Video: Suspicious shooting paralyzes woman after divorce

NBC Universal Anchors and Correspondents
By Keith Morrison Correspondent
NBC News
updated 6/13/2008 11:59:47 AM ET 2008-06-13T15:59:47

Originally aired Dateline NBC July 30.

Along the Gold Coast of Florida, gazing out at the sparkling Atlantic, is one of America's privileged precincts of perpetual tan: Boca Raton.

And here, under the brilliant sun, lived a golden beauty named Heather Grossman.

She was a mother of three whose tumultuous first marriage and bitter divorce had given way to new love, new marriage, and an apparently happy ending with a wealthy young businessman named John Grossman.

Here was their refuge by the sea.

But as anyone in Boca Raton can tell you, there are moments here when the sea and the sky go ugly and violence erupts as if from heaven itself.

October 13, 1997 was just another glorious day.

Heather, 31, and her new husband John were driving to lunch.

They'd stopped for a red light.

Did they see the green Ford approach on the left? Did they hear the blast pierce the morning air?


Det. John Sanchez: It was reported by witnesses that they saw a-- like a rifle going out of the window, passenger window, and firing.  And then the vehicle took off.

Detective John Sanchez was one of the first to arrive.

John Grossman's injury appeared to be minor.

Not so for Heather.

Det. Sanchez: It was pretty bad.  The female victim, Mrs. Grossman, she had a very traumatic injury to her neck.
Keith Morrison: Unclear at that point whether she would survive or not.
Det. Sanchez: Unclear. 

She did survive – barely. But now paralyzed from the neck down, she remembers the moment as clear as if it were this morning.

Heather Grossman: I felt my body shutting down … shutting down almost like a machine.

Her life, in one violent moment, was unalterably changed.

Not just for Heather.  There were the children, 8-year-old Ronnie, and 6-year-old twins, Lauren and Joseph.

What would become of them?

As Heather lay in the hospital, struggling to survive, her ex-husband, a wealthy car dealer named Ron Samuels sought to assume custody of their three children and actually filed the request in court.

But, wait. This was not simply the supportive gesture of a concerned parent. First you should know a little about Ron Samuels.

Heather Grossman: He always forced the child custody issues even after the divorce.  He had an extreme amount of money, and he used it to legally harass me through the court system.

It hadn't always been that way. In the late ‘80s, Heather, a former cheerleader from Minnesota, had been working as a flight attendant when she met Samuels on a plane. Samuels wooed her with gusto and charm.

Heather Grossman: Very handsome, had a lot of charisma … You know, if we went out for dinner, he always sent me flowers after.

They got married in 1988. And almost right away, says Heather, he changed.

Heather Grossman: He became very controlling, very demanding.  It was almost like he owned me.

It wasn't all bad, mind you. Eventually there were their three children. Samuels was a doting father even as, according to Heather, he became an unpredictable and abusive husband.

Heather Grossman: One time, he threw a whole plate of lasagna at me. If I didn't do something right, you know, he would blow up.

She could never tell, she said, when a storm was coming, or how bad it would be.

Heather Grossman: I was pregnant with my twins and he held a gun to my head and said, you know, "You're not going to leave.  If you leave me, I'll kill you.”

She finally did leave, filing for divorce in '92.

The children bounced back and forth, staying mostly with her, but sometimes with him.

She took up with John Grossman, a Minnesota businessman whose successful and well-connected father was part owner of the Minnesota Vikings.

Meanwhile, Samuels romanced his lawyer's secretary, a woman named Deborah Love.

Deborah Love: He was impossible to ignore.  I mean, he made you aware of his presence.  He was very friendly.  He was charming. 

Except, that is, when he told Deborah about ex-wife Heather.

Deborah Love: He said she was a real bitch.  And he said she was a gold digger.  And that all she cared about was herself.

Samuels' war with Heather intensified.

He sold his car dealership, stashed money offshore in the Cayman Islands, and battled Heather in court for the children.

He even accused Heather and her new husband of abusing the kids.

By then, Samuels had married Deborah Love and he told her all about it.

Deborah Love: Ron would say, "Debbie, you'll never believe what the children just told me.  They're being beat with a big belt called Big Moe.  John's beating them.  John's locking them in the closet. Isn't that right, Ronnie? Isn't that right, Joseph?"
Keith Morrison: And they would say what?
Deborah Love: Sometimes they would say “yes” and sometimes they wouldn't say anything. 

But the Grossmans denied his accusations. Heather felt the children were being pressured by their father.

Heather Grossman: These were children that were two- and three-years-old being pushed around and influenced by a very scary individual.

Samuels even called police about the alleged abuse. And who headed the investigation? Why the very same detective Sanchez who, later, was called to the scene of that shooting.

Det. Sanchez: There was insufficient evidence to charge them with abuse.

And then finally, by Oct. 1997, the court had had enough. Samuels was denied visitation. He was ordered to pay back child support by Oct. 31, 1997, or face jail time.

Just two weeks before the deadline, a shotgun blast had put everything on hold. At the scene John Grossman told police he knew where to lay the blame.

Det. Sanchez: He suspected right away that it was her former husband.
Keith Morrison: The way he was saying it, was it a mere suspicion or was he convinced that this--
Det. Sanchez: He was convinced. He was convinced.

In a stroke of luck, there had been eyewitnesses who provided the first clue.

John Sanchez: The witnesses were able to identify and provide a tag number for that vehicle.
Keith Morrison: So you tracked the car down.
Det. Sanchez: Yes.
Keith Morrison: Case resolved?
Det. Sanchez: No.  N-- case was not resolved.

Why?  Because that car did not belong to Ron Samuels.

In fact, Samuels was nowhere near the shooting that day -- and had witnesses to prove it.

But he was busy in the days after the shooting, trying to get custody of his children. It was an effort that failed.

But then police seemed to have failed, too, to answer the question: Who shot Heather Grossman?  And why?

It was one violent moment at a red light in Boca Raton, Fla.

One bullet from a passing car.

Heather Grossman: One second you're a healthy, walking, speaking, singing individual and the next you're laying there and people are asking you, "Blink once for yes, you know. You know blink twice for no."

Who did it? And why?

Heather was convinced it was Ron Samuels, the ex-husband with whom she had been involved in a bitter divorce. But he had a solid alibi.

When a witness gave police the license number of the car from which the bullet had come, they discovered it belonged to an insurance agent named Hugh Estees.

Detective Sanchez called Estees in for an interview.

It turned out Estees knew Samuels, worked with him once.  But he claimed they'd lost touch. Estees said he knew nothing of Samuels’ current troubles.

Police interview tape
Sanchez: So he didn't talk about his problem with his kids and his wife … ex-wife?
Estees: He's got a problem with his kids?

Estees denied having driven the car the morning it was used by the shooter. He couldn't even say for sure who did have it.

Det. Sanchez: He claimed that he had brought his car to an individual to have the car detailed.
Keith Morrison: So whoever was supposedly detailing the car actually used it to commit a crime.
Det. Sanchez: Yes. 

Estees was a drug addict. He ran with a disreputable crowd.  He claimed that any one of them could have been driving his car. 

And then, under pressure, the owner of the car told police his crack dealer may have had the car the morning of the shooting.

The dealer, brought in for questioning, denied it.

Police interview tape
Dealer: I don't think the car was at my house ... I was at my house. I got witnesses I was there.

Frustrated, investigators dug into the dealer's dark back alley world and heard some street talk that Estees may have hired the dealer to drive the car that day, and then hired another addict to pull the trigger.

But why would any of them want to harm the Grossmans?  Nobody was admitting anything.

Det. Sanchez: We went through phone records, bank records … eventually we were kind of in a dead end.

And then one day, months later, that crack dealer was arrested on an unrelated felony. Officials also decided to charge him with attempted murder in the Grossman case. That was enough to shake him.

Keith Morrison: What did he tell you?
Det. Sanchez: He told us about an individual that had made arrangements to have a lady killed ... that individual eventually turned out to be Ron Samuels, the former husband. He stated that he had made some dry runs up to Boca to look at locations where this lady may be.
Keith Morrison: That Samuels had taken him to these places?
Det. Sanchez: No, someone else had taken him.

How many people were in on this?

Was anybody telling the truth?

In fact, after months of going in circles, all police had were  unsubstantiated rumors in a world of drug addicts and pushers.

Heather and her family, meanwhile, lived in constant terror under assumed names.

She was terrified because she was certain, she says, that ex-husband Ron Samuels had tried to kill her once -- and would try again.

Al Johnson [prosecutor]: We had victims who were in fear.  And we had a case where the police felt confident that they knew who was behind this crime. And yet they needed the cooperation and the testimony from these co-conspirators. 

There seemed to be two ways to crack the case.  Prosecutor Al Johnson knew that neither one was perfect.

Alan Johnson: We could prosecute the shooter and possibly some of the co-conspirators and not go after the mastermind, or we could prosecute the mastermind and give a deal or immunity to the shooter and the people who actually perpetrated the crime physically.

Traditionally, the victims are consulted before that choice is made. The Grossmans were an influential family whose feelings, some might speculate, surely held more than a little weight.

So Johnson's superior at the time, the state attorney for Palm Beach, set up a meeting with the family.

Alan Johnson: And their feeling was the mastermind, the one who's responsible for this crime, the one who set it up, the one who made it happen, is the one that we need to go after. 

The decision was, frankly, astonishing.

The state attorney would offer full immunity for all involved.

All they needed to do was say what they knew and they could walk away scott free.

Alan Johnson: In the real world, we have to make choices and we have to make sacrifices in order to get some semblance of justice.  And in this case, the justice is to go after the mastermind. 

The first person to talk to lead detective Sanchez was the owner of that car used in the hit: Hugh Estees, a man desperate for money to buy drugs.

Police interview tape
Estees: Well he said he wanted to whack his wife
Sanchez: When you say "whack," what do you mean?
Estees: Well, he wanted her dead.
Sanchez: How much did he give you?
Estees: $7,500, $10,000, something like that.

But Estees promptly spent the money and he told police that Samuels was furious.

Police interview tape
Estees: Ron said he wasn't going to pay any more money out until it was done.

So, said Estees, Samuels called him and his drug world buddies to a series of planning meetings in places like this upscale Boca Raton mall.

Police interview tape
Dealer: Samuels just saying, "just get rid of her."
Sanchez: what did he mean "get rid of her?"
Dealer: Get rid. How you do when you get rid of somebody
Sanchez: Is that to kill her? Shoot her?
Dealer: Yeah.

It was simple, said the shooter.  It was about commerce.

Police interview tape
Roger Runyon [shooter]: He came to me one day and said "How would you like to make some money?"

It was a devil's bargain. These conspirators in a murder would never spend a day in prison.

But Heather agreed she could accept the conspirators going free. The man she really wanted prosecuted was the man who had hired them -- Ron Samuels.

Heather Grossman: He was very smart in the way he hired people because everybody knew a little bit of something.
Keith Morrison: But, you needed all of them to put--
Heather Grossman: You needed all of--
Keith Morrison: --together the whole.
Heather Grossman: --them to get together to get the story. 

Finally, the man who had arranged an end to Heather Grossman's life as she knew it would be arrested.

Or would he? 

A greedy drug addict, a hitman, a single bullet.

That's all it took to demolish the sunny, privileged existence of Heather Grossman.

And now, seven months later in May of 1998, police were set to arrest Heather's ex-husband Ron Samuels and charge him with arranging the hit.

Just as they were about to pounce, he disappeared.

But where?

Larry Doss [former FBI agent]: He was running away from the investigation.  And he goes from Florida to San Francisco.

The FBI's Larry Doss led the manhunt.

Keith Morrison: How'd you know he was in San Francisco?
Agent Doss: From his telephone and from his credit cards. They had specifics as to where he was, which room he was in, and who he was calling.

FBI agents went to nab Samuels in San Francisco.

Agent Doss: And they miss him by two hours. He's gone.

Then they got some help.

Samuels’ second wife, Deborah Love, had discovered a very different man behind the charmer she married.

Deborah Love: He would make his finger look like a gun in his hand. He told me I was dead. I was dead.

Deborah Love had stayed with Samuels for years, ever hopeful, trying to ignore his outbursts and, against all reason, believing whatever he wanted her to. That included Samuels' convincing spin on what had happened to his ex-wife.

Deborah Love: Within a few minutes, I was in complete denial. He did not do it. He had no part in doing it. I don't know who did it.  It could have been strangers.  Maybe it was her present husband, because that's what Ron said.

But as the investigation wore on, there were disturbing signs that Love says she could not ignore.

Deborah Love: I found cocaine.  In a briefcase in the closet … he was selling cocaine.
Keith Morrison: Large amounts of it?
Deborah Love: Large amounts of cocaine. He admitted it.

At first Love, terrified of Samuels, said nothing. But after he disappeared, she found the courage to do something.

Deborah Love: As soon as he was gone, I began to help the police.

Love allowed police to tap her phone.  They listened to every word as Samuels, on the lam, made his way to New Orleans and beyond, dodging his FBI pursuers. But before long, thanks to Deborah, they were at his heels again.

Telephone audio
Samuels: Could you meet me this weekend, please, please, babe, to talk in person, just me and you.
Love: Where?
Samuels: I'm in Mexico.

Interview
Agent Doss: And then he starts using the credit card and the telephone in Monterrey, Mexico.
Keith Morrison: Bingo.
Agent Doss: Bingo. 

The FBI knew they didn't have much time because Samuels would soon be on the move.

Telephone audio
Samuels: I need the $35,000, Debbie.
Love: Ron-
Samuels: I need it in little bits and pieces and I need a way to sneak across the border.

On May 30, 1998, Mexican police went to apprehend the slippery Ron Samuels.

Agent Doss: He comes out of his hotel, gets in the car and drives away.  The Mexicans are following him. Samuels realized that he is being followed by someone and he takes off. A high-speed chase results.  They eventually are able to stop him and arrest him.

And when they searched the car, he had six kilos of cocaine.

Agent Doss: Now he's got a problem.
Keith Morrison: Big problem.
Agent Doss: He's got a big problem. They're going to charge him with trafficking in six kilograms of cocaine.

Despite U.S. efforts to extradict him, the Mexican government insisted Samuels do his time. He was convicted, he was sentenced, and held for five years.

But it was little comfort to Heather Grossman.

Heather Grossman: I was afraid that he would pay somebody $200,000 or whatever to just slip out the side door.
Keith Morrison: And come after you?
Heather Grossman: And come after me. 

Heather tried as best as she could to rebuild her life.

The family moved to Arizona.

She and John Grossman divorced.

In 2005, John died of a heart attack.

And all that time, Heather waited. She waited for justice.

Keith Morrison: And had an underlying sense of anxiety that whole time?
Heather Grossman: The whole time.

Finally, in 2005, Samuels was sent back to Florida to stand trial for the attack on the Grossmans. But what kind of case did the state have? Not only was it 10 years old, it rested on the testimony of drug addicts and felons.

Alan Johnson [prosecutor]: One phrase that comes to mind is, "in order to get to the devil, you're not going to have saints as witnesses."  The fact that somebody is involved in a crime does not mean that they're not telling the truth.

But would that be enough to convict a man of ordering an execution?



Palm Beach, Fla., is no stranger to scandal.

But the trial that began in this posh enclave on Oct. 17, 2006, would be very lurid, indeed. It was a simmering mix of passion, greed, deceit and revenge.

In court
Alan Johnson: He had lost his visitation rights. He was losing in his bid to withhold money and child support, and he was not a man that was given to lose.

The prosecutor needed to prove that even though Ron Samuels was nowhere near the shooting of Heather Grossman, he was as guilty as if he had pulled the trigger.

Alan Johnson: There was never really an issue as to who the shooter was in this case. The issue was who's the mastermind, who set this all up?

But the prosecution's star witnesses were a gang of disreputable characters who turned state's evidence in exchange for one very attractive payoff -- a “get out of jail free” card.

Alan Johnson: Relying on a co-conspirator or somebody who's involved in a crime is always a slippery slope.

Defense attorney Edward Reagan knew it could all come down to credibility. 

Edward Reagan: People who had, by the government's own interviews from multiple officers, had always lied.  Yet when it was the immunity deal that was given … Essentially, tell us what we need to hear and you walk free.

And so it began. A frail but determined Heather Grossman took her place in the courtroom, looking at one-time husband Ron Samuels for the first time in a decade.

Heather Grossman: I say I'm a strong person.  But, I was terrified to see him for the first time.

First, Samuels’ old friend Hugh Estees told how Heather's ex-husband offered cash for her death.

In court
Prosecutor: Did there come a time when-- when you began to feel that he was serious?  
Mr. Estees: Well, when he gave me a wad of hundreds.
Prosecutor: And when he gave you that wad of hundreds, what, if anything, did he say to you?
Mr. Estees: He said "Find a shooter, or you can do it yourself."

A parade of henchmen took the stand…

Eddie Stafford: He wanted her knocked off, and um, he didn't, he don't have all day. You know, not mean all day, but he wanted it done soon, you know.

Al Johnson [prosecutor]: Did Ron solicit Hugh to kill Heather and John?
Geoff Pollack: Yes … When Ron mentioned he wanted his ex-wife taken care of, he made a motion of a gun.
Al Johnson: How did that make you feel?
Geoff Pollack: Very uncomfortable.

… including the man who admitted he pulled the trigger.

Al Johnson: Was it your understanding that she was to be killed?
Roger Runyon: It was my understanding that, yes, she was supposed to be dead.

Then, suddenly, an outburst in the courtroom-

Ronald Samuels (from defense table): A despicable scum of the earth.

Shouts rang through the hushed courtroom.

Ronald Samuels (from his seat): I'll meet you in hell, you son of a bitch. I'll find you. One way or the other! 

After a brief cooling off period, the trial resumed -- but the fireworks were not over.

Roger Runyon (to Samuels): You're right, I will go to hell.  And you will see me there.

Dramatic? Certainly. Believable? Perhaps -- because the prosecution would then produce a ten-year-old trump card.

They produced scores of phone records, records which provided concrete links between the conspirators and Ron Samuels.

But why did Samuels want Heather dead in the first place?

The prosecution set out to establish motive. Everybody knew of his fury over the children.  But there was another more practical reason, too, suggested the prosecution.

This insurance agent testified that after the divorce with Heather, Samuels retained a very suspicious life insurance policy.

State's attorney: Specifically, this document pertains to whom-- is the insured?
Ms. Tanguay: The insured is Heather M. Samuels.
State's attorney: And the amount of the insurance?
Ms. Tanguay: $1 million.

Was the chance to cash in, on top of all the bitterness, a motive for murdering Heather?

Or was it pure rage, as Samuels’ second wife -- and key prosecution witness -- Deborah Love suggested.

In court
Attorney: What words did he say?
Deborah Love: I wish she was dead.  She needs to be dead.  Somebody needs to kill the bitch.  We need to get rid of her.

As for Samuels’ claim that Heather and her new husband were abusing his children, his son Ronnie, now 17 -- who has legally changed his name to Grossman -- said abuse simply never happened.

Ronnie Samuels: I was influenced.  Ron influenced us. He was a very intimidating man at the time and I was six years old.
Barbara Burns: Did Ronald Samuels tell you the reason why he wanted you to make these allegations?
Ronnie Samuels: Yes. He wanted to take me away from my mom and John.

Gradually, the prosecution painted a portrait of a man so filled with vitriol that he was willing to do anything to deprive his ex-wife of their children.

But one person had yet to tell the jury of her experience with Ron Samuels.

As the courtroom sat silent, Heather Grossman, pale and fragile, confronted the man who tried to take her children and then her life.

Heather Grossman: I was there to face the man that Ron Samuels-- that did this to me … and put Ron Samuels in jail for life so that he would never harm myself or my children again.
Al Johnson [prosecutor]: What was Mr. Samuels' demeanor like when he would pick up or drop off the children?
Heather Grossman: Very loud, threatening.  He thought he was in power.  Very pushy.

And then she told how Samuels finally lost his bid for the children and how a judge set a deadline by which he was to pay thousands in back child support.

Al Johnson: When was that hearing, when did that take place? 
Heather Grossman: October 7, 1997.

And one week later, said Heather, she sat at a traffic light heading for lunch, and the world changed.

In trial
Heather Grossman: I remember leaning down to get some papers out of my briefcase and I remember coming up. And that I felt the bullet penetrate my spinal cord.

It was a powerful case.

But it wasn't the whole story.

If the state's case was going to succeed, it would have to survive a big challenge.

For two weeks, jurors had listened to a curious band of conspirators as they pointed a finger at former car salesman Ronald Samuels.

They all claimed he was the mastermind behind a plot to kill his former wife.

If Ron Samuels had any chance of winning an acquittal, he'd have to destroy the credibility of those witnesses.

Edward Reagan [defense attorney]: If you have a person that's made their life on misrepresenting and lying, is it any great leap of your analysis that these people wouldn't come in here?  And say what the government needed them to say?

Could a reasonable jury believe anything these men told them?

Defense attorney Edward Reagan said “no,” and he went after those admitted -- but freed -- conspirators with a vengeance.

In court
Edward Reagan: “That I was not driving a car in Boca.” Did you tell detective Sanchez that?
Eddie Stafford: Yes.
Edward Reagan: That I didn't shoot anybody?
Eddie Stafford: Right.
Edward Reagan: And it was all lies to protect yourself, correct?
Eddie Stafford: At the time, yes...

The incentive, said the defense, could make anybody lie.

Edward Reagan: And if you cooperated -- what was the carrot, what was the benefit?
Eddie Stafford: Immunity.

But this, the defense reminded the jury, wasn't the only conspirator who had changed his story to police.

What happened, asked the defense, when Hugh Estees was questioned by the Boca Raton investigator?

In court
Defense attorney: Did you tell him anything at all with regard to any participation with Mr. Samuels, Slim, Jeff …
Hugh Estees: No, sir.

And when did he flip-flop his story? Not until he had the absolute assurance of complete absolution. He received no penalty and no charge at all.

Ever.

Defense attorney: As you sit here today, you will never serve one day in jail?
Hugh Estees: No, sir.

So were the conspirators telling the truth now, or were they telling the truth in the first place?

The jury would have to consider the question.

But challenging their credibility might not be enough.  There was one more thing the defense could do. It could put Ron Samuels on the stand.

Risky?  Yes.  But Samuels insisted. 

Edward Reagan: He wanted his children to hear that he was not the one that arranged or hired these individuals to go ahead and try to kill their mother. 

Hoping to combat the overwhelming testimony against him, Samuels finally told his version of the events leading up to Oct. 13, 1997.

It was quite a performance.

Samuels insisted he hadn't always harbored ill feelings towards his ex-wife Heather.

Edward Reagan: At the time you sold your dealership, was this during the time that you were having extended visitation with your kids?
Ronald Samuels: Yes it was.
Edward Reagan: How did you like that circumstance?
Ronald Samuels: It was a very loving situation and Heather and I were getting along at that particular time, as well.

In fact, said Samuels, things only went from bad to worse after he noticed signs of child abuse, after he brought up those charges against the Grossmans, and after the charges were dismissed.

Samuels felt the legal system had failed him. Withholding child support from Heather was his retaliation.

In court
Defense attorney: And why was that?
Ronald Samuels: Because I made the decision I was going to use the system which deprived me of the three people I loved the most against the people doing it to me.

By late Oct. 1997, Samuels was supposed to hand over thousands of dollars in back child support or face jail.

He was cornered; he had lost.

But, asked his attorney, did he fight back by trying to eliminate the woman who stood between him and his beloved children?

Defense attorney: Did you ever ask Hugh Estees to kill your wife?
Ronald Samuels: No.
Defense attorney: Did you ever give him $20,000 and ask him to kill your wife?
Ronald Samuels: No. I never gave him $20,000 and asked him to kill my wife.
Defense attorney: Did you give him any amount of money and ask him to kill your wife?
Ronald Samuels: No. I wouldn't want anything like that to happen to her.

Samuels denied any connection whatsoever to the drug dealer who drove the car.

Defense attorney: Did you ever at the Towne Center Mall ask Eddie Stafford or offer Eddie Stafford a car or some money?
Ronald Samuels: I have never met Eddie Stafford.
Defense attorney: Did you reach an agreement with an Eddie Stafford at the Towne Center Mall to ask him to kill your wife?
Ronald Samuels: No, I did not.

The prosecution was, frankly, derisive about Samuels declaration of innocence and about his claim that the relentless battles with Heather were simply over the children.

In court
Al Johnson [prosecutor]: This case never really was about the children, this was about winning, wasn't it?
Ronald Samuels: That's not true.
Al Johnson: This was about keeping that $3,000 from that bitch Heather, isn't that true?
Ronald Samuels: No, that's not true.
Al Johnson: And you never wanted Heather to be a quadriplegic, did you?
Ronald Samuels: I never wanted her to be dead, either.
Al Johnson: That's exactly what you wanted her to be, sir -- dead. Dead!

After two weeks of agonizing and graphic testimony, jurors were about to make a decision.

It wasn’t just about the fate of Ron Samuels, but, said Heather Grossman, about the rest of her life, too.

Ron Samuels had been accused of trying to arrange the murder of his beautiful ex-wife Heather Grossman.

But in closing arguments, the prosecution had to acknowledge the obvious fact that their case rested on the testimony of drug dealers and addicts.

Alan Johnson: They all came with unclean hands. So any one of those witnesses could be disbelieved … but the strength was the cumulative testimony of all those witnesses. 

In court
Al Johnson (closing argument): If you think it is wrong that these guys walk, how wrong would it be to walk the mastermind? Ronald Samuels is the cause of this brutal act, this cowardly act. And you must hold him accountable.

And the defense suggested that there might indeed have been a conspiracy -- but not involving Ron Samuels.

Instead, the defense said, it was a plan hatched by the state attorney in cahoots with Heather's own second husband -- the late, wealthy, well-connected John Grossman.

In court
Edward Reagan (defense closing): Make no mistake: John Grossman was controlling this prosecution, and John Grossman wanted Ron Samuels to go to jail.  Today, that stops. Mr. Samuels’ fate is no longer controlled by John Grossman. Today, the witnesses' testimony must be weighed by you, using your common sense and following the instructions.

Keith Morrison: But you weren't really saying Ron Samuels didn't hire those people.
Edward Reagan: I don't have a duty to say what Ron Samuels did or didn't do.

Was the real conspiracy an unjust effort to blame Ronald Samuels for his ex-wife's dreadful injury, or was Ron Samuels an unrepentent criminal who belonged behind bars?

It was a Friday afternoon when the case went to the jury.

Heather Grossman would have to wait a long weekend -- at least -- to find out which way it would go. Would Samuels spend life behind bars, or would he walk free and, she feared, terrify her again?

Outside court
Heather Grossman: He told so many lies and hurt so many people and I just think we have a strong case, and hopefully they'll come back with a good verdict.

The prosecution was confident.

Al Johnson: We had the circumstantial evidence, and we had the motive.  And we had the million dollar life insurance policy. You ask Mr. Samuels what his defense is.  You know, he testified. “Anybody but me. Somebody else.”  That's the defense.

Would the jury believe the state's star witnesses?

Edward Reagan: You have all these individuals that come forward and miraculously, after a deal was laid on the table to them, their statements are taken as the truth, as the gospel. 

I was Monday morning. The jury had reached a verdict.

Guilty. Ron Samuels was guilty of trying to arrange the murder of Heather Grossman.

Samuels was sentenced to life behind bars.

Heather Grossman (right after the verdict): There is no more torture, there is no fear. I can sleep at night knowing that this man will not harm us ever again.

Dateline interview
Keith Morrison: What was that moment like?
Heather Grossman: I can't explain it.  I was so overjoyed, so happy.  I felt like the burden had been lifted. 

In exchange for indicting Samuels, the men who had stalked her, driven the car, and pulled the trigger would walk free.

Al Johnson: They should have been punished.  In a perfect world, we all would have felt that that would have been justice.  But at that time, we did not have enough information to charge everyone.

Still it was a moment that, after years of waiting, would allow life to continue for Heather Grossman. Samuels was taken to a north Florida prison. She was safe.

Heather Grossman: After 14, 16 years of him torturing me and always being a threat in the back of my mind, no, I'm at peace now.  I am.

But this one isn’t so peaceful. Deborah Love divorced Ron Samuels years ago and then remarried.  But she still worries.

Deborah Love: He would come after us now, while he's still in there if he possibly could.

Which is why she remains vigilant, making sure Ron is in a prison far from her home.

Deborah Love: I will continue to check every day online.  For the rest of my life, I guess, to be certain that he is where he's supposed to be.

The Grossman children are teenagers now. 

It’s been years since they last saw their father outside of a courtroom.

And Heather?

Paralyzed from the neck down, it turns out, she’s more active than she has ever been.

She's become an impassioned spokesperson against domestic abuse.

She competes in Ms. Wheelchair America pageants and says she wants the man who tried to kill her to know that her life is just fine.

Heather Grossman: If he only knew how much I enjoyed my life and what I do. I go out. I listen to jazz music. I get together with my friends. I have such a good life.  And he's sitting there in jail. He thinks I'm so tarnished because I'm in my wheelchair.  But I'm not at all, you know?

After the attack on that terrible October morning, doctors gave Heather just a few years to live.

It is ten years now. And she is more than defying the odds.  She is thriving.

Keith Morrison: A little wisdom comes with this too, right? What does it tell you about life?  Of the value of various things?
Heather Grossman: Appreciate every moment of life you have.  Appreciate what's around you, appreciate your family. Because in a minute, a second -- it can change.

© 2013 NBCNews.com  Reprints

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