Read an excerpt from Andre's letter to Dateline proclaiming his innocence.
Read an excerpt from Andre's letter to Dateline proclaiming his innocence.
Read the letter that made Marie's family wonder if the CIA was covering up information about her murder.
Look at the photo below. It’s a still image from a security camera. A Los Angeles Police Homicide Detective pulled this photo from May 31, 2012 – looking for clues. This poor quality photo was all the the cops had to work with.
In the upper left hand corner, to right of the letters EVT, is a man putting a car cover on his Volkswagen Rabbit. Look carefully, and you’ll see what looks like a white shirt with dark pants. He’s the victim, a 54-year-old chiropractor in West Los Angeles named Robert Rainey. This grainy photo of him is of one of his last moments alive.
This photo was taken at 6:45 a.m., which showed the detective when Robert arrived at work. An hour and a half later, Robert was found in his office by his first patient of the day -- brutally bludgeoned to death.
Robert Rainey was a guy people liked. Many of his patients raved about him on Yelp. His brother Jim says Robert was somewhat of a health nut who wanted to help others live better.
His wife Peg told Dateline that Robert “lived his life like a big adventure.” He was a runner who relished speeding uphill through the Santa Monica Mountains or going the distance in an ultra-marathon. He climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, and hiked the Inca trail in Peru.
After he died, detectives talked to patients, family and friends. Did the caring and adventurous Robert Rainey have a dark side? His brother Jim said that at first “There was anxiety that we’d find out something terrible” about Robert. But there was nothing there, and therefore there were no clues in Robert’s life as to why he died.
Robert Rainey’s office was on Venice Blvd in West LA, just west of Robertson, which you can see here. On the second floor, you’ll see Rainey Chiropractic. Click west one block and you’ll see the Starbucks where Robert usually went for coffee. Maybe these images will jar someone’s memory of seeing something that stood out there that early morning when Robert Rainey was killed.
Detective Tom Small with the LAPD is hoping someone who saw something that early morning of May 31, 2012 will come forward.
Anyone with information that might help with the investigation should call the LAPD at 877-527-3247, Crime Stoppers at 800-222-8477 or LAPD West Bureau Homicide at 213-382-9470.
Two mothers who survived a deadly shooting at a mall in Nairobi speak out about the traumatic moments, and how they protected themselves and their children.
By: Kate Snow, NBC News
On any given Saturday, it’s not uncommon to find me racing around the local mall with my two children in tow—a Starbucks in one hand, a long list in the other. My kids love to hit the Build-a-Bear Workshop, have a bite at the food court and check out the latest Legos (to add to their Christmas wish list). I don’t have to tell you the mall is one-stop shopping. I’m sure you have the same trusted spot in your town.
But imagine this. You’re walking through the mall atrium on a Saturday afternoon. Your kids have just eaten chicken and fries at the food court. You’ve got a baby in the sling over your shoulder, a 2 year old holding your hand and a 4 year old skipping along. Your two older boys have raced ahead to the department store that anchors one end of the mall. You’re trying to catch up to them. And then it starts.
An explosion. Loud booms. Gunshots whizzing past your head. Tracer fire. You instinctively hit the ground.
That’s how quickly Katherine Walton went from a regular day at the mall to a gut-wrenching, agonizing afternoon she will never forget for the rest of her life.
I first heard about the Waltons a few weeks ago. I was sitting in my folding chair on the sidelines at my daughter’s soccer game on a Sunday afternoon when my cell phone rang. I recognized the number right away. Dateline Producer Mario Garcia. I knew the veteran producer had already headed to east Africa to cover the shooting that had happened just days before at the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya.
“Jambo,” I answered.
In our business, we often have to leave our own homes at the drop of a hat and race to the airport. So when the soccer game was over I went home and packed quickly. I boarded a plane for Nairobi.
I met the Waltons the next day at their friend’s home in a suburban neighborhood on the outskirts of Nairboi.
Katherine Walton with one of her daughters in Westgate Mall.
I remember the first thing Katherine Walton said to me. She said: “I don’t really understand why you guys are here. I’m just a mom, just a regular person.”
The Waltons—Katherine and her husband Philip—moved back to Africa with their five children two years ago from Texas. It was like going home for Katherine and Philip. They’d both grown up in western Africa. Both were children of Christian missionaries and are now part of a church community in Kenya.
I can appreciate why they chose to live there. It is a gorgeous place, a place filled with wonderful people, where kids can roam and explore.
Portia is just four but very outgoing. She quickly made me her friend and kept asking me to pick her up and carry her around. She understands what happened to her in the way only four year olds do—some bad men did some bad things and they hid and now her family is safe again.
As Katherine dove for the ground that Saturday in the mall, a Kenyan woman grabbed Portia to shield her. Katherine and this stranger then huddled underneath a flimsy temporary display table. Katherine was lying on top of the baby, Petra, and had 2 year old Gigi under her too. Now she just had to keep her three girls calm and quiet. She could see and hear gunmen walking past. She was panicked that if they made too much noise, they’d be spotted… and worse… shot.
As I talked with Katherine, it was hard not to think about what I would do. What if it were me in that mall with my two? How would I protect them? How would I keep them still and quiet?
As so many mothers would do, Katherine soothed her girls and rubbed their backs. Portia had her fingers in her ears because it was so loud. Gigi kept asking for her blanket and “mouse” that she sleeps with. She was never quite sure where her older boys were. She hoped they had already made it out of the mall before the shooting started. (They had not, but eventually escaped unharmed.)
After more than four hours crouched under that display table, Katherine finally saw someone who looked like a friend. Abdul Haji was holding a handgun and beckoning from across the atrium. Now she had to trust that an armed stranger was in fact on their side and would take her children to safety.
Yes—as Katherine put it, she is “just a mom, just a regular person.” But as I told her again and again, THAT is what makes her story all the more compelling. We can all imagine what it must have been like to be in that mall that afternoon. Not one of us knows how we would respond if we were thrust into the same horrific situation.
The men who attacked the mall that day were terrorists.
But what Katherine wants her children to remember is not hate or anger. She wants them to remember Abdul Haji and all the others who ran to the mall, straight into danger, to help them.
One day, she told me, when the girls are much older, she’ll tell them about that day at the mall. She’ll tell them how very brave they were. The Walton girls were brave. And so was their mother.
Dateline NBC's hour-long special on survivors of the Westgate Mall attack, in Kenya, will air Friday at 8 p.m. ET.
In this statement provided to Dateline, Attorney Kathleen Zellner reveals the 10 turning points she says led to the appeals court’s decision vacating Ryan Ferguson’s conviction of 2nd degree murder in the death of Columbia Tribune sports editor Kent Heitholt.
Civil Rights Attorney
“The Ryan Ferguson case has been the most difficult of our wrongful conviction cases because the case was substantively and procedurally on life support when we became Ryan's attorneys.
Substantively it seemed unwinnable because two eyewitnesses placed Ryan at the murder scene. Even worse, one of the two witnesses, Charles Erickson, admitted committing the murder with Ryan. Erickson pleaded guilty and agreed to a 25-year sentence and provided graphic testimony of every detail of the murder at Ryan's trial. The other witness, Jerry Trump, was a janitor in the building. He appeared to have no reason to lie. He identified Ryan at the trial and told the jury he saw Ryan leaning over Heitholt's body in the parking lot.
No court would look twice at such a conviction and no court did. Prior to our representation, every single effort by Ryan's attorneys had failed. A jury found Ryan guilty in a few hours. The post-trial motion failed, the direct appeal failed, as did a subsequent appeal. Everything failed because of these two eyewitnesses. They overshadowed everything else in the case. Why would any court believe Ryan was innocent when he had a co-defendant plead guilty and a seemingly unbiased witness identifying him as being at the scene?
After everything had failed, the very last step for Ryan, basically having the last rites administered, was to file a state habeas petition. Ninety nine percent are dismissed without a hearing. Many lawyers consider the entire habeas process to be a waste of time--it never works, the rules are unbelievably complicated, winning has the odds of a lottery win. But how could we abandon this wonderful young man and his family? How could we let a Do Not Resuscitate order be entered and walk away? We had dozens of easier cases we could have taken. We had to find a way to save Ryan.
(1) Widespread Support
A critical component of our success has been the support we have received from thousands, probably millions of people, directly and indirectly, including attorneys, former judges, law professors, investigators, journalists, psychologists, businessmen, record producers, politicians, sports team owners, documentary producers, artists, actors, physicians, police officers, students at every level, mothers, fathers, and children from all over the world who stood by us in our darkest hours offering helpful advice and moral support.
(2) Tireless Investigation
Hundreds of hours were spent investigating every detail of the crime scene, police reports, and prior testimony, talking with experts, and consulting with the best habeas attorneys in Missouri. In 2010 the Western District determined that Erickson's trial testimony had been severely discredited making us believe that Jerry Trump's trial testimony was the key to saving Ryan. We knew after our exhaustive review of the evidence that Jerry Trump had lied at trial but would he admit it? Would he risk being charged with perjury and going back to prison? Could we prove the State withheld critical information that would have shown that Jerry Trump had lied even if he would not admit it?
(3) Reliance on Past Experience
We had saved a man's life in 1994, a few months before his scheduled execution, by persuading his accuser who was the real murderer to confess. How? By asking her to do the right thing and have a conscience. It took over 50 prison visits to accomplish this feat. She not only recanted, she confessed to the murder on the stand. My client and I walked out of the front door of the courthouse after the court ordered him to be unshackled. Would this work again? Did Jerry Trump have a conscience? Did he have a heart?
(4) Jerry Trump’s Conscience to do the Right Thing
Yes, Jerry Trump demonstrated he has both. All he wanted was forgiveness from Ryan and his family. Incredibly, Jerry Trump admitted he committed perjury at Ryan's trial. He did so in open court with the national media filming him. The co-defendant Erickson admitted his entire trial testimony was fabricated. We conducted cross-examinations of the prosecutor and his investigator and their stories conflicted. William Haws made a critical admission on cross examination, that he never made a report of Barbara Trump's interview when she told him she had no memory of sending a newspaper article to Jerry, which Jerry claimed he had used to identify Ryan. Haws made no report of this interview. We uncovered three additional so-called Brady violations during the hearing. Again no reports were ever made. We presented nationally renowned experts in pathology and police procedure trying to persuade the habeas judge the State's trial evidence was false. The police "had left enough stones unturned to build a cathedral” one attorney commented. So a happy ending right? Not exactly.
(5) A Diamond in the Rough
The full fury of the court was hurled at us. It is really true that “no good deed goes unpunished.” Obviously we were outsiders who had the audacity to request that a Boone County conviction be vacated. We were partly successful. No other Missouri case has had the only two witnesses admit their trial testimony was perjured and do so in open court. Yes, Trump had committed perjury at Ryan's trial, the court ruled, but we learned that was apparently immaterial. However, agreeing that Trump had fabricated his identification of Ryan was an astounding and critically important concession by the lower court. The court held that all the undisclosed witness reports were immaterial. These undisclosed witness reports would have shown Trump lied at the trial. All the other undisclosed witness reports that showed the State's evidence and theory was untrue were immaterial said the lower court. Multiple Constitutional violations were dismissed as immaterial. Why? Because the judge (after watching the TV tapes of the trial) decided Charles Erickson was telling the truth at trial. It was time for us to call a Code Blue.
(6) An Unprecedented Brief Submitted to an Outstanding Panel
We knew that the judges on the habeas panel to which we were assigned are among the best judges in Missouri and in the United States. We also knew their decision could write the obituary for Ryan's case if we lost. We drafted an unprecedented 154 page petition. We started with the State's theory, dissected the crime scene, the physical evidence, the timeline. We presented a different theory of the murder, a different suspect, all of the constitutional violations regarding the undisclosed reports, the recantations, all the admissions the Attorney General made in their prior briefs, the testimony from the prior trial, and the other hearings.
(7) Ryan’s Innocence Paving the Way to Success
We presented all of the legal arguments from every successful Missouri habeas case. We got the Missouri Innocence Project to help by filing an amicus brief, also known as a friend-of-the-court brief. We knew if we could show just one constitutional violation we could win but we wanted to demonstrate Ryan was actually innocent. A habeas court's power is limited to vacating the conviction and giving the prosecutor the option to retry the case. If the court is persuaded that a Brady violation has occurred, it can stop there and vacate the conviction. The Western District did say that the Barbara Trump Brady violation was so severe it alone would suffice to vacate the conviction. However, the court evaluated all of our other arguments and concluded there were many Brady violations, including evidence of another person at the murder scene when the murder happened. The court listed all of the evidence that demonstrates Ferguson's innocence but concluded that a jury has to decide guilt or innocence. The prosecution’s numerous Brady violations were referred to as a "trademark" of the State's investigator who failed to write reports of anything favorable to Ryan.
(8) Recantations Proving Ryan’s Innocence Will Keep Him Free
The Barbara Trump Brady violation vacated the conviction, but the recantations of Jerry Trump and Charles Erickson will either keep the case from being retried or result in the acquittal of Ryan at a second trial.
(9) Oral Argument Concessions
This battle was won in the courtroom and we were fortunate to have such an outstanding panel of judges. Judge Martin's skillful questioning of the Assistant Attorney General during oral argument was critical to our winning. She was able to obtain key concessions from the assistant A.G. that allowed her to craft this brilliant opinion.
(10) Navigating the Minefield
We were able to successfully navigate our way through a minefield of procedural traps that could have been the death blow to Ryan's chances. I can thank the outstanding lawyers who work for me for performing this improbable feat. Given how many failures had occurred before we got in the case it should be acknowledged that the Missouri justice system is alive and well, as demonstrated by this brilliant opinion. Ryan will be home soon, and he is also alive and well.
Pro Bono Hours and Expenses
The law firm of Kathleen Zellner spent over 3,500 hours on this case, about $1,065,000, plus $132,636.65 in expenses. All of this work was gladly done pro bono to save Ryan and return him to the life that was taken from him so unjustly. Our battle continues until the case is dismissed.”
Ferguson was released from custody on November 12, 2013.
For more information:
An appeals court Tuesday vacated the murder conviction of Ryan Ferguson nine years into his 40-year prison sentence for the 2001 Halloween night killing of a newspaper editor, according to a court document.
The Missouri Court of Appeals Western District ruled that prosecutors withheld key evidence from defense attorneys.
Below, we've shared the opinion filed by the court.
Recent Dateline coverage of the case:
Our most recent TV report: Under A Killing Moon
Ryan Ferguson: A Q&A With Dateline's Anthony Galloway
Ryan Ferguson awaits appeals court decision, 'nervous' but comforted by supporters' messages
Brittany-Jane Royal and Boaz Johnson
In late August, we told you the story of Brittany-Jane Royal and her boyfriend Boaz Johnson. Brittany and Bo were buying land on Hawaii’s Big Island. She was pregnant with his baby. But then in late May, Brittany was found dead, floating in the waters off Hawaii’s Big Island. Her boyfriend Bo was nowhere to be found.
Since that post, signs have appeared on the on the Big Island saying Bo was a victim too and asking the killer to confess. BigIslandChronicle.com blogger Tiffany Edwards Hunt shared this photo with Dateline.
Blogger Edwards Hunt also received an anonymous letter that said that Bo and Brittany were killed to send a message that Puna – the part of the Big Island where Bo and Brittany were living – isn’t for strangers, it’s for Hawaiians.
Police tell Dateline they’re investigating all leads, but that these signs posted anonymously and the anonymous letter don’t change the focus of their investigation, which is still Boaz Johnson. Captain Robert Wagner with Hawaii PD on the Big Island says, “We believe Boaz Johnson is still alive.” He also says Johnson is probably no longer in Hawaii.
Anyone with information on Boaz Johnson’s whereabouts should contact Detective Robert Almeida at 808-961-2386 or email@example.com, Detective Fetuutuunai Amuimuia at 808-961-2278 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or Lieutenant Gregory Esteban at 808-961-2252 or email@example.com.
Anonymous letter to blogger Tiffany Edwards Hunt.
Sid Wells and Shauna Redford at ROTC ball
By Vicky Collins, Dateline NBC
It's an unsolved mystery involving a beautiful college town, a picture-perfect young couple and even a movie star.
It all started with this classified ad in the Boulder Daily Camera, January, 1983.
SPANISH Towers Luxury Condominiums.
Furnished living room. Prefer C.U. upperclassman or graduate student.
$300 monthly. For interview, call Sid, 443-****, evenings.
Sid Wells, a 22-year old journalism student at the University of Colorado, was looking for someone to rent a room to. Thayne Smika, a 24-year old college dropout, answered the ad.
Sid told his mom his new roommate was kind of weird and unsocial but, since he came from a small, neighboring town near the Wells family, Sid thought he must be OK.
Smika rented the room. But as time passed, Sid began having trouble collecting the rent.
On August 1, 1983, just before Sid began his senior year, he died from a single 20-gauge shotgun wound to the back of the head. Sid’s older brother, Sam, found his body. The rent was due that day.
Sid’s mother, June Menger, describes her youngest son as a good-looking, vivacious, young man who was interning at a local television station and wanted to fly jets for the U.S. Navy.
In his freshman year, he’d fallen head-over-heels for a girl in his dorm named Shauna. He loved the way her hair fell over her eyes. He asked her to be his date to the Navy ROTC ball, and from that point on, the two were inseparable. Sid didn’t learn until later that Shauna was the daughter of actor Robert Redford.
The Redford family attends the funeral of Sid Wells.
In Sid’s obituary, Shauna was listed as survivor, girlfriend and best friend.
Robert Redford stopped production of his film “The Natural” so he and his family could attend Sid’s funeral.
A broken hearted Shauna later left the university.
Police focused their attention on Thayne Smika and, when forensic evidence confirmed their suspicions, they arrested him.
The case was presented to a grand jury but the District Attorney at the time, Alex Hunter, did not believe he had enough evidence to try Smika and released him from custody. Sid’s mom could not believe it.
“The evidence pointed to Thayne," June said. "The police department felt that way, his friends and roommates felt that way. We couldn't understand why they let him go."
Smika moved to Denver then eventually left for California. In 1986 his abandoned car, a Dodge Aries, was found in Beverly Hills wiped clean of prints. Smika was never seen again.
Police and the family believe he changed his name and disappeared.
Dave Hayes was a rookie detective in the Boulder Police Department when Sid Wells was killed. For 30 years he’s been doggedly trying to solve this cold case. In 2010, armed with more sophisticated forensic and ballistic evidence, he says he was once again able to pinpoint Thayne Smika as the likely killer.
An arrest warrant for murder was issued but Smika was nowhere to be found.
According to Detective Hayes, “This is not a whodunit, but rather a 'where is he?'”
The Boulder Police Department is asking for tips, and has released a time progression of what Smika might look like 30 years after the murder.
Thayne Smika time progression
Have you seen Thayne Smika?
Finding Smika is especially urgent because June Menger is now battling stage four cancer and would like closure and justice for her son in her lifetime.
She believes Smika has had some very good cover for 30 years and has also had help staying off the grid.
“If Thayne was innocent,” she says, “he would want to clear his name and live a normal life rather than hide out.”
For June, Sid’s death is as fresh as if it just happened. It’s something she and her family have never gotten over. She wants to find Thayne Smika and she wants to ask him, “Why?”
If you have information about Thayne Smika or his whereabouts contact Detective Jeremy Frenzen at 303-441-1890 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Those wishing to remain anonymous can call Crime Stoppers
at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or 1-800-444-3776.