life.
>> his old girlfriend believes her life was upended, too. bambi says she's cut ties with most of the people she grew up with. the tobacco fields she still owns, are pretty much her only connection to the place. >> i didn't want to be there anymore. that was my home, but my home that i had known just falsely accused me and destroyed me. >> but there is something she would like for the people of horry county, south carolina. do you want an apology? would not go anywhere for you? >> i do want an apology. no, it doesn't change what they did. and it's not gonna fix what they took away. >> she'd like nothing more than an apology from you. for the heartache you've caused her. >> yeah, she's not getting that. she's entitled to something from me, but an apology is not it. >> what should she expect? >> i would've liked for her to have received justice in this case. >> meaning, he would've liked her charged, tried and convicted. >> and i would've liked to have been an agent of that justice. >> all but forgotten amidst all
the finger-pointing, are bambi 's sons, cody and nathan. reeling from hating their mom, to now believing her completely innocent. >> i don't think she had anything to do with it. >> it is a testament to that change of heart, they've joined their mom in the place she now calls home, florida. for the first time in a long while, they feel like family. >> it took a while before you were really able to trust her and tell her you loved her. and meaning every bit of it. >> you can be her sons again? >> right, definitely. >> for that at least, bambi is grateful. for the future, she is hopeful, even if every once in a while she goes back in anger. >> i lost my mom and dad. my children lost their grandparents. our family still has no answers. they're still saying the case isn't completely solved. maybe if they took their time in the beginning, we wouldn't
be in this predicament today. >> maybe there are no more answers. no reason to keep digging up the pass. just leave it rooted right where it is, and let the spanish moss group. >> that's all for this edition of "dateline". i'm craig melvin. thank you for watching. welcome to the show, i'm mehdi hassan. -- all but 17 white men. there has never been a black woman on the highest court in the land. on thursday at noon, that changed. >> i do solemnly swear that i will administer justice without respect to person's