This report airs Dateline NBC Sunday, July 15 at 7 p.m.
SAN DIEGO, CALIF. — It was a camper who stumbled on the place deep in the Arizona desert, on the parched earth a few miles north of the Mexican border: a pile of rocks under a Palo Verde tree. A cairn of some sort—a monument.
What was it? Did it signify something or some person out here in this lonely place, so far from the prying eyes of urban America?
In there, under those stones, was a terrible puzzle. A mystery perhaps without solution.
Who would have believed what was in there?
Perhaps the place to start is far from that secret in the desert. Down here where the ocean meets San Diego, is a hamlet called Kensington—a slice of small town life in the shadow of the big city. There were modest Spanish style homes, trimmed front lawns, palm-lined streets. Middle America by the sea. There is where Joy Risker lived with her husband and two little boys.
Sheila Goff lived there too, also with her husband and little boy. And they were as different as chalk and cheese— quiet, generous Sheila and outgoing, effervescent Joy.
It was a fine arrangement. They shared the childcare, housework, cooking.
And they also shared the husband. Sean Goff: handsome, engaging, persuasive, and deeply religious. Sean is a former evangelical minister. That’s how he met Joy Risker, then just 16. He was her youth pastor.
Married, yes — to Sheila — but by then had become interested in “Christian Polygamy,” which claimed to be based on the patriarchs of the old testament. And in the summer of 1997, three years after they met he “married” Joy. Not legally of course. But it was Biblically sound, he told her, and as Joy told her friends.
Keith Morrison, Dateline correspondent: How did she explain it to you?
Jill, Joy's friend: Just like that. (Laughs) That, you know, she had met someone and she was all in love with him. And she told me that he was her youth pastor and that her mom gave her blessing. And everyone loved him, he was the greatest guy that just happened to be married to someone else.
Joy and Shelia were happy and obedient co-wives.
Morrison: Joy was wife number two. There was already wife number one Sheila. Was there jealousy there?
Saudiya, Joy's friend: Well, Sheila didn’t seem jealous. I mean I’m sure underneath there has to be some part of her that didn’t appreciate what was going on. But she seemed to love Joy. How did Joy feel about Sheila—
Jill: Joy never would have been jealous of Sheila. Because (Laughs) Joy was Sean’s favorite.
Sheila stayed at home—rarely going out with her husband.
While Joy, with her bubbly personality, was Sean’s “public” wife. They took romantic trips and went out dining and dancing often.
Morrison: Always happy?
Joy’s friend: Always happy. Or at least appearing to be. You know—unless she’s having a problem and she’s talking about it. You know?
But people grow and things change.
Joy began to resist the structure Sean Goff established in the house in Kensington.
Morrison: What did she say about her unhappiness?
Jill: She just said that Sean was really controlling and she wasn’t in love like she used to be.
She told her friends she wanted to travel, maybe go to Europe. And she wanted to go back to school, make a career for herself.
Morrison: So, she was ambitious to do something with her life?
Joy’s friend: She was.
And then, in late September 2003, Joy quite suddenly stopped calling her friends. And when they tried to contact her, Sean, crying on the phone, had shocking news: Joy had left him, left him and the children—and had run off to Europe with an old boyfriend.
Joy’s friend: I don’t know, (laughs) we just thought everything was so weird—we didn’t know how to really take it in.
Joy’s friend: It was strange though. Definitely.
Strange, indeed. She wouldn’t leave her sons, would she?
And wouldn’t she call her friends?
It wasn’t like her.
And far away in the desert, that strange monument guarded its mystery...
Sean Goff, the San Diego youth minister and polygamist, was an emotional wreck. His junior wife had run off to Europe with a boyfriend, had abandoned him and their two sons.
And that other wife.
Her friends were confused. They knew she’d had some problems with Sean. Was even thinking about leaving him. But this way? It didn’t sound like Joy at all. Especially, as she hadn’t said a word to them.
Saud, Joy’s friend: No, she would not run off without her kids.
Jill, Joy’s friend: That’s the whole reason she was sticking around—towards the end. Because she was really unhappy with Sean.
Then, out of the blue, an e-mail to a friend that seemed to explain everything.
"Joy" on why she left: I just needed some time away
On a mystery man named Jason: I’ve never been able to get Jason out of my head
On her secrecy… the reason she hadn’t warned friends, like jill: I really can’t talk to Jill right now because she’ll be against my decisions.
Keith Morrison, Dateline correspondent: Did you try to contact her?
Jill: We did. I called her everyday and after a while we started e-mailing her.
In e-mails, they begged her to call so they could hear her voice.
Joy’s reply was uncharacteristically angry.
Joy's email: I’ll talk to you when I’m ready.
And that’s just not how she was. If she knew we were worried, she’d call.
Saud: She would. The e-mail was too angry at us. She just wouldn’t have been mad at us for wanting to know where she is.
To ease their growing worry, the friends went to visit Sean at home.
Morrison: And how did he receive you, was he friendly?
Saud: He tried to be, you know.
He told them he’d spoken to Joy and she was fine. But the whole house seem, somehow, different. As if Joy had never lived there.
Morrison: What did it seem to you, what was the atmosphere like?
Joy's friend: Dark. Yeah and all I could say is dark.
Morrison: It had changed somehow?
The visit was strange. Her friends had been close to Joy’s children. They asked to see the boys and Sean refused.
Saud: After that, we were out of there, because we just knew something was not okay.
Jill couldn’t shake a feeling of dread. She finally brought herself to call the police—missing persons.
San Diego police investigative aide, Linda Koozin, got the case. She began by calling Sean.
Linda Koozin, police investigative aide: In talking to Sean, he was very credible what he said, “Joy didn’t want to be here anymore, she took off.”
Linda telephoned many of Joy’s friends.
Koozin: Everyone said she had plans, she wanted to go to Europe, but she wasn’t happy at home.
Sean sent police this email he said he received from Joy.
“Sean I know this is hard, but I am leaving for Europe tomorrow.”
Koozin: Again it seemed credible, she said she was leaving and he received an email that she left.
But then Linda checked Joy’s cell phone records and discovered something very suspicious.
Activity on Joy’s phone, usually almost constant, came to an abrupt halt on September 19 2003, at 9:36 p.m.
And the last call she made was to Sean.
Koozin: He never mentioned that call. That was so important.
Linda confronted Sean with that omission. And, cornered, he revealed a little more. Sheila and the three children had been out of town, he said. He and Joy had planned a romantic weekend to rekindle their relationship. But after a candlelight dinner, they argued... and in the early morning hours he said he woke up to see Joy with two packed suitcases getting into a car with a man.
Koozin: Why leave that out? That should have been our first conversation.
Linda was also discovering that other pieces of information were missing or just didn’t fit.
For one thing, Joy didn’t have a passport. How could she travel to Europe without a passport?
And the man with whom she’d supposedly run off to Europe? Linda found him in Boston.
Koozin: He didn’t have plans to meet up with Joy.
By now the investigator was convinced. Something had happened to Joy. She hadn’t simply run off with a man to Europe.
And she suspected some kind of foul play.
Linda began preparing her findings and recommended that homicide detectives get involved.
And then, a dramatic and utterly unexpected appearance. Sean Goff at the San Diego police department.
And what he was about to say was stunning.
He killed her? Surely not. But there he was, on tape, was confessing.
The sudden bizarre confession was over. He wanted a lawyer.
What exactly had happened? Did they actually have a crime here? And if Joy was dead, what happened to her body?
Sean Goff was booked for homicide and the cops began looking for some evidence that could tell them what happened.
Detective: So the first thing I was looking for was blood, somewhere in the house.
Detectives descended on the house in kensington hamlet, turned the place inside out.
Detective: And once you find a little bit of blood, the rule of thumb is you’re going to find a little bit more.
They found tiny blood spatters in Joy’s bedroom and in the bathroom.
A few drops of joy’s blood was confirmed by DNA.
But if Sean had actually killed her, as he said, where was the body?
Sean Goff sat in jail, revealing nothing.
Sheila packed up the children and went to stay with Sean’s parents out of state.
The investigation stalled.
Months ticked by...
No one in San Diego remotely aware that, deep in the Arizona desert, quite another mystery begged for a solution.
The mystery of the astonishing contents of the stone cairn out here under the Palo Verde tree…
The desert wind blows cold in the winter along the strip of scrub just north of the Mexican border.
Sean Goff sat in jail in San Diego and said not a word as police scoured leads in their search for the wife he told them he’d killed.
And in the desert, that pile of rocks under the Palo Verde tree was attracting attention. An old desert hand named Ruben Conde got a bad feeling when he saw the place.
Ruben Conde, hunting guide: It was big too big to have an animal or dog buried there and then I got to smelling and you could smell, uh different smell than an animal.
Conde was once a hunting guide... he’d smelled death before.
He called his son, a federal ranger with Bureau of Land Management. The next day, January 10, 2004, the ranger gingerly moved aside a few rocks. That’s when he found it.
Conde: I found a partial portion of a head and a torso and it just became apparent it wasn’t an animal.
Was it a man or a woman? Young or old? What was the cause of death? And who, out there in the middle of nowhere, had gathered hundreds of pounds of rocks and carefully crafted a tomb?
A Maricopa County Sheriff Detective brought the badly decomposed remains back to the medical examiner’s office in Phoenix for an autopsy.
Laura Fulgitini, forensic anthropologist: The first thing that we do when we get a skeletal remain is lay it out in anatomical position, so that we can inventory the remains, figure out what’s there, and what’s missing.
Doctor Laura Fulginiti, Fulgi to her colleagues, is a forensic anthropolgist—an expert at identifying bones.
Some answers came quickly. Fulgi determined among other things that the victim was young, female, and African American.
She’d given birth at least once. She was somebody’s mother.
But from here on, her discoveries were increasingly alarming.
The victim’s skull and ribs bore witness to a violent death. She’d been stabbed at least 12 times in the chest. The bones of her face were wrecked by blunt force. Someone had smashed her face in.
And as Fulgi examined the bones more carefully, she began to find things she’d never seen before.
Fulginiti: There were elements missing from her. Key elements, like her teeth. Her jaws were literally, the level of the bone of her teeth had been excised.
On a hunch, the detective, observing the autopsy, asked Fulgi to check the victim’s hands.
Fulginiti: I looked, and sure enough, the tips, the bones of her fingers, not her fingertips, not her fingernails, remember she’s a skeleton. The actual bones had been sliced off.
Something awful, sinister, and deliberate had been done to this woman. Doctor Fulgi was outraged.
Fulgitini: Goddamn CSI, because that’s clearly what had happened. Somebody had watched too much TV, and they knew exactly what to get rid of to try to thwart us.
No finger prints, no dental records—and quite possibly not even DNA.
Since getting DNA from such badly decomposed remains was very difficult and expensive, they’d have to start out low-tech.
They’d go back to the drawing board — literally.
Fulgitini: Initially, we had thought that a forensic artist reconstruction would not be possible, because we had pieces of her face and they were disfigured and distorted and we weren’t sure what we could do with it
Still, forensic artist Detective Bob Powers was keen to try.
Bob Powers, forensic artist: This is a last ditch attempt at an identification. And then if it fails, then the odds are that this person will never be identified.
He and Fulgi had had success in the past, but this was a long shot. Still...
Powers: It was like an oval jigsaw puzzle.
They pieced the skull bones together, used clay to fill in the missing pieces and recreate teeth.
Powers: I’ll go ahead and I’ll start sketching—starting very light at first. And the first thing I want to do is get the placement of the features; the eyes, the nose, and the mouth.
But months went by.
Apparently it looked like nobody.
And then, by sheer luck, Bob Powers spotted a picture on a missing persons flier. It reminded him of his sketch.
Powers: There was a resemblance. It could be her.
The possibility was enough to go the expense of getting a DNA sample.
Sheriffs contacted the woman’s family obtained her DNA.
And? Disappointment. It wasn’t her…
But by now, that DNA sample had made its way into an FBI database.
And there she was.
Fulgitini: We were right, putting her face back on her is what gave us her story.
Eight months after she emerged from that pile of rocks in the Arizona desert, the woman had a name.
A name you know by now.
Did the ex-youth pastor, the loving, polygamist husband and father also know the horrifying story her bones were about to tell?
In the summer of 2006, two years after Joy Risker’s bones were identified, three years after her killing, Sean Goff went on trial in San Diego.
It was Deputy D.A. Matthew Greco’s very first murder trial.
Matthew Greco, deputy D.A.: There’s only two types of murders. There’s “Who done its?” and “What is it?”. And this was a “What is it?”
That is to say... was it murder at all? Or was it an accident, or self defense?
An experienced and wiley defense attorney, Greco knew, was standing by to argue those very things.
So the prosecutor went all out.
Greco: He planned it and he killed her.
All because he wanted total control over Joy’s life.
Greco: I thought he was the scariest defendant that I have ever seen.
Proof of that, claimed prosecutor Greco, was in the horrifying story told by those bones recovered from beneath the pile of rocks under the Palo Verde tree.
Greco (in court): So this was a stab wound directly to the heart?
Laura Fulgitini, forensic anthropologist: Yes.
The anthropologist testified that Joy had been savagely mutilated.
Fulgitini: My opinion was someone was trying to obliterate her face.
It was a litany of brutality.
Fulgitini: This mark right across the middle of the hyoid is not a natural feature of the bone, as if the implement was doing this (sawing motion on neck).
Greco: What would be the result if that hyoid bone was entirely sawed through?
Fulgitini: In essence you would end up decapitating the person.
How had Sean and Joy gone from happy couple to bones in the desert?
Prosecutor Greco was about to present some chilling evidence… that Sean had been methodically planning the murder for many months.
Sean’s college friend, a writer, told about a brainstorming session the year before Joy’s death—they were working out the story plot for a book or movie.
Prosecutor: What was the subject matter you were discussing?
Leif Wright: It was how to have the antagonist in the movie or book watch forensic type shows on TV and learn how to commit perfect murder.
And the best ways to hide the body—
Prosecutor: Was there any discussion of putting the body in a place it would never be found?
Wright: Yes and yes. The ideas would be from television shows… like the FBI Files.
Prosecutor: Forensic Files?
Wright: Forensic Files and things like that.
And remarkably, weeks before Joy’s death, the friend testified, Sean foreshadowed his own motive for murder.
Wright: Essentially he said that it was not working out with Joy, that she was sloppy and lazy and that he was going to have to get rid of her.
Sean’s colleague testified that he was dissatisfied with Joy and had plans for her. Joy had very little time.
Victoria Mack: Two or three weeks to shape up or ship out.
Joy’s friends testified that Sean had always let it be known that if he and Joy ever split, he would keep the kids.
Prosecutor: Would you ever discuss hypothetically what would happen what would happen if Joy left him?
Mack: Essentially, that he wouldn’t allow her to have the kids.
And one friend testified that Sean seemed to be building an excuse, in advance, to explain why Joy might disappear.
Trane, friend: He told me that he thought that she was the kind of person who would take off and leave and never look back again.
And as for those emails that seemed to come from Joy in the weeks after her disappearance, a forensic computer expert testified that they were all a digital deception—they had all been sent by Sean.
And then, a surprise: the one witness who knew Sean Goff better than anybody, the one person who might be able to explain the man, the woman who, as a teenager, had become wife number one: Sheila, was now a witness for the prosecution.
So many questions—such as, why did she agree to his polygamist demands?
Sheila Goff: I felt I didn’t have a choice. I felt that this was God wanted us to do. And then it was either that or lose my son and the relationship I had with Sean.
Prosecutor: Now why did you believe you would lose your son?
Sheila Goff: I don’t know.
By now divorced from Sean, Sheila had put certain of his activities, that September of 2003, into a new context.
Like a curious shopping spree six days before Joy disappeared.
He had brought home with him a chisel, a hand saw, pick axe, sledge hammer, duct tape, plastic sheeting, a shovel, a cooler, butcher block, and butcher knife, among other things.
Prosecutor: Was he the kind of person that was had other who had hobbies like woodwork?
Sheila Goff: No.
Sheila Goff: No.
Sheila Goff: No.
Prosecutor: What was his level of being a handyman?
Sheila Goff: None.
All those items, argued the prosecutor, were part of a deliberately assembled murder and dismemberment kit.
And the weekend of September 19th, with Sheila and the kids on a trip to Santa Barbara, he put his plan in motion.
He took Joy to an expensive restaurant for a $229 dollar last supper—Kobe beef.
At 8:36 that Friday evening, Joy called Sheila to say goodnight to her boys.
Prosecutor: Could you describe her tone?
Sheila Goff: Happy.
Prosecutor: Did she, on Friday the 19th, sound like she was angry?
Sheila Goff: No.
Sheila Goff: No.
Sheila Goff: No.
And later that night back at home, said the prosecutor, Sean stabbed Joy to death.
He sawed out her teeth and chopped off fingers that might identify who she was. He stuffed her body in a container in the back of a rented SUV. He drove five hours to the Arizona desert.
And buried her under a Palo Verde tree.
Sean called Sheila on Sunday as she was driving back from Santa Barbara. He told her, she said, that he and Joy had broken up.
Prosecutor: Did the defendant tell you that Joy had cut herself?
Sheila Goff: Yes.
Prosecutor: Did he ask you to do something?
Sheila Goff: Yes.
Sheila Goff: Clean up.
And so, she did. She cleaned up the blood in Joy’s bedroom. And in the bathroom.
And when Sean finally arrived back home in that rented SUV, it was Monday.
Sheila helped him clean out the dirt and debris and chose to believe his lie—that he’d simply gone for a long drive to deal with his grief at the breakup.
Sheila Goff: Because I really didn’t believe he would do something like that to our family.
It was a damning story with a villain right out of “The Silence of the Lambs.”
But was it true? Was Sean really such a monster?
Now finally, after years of silence, the polygamist preacher would tell the story himself.
He’d killed her all right. But now he was about to say he had a very good reason.
Sean Goff: I saw her in the door. She had a knife.
Albert Arena is an engaging man. As a defense lawyer he has paid his dues in San Diego, he has represented the good and bad and ugly, best he could, for 22 years.
But the case of the polygamist wife killer was about to test his skills as never before.
The prosecution’s case had been thoroughly damning. What could Arena say?
Albert Arena, defense attorney (in court): Indeed the evidence will unfold and show you that those things did happen.
Agreeing with the prosecution? Well, not exactly.
Arena: Pay particularly close attention to that word, post morten.
Albert Arena told the jury that the prosecutor had it backwards. It wasn’t a cold-blooded, planned killing. It was joy who launched a brutal attack, he claimed. Sean killed her in self defense.
And his desecration of her body was only a misguided attempt to ensure their children did not lose a father as well as a mother.
Arena: I have to humanize him. Humanize him and let him tell his story.
And so Sean Goff took the stand.
Sean Goff: I gave my life to Jesus when I was six.
He played up faith, downplayed polygamy.
Sean Goff: We were not hiding the fact that we were engaged in plural marriage from anyone.
And mostly, he tried to sell the jury his own story of what happened that dreadful weekend.
He really was a handy man, he told the jury, and that so-called “murder kit” the prosecution displayed was actually, claimed Goff, for a weekend home improvement project.
The hacksaw—there in the frontyard a pipe that stuck out of the yard
The plastic sheeting—he didn’t want to get paint on the floor.
The butcher knife? It wasn’t even for him. Joy, he says, selected the knife.
And now Sean Goff played his biggest card. He accused Joy of child abuse. On that last romantic evening, he said,
Joy became threatening.
Sean Goff: She said well you are not going to take the kids away from me.
Why? Because, he claimed, he had confronted joy that night with a photograph proving that she’d beaten their youngest child.
Where was that picture? Well, the defense never produced any such photograph.
But that is what set her off, claimed Sean. He told her he’d keep the children and kick her out. The gravy train would be over.
And that, he said, is when she attacked him.
Sean Goff: And she had a knife.
Defense attorney: What happened?
Sean Goff: She yelled at me and then she swung the knife at me.
Defense attorney: Did she say anything when she swung the knife?
Sean Goff: Yes.
Defense attorney: Was she saying anything?
Sean Goff: She said “you son of a b*tch I will kill you.”
He punched her twice, he said. But she kept coming.
Sean Goff: At this point I was frightened. I thought she is serious.
And then, struggling for his life, claimed Sean, he grabbed the hand holding the knife.
Sean Goff: I got it turned around toward her and we’re still fighting over the knife and I pushed the knife into her. At some point, I took the knife away and I stabbed her again.
Defense attorney: Where did you stab her, do you remember?
Sean Goff: At that point it was up here.
Defense attorney: Up here near my left shoulder?
Sean Goff: Somewhere in that area.
Defense attorney: What happened then?
Sean Goff: She kinda, uhm, at that point she kinda went limp.
Then, claimed Sean, though panicked and in shock, he bent down and tried to save her life, to give her CPR.
Sean Goff: I pulled out the knife and a lot of blood came out with it. And I checked her breathing and her pulse again and she didn’t have either at that time.
And then, he said, he wondered, should he call the police?
Sean Goff: She’s dead and I am there and she’s a woman. (crying)
Who would believe that she attacked him? He feared for himself and his children.
Sean Goff: I thought about this is Stone and Onyx’s mother and they were going to have to live without her. And you know I felt like that they are probably going to live without me too.
And so, it was a moral dilemma, said Sean, a deeply religious man, remember.
What was the right thing to do?
Sean Goff: I decided that I needed to cover it up.
And inside the tiny bathroom, Sean Goff began the grim task of erasing Joy Risker’s identity.
Sean Goff: I knew that I had to remove her fingertips.
Defense attorney: What were you feeling at that point in time?
Sean Goff: (crying) I felt horrified. Yeah I felt frightened, I felt sickened. (crying)
But there was more to do.
Sean Goff: I decided that in order to cover up her identity, I would have to remove her teeth as well.
He used an old saw from the garage, he said, not the brand new hack saw he’d just bought.
Sean Goff: I couldn’t look at her. I arranged the towels where I wouldn’t see anything except what I was cutting.
He struggled to get his junior wife’s remains into a large plastic container and into the rented SUV.
He cleaned the house, disposed of the saw, the knife, the bloody towels and took a shower.
Sean Goff: I sat down in the living room uhm horrified by what had happened. I was trying to wake up hoping it was a dream.
At daybreak, he said, he drove aimlessly, ending up 250 miles away, beneath that Palo Verde tree in the Arizona desert.
And one rock at a time, entombed Joy Risker in that elaborate cairn.
Sean Goff: After everything I had done, it was like the only way I could show some respect for her body.
And that was Sean Goff’s story: self-defense. An accident, really. The rest of it just a misguided effort to protect his children from a life without their father.
Defense attorney Arena turned to the Jury and took his best shot.
Defense attorney Albert Arena: And you have to be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that it was not possible for Joy Risker to have introduced that knife in to the bedroom. But I wasn’t there, Mr. Greco wasn’t there, everything he talked about is his theory of the case.
But Prosecutor Greco had the last word.
The last question: What would Joy say?
Prosecutor Greco: She would say, I’ve already told you. I’ve told you with my blood in the house. And I have told you that this crime is so unspeakable with my hands and my fingers are missing. Hear her. Hear her.
The details had been horrific, stomach churning. But as jurors left the courtroom they still had to decide — whom did they believe?
By his own admission, Sean Goff was guilty of killing and dismembering Joy Risker. That much the jurors knew. But was it a cold calculation? Or self preservation?
First degree murder? second degree? Manslaughter? Or should he walk?
Yana, juror: It was a surreal experience. It still feels surreal, like it was a dream or something.
Justin, juror: Ihad this awful feeling we’d be there a couple of day.
Had defense attorney Arena succeeded in planting some doubt?
Defense attorney Albert Arena: My impression has changed. I just understand the concept of a defense attorney now.
Juror: Mr. Arena was a good guy.
Gillam, juror: Aarena had a very big mountain to climb and on some days he managed to climb pretty far.
Chudley, juror: Yeah he planted some great seed as far as trying to create that reasonable doubt.
But was it enough?
Dateline’s conversation with eight of the jurors sometimes seemed like group therapy.
Yana: Everything was just sooo unusual—the cruelty of it.
Keith Morrison, Dateline correspondent: Some of the stuff that occurred, some of the stories you heard, some of the evidence you saw.
Mary, juror: It was hideous. It was hideous, it was horrible. I lost sleep over it yeah.
Gillam: It was your last thought and your first thought. It was your last thought when you went to bed and your first thought when you woke up. It consumed you.
Justin: It overtook your whole life.
But they listened carefully, especially when Sean Goff took the stand and claimed he was defending himself.
Chudley: It was insulting, his lies to us.
Gillam: He thought he had it all wrapped up though he was so full of himself. I definitely got the impression that it was his world and we were all living in it.
Mary: He was very arrogant.
And then, there was the question of Sean’s tears. Or, actually, the lack of them, even as he portrayed all that emotion.
Gillam: Like come on, just give us one tear, one tear.
Mary: And finally he got it and picked up a tissue and tried to blot. It was nothing. It was all just for show.
They just didn’t buy it. And so within just two hours, they had a meeting of minds and handed the judge their verdict.
Judge (reading the verdict): We the jury in the above entitled cause find Sean Goff guilty of murder.
In September 2006, Sean Goff was sentenced to 25 years to life.
And a few days later, we went to visit Mr. Goff in the local jail, where he awaited transfer to state prison.
It just happened to be the 19th of September, a day with a certain significance.
Sean Goff: Three years ago today is when Joy died.
Morrison: Do you feel you have to put it that way? It’s hard to say, “Three year ago today is the day I killed Joy.”
Sean Goff: Well, when it has been necessary to say so, I have.
It’s an unsettling business, talking to a person like Sean Goff—bright, glib. He’s a man capable of chopping up his own spouse’s body and still finding ways to excuse himself.
Morrison: Wwere you in love with Joy?
Sean Goff: Yes. Yes, I was.
Sean Goff: Yes.
Morrison: --she blew you away?
Sean Goff: uh-huh.
Morrison: This was a love match.
Sean Goff: Yes.
But, it was he who suffered, said Sean. His pain. His grief. His ordeal. For which he still blames—Joy. Joy, who could not be allowed to oppose his will.
Morrison: You can’t have her have her own way? If she really cares about it?
Sean Goff: No.
Morrison: Why not?
Sean Goff: In the situation it would’ve destroyed the rest of the family, giving her what she wanted.
Morrison: So I’ll kill her instead?
Sean Goff: No.
Morrison: How many times did you stab her?
Sean Goff: I am not aware of that.
Morrison: Like a dozen times or something. Her sternum sliced off… so when we look at that evidence any sane or rational person would say “This wasn’t just self defense, he lost it,” I mean “He lost it like he probably has never lost it before nor ever will again.” It was like the super bowl of losing it.
Sean Goff: I’m not averse to confessing something bad I’ve done. It’s not that I don’t believe I’ll be forgiven. The fact is that what typifies this event as self defense is how it began, not how it ended.
He has found peace, says Sean Goff.
Remember, he was a pastor once.
Morrison: Do you think your god forgive you for what you did?
Sean Goff: For the things I did wrong, he’s sent his son to die for and he’s not going to waste his son’s life.
As we spoke, he turned again and again to his central theme—his religious certainty.
Sean Goff: It has to do with me fulfilling the purpose I was created for.
Morrison: Wow, it’s pretty shocking idea that you may be. And I don’t mean to sound mean here but you were created for the purpose of killing Joy?
Sean Goff: No, that’s not what I am saying.
Morrison: Well, you did.
Sean Goff: I realize that....
What he meant, he said, was that he’s re-embraced his Christian ministry. His purpose, now, to help his fellow prisoners seek and accept God’s forgiveness.
Morrison: You believe in heaven? And do you believe Joy is there now?
Sean Goff: Yes I do.
Morrison: So what will you say to her when you arrive there in heaven?
Sean Goff: I’ll tell her I’m sorry and I’ll tell her that I love her.
Morrison: What would she say to you?
Sean Goff: Being there, I think she will forgive me.
Among her friends and family, the pain of her death, the horrific story, is raw. Joy was life, they said.
How could such evil be caused by a man who claimed to live by the laws of god?
Jill, Joy’s friend: It’s still surreal.
Joy's friend: She was a good person. She was wonderful. And she didn’t deserve that. Especially not from him.
© 2013 NBCNews.com Reprints