Video: Famous last words: ‘He's creeping me out, Mom’

NBC Universal Anchors and Correspondents
By Josh Mankiewicz Correspondent
Dateline NBC
updated 2/13/2009 9:24:47 PM ET 2009-02-14T02:24:47

This report aired on Dateline NBC on Friday, Jan. 13 at 10 p.m. ET.

There are nearly 600 empty, desolate miles between Lander, Wyo., and Pierre, S.D. But every morning Don and Bonnie Burns say they felt the lonely miles melt away when their daughter, Tami, phoned home.

Bonnie Burns: Before anybody was up, we'd make our call to each other, and sometimes it would be, you know maybe five minutes, ten minutes, maybe have an hour, depending on what was gonna happen that day.

Josh Mankiewicz: And this was seven days a week.

Bonnie Burns: Seven days a week. For years.

Bonnie and Tami treasured those long-distance mother-daughter chats: Tami in South Dakota, Bonnie back home in Wyoming.

But on the morning of Feb. 8, 2006, the phone at Bonnie Burns’ house didn't ring at the usual time.

Bonnie Burns: It was quarter to 7 and I thought, well, that's weird, Tami hasn't called me this morning. So I called her home phone, no answer. I called her cell phone, her message came on--nothing.

It might have seemed like nothing more than a momentary glitch in a reassuring ritual. But in the space of that missed connection---mental alarms went off among the members of Tami's family.

Holly Burns: I had stopped by my mom's house before leaving for work. And the minute I walked in the door, my mom said, "I can't get hold of Tami". Obviously, she was worried. And my stomach just--I felt instantly sick.

Tami's sisters, Holly and Raquel, and father, Don, also felt something was wrong, when they heard that Tami had not checked in.

Holly Burns: You know, she didn't call that was so unusual--that something was not right.

Bonnie and Raquel called Tami's cell and home numbers, but got no answer. Since it was nearly 9:00 in Pierre, Raquel thought Tami might be at Kmart, where she worked part time.

Raquel Burns: And the lady who answered put me on hold and it was the longest few minutes of my life waiting, you know, hoping that Tami would answer.

But instead of Tami's voice, only the hollow sound of Tami being paged over the P.A. system crackled through the receiver.  Video: ‘You're leaving a lot out of this conversation’

Eventually, the Kmart lady came back on the phone with disappointing news: Tami was not there.

Raquel Burns: I hung up and my mom and I thought, "Well, now what do we do?"

Because the family had never been close with Tami's husband, Brad, they didn't even consider calling him. But then Bonnie remembered something Tami had told her over Christmas. Something about a co-worker at Kmart.

Bonnie Burns: She told me that--that he was a manager. I said, “Well, tell me a little bit about him." All I knew was his name was Brian.So, I called Kmart again. Not knowing his last name I just asked for Brian that was a manager of a department.

This time, pay dirt. There was a Brian there.

Bonnie Burns: I told him who I was and I said, "Have you seen Tami?" and he said, "No,” and I said, "Well, we can't get a hold of her. We're a little bit worried."

Brian said he didn't know where Tami was - but he did know that she was about to start a new job at a local pharmacy.

Bonnie Burns: So he called the pharmacy and called me back and said, "She's not there." And I said, "OK, well we need to call Haylee." I said, "What is the name of the school?"

And Brian did know the school. Soon after, Haylee - Tami's 12-year-old daughter - was pulled out of class to talk to her panicked aunt.

Raquel Burns: I said "Haylee, we can't find your mom. Where is your mom?” And she said, "Well, the last time I saw was last night." She said, "Her purse and her cell phone are on the counter."

Feeling helpless, Bonnie and Raquel again turned to Brian.

Bonnie Burns: So I called Brian back and I said she said the last time she saw Tami was last night and I said, "We need to call the police." And he said, "I'll call the police and I'll be in touch."

Josh Mankiewicz: So you're waiting for word. Is Brian calling you back? Video: Teen reads poem commemorating murdered mom

Bonnie Burns: No, no he was not.

Josh Mankiewicz: I mean you Don't know anything about this guy. You--trusted him.

Bonnie Burns: I did.

Josh Mankiewicz: Was that the right thing to do?

Bonnie Burns: At that point in time, yes.

Holly Burns: Worst day of my life. Pace the floor. Pace the floor. Pace the floor.

Later that evening, lawmen in Lander dropped by with alarming news for Tami's family.

Raquel Burns: They've been notified by the Pierre police department that they have found blood in my sister's car and it wasn't looking good.

Josh Mankiewicz: What were you thinking?

Raquel Burns: Awful. You fall to the floor and you're--you feel sick. You're 600 miles away. Should we go look for her? Is she hurt someplace? What do we do?

For Don Burns, Feb. 8, 2006, was the longest day of his life. His daughter, Tami, was missing. Blood had been found in her car. So early the next morning, Don hit the road and headed for Pierre- almost 600 miles away from his home in Wyoming.

Don Burns: There's lots things came through your mind, you know, riding like that.

As the monotonous miles rolled by, memories of his little girl's life played over and over in Don's mind.

Don Burns: When she was in high school, she'd always pick out, you know, the kids that other kids would pick on.  She'd take that kid under her wing, you know.

Now Tami was all her parents and sisters could think about now. Tami growing up. Tami, the athlete. Tami, the young woman. Tami, the mother. Tami was a very good person--and most of all, a very good mother.

Raquel Burns: If you needed an honest opinion you could always ask Tami, 'cause she would let you know.

Josh Mankiewicz: She didn't sugarcoat it.

Raquel Burns: She didn't sugarcoat it.

Her sister Raquel remembered introducing Tami to her husband, Brad Reay, back when she lived in Billings, Montana.

Raquel Burns: We worked together in a restaurant. He was a bartender and I was a waitress/

Josh Mankiewicz: You fixed her up with a guy you know.

Raquel Burns: I fixed her up with a guy I knew. Before long, Brad and Tami were married and Tami was pregnant. She said, "I'm gonna get married and I'm gonna have a little girl." That was her plan and she did.  She did exactly like that.

Josh Mankiewicz: What was that like for her?

Holly Burns: That was the most wonderful thing that had ever happened to her, was having that baby girl.

In 2004, the family moved to Pierre so Brad could pursue a management career with Walmart.

They bought this house, and settled in.  But behind the happy smiles, Tami's marriage was in trouble.

Bonnie Burns: I knew Tami was unhappy. She had not been happy for a long time.

The problem wasn't that Brad was lazy, physically abusive or inattentive. In fact, it was just the opposite. When Brad wasn't working crazy long hours at Walmart, he was on Tami like cling-wrap.

Raquel Burns: I mean, she'd come home to visit and he would be there with her. You'd think, you know, just let Tami come sit with us and let us just talk. Just girl talk. But he had to be right there the entire time, the entire time, all the time. Brad was almost literally attached to his wife.

Bonnie Burns: It was just like the position he would get in when he would hover over her.

Josh Mankiewicz: Demonstrate it for me.

Bonnie Burns: He would get up like this, and his feet would be up like this, totally up like this, his knees and everything. And he'd scoot over like this, I mean, there was no sitting next to Tami.

Raquel Burns: I mean, there were times when I could just look at my sister and tell that she wanted to say, "Just give me some space."

But a few weeks before she disappeared--during a Christmas visit home without Brad, Tami finally got just enough space to tell her mom and sisters privately that at last, she was planning to leave Brad.

Bonnie Burns: She kinda got teary-eyed, and she said, "I've wanted this for years, Mom." But she said, "I never had the courage to do it."

Raquel Burns: She just seemed so happy. I hadn't seen Tami that happy in years.

Tami seemed to have it all planned out. She was already looking for a full-time job.

Holly Burns: She said, "I can make it. I know I can. Haylee and I are gonna stay in the Video: Living life after Tami’s death house." She said, "it's gonna be good."

But mixed in with the relief was the faint smell of trouble: frequent mentions by Tami of a co-worker named Brian. No last name. And his exact relationship to Tami was, at best, murky.

Raquel Burns: The last time we saw her, and she was here for Christmas, we were driving to Riverton. And she was telling me how she, you know, this Brian guy had just--he was a good friend.

Brian, the manager that Bonnie and Raquel called when Tami went missing.

Raquel Burns: The morning that I called him, when Tami was missing, I thought they were just friends.

And he did act like a friend...Didn't he? Brian had been very helpful to the family. Without him-- police might not even have started looking for Tami until she'd been missing for 48 hours.

But it did seem odd, that this total stranger knew more about Tami's personal life than her own family did.

Holly Burns: I remember her words at one point were, "It seems like everywhere I go, I turn around and he's there.

Josh Mankiewicz: And that to Tami sounded like a good thing and not a bad thing?

Holly Burns: She kind of thought it was weird at first.

"Weird" doesn't begin to describe what Don Burns was thinking as he drove toward Pierre.

Hours spent filling the vacant miles with thoughts of his daughter always brought Don back to the basic questions. Where was Tami? Who was this Brian?

Pierre, S.D., is a town of 15,000 souls. It sits in stark isolation on a vast and shaggy prairie, proud of its family values and certain of its moral center. Not much happens here. No crime to speak of.

But on the morning of Feb. 8, 2006 this sleepy town got a wakeup call.

911 operator: Police Department, this is Jana.

Brian Clark: Yeah, I need to file a missing person's report.

911 operator: OK. Your name please.

Brian Clark: I am Brian Clark.

The  Reay family may not have known where she was, but the Kmart manager knew things they could have only guessed at.

911 operator:  And who's missing?

Brian Clark: Tami Reay?

911 operator: How long has she been missing?

Brian Clark: Since 5 o'clock last night.

911 operator: OK, do you know what she was wearing?

Brian Clark: Black turtleneck.

In fact, what Brian Clark had to say to police that morning made it clear that Tami's troubled marriage was far more complicated than she'd let on to her family over Christmas.

According to Brian, his relationship with Tami had one potentially fatal flaw.

Brian Clark: Umm, foul play could be suspected here.

911 operator: OK, and why do you suspect that, sir?

Brian Clark: Umm. Hopefully this is discreet, but me and her have been having an affair and apparently her husband has found out about it and she disappeared at 5 o'clock last night.

911 operator: OK, and what's his name?

Brian Clark: Brad Reay

911 operator: OK.

There it was. The Kmart manager - a married man with children of his own - had been more than Tami's friend. The battle between the Walmart manager and the Kmart manager had apparently extended beyond the local price war. In a single stroke, Tami's boyfriend had placed her husband, his rival, in the cross hairs of a police investigation.

Brian Clark: He is at work at Walmart and his pickup is there--

While Tami's family paced the floor, hundreds of miles away, Pierre Lieutenant Detective Dave Dejabet, acting on Brian's tip, drove to Walmart to interview Brad Reay.

Det. Dejabet: As soon as he saw myself and the uniformed officer, he stopped dead in his tracks and was very surprised to see us.

The detective told Brad his wife hadn't shown up for work, and asked Brad when he'd last seen her.

Det. Dejabet: He explains to us that he got off work at around 10 p.m. the night before. He went home and his wife Tami was not at home.  His daughter, Haylee, was already asleep in the house.

Brad told the detective that later on, he heard his wife pull up, and saw her get out of her Durango and get into another and leave.

Det. Dejabet: So he went into her car. He attempted to follow them and he told us that his car stopped and wouldn't start again and a highway patrolman came up to give him assistance and that they would have that on videotape.

The encounter places Brad Reay in his wife's Durango at 1:40 in the morning.

Trooper: you got any ID at all?

Brad Reay: No, I was just running out to the store real quick.

Trooper: What's your name?

Brad Reay : Brad Reay. R-E-A-Y.

At the time, Brad said nothing about trying to follow his wife.

Trooper: What do you want to do?

Brad Reay: I don't know. I'm hoping it was gonna start.

Once he got it started again, Brad says he drove home and parked in the garage. The Durango was still there when the detective pulled up in front of the house with Brad. Within seconds of entering the garage, the detective saw signs of trouble.

Det. Dejabet: I could see blood on the running boards that dripped onto the concrete. Opened up the back door and the first thing that hit me was a strong odor of chemical - like bleach.

Josh Mankiewicz: Suggesting what, that somebody tried to clean the car...

Det. Dejabet: Exactly. And I could see swirls where there was somebody wiping something up.

Suddenly, the detective's missing persons case had all the hallmarks of a homicide. 

At the police station, Brad presented police with many more questions than answers.

Det. Dejabet: Have you umm, run, over an animal with it?

Brad Reay: Did you guys find something?

Det. Dejabet: Yeah, um, we found ah blood running off the running board, dripping on to the concrete. Do you know how it got there?

Brad Reay: No.

Det. Dejabet: Well, you're the last person to drive the vehicle, right?

Brad Reay: Yes, it is.

Det. Dejabet: You said you didn't hit anything.

Brad Reay: No.

Det. Dejabet: It's fresh blood.

Josh Mankiewicz: Couldn't answer?

Det. Dejabet: Couldn't answer it. Didn't know.

In spite of the fact that his wife was missing and blood was literally dripping out her car--the Durango he'd last driven-- Brad seemed mystified that anyone might suspect him of murder. He behaved like a man with nothing to hide. He even admitted knowing that his wife had been seeing.

Det. Dejabet: Your wife admitted to you that she has had an affair? Is that right?

Brad Reay: Well, not in that term. She said she's been dating.

And with that, scenes from a disintegrating marriage emerged. Brad said he and Tami had slept in separate bedrooms for years... And he told the detective that Tami had recently told him she wanted a divorce

Det. Dejabet: Did you harm your wife?

Brad Reay: No. I thought we was getting back together.

Two hours into Brad's interrogation, Detective Dejabet was joined by two cops: State criminal investigator, guy Dibenedetto--a transplanted New Yorker who immediately turned up the heat. 

Agent DiBenedetto: We're at the point, Brad, that, you're starting to-- ya-- you're starting to jerk our chain and you're being disrespectful to your daughter. Your daughter's mother. Haylee's mother  Tami is out there rotting somewhere right now. An innocent man would have looked at me and said, "Listen, Agent DiBenedetto, you need to find my wife. I'll tell you anything you want to know. You guys are talking to the wrong guy." 

Brad never once tried to  even enlist our help in finding his wife.

Agent DiBenedetto: Brad, there is no reason for her body to be under a bush right now or on the side of the street.  It is bull- just to dump something.

Brad Reay: I hoping that you do find the body 'cause it'll be something to set me free.

After five hours of interrogation, an exhausted Brad Reay asked for a lawyer, bringing the talking phase of the investigation to a close.

Det. Dejebet: Ahh, Brad, we're gonna arrest you right now for first-degree murder.

Just twelve hours after Tami Reay was reported missing, police had charged her husband with murder.  But did they have the right man? And without Tami's body--how could they be sure she was really dead?

Twenty-four hours after Tami Reay's failure to call her mom, the hills around Pierre, S.D., were crawling with volunteer searchers.

Agent DiBenedetto: We had airplane and helicopter at our disposal. We covered a lot of acres--a lot of square miles out in the country.

Convinced that Tami was dead, state investigator Guy DiBenedetto and the search team raced the lowering sun, hoping to find Tami's body before wild animals did.

Agent DiBenedetto: We were able to get the aid of a cadaver dog. People on foot and just by chance, we happened to come across her.

Running low on both fuel and daylight, a helicopter spotter saw the body on his last pass over a remote area, 10 miles outside of town.

Josh Mankiewicz: If you guys hadn't discovered her from the chopper how long might she have gone undiscovered?

Agent DiBenedetto: Hunting season had just ended in January, nobody would have come back out till the following October.

Josh Mankiewicz: At which point here would have just been bones.

Agent DiBenedetto: And probably those bones would have been carted off by animals.

Tami's body bearing multiple stab wounds had been stripped and left face up - alongside bushes that might have concealed her - had that been the killer's intent.

Agent DiBenedetto: He left her nude to humiliate her to leave her out here naked to be found that way.

News that Tami's body had been found reached her father near the end of his agonizing ten hour drive to Pierre from Lander, Wyo.

Don Burns: We probably was probably 50 miles from Pierre and they called on the cell phone and told us that they had found her body. And so we kicked it into a little higher speed to get there.

Josh Mankiewicz: Did you have to identify your daughter's body?

Don Burns: Oh, they didn't think it was a good idea.

The grisly discovery sent shock waves through Pierre. There hadn't been a murder around here in nine years - and this one set everyone on edge.

Mark Swenson, neighbor: It's kinda like a death in your own family. It just catches you off-guard. We Don't even lock our doors in our cars or our houses. You know - we did last night.

As for Tami's husband, Brad, who'd been charged with her murder, he insisted that the police were making a big mistake.

Brad Reay: All this evidence points at me but I'm hoping there's...

Agent DiBenedetto: You're right, Brad.

Reay hardly looked like a knife-wielding butcher. He had no criminal record of any kind and there was no hint that he'd ever raised his hand in anger. In fact, Brad was so meek he told police he wasn't even curious about the man his wife had been having an affair with.

Agent DiBenedetto: Have you ever met this guy?

Brad Reay: No.

Agent DiBenedetto: Do you know what his name is?

Brad Reay: No.

Agent DiBenedetto: You, you - she didn't even give you a first name or -

Brad Reay: I didn't ask. I didn't ask.

That was the Brad who was familiar to the friends he called from jail. To them, he was just a mild mannered family guy--who was inexplicably caught in a horrible jam.

Brad Reay: I told them I didn't do it. I didn't. But they found the body last night, I guess. I was hoping there is evidence on there that show's it's not me.

Unfortunately for Brad, Prosecutor Todd Love saw nothing in the police file that would lead him to believe that Tami was killed by anyone other than her husband.

Todd Love: We knew that this was a situation where Tami had been having an affair where a divorce was being contemplated. And it certainly looked like a husband acting in rage and went overboard.

Josh Mankiewicz: What about the boyfriend?

Todd Love: He had what we believe was a solid alibi. Brian was with his wife and daughter that evening. They had been to one of the local basketball games.

Josh Mankiewicz: So he'd been seen by other people.

Todd Love: Yes.

That seemed to eliminate Brian as a suspect - at least for the moment. Then one day four identical, hand-scrawled letters arrived in the mail, addressed to police and prosecutors. Unsigned, the letters implicated Brian Clark.

Det. Dejabet: The letters were supposed to be from a cousin of Brian Clark, the boyfriend - basically stating that his cousin Brian came to him and said that -  basically admitted murdering his girlfriend.

The letters said Tami was the victim of a deadly sexual assault - and that a vital piece of evidence, a condom, had been left behind.

Todd Love: We knew at that time that that's something that hadn't been found during the initial autopsy. At that point we immediately had to get a hold of our pathologist and ask him to go look.

Tami's remains were still in the morgue, and sure enough, on closer inspection, a condom was found inside her body.

Todd Love: We collect hairs, tissue samples, DNA samples, to the extent that we can.

Josh Mankiewicz: But they missed the condom/

Todd Love: Yes, they did.

The letters had the potential to be a prosecutor’s nightmare. If information known only to the killer was arriving in the mail, while Brad Reay was in jail, his lawyer would surely use that to create reasonable doubt for the jury. And wasn't the newly discovered condom proof of what Brad had been saying all along?

Brad Reay: I'm hoping that the body is found because there will be something to set me free. I don't know.

There was just one problem. Investigators knew the letters implicating Brian Clark had been engineered by Brad with some help from his brother Bret because police had been recording his jailhouse phone calls from day one.

Det. Dejabet: We knew that Bret was coming to visit Brad while Brad was in jail. They had telephone conversations, telling him to bring a pencil and paper.

Todd Love: We had suspected they were gonna be up to something.

Agent Dibenedetto: So we were waiting and we had that jail visit recorded.

BradReay: Want some letters sent out. Send it to those names. One copy each. And there's a reason behind it. Do you see where I'm going with this stuff?

Det. Dejabet: As they were visiting, Brad wrote a letter and held it up to the glass and had Bret copy this letter down.

The letter. The condom. To police it all demonstrated that Brad had intended to frame Tami's lover from the very beginning.

Agent Dibenedetto: Do you know what his name is?

Brad Reay: No.

Remember when Brad said he didn't know who Tami's lover was?

Agent DeBenedetto: She didn't even give you a first name.

Brad Reay: I didn't ask.

Police believe Brad actually learned Brian Clark's name from this audio-recording they found in Brad's bedroom.

Tami Reay: Hi, may I speak with Brian Clark please?

The secret recording of Tami speaking on the phone to Brian Clark--was made after Brad bugged the family Durango with a voice recorder, all of it just four days before Tami's murder.

Tami Reay: I love you very, very much, bye.

And then there was the matter of the stalled Durango at 1:40 in the morning. Though Brad told police he'd been out looking for his wife, prosecutors now had a different theory.

Todd Love: Based upon the location of where it was and the location we believe he was coming from, we believe he was on a direct path to Brian Clark's house.

Josh Mankiewicz: To plant some evidence?

Todd Love: We have no way to know, you know. I think a guess would be that he was looking to plant some evidence.

Speculation aside, there seemed to be a mountain of evidence that pointed to Brad Reay.

Agent DiBenedetto: Brad, how do you figure that the blood got into your truck?

But few imagined as his trial approached that Brad Reay still had one card to play - and he was prepared to deal that one from the bottom of the deck.

For eleven months, Brad Reay sat in the Hughes County Jail Lanning his next move. The truth, he insisted, would set him free.

Brad Reay: Look at the clues in the paperwork.

Of course, prosecutors believed they already knew the truth - and could prove it.

Todd Love: We believe that Brad walked into the room where Tami was sleeping, carrying a knife and a tarp with him. That he put the tarp down on the floor and that he essentially jumped on top of Tami.

In a matter of seconds - prosecutors say -Tami was stabbed in the back five times; her throat cut.

Todd Love: At that point, we believe he grabbed Tami, all of the blankets off of the bed and pulled everything onto the tarp, which is the way he controlled all the bleeding and he pulled the tarp along with Tami approximately five feet out to the garage and put her in the Durango.

Josh Mankiewicz: That, to me, sounds like a premeditated crime with some serious planning to it.

Todd Love: Oh, certainly, certainly.

But as thought through as the murder seemed to be, Prosecutor Todd Love says things must have taken an unexpected turn once Brad got Tami out to the garage.

Todd Love: At some point either in the Durango or once he got out to the scene where he dumped the body, we believe he stabbed her numerous more times in the chest.

Was it rage? Or fear that Tami wasn't dead yet that drove her killer to such a frenzy? Prosecutor Love couldn't know for sure, but as he approached the courthouse on the first day Brad's murder trial, he was certain he had an open and shut case. Once inside, however, Brad's attorney unveiled a surprise as big as the prairie wind and twice as cold.

Todd Love: It was literally the half hour before we did opening statements after the jury had been selected that he finally came forward and disclosed that he was gonna be blaming Haylee.

That's right: Brad Reay was going to argue that his 12-year old daughter was the real killer. According to Brad, it all began the day he and Tami told Haylee that they were going to get a divorce.

Det. Dejabet: He said that she was in a in a trance or something like that when she did it ‘cause she was traumatized by the impending divorce that she would walk into her mother's room while she's sleeping and stab her so many times.

Agent DiBenedetto: “I love my daughter, she's a great kid. She did this in her sleep. So, she's really not an evil murderer. She didn't know what she was doing.”

Both Brad and his attorney declined our requests for an interview.

But according to trial transcripts, Brad told the court that on the night of Tami's death, he was startled awake by Haylee's cat, and discovered his daughter in Tami's room, holding a bloody knife.

Bonnie Burns: And Brad knocked her back when she was sleepwalking and carried her off to bed and then went down and tried to clean Tami up and give her mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

On the stand Brad, admitted to dumping Tami's body and destroying evidence, planting the condom and trying to frame Brian Clark: everything except the actual murder.

Agent DiBenedetto: He says “When I discovered what my daughter had done, I did the right things as a dad to protect her.”

Brad testified that the day after Tami's murder, he'd planned to take the afternoon off, finish cleaning up,  pick Haylee up after school and drive to Mexico. However, it was the plan that went south once police showed up at Walmart that morning.

According to Brad, his actions were not those of a jealous murderer, but, rather, of a loving father who was trying to shield his daughter from a cruel criminal justice system that could not possibly give her the psychological help she obviously needed. 

Bonnie Burns: The story he made up was so out of sight that whoever would believe what he said has got to have questions in their mind.

When it came time for her to take the stand, witnesses say, Haylee, now thirteen, held her own under questioning from Brad's attorney.

Todd Love: He attempted to paint Haylee as somebody who was very physically skilled and as somebody who could have physically done this.

Josh Mankiewicz: Didn't he ask her at one point “What do you do when you're spiking a volleyball, will you...”

Todd Love: He asked her if she was somebody who served overhand and raised her hand over her head like so and hit the volleyball this way, you know, saying to her, "You know when you serve, do you serve like this?"

Josh Mankiewicz: Were you looking at the jury during that time?

Todd Love: Yeah.

Josh Mankiewicz: And?

Todd Love: And I think it was comical.

Det. Dejabet: You gotta realize the stab, the stab wounds went in two inches further than the knife was long. You had to have some pretty penetration there.

Bonnie Burns: Haylee was a 12 year old child. And the wounds that Tami received could not have been done by a child that size.

Agent DiBenedetto: All he did was throw his daughter under the bus – finger-pointed her to save his own hide.

Who would the jury believe? When we come back, the verdict - but first the little girl who had been forced to take center stage in a very grown-up drama gets to tell her story of what happened that night.

Everyone has childhood memories - but few have memories as searing as the ones Haylee Reay lives with every day. Memories of the night her mom was murdered and life as she'd known it have been kicked aside.

Haylee: I had volleyball and my mom went and watched it.

This is the last image of Haylee and her mom together. It's just after six that last night. They've hit the checkout aisle at Walmart with some school and household supplies. The rest of the evening was reassuring and routine.

Haylee: We had Taco John's, went home and watched TV. And I did my homework. Her dad, as usual, was working late. Haylee went to sleep that night in the safest place on earth: in her home, in her own bed with her mom just a few steps away.

Haylee: I woke up, my door was shut, when it was hardly ever shut when I'm sleeping. And my dad opened it and he had laundry in his hand. And I was like, "What are you doing? And he's like, "Oh, just some laundry, go back to bed."

Josh Mankiewicz: About what time was this? Middle of the night?

Haylee: Yeah. And so he came and laid with me and I fell back asleep.

The next morning, she says her father told her that her mother had run off with another man, even though her mom's cell phone, purse and car keys were on the kitchen counter Haylee says her father told her Tami might be gone for days.

Haylee: He told me not to tell anybody, ‘cause it was our family and it shouldn't go out of it.

Josh Mankiewicz: Like a family secret?

Haylee: Yeah.

By the time her father turned on her in the courtroom, and tried to accuse her of stabbing her own mother 37 times, Haylee had already learned an adult-sized lesson: that every betrayal begins with trust.

Josh Mankiewicz:  How'd that make you feel?

Haylee: Horrible, 'cause he was my dad and he shouldn't be saying stuff, especially when I didn't do it.

Josh Mankiewicz: Is any part of his story true?

Haylee: No.

Josh Mankiewicz: Did you ever sleepwalk? Were you ever angry with your mother?

Haylee: No.

Though juries are often full of surprises. It took only three hours including a dinner break for the one hearing this case to find haylee's father, Brad,  guilty of murdering her mother, Tami.  Brad Reay received a life sentence for killing Tami. He has appealed his conviction.

In a letter to Dateline, Brad claimed crime scene investigators failed to collect evidence that might have helped him and falsified other evidence that was used to convict him.

Prosecutors deny that. But whatever happens with Brad's appeal--no court can free haylee from the hold that night has on her life.

Haylee: Most of the time I think about it. But when I'm, like, having fun, I don't think about it. It doesn't bother me.

Josh Mankiewicz: Do you think you'll ever talk to your father again?

Haylee: No.

Josh Mankiewicz: do you want to talk to your father again? Video: Living life after Tami’s death

Haylee: No.

Her life now centers on another small town on the plains: Lander, Wyo.

The family that was so close-knit it could sense trouble hundreds of miles away on the day Tami died has now wrapped its arms around the daughter Tami left behind.

Holly Burns: The best you can do is try to stay strong for Haylee. It's really like having someone cut your arm off. I mean, it's a piece of you that you never get back.And thank goodness we still have Haylee because she is so much like her mom.

On the walls of the family home, there are reminders of the daughter, the sister, the mother who is never coming back.

Josh Mankiewicz: What do you tell people? When they say, you know, "Why are you being raised by your grandparents"?

Haylee: I either tell them it's a long story, or that my dad killed my mom. They don't really believe me. ‘cuz of the way I act.

Josh Mankiewicz: Yeah, you seem like you're okay.

Haylee: Yeah.

But is she really ok? There's no way to know right now about a girl who spends the dark hours away from her new friends--quietly memorializing her mother.

Haylee: Your face is starting to fade. I wish you could have stayed. But we will meet again. Meet again. Mother's and daughters are forever. Nobody can break that, never, but we will meet again meet again. Video: Teen reads poem commemorating murdered mom

The wellspring of grief seems bottomless.  But in poems and videos - emotion that's too raw to share with strangers – Haylee has found an outlet.

Holly Burns: I think that's how she keeps her mom alive.

Time, of course, is relentless. The 12-year-old who was essentially orphaned while she slept is becoming a young woman. Today, she's a 15-year-old high school sophomore.

Haylee: We should get the picture engraved for Christmas.

BonnieBurns: Umm hmm.

Boys, proms and graduation gowns will come and go. Haylee will have to rely on her two aunts to fill her mother's shoes.

And as for Don and Bonnie Burns, retirement may have to wait. Because once again, they have a teenage girl to raise.

Haylee: Can I drive?

BonnieBurns: No. Not right now.

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