NBC Universal Anchors and Correspondents
By Dennis Murphy Correspondent
NBC News

Explainer: Written in Blood

  • Read the full transcript for 'Written in Blood', which aired Friday, Jan. 28, at 9pm/8c. Click on 'next' to see each part of the episode.  The full video episode will not be available online.

  • PART 1

    (Car engine revs)

    What's the fastest way to a man's heart, especially a Detroit-area guy?

    (Car engine revs louder)

    The care and feeding of high-speed classic race cars was the premium grade fuel of one lasting Motor City friendship.

    Ron Jabalee behind the wheel. Dale Nelson, happy to be his buddy's pitman.

    DALE NELSON:
    He loved cars. I loved cars, and we loved working on them together.

    Whenever Ron had a problem with his '62 Savoy, Dale was the go-to mechanic.

    DALE NELSON:
    Mostly, I was the wrench end of it. He was the technical advisor.

    DALE NELSON:
    We became friends and ended up being like brothers.

    Sad, but also a little ironic that such a close friendship would end in the family garage where they'd tinkered away so many hours together.

    Ron's wife, Christine, also had a best friend. Her name was Vicki Button. They bonded over kids, girl-talk and music, notably a Detroit rocker who'd made it big.

    VICKI BUTTON: We played Bob Seger and just the music of that time.  I can see us dancing and just having fun.

    When Vicki got married, Christine was her maid of honor.

    VICKI BUTTON:
    We shared secrets. We went out in the evenings on “Girls Night Out”. We were always together.

    And what an admirable marriage Christine and Ron Jabalee had forged, together for 39-years, close to their kids, a thriving family business and a nice house with trees in a pleasant town.

    They were matched in lots of interests but people couldn't help but remark how well suited they were for a particular trait: each was an absolute neat-freak. Everything in its place and clean as a whistle.

    VICKI BUTTON:
    Christine's house was always just perfect.  It was beautiful, you could walk in anytime.  It was meticulous.  Now Ronnie, his garage, that was, that was particularly meticulous for him, that is something I remembered that you could eat off the floor while he was working on his cars. 

    Dale Nelson, the mechanic friend, liked nothing better than to wind Ron up over that compulsively clean garage. There was the time Dale dripped Hershey's syrup under the engine.

    DALE NELSON:
    And he said, "What is that leaking?" (Ron licks fingers) "Tastes like chocolate." (Dennis Murphy laughs)

    DENNIS MURPHY:
    You could get away with that?

    DALE NELSON:
    I could get away with it, yeah. We were like two teenage boys in grown-up bodies, having fun with cars.

    For 12 years, Ron and Christine lived in New Baltimore, Michigan, an agreeable little town, north of Detroit.

    The town's centerpiece was the lake off the main drag, where residents and resorters alike could take a casual stroll down the pier.

    Just off the swimming beach, the old-timey police station, once a doctor's office, could be confused with a snack bar.

    We're told that people not only address the town police officers by their first name, some even bake them cookies.

    BORA KIM:
    I would say it was your quintissential resort community.

    Bora Kim knows New Baltimore as a reporter for WDIV-TV, Detroit's NBC station.

    BORA KIM:
    It was one of those places that, as cliche as it sounds, people went and moved over there to get away from things.

    Ron and Christine had become empty-nesters in their New Baltimore home. Their three grown-up children -- Ron Jr., Nicole, the middle child, and kid brother Ryan -- lived on their own.

    Ryan, the last to leave home was the first to go to college, an acomplishment that thrilled his mom and dad.

    RYAN JABALEE:
    He was so happy that i graduated because it was a step that he had never taken.

    Ron Sr. was an up-by-the-bootstraps success story. He started out as a trucker then rose to become a top salesman for Sherwood Foods, a wholesale food company. Jason Ishbia is the company's CFO.

    JASON ISHBIA:
    He's the kind of salesperson that every customer wants. He would be fighting for early deliveries for every one of his customers. He entertained his customers in the evening.

    Ron the breadwinner....Christine working just as hard raising the kids.

    DALE NELSON:
    Christine was the glue of the family. She held the family together.

    DENNIS MURPHY:
    She’s the boss?

    DALE NELSON (smiles):
    At times, yeah.

    By 2006, Ron and Christine, both 58, were finally ready to slow down a bit. They'd just booked their first vacation abroad -- to Ireland ... Christine eager to check out her Irish roots,  Ron Sr. dragging his feet about it at first.

    RYAN JABALEE:
    My Dad really didn't want to travel a lot.

    So Ryan became a pitchman to his own salesman father. He fanned out postcard-perfect snapshots from his own trip to Europe.

    RYAN JABALEE:
    I finally convinced them just to go to a different country because it's a completely different experience.

    DENNIS MURPHY:
    Ryan was glad to do something nice for his father, especially since his dad had been so helpful with his two sons' business venture. Ron Sr. had taken out a second mortgage on his house to help start a meat business here in downtown Detroit's Eastern Market.  They called their butcher shop “R.J. Meats”.

    Ron Jr. the older boy, owned and managed the place while Ryan -- a born salesman like his father -- kept the customers satisfied at the counter out front. Both were happy to attribute their success to their father.

    RYAN JABALEE:
    He put in a lot of effort so us kids could have more in life than what he had.

    Ron Jabalee Sr. worked all week as a salesman at his own job. But come Saturday morning--pre-dawn-- there he was opening the door to his boy's shop, R.J. Meats.

    RYAN JABALEE:
    He helped us out on Saturdays.  It was by his choice, when he had weekends off.

    And it wasn't just dad helping out. Their mom Christine and sister Nicole worked there too, alongside still more relatives and assorted friends.

    JASON ISHBIA:
    He girlfriends of the boys worked there at times so everybody chipped in.

    Friday, Oct. 6, one week before her trip to Ireland, Christine was at the store for her regular shift. 

    At closing time, Ryan walked his mom to her car. Eastern Market was in a rough neighborhood, and there were longtime whispers of Mob connections.

    RYAN JABALEE:
    She wanted to come in on Saturday because, you know, she knew that we were busy and we needed extra help, but we really didn't want my mom there on weekends.  I think I said, "No, Mom, I'm not going to see you, just take the day off," and I kissed her goodbye.

    It was just after 7 o'clock on that Friday evening when Dale stopped by Ron's house to do some fix-it work. They hung out in the garage. Christine was in the house.

    DENNIS MURPHY:
    Did you talk to her?

    DALE NELSON:
    I never saw her. The only thing i heard was when she called out from the house to tell Ron the pizza was ready.

    Ron asked Dale to stay for a slice, but he'd already eaten. Dale headed home. It was 8 pm. He remembers the hour because his favorite drag-racing TV show comes on then.

    DALE NELSON:
    Just another day, another visit…No big deal.

    But by the next morning it was, because neat-as-a-pin Ron Jabalee, Sr. had another tick. He was also so punctual you could set your watch to him.

    So alarm bells went off when Ron was late for work at his sons' butcher shop.

    Drifting in late was for other people. Not Dale's best friend. Not Ryan's dad.

    Where was Ron Jabalee?

  • PART 2

    Ryan Jabalee and his boss and big brother, Ron Jr., knocked themselves out to make their family start-up butcher shop the thriving business that it was.

    Ryan out front at the counter of R.J.'s Meats, the livewire working the customers like a stand-up.

    RYAN JABALEE:
    I'm more of a people person so I can kind of, I can get yelled at or, you know, get tossed around by the public. It doesn't really faze me, I just keep on makin' them happy.

    Brother Ron Jr. in back keeping the books and riding herd on the employees, a business side guy who hadn't forgotten how to butcher.

    RYAN JABALEE:
    He has the talent of taking a piece of meat and turning it into a piece of gold.

    The brothers' distinct personalities and talents made the business work. And it didn't hurt to have dad as their personal meat salesman-supplier for the best deals around.

    RYAN JABALEE:
    He was always looking out for us.

    Ryan had no problem with his life being all family all the time.

    RYAN JABALEE:
    I wanted to show off. I wanted to show off my work ethic and how hard I could work. I wanted my mom and dad to say, "I'm proud of you."

    And Ryan really needed his dad on Saturday, October 7th. The busy morning of the week, always, that first Saturday of the month when customers could use their monthly food stamps.

    But when Ryan got to RJ's Meats around 6 am, something was off.

    RYAN JABALEE:
    Dad wasn't there.

    DENNIS MURPHY:
    Is that unusual?

    RYAN JABALEE:
    It's very unusual. He was a very meticulous person, and he was always on time.

    Ryan's brother called his dad's cell and left a message.

    RON JABALEE (voicemail):
    "Hey Dad, it's me. Just calling to make sure everything's ok with you. Gimme a call in a little while and let me know. Bye-bye."

    They loaded the meat cases...and watched the clock: no Mr. Punctuality. No Dad. So what could be wrong? Car trouble? Was their father sick?

    RYAN JABALEE:          
    Then I waited for about forty-five minutes, another hour, and still no sign, and then I started getting an uncomfortable feeling in my stomach.

    The ice-water in his veins only got colder.

    RYAN JABALEE:
    I called my dad's cell phone… no answer.  My mom's cell phone… no answer.  The house phone… no answer.

    Now it was more than just dad; mom wasn't responding at home, either. Ryan by nature more emotional than his brother, was now really starting to freak. He asked his girlfriend, out in the suburbs near his parent's house, to check on his mom and dad.

    ROSEANN KROL:
    He was upset because his dad wasn't at work and he couldn't get a hold of them, and he thought that something was wrong.

    No one answered the door so she walked to the side of the house, towards the garage. That's when she saw it. A harrowing sight she would later recount in a courtroom.

    ROSEANN KROL (emotional):
    There was blood on the ground.

    RYAN JABALEE:
    She calls back and she said everything was locked up but there was blood on the driveway.

    Ryan could not believe what he was hearing.

    RYAN JABALEE:
    I'm not there. I don't know what's going on. So I said, "Well, just go. I'll give you the code of the garage. Go in the house and see if they're ok."

    And when the garage door lifted up, she was in for the shock of her young life. What did she see?

    ROSEANN KROL:
    His parents.

    RYAN JABALEE:
    And she saw the awful sight of my mom and dad lying in a pool of blood in the garage.

    Ryan was 35 miles away in downtown Detroit. Hearing the worst news of his life.

    RYAN JABALEE:
    I didn't know what to say at the time. She's telling me this, my brother is looking at me, I have tears rolling down my face.  

    DENNIS MURPHY:
    So, this is Rosie at the garage looking at them talking to you on the phone and--

    RYAN JABALEE:
    Right.

    DENNIS MURPHY:

    Your brother is right there with you. So, you're all getting this awful information at the same time.

    RYAN JABALEE:
    Yeah. At that point in time, my brother said, "Wipe the tears off your face, grab your keys, and go to Mom and Dad's."

    911 OPERATOR (on phone):
    "State Police 911"

    RYAN JABALEE (on phone):
    "My name is Ryan Jabalee."

    Ryan, still wearing his butcher's apron, bolted from the family meat shop. He called 911, relaying his girlfriend's unimaginable discovery...

    RYAN JABALEE (on phone):
    "She said that my parents are in the garage. there's blood on the driveway."

    RYAN JABALEE:
    I was probably going about 120 miles an hour.

    When he screeched up, police had already taped off the scene but that didn't stop him.

    RYAN JABALEE:
    I just drove right through the tape line across the neighbor's lawn until I had, you know, bum rush of four or five police and fire department officials, you know, stop the truck in the tracks.

    He needed to see what was impossible to believe. There in the garage.

    RYAN JABALEE:
    And then I'm looking at my mom, behind the jeep. I'm looking at my dad at the bottom of the steps and at that point, I just broke down, got on my knees and they, you know, carried me to the front of the house.

    His parents were dead.

    Who murdered Ron and Christine Jabalee?

  • PART 3

    RYAN JABALEE:
    I thought it was a dream.  I thought I was gonna wake up.

    Ryan Jabalee's nightmare -- his parents murdered on the garage floor -- was all-too real.

    DENNIS MURPHY:
    DID YOU CALL YOUR BROTHER BACK AT THE SHOP?

    RYAN JABALEE:
    Yep.  Yeah, I said mom and dad have passed.

    DENNIS MURPHY:
    And what did he say back to you?

    RYAN JABALEE:
    He said, what do you mean Mom and Dad have passed?  I said Mom and Dad passed, somebody killed them, somebody hurt them, they're not alive. It was just pretty much silence on the phone.  I don't think he knew how to react the same way that I didn't react.

    KEN STEVENS:
    It's always surprising in our community because it's just that rare.

    DENNIS MURPHY:
    Violent crime?

    STEVENS:
    Violent crimes.

    New Baltimore police detective Ken Stevens was dispatched to the scene and as he pulled up Saturday morning, he was taking everything in.

    KEN STEVENS:
    I realize that it was the home, probably 250-feet off the main road, with seven to eight foot high bushes that cover the view from the street.

    DENNIS MURPHY:
    So maybe a good target for a home invasion?

    KEN STEVENS:
    Could have been. Yes.

    But Det. Stevens' initial impression didn't match what officers already on the scene were finding: the victim, Ron Jabalee's wallet was still on him, Christine, the wife, was found with jewelry and her purse was in the kitchen.

    KEN STEVENS:
    It's there, it has money in it, and it's not disturbed.

    DENNIS MURPHY:
    So this is not saying, this was a break-in, to you?

    KEN STEVENS:
    No.

    DENNIS MURPHY:
    Not a robbery gone bad?

    KEN STEVENS:
    No, exactly.

    Crime-scene investigators processing the house reached the same conclusion.

    KEN STEVENS:
    They basically told me they went through the home and everything looked to be in order with the exception of the garage.

    Ron Jabalee's once-pristine garage, where so much as a drop of oil wouldn't be tolerated, was now awash in the blood of a double homicide.

    The officers tried to read the crime scene:

    KEN STEVENS:
    They were laid on the floor, apart from each other, but you could obviously see there was a scuffle outside the garage on the blacktop driveway.

    Defensive wounds on their hands from a knife attack indicated both victims put up a fight. Investigators theorized that, at some point in the struggle, Ron had been dragged back into the garage.

    KEN STEVENS:
    You could see scuff marks. You could see drag marks in the blood, you could see some blood droplets out-front.

    The blood specks gave Det. Stevens the answer to one key question right away ... When had this happened?

    KEN STEVENS:
    The blood had actually had a frost on a couple of these little puddles of blood, which indicated to me that it had not happened that morning.

    Det. Stevens knew the evidence pointed to an attack actually occurring Friday night, a chilly night.

    Likewise a leftover pizza found in the kitchen fit that same timeline.

    KEN STEVENS:
    The family would not have left the remains of their dinner on the stove and gone to bed.

    DENNIS MURPHY:
    Because they were--

    KEN STEVENS:
    They were that kind of people.  They would've cleaned it up.

    DENNIS MURPHY:
    Clean and tidy people, huh?

    KEN STEVENS:
    Exactly.

    That meant the murders likely happened not long after car buddy Dale Nelson had said good night to his friend Ron.

    DALE NELSON:
    He said to me three times, “Come on, stay and have some pizza with us.”  And it tears me apart that I didn't stay.

    DENNIS MURPHY:
    On the other hand, if you'd stayed.

    DALE NELSON:
    Well…

    DENNIS MURPHY:
    Maybe you would have been on the garage floor too?

    DALE NELSON:
    That could be or maybe they'd still be alive. I don't know, and that's the thing that hurts so much. 

    Dinner still on the stove, vacation a week away --two lives fatally interrupted.

    And what a violent ending it had been:

    KEN STEVENS:
    The first thing that drew my attention was the amount of blood that was there, the beating that they took.

    Ron and Christine had been savagely bludgeoned. Both were stabbed a dozen times, their throats slashed.

    KEN STEVENS:
    The injuries were overwhelming. Overkill.

    DENNIS MURPHY:
    That is an important word isn't it to an investigator, overkill?

    KEN STEVENS:
    Oh yes, absolutely.

    DENNIS MURPHY:
    What do you mean when you say that?

    KEN STEVENS:
    There was a lot of built-up anger. The beatings to the head, you know… seven to nine strikes to the head.

    DENNIS MURPHY:
    You think somebody is taking this personally?

    KEN STEVENS:
    Yes.

    Experience told him that Ron and Christine probably knew their killer. Intimately.

    But it was inside the garage, where police uncovered the most intriguing clue of all. Det. Stevens saw it just a few feet from Christine's sprawled body.

    KEN STEVENS:
    There was obviously some type of message or something written under the jeep.  And we were certain that one of the victims wrote it.

    Wrote it ...  with the only thing available as life was slipping away -- blood. Investigators believed it was a message from the grave.

    A victim trying to ID the killer. But could police crack the code?

  • PART 4

    RYAN JABALEE:          
    I feel that I could be a lot smarter of a man now, if my mom and dad were still around.  There was so much more that they had to give.

    Ryan Jabalee's parents had been slaughtered in their garage in the Detroit suburbs.

    DENNIS MURPHY:
    And you got to be asking, what happened here?  Did anything make sense to you?

    RYAN JABALEE:

    No.  I didn't know who would want to hurt my mom and dad because they never hurt anybody in their life. 

    Hours after the bodies were found, friends and family gathered at Ryan's older brother's house.

    RYAN JABALEE: 
    I was trying to look at everybody.

    The son of the murdered couple wasn't being sentimental. He knew by then his parents had gone down fighting so he checked out the assembled friends and family for tell-tale nicks and scratches left by his dying mom or dad.

    RYAN JABALEE:
    I was scrutinizing everybody from, you know, their hair, their shirts, fingernails.

    Ryan even looked closely at his own brother and business partner Ron Jr. but saw nothing. No scratches, no marks, no bruises.

    And the police had even looked at Ryan in the aftermath of the murders but he was eliminated from the suspect list quickly. Police said he passed a polygraph test. What's more, they'd witnessed the spectacle of him trying to crash through the crime scene.

    KEN STEVENS:

    The anxiety in him is just overwhelming. He doesn't know what's going on.

    DENNIS MURPHY:
    This is all news to him.

    KEN STEVENS:
    It's all news to him.

    Investigators focused early on Ron Jabalee Sr.'s brother, Roger, the black sheep of the family, a convicted drug dealer who rode with a biker gang.

    KEN STEVENS:

    And we looked at roger very hard.

    But the brother had an airtight alibi for Friday night. He also passed a polygraph and had his own raw reaction at his brother's house that Saturday morning.

    KEN STEVENS:
    Several times during the day, he tried to get back up to the scene to see his brother.

    When burial arrangements were being made, the police let Ryan back in the house.

    RYAN JABALEE:
    I had to pick out my mom and dad's funeral clothes. That was one of the hardest things that I had to do in my life.

    Walking room to room the home was eerily composed as though his mom and dad had just stepped out for a moment.

    Freeze frames of the way things were.

    -- In the dining room, the plane tickets to Ireland, the vacation he'd coaxed into being.

    -- And the living room, his mother's favorite couch, there her final snack:

    RYAN JABALEE:
    I saw a Diet Coke being drank in the living room, a cookie.  I'm looking at the house that I lived in, and I just couldn't believe that the presence of my mom and dad were gone.

    Then he went upstairs.

    RYAN JABALEE:
    The first thing I did is I jumped on their bed and I smelled their pillows and their blankets because it smelled like Mom and Dad.

    DENNIS MURPHY:

    In cynical police wisdom it's said that if a murder isn't solved in the first 48-hours, then it's gonna take a while, and that what's happened with this investigation. The detectives began the tedious work of talking to the people who knew the murdered couple, checking out phone logs and bank records, running down each new theory of the crime. One path considered was the possibility of an underworld link to Ron Sr.'s sales work in the eastern market.

    DENNIS MURPHY:

    Kind of Detroit folklore, maybe a mobbed-up part of town.

    KEN STEVENS:

    At one time, I'm sure.

    DENNIS MURPHY:

    Is that an avenue you're pursuing an unpaid debt here, maybe some loan-sharking?

    KEN STEVENS:
    You know, we looked into all those possibilities, and we found nowhere where Dad had loaned anybody money or borrowed any money, other than legitimately through the bank.

    Also, Detective Stevens believed a vendetta mob hit would have been more ruthlessly efficient, less bloody and hands on.

    KEN STEVENS:
    There was no connection made between the mob, if you will, and this family.

    Investigators were stymied. The victims had been bludgeoned and stabbed to death but no murder weapons were found, though police did note that two knives were missing from the knife block in the kitchen.

    The garage was dusted for fingerprints, and blood samples sent out for DNA testing. But, except for a partial bloody footprint that held some promise, forensics seemed iffy. The garage had been scrubbed down with a mop and bucket, apparently to wash away evidence.

    KEN STEVENS:
    And we did test strands of this mop which came back as consistent with blood.

    Despite the clean-up, investigators did find Christine's slippers and a crumbled cookie on the steps leading into the garage. That suggested a narrative about a casual walk onto the scene.

    KEN STEVENS:
    She gets to the bottom step, and that's when she's alerted, 'cause she drops her cookie. She moved so fast, she jumps out of her slippers.  And now, she's barefoot, and the cookie's laying on the floor. That was very important because it led us to believe that the individual that did this was known by the victim.

    DENNIS MURPHY:

    Because, if her husband is having a loud argument with an intruder, a person unknown to her, a different voice.

    KEN STEVENS:
    She would have reacted differently.

    And then there was the most baffling clue of all -- that scrawl made in blood on the garage floor. Was that one of the victims attempting a last-gasp effort to identify their killer?

    It was a crime scene revelation that quickly made its way into the news coverage.

    DENNIS MURPHY:
    There was that tantalizing clue about letters scrawled in blood--

    BORA KIM:

    Yes.

    DENNIS MURPHY:

    Beneath one of the vehicles.

    BORA KIM (TV Reporter):
    I think this is also the reason why it drew so much interest from the public. When the police came out and said, "Please help us. Maybe you know something that we don't know, or maybe you can see something that we can't see." You had online threads of people trying to crack this bloody message.

    But the bloody scrawl was as elusive as patterns in the clouds. Play-along detectives on-line each had a unique solution to the puzzle, from license plates to vehicle ID's to Jabalee family members.

    BORA KIM (TV Reporter):

    Some people saw "JJ," Jabalee Junior. Others, if you turn it another way, saw Nicole, the daughter of the Jabalees.

    Det. Ken Stevens spent hundreds of hours trying to make sense of the sketchy scrawl that appeared partially mopped-away. One letter seemed to be missing.

    DENNIS MURPHY:

    And the letters that remained, what were they?  What did it say to you?

    KEN STEVENS:
    The letters that I see there, it looks like an "S", and then he moves down or she moves down and she writes another "S" underneath it--

    DENNIS MURPHY:
    Starting over.

    KEN STEVENS:
    Starting over, and the next letter to me appears to be an "O."  The next letter is kind of washed out in the blood and was overwritten with the third letter it looks like a "J" even with the dot above it.  So it's a small "j" and then the other one looks like an "R."

    For the missing third letter, Det. Stevens filled in the blank.

    KEN STEVEN:
    I have to assume that that was an "n".  What I see is “Son Jr."

    Son Jr. ... as in Ron Jabalee Jr. Was the detective just seeing things or could the victims' older son have had a hand in the murders?

  • PART 5

    Ron and Christine Jabalee had been murdered in October ...

    The holidays brought their own special pang.

    Ryan remembered his last Christmas with his mom and dad, the year before, when he agreed to sleep over on Christmas Eve.

    RYAN JABALEE:
    It was kind of funny because I was tired from working, I fell asleep on the couch, and when I woke up Christmas morning, they had Christmas gifts out like I was 12 or 13 years old again.

    A never-again moment. There would be so many.

    At the turn of the year, in early 2007, the three Jabalee children agreed to an interview with NBC's Detroit affiliate but wouldn't let their faces be shown. They were fearful of the killer or killers still on the loose.

    They were all desperate for answers.

    Ryan...

    RYAN JABALEE (TV news report):
    We want to know what happened to my parents. They shouldn't have passed this way.

    And his brother, Ron...

    RON JABALEE (TV news report):
    Every day, every minute, it's in our minds. It won't go away till they find somebody.

    Police believed from the beginning that the intensity of the slaughter suggested a close connection between killer and victim.

    And if it was a personal or professional grudge, Ryan wasn't taking any chances.

    RYAN JABALEE:
    Had security cameras put on the outside of my home, bought a pistol, carried it on me.

    DENNIS MURPHY:
    Because you didn't know whether this was vendetta only partly fulfilled?

    RYAN JABALEE:
    I didn't know. 

    Bad business blood was one theory but bad family blood was another.

    Police had systematically cleared every close relative on their list.

    Every relative, that is, but one:

    Ron Jabalee Jr., and he wasn't under suspicion because Det. Stevens squinted and saw "SON JR" spelled out in the bloody message on the garage floor.

    In truth, that bloody message was just too unclear to help the investigation in any way, no matter what Stevens might imagine.

    KEN STEVENS:
    There were many different possibilities, and we couldn't conclusively say this is what it says.

    DENNIS MURPHY:
    So why was Ron Jr. under suspicion? Well, it was policework and not guesswork. The more Detective Stevens learned about Ron Jr.'s actions on the day his parents' bodies were discovered, the more he came to believe that the older son was acting in a bizarre manner.  

    For instance, why in the world wouldn't he have locked up his butcher shop as soon as he learned that both his parents had been murdered? As it turned out, he stayed open for business, and it wasn't until closing time that he finally told his employees and other family members who worked there that the Jabalees had been killed.

    KEN STEVENS:
    His sister, Nicole, was there, and he hadn't told her a thing.

    DENNIS MURPHY:
    He hasn't told his own sister.

    KEN STEVENS:
    Hadn't told his own sister.

    DENNIS MURPHY:
    Who is right under the roof in the shop?

    KEN STEVENS:
    He had called her in the office just before closing up the shop and told her in his office.

    Ron also didn't tell his wife for 3 hours and didn't go home to her and their four kids until the end of the day. Instead, the first house he went to was a new one that he was renovating.

    With life-changing events swirling about him, why would he check out his construction site?

    The son's first answer to that was he was concerned about the security on the new house. Several months later, he told police a different story.

    KEN STEVENS:
    He says, "I'll come clean. I had four or five Vicodin in my pocket.  I have some Vicodin issues, and I didn't want to come to the police station with the Vicodin in my pocket.  So I went to the house and I left them at the house that we're remodeling."

    DENNIS MURPHY:
    Rather than out the window.

    KEN STEVENS:
    Rather than just throw them out the window, or leave them at the business.

    Ron said he lied because he was embarrassed by his heavy useof Vicodin, a powerful prescription painkiller. But could there have been another reason, police speculated, why he needed to go inside the new house? Maybe to hide hastily laundered bloody clothes? Or to move a weapon stashed the night before?

    DENNIS MURPHY:
    This is a house with power and water?

    KEN STEVENS:
    Yes.  Power, water--

    DENNIS MURPHY:
    It's a functioning house.

    KEN STEVENS:
    Yes.

    After he stopped at the new house, Ron finally met up with Det. Stevens at the crime scene at 5 pm., eight hours after the bodies had been discovered.

    DENNIS MURPHY:
    What are you seeing, detective, because a detective is doing much more than just hearing words, you're taking stuff in.

    KEN STEVENS:
    Right.  He didn't ask about what was happening, where we were in the investigation.

    The detective also paid attention to Ron's demeanor.

    KEN STEVENS:
    Didn't seem to be excited, under any anxiety at all, but was just very calm.

    So as the first anniversary of the murders approached, Ryan Jabalee and the other family members knew that Ron Jr. was the cops' prime suspect.

    DENNIS MURPHY:
    How did you all do, you and your sister?

    RYAN JABALEE:
    I did fine.  I knew that Ronnie had nothing to do with it.  I knew from day one.

    But there were two uncles from his mother's side who weren't that surprised that Ron Jr. was wearing an investigative bulls-eye.

    That's because of the strange things he'd said to them.

    KEN STEVENS:
    He had made a couple of comments to relatives that didn't come to light for several months.  One of those comments: "Maybe I killed my parents and I don't remember."

    DENNIS MURPHY:
    Maybe I did it.

    KEN STEVENS:
    "Maybe I killed my parents and I don't remember."  One of the uncles asked, "Why would you say such a thing?"  "Well, they think I did it.  So I must have done it."  And again, we hadn't focused on Ron at that early stage.

    Although he repeatedly told police he did not kill his parents, in the same breath he also wondered whether he could have murdered them in his sleep while sleepwalking.

    Why would he say such odd things?

    KEN STEVENS:
    Our theory is, he starts putting that excuse out, this is going to be why I did it.  "I looked it up on the Internet, this happens. I know it happens."

    Det. Stevens and other investigators thought the son's weird "maybe I did it, maybe I didn't" ramblings were the investigative breakthrough that they'd been hungering for.

    KEN STEVENS:
    They're just statements that are made that aren't consistent with an innocent man.

    A confrontation was coming with the son, and you're about to see and hear it: a hidden-camera interview, eight months after the murders, conducted by Detective-Lt. Curt Schram of the Michigan State Police.

    DET. SCHRAM:
    Ronnie, do you want me to call you Ronnie?

    RON JABALEE:
    That's good.

    DET. SCHRAM:
    Ok.

    Early on, the detective tried to gain his trust. He commiserated about the difficulty of working in the meat business.

    RON JABALEE:
    I used to be a much harder worker until what happened.

    DET. SCHRAM:
    Ok.

    RON JABALEE:
    It's completely destroyed me.

    DET. SCHRAM:
    How are you coping with that, Ronnie?

    RON JABALEE:
    I'm having a terrible time. I'm telling you.

    DET. SCHRAM:
    Ok.

    RON JABALEE: 
    I mean, how are you supposed to react when your mother and father are murdered?  Tragedies happen. Car accidents, planes fall out of the sky. But this?

    Ron Jr. told the detective where he was the Friday night his parents were murdered.

    RON JABALEE:
    I went to my vacant home, went to my house, changed my clothes, ate, went upstairs, put a movie in, fell asleep.

    But the detective challenged that story, and battlelines were drawn.

    RON JABALEE:
    You think I was at my parents'?

    DET. SCHRAM:
    Yeah, I do.

    RON JABALEE:
    Absolutely not.

    DET. SCHRAM:
    Ronnie, you had also indicated to your uncle that you thought maybe you had killed 'em.

    RON JABALEE:
    Just a lot of -- of guilty feelings inside for hard feelings I've had in the past.

    From interviews with other family members, police knew that Ron Sr., a perfectionist, had been hardest on the first-born, and Ron Jr. resented that from time to time.

    Det. Schram offered the son a way out, a rationale for that resentment, which Schram suggested might have triggered the slaughter in the garage. Maybe his father's neat and meticulous nature had a darker side, one that caused the son to finally snap.

    DET. SCHRAM:
    You've got a father that's very controlling, very compulsive.

    But Ron Jr. didn't take the bait. He stuck to his alibi.

    RON JABALEE:
    I went home. I cleaned up, ate, went to bed. My wife can verify that.

    DET. SCHRAM:
    Well, how do you explain that comment about, "I think I killed 'em."

    RON JABALEE:
    A lot of  guilt I had inside of me.  I wish I would've told my mom and dad I loved them more.

    DET. SCHRAM:
    I'm hoping that you will be honest with me and let me know what happened.

    RON JABALEE:
    I am telling you the honest-to-God truth. I was not over there.

    DET. SCHRAM:
    Not Friday night?

    RON JABALEE:
    Absolutely not.

    DET. SCHRAM:
    Ok. I don't believe you, Ronnie.

    RON JABALEE:
    Can I go?

    And with that, he was out the door. Interview over.

    But, sometimes, when one door closes, another one opens.

    Investigators got a hot lead on an item that appeared to be missing from the garage -- a 5-pound steel doorstop, certainly heavy and blunt enough to knock the couple senseless.

    Could it have been one of the murder weapons?

  • PART 6

    Here was the scorecard of the Jabalee double murder investigation by 2008, two years after the killings:

    The labwork from the crime scene was back and yielded NO helpful forensic evidence. There were no DNA or fingerprints that mattered, and that once-promising bloody footprint couldn't be matched up.

    No murder weapons had been found.

    And those dramatic letters in blood had proved much more tantalizing than meaningful.

    The case against Ron Jabalee Jr. was stalled.

    KEN STEVENS:
    He tells us in one of our interviews, "Do you have any hard evidence?  Do you have any evidence at all that I did this?  If not, I'm free to go, right?"

    He was, but police kept coming back to him, as their only suspect. The best case police could hope to put together was strictly circumstantial. The rickety centerpiece: Ron Jr.'s possibly incriminating statements.

    RON JABALEE (in police video):
    Do you think I was at my parents'?

    DET. SCHRAM (in police video):
    Yeah, I do.

    RON JABALEE (in police video):
    Absolutely not.

    DET. SCHRAM:
    Does it make sense where I'm coming from, though?

    RON JABALEE:
    Yeah, because of what I said. Absolutely.

    Another year went by, and Ron Jr, who'd never lawyered up, consented to another interview, this one with an FBI agent at a state police post.

    Watching nearby, Det. Stevens thought the interrogation was one winning serve away from point, set, match.

    KEN STEVENS:
    And he came to the point where we believed he was gonna say, "You know what?  I did it." 

    DENNIS MURPHY:
    Just that close, huh?

    KEN STEVENS:
    That close.  And Ron's looking at the floor and he says, "You know what?  I can't do this.  I gotta talk to my wife first. 

    DENNIS MURPHY:
    End of the interview?

    KEN STEVENS:
    Ended it, right there.

    No confession. But also no videotape. It wasn't recorded.

    DENNIS MURPHY:
    But there was another reason why police kept coming back to Ron Jr. -- he couldn't clear himself. He took two polygraph tests and both were inconclusive, according to the police.  He then took a third test and flunked it, according to the investigators, who said he was deceptive on all five questions, including the big one: did you cause the death of your parents?

    And Detective Stevens also had a direct run-in with Ron that helped shape his opinion. It happened during an interview in Stevens' office.

    KEN STEVENS:
    Ron became very angry and to the point where he gripped the chair.  He was ready to stand up and fight to the point where I stood up before he did and asked him if there was a problem.

    By now, two years had gone by, and the suspected son still hadn't lost the support of his brother and family.

    DENNIS MURPHY:
    Did you ever have a glimmer of a thought, oh man, maybe he flipped, something happened?

    RYAN JABALEE:
    No, never.  He's incapable of doing it.

    Meanwhile, Ron Sr.'s best friend, Dale Nelson, had all along been asking questions of his own, conducting his own little investigation.

    DENNIS MURPHY:
    What's driving you, what's making you an amateur detective?

    DALE NELSON:
    He'd have done it for me. (pause)


    DENNIS MURPHY:
    You knew the boy. Could you say this just can't be, what's going on? Or did you think maybe there was a little smoke there?

    DALE NELSON:
    I knew there was some animosity between Ron Sr. and Ron Jr., but was it enough to make him kill his mother and father?

    DENNIS MURPHY:
    Did you ever ask Ron Jr. the same questions that the detectives were? Did you confront him?

    DALE NELSON:
    He was at my house one day, and I asked him: "Did you kill your mom and dad, look me in the face and say you didn't do it."  He looked down at the ground and he just said he couldn't do it.

    DENNIS MURPHY:
    And he couldn't tell you directly, I did not do it?

    DALE NELSON:
    He never looked me in the eye and said he didn't do it.

    But now, Dale's amateur sleuthing would pay off. He'd stopped by Detective Stevens' office, and they chatted about the garage that Dale knew inside and out.

    DALE NELSON:
    They were looking for a weapon that was heavy enough to cause skull fractures.

    Despite digging around the crime scene for hours, police hadn't found the bludgeoning weapon. So Dale poured over garage video and photos that Detective Stevens showed him. As he looked closer, he wondered: What's wrong with this picture? What's missing?

    And then it hit him.

    DENNIS MURPHY:
    Where's the doorstop?

    DALE NELSON:
    Where is the doorstop?

    The one-of-a-kind doorstop, shaped like a fireplace poker, was used to keep an interior door from flying open. Dale was very familiar with it.

    Because he's the one who made it.

    DALE NELSON:
    It was just another thing he asked me, "Hey, this is what I want, can you make it?"

    On that final Friday night visit to his friend, he checked to make sure that the one thing or another he'd made over the years was still in use. The doorstop had most definitely been there.

    DENNIS MURPHY:
    You saw it?

    DALE NELSON:
    I saw it, standing in a corner where it always stood.

    DENNIS MURPHY:
    No question in your mind?

    DALE NELSON:
    No question in my mind it was there.

    DENNIS MURPHY:
    You ended up making the prosecutor's office another one.

    DALE NELSON:
    Yes I did, and they gave it to the medical examiner.

    The recreated 5-pound steel doorstop was the missing piece of the puzzle for Det. Stevens' theory of how the crime transpired. It began, as he saw it, with Ron Jr. arriving just after his parents' pizza dinner.

    KEN STEVENS:
    Probably by a quarter after eight, they're done.

    Dad was in the garage, Mom reading on the couch inside.

    KEN STEVENS:
    He has a conversation with Dad, and something happens where it takes the situation from a discussion to where there's a fight, and the fight's one-sided.  We believe he grabbed dale nelson's doorstop, hit his dad several times in the head, Mom heard the ruckus, wasn't overly concerned but went out there to see what it was.  As she's going down the step, she sees what happens. She drops her cookie, jumps out of her shoes and goes after her son.

    Then, according to the police theory, Ron whacked his mother with the doorstop. Now, with both parents battered and dazed, police believe he ran inside and grabbed two knives -- the ones missing from the knife block -- and finished what he'd begun.

    KEN STEVENS:
    Before it's all said and done, in a matter of just a couple of minutes, he's lost his temper and he's committed this unbelievable situation.

    According to the detective's theory, Ron Jr. then drove to that new house of his that was being renovated, washed off his parents' blood and removed blood-stained clothes.

    KEN STEVENS:
    We knew he had a change of clothes there that he would use to do some work on the house, and he goes home.  And we believe he gets home sometime right around nine o'clock.

    Detective Stevens believes Ron Jr. then returned to the closed garage later that night to mop down the scene. That's why the bloody message was unrecognizably smeared but, more importantly, why, police say, all evidence at the scene was washed away. 

    But could they prove it? By now it was 2009, nearly three-years since the murders.

    KEN STEVENS:
    We had exhausted all the possibilities with the state police lab and our own technicians.  The hard evidence that we had hoped to come across like, finding the knives--

    DENNIS MURPHY:       
    Yeah.

    KEN STEVENS:
    Finding the doorstop. 

    DENNIS MURPHY:
    It was a thin case.

    KEN STEVENS:
    It was thin.

    And it had turned cold.

    STEVE KAPLAN:
    A cold case is one where there are no new leads.

    Which was Steve Kaplan's calling card. A top prosecutor, Kaplan was point man for the Macomb County cold case unit that specialized in underdog cases.

    STEVE KAPLAN:
    None of our cases were solved through forensic evidence. All the cold cases related to the old-fashioned shoe leather.

    DENNIS MURPHY:
    Fresh eyes, new approach.

    STEVE KAPLAN:
    Exactly.

    Kaplan had taken on 25 cold cases and was undefeated, gaining either convictions or guilty pleas.

    Was number 26 in the cards?

    Kaplan met with Detective Stevens and other investigators at this state police post, where a war room was set up with stacks of files, interviews and visual displays.

    KEN STEVENS:
    And we go over the entire case from start to finish.

    STEVE KAPLAN:
    We concluded that we had the right suspect.  All the leads had been exhausted. The case would not have improved over time.

    But Kaplan also knew the case had serious flaws -- the lack of any physical evidence being the biggest one.

    So he suggested a deviation from the county's regular charging process. Normally, a judge decides in a preliminary hearing whether there's sufficient evidence for the accused to stand trial. The Jabalee case, thought Kaplan, required special handling.

    KEN STEVENS:
    He makes the determination that the first time in 15 years we're going to take this information to a grand jury, and if they indict we'll go to trial.

    DENNIS MURPHY:
    Grand Jury--

    KEN STEVENS:
    Correct.

    DENNIS MURPHY:
    Is not a usual route in Macomb County.

    KEN STEVENS:
    Very unusual.

    Ron Jr. could read the tea leaves. By the time the grand jury was convened in June, 2009, he'd retained two respected defense lawyers -- Stephen Rabaut and Gail Pamukov-Miller.

    DENNIS MURPHY:
    They hardly ever go to a grand jury to get an indictment and yet they did in this case.  Gail, what was going on?

    GAIL PAMUKOV-MILLER:
    I think they didn't have the evidence.  Steve and I are of the position that this case should never have been brought.

    Bringing it to a grand jury, a one-sided presentation by the prosecutor, the lawyers claimed, was a cop-out.

    STEVE RABAUT:
    I think the prosecutor's office believes that this insulates them in some fashion.

    DENNIS MURPHY:
    Grand Jury wanted us to do it, huh?

    STEVE RABAUT:
    Right. 

    After three-days of prosecution testimony, the grand jury came back with a unanimous decision.

    DENNIS MURPHY:
    Grand Jury heard the argument and said, "Go for it."

    STEVEN KAPLAN:
    They did.  They had no question that there was sufficient evidence to prosecute this case.

    (Title: WDIV-TV, June 26, 2009)

    WDIV-TV ANCHOR:
    "Now, some breaking news. An arrest has been made in the stabbing deaths of a new Baltimore couple."

    WDIV-TV REPORTER: 
    "We're being told one of the Jabalees' own children now accused of their violent murders."

    Within minutes of the indictment, Ron Jabalee Jr. was arrested at his Detroit butcher shop.

    He would stand trial for murdering his parents.

  • PART 7

    COURTROOM:
    All rise. All rise, please. Circuit court for the County of Macomb is now in session.  The Honorable Richard Caretti is presiding."

    October 14, 2010 -- four years after the slaughter of Ron and Christine Jabalee in their garage -- their son, Ron Jr., faced first-degree murder charges in a Macomb County, Michigan courtroom.

    Prosecutor Steve Kaplan, undefeated in previous cold cases, told jurors that the murders were personal in nature, and the defendant, a butcher by trade, committed the crimes.

    STEVE KAPLAN:
    Whoever did this, twenty-four stab wounds, to two people, at least, to the face, to the chest, was done by somebody who knows how to use a knife.

    DENNIS MURPHY:
    What was the strongest hand you were holding? What was the best bit of evidence you had?

    STEVE KAPLAN:
    Ron Jabalee's statements, which are damning and incriminating and would not have been uttered by a person who had not been the killer.

    RONALD LOHMAN:
    He made one of those statements to his uncle Ronald eight days after the murders.

    RONALD LOHMANN:
    He said, "Maybe I did it, I don't know."

    STEVE KAPLAN:
    And you said, "You were shocked" to hear him say, "maybe he killed his parents." Is that correct?

    RONALD LOHMANN:
    I was shocked. Yes.

    STEVE KAPLAN:
    Thank you, sir.

    JOE POLITO
    "I do."

    Another uncle, Joe Polito, in a separate conversation that same day, heard Ron say something similar.

    JOE POLITO TESTIMONY:
    He said, "he thought he may have did it and doesn't know it," or words to that effect.

    STEVE KAPLAN:
    Now, who in this world made statements to you that "he might have committed these murders, he doesn't remember."  Are there a hundred?

    JOE POLITO:
    No.

    STEVE KAPLAN:

    Are there fifty?

    JOE POLITO:
    No.

    STEVE KAPLAN:
    Are there twenty?

    JOE POLITO:
    No.

    STEVE KAPLAN:
    Are there ten?

    JOE POLITO:
    No.

    STEVE KAPLAN:
    Are there five?

    JOE POLITO:
    No.

    STEVE KAPLAN:
    Are there two?

    JOE POLITO:
    No.

    STEVE KAPLAN:
    There's one?

    JOE POLITO:
    Correct.

    STEVE KAPLAN:
    And who was it?

    JOE POLITO:
    The defendant.

    STEVE KAPLAN:
    I'm sorry.

    JOE POLITO:
    The defendant.

    STEVE KAPLAN:
    Now, let's move on to December 5, 2006. Did you have another conversation with your nephew, the defendant?

    JOE POLITO:
    I did.

    STEVE KAPLAN:
    What did he say to you on Dec. 5?

    JOE POLITO:
    Essentially the same thing.  "He thought maybe he did it and didn't remember doing it."

    While he listened to the testimony, without emotion, Ron Jabalee Jr. came across as a low-key guy with a placid exterior. That's how most people who know Ron would describe him too.

    The prosecutor tried hard to get jurors to see the defendant as he saw him -- as a man with molten anger just below the surface, fully capable of committing these ghastly crimes.

    Example: Ron's Uncle Joe testified he felt threatened by Ron Jr. over the phone because he'd gone before the grand jury in this case.

    STEVE KAPLAN:
    Why did you seek police protection against your nephew on the evening of June 24, 2009?

    JOE POLITO:
    Because of the content of the phone conversation.

    STEVE KAPLAN:
    What made you feel threatened?

    JOE POLITO:
    He had basically told me that he didn't trust me, that people were gonna pay for this.

    STEVE KAPLAN:
    What did he tell you, if anything, he would do if the police try to arrest him?

    JOE POLITO:
    He said he would resist arrest, and he would take 'em down with him.

    Then the prosecutor showed jurors a horror movie -- the crime scene.

    Could the same man who allegedly threatened his uncle have done this?

    BORA KIM:
    The scene is something that I probably will never forget, very, very bloody scene, and I remember there was one point in court where for twenty minutes it was completely silent.

    All the while, Detective Ken Stevens locked eyes on the defendant.

    KEN STEVENS:
    My certainty that we had the right guy was when we showed the bodies of his beaten parents, laying on the concrete of that garage floor, and he looks and he never bats an eye. Never sheds a tear. Never changes the color of his face.

    Besides the defendant's own statements, Kaplan told the jury about Ron's unusual behavior:

    That he kept the store open on the day of the murders and, for hours, didn't tell anyone in the store about his parents. Not his sister, who worked there. Not his brother-in-law, an employee ... and now a witness.

    STEVE KAPLAN (in courtroom):
    And you found out at what time on Saturday that his parents had been massacred? What time was that?

    RICHARD SZYLLER (in courtroom):
    Around one o'clock, sir.

    STEVE KAPLAN:
    So you were left in the dark for three and a half hours?

    RICHARD SZYLLER:
    Yes.

    As was Ron Jr.'s own wife. He didn't tell her, either, for three hours.

    STEVE KAPLAN:
    Who in this world would not call the wife and say, "My parents have been murdered?" But he didn't, and you know why? Because he knew the family was not in danger.

    Kaplan said the defendant's suspicious behavior continued after he finally closed the store and drove off at 3:30 pm. His brother-in-law, as usual, was his passenger.

    STEVE KAPLAN:
    The route that you took on that Saturday when you left the store, what's your view of that route?

    RICHARD SZYLLER:
    We never took that route before.  I mean, I don't know why we took it.

    As Ron drove to the Detroit suburbs, he stopped at a Chicken Shack.

    STEVE KAPLAN:
    Was this business-related?

    RICHARD SZYLLER:
    No, sir.

    STEVE KAPLAN:
    Were you there to deliver poultry?

    RICHARD SZYLLER:
    no, sir.

    The defendant then drove -- not to the home where he lived with his family -- but to the new house he was remodeling.

    It's where, according to the prosecution's theory, he washed off his parents' blood and changed his clothes right after the murders.

    At the house, Ron told his brother-in-law to wait outside.

    STEVE KAPLAN:
    And at any time did he invite you in and say, "You know, you have been outside a long time, come on in?"

    RICHARD SZYLLER:
    No, sir.

    STEVEN KAPLAN:
    Find that unusual?

    RICHARD SZYLLER:
    A little, yes.

    Kaplan wondered out loud to the jury:

    Why did the defendant need to go to that house on that day of all days?

    STEVE KAPLAN (in court room):
    Could it be that the knife was there?  Could it be there's some bloody clothing there? What is he doing there?  When his family has been assassinated?

    But if the son had committed such a cruel crime, as the prosecutor asserted, what could the motive possibly be?

  • PART 8

    Tough case...missing pieces.

    Prosecutor Steve Kaplan had been down this road before. He'd won murder convictions in previous cold cases without DNA, or a  weapon. One time, without a body.

    This time, though, his biggest hurdle was the lack of physical evidence against the defendant.

    DENNIS MURPHY:
    It simply wasn't there.

    STEVE KAPLAN:
    It was not there. The killer, either by skill or by luck, did not leave any evidence behind.

    DENNIS MURPHY:
    The prosecutor also didn't have the polygraph tests; they're inadmissible in court. The police said that Ron Jr. had failed one of them and the other two were inconclusive.

    Clearly, prosecutor Kaplan thought that his best card here was Ron Jabalee's statement, "Maybe I killed them," hoping the defendant's own words would get him get him a conviction. But that didn't stop him from trying to shore up the considerable holes in his own case.

    Like the missing murder weapons: a bludgeoning object and a knife. If he couldn't put them in the defendant's hands, he'd try to at least place them close by.

    He called Medical Examiner Daniel Spitz to the stand.

    STEVE KAPLAN:
    I'd like you to assume that the defendant had worked as a butcher for many, many years.  In your opinion, does these injuries show dexterity, skill with a knife?

    DR. DANIEL SPITZ:
    I suppose that type of employment or work might give somebody access to a particular weapons or feel more comfortable with a particular weapon.

    Kaplan then asked about the 5-pound steel doorstop missing from the Jabalee garage. He'd had a replica made as a dramatic prosecution exhibit. Was the bludgeon like this?

    DR. DANIEL SPITZ:
    I would include an instrument of this type as being consistent with the injuries that were caused both, to Ronald Jabalee and Christine Jabalee.

    STEVE KAPLAN:
    "This is the great equalizer."

    Kaplan theatrically brandished the steel doorstop. It's how, he argued, the defendant was able to disable both victims, by himself, and not get injured in the process.

    STEVE KAPLAN:
    It's not a conspicuous object.  Therefore, our theory was whoever killed Mr. and Mrs. Jabalee knew about the doorstop.  And that would be the defendant.

    But it was just a theory. The absence of the real doorstop was a weakness in the case...as was the absence of a clear-cut motive. Prosecutors aren't required to present a motive but juries, by nature, want to know "why" a crime was committed.

    DENNIS MURPHY:
    How do you go from being in business with your family to murdering the parents?

    STEVE KAPLAN:
    We never had a specific motive.  We had various ideas on why he committed these murders.

    And those ideas went into a psychological back story of a son's resentment, and his battles with his parents for control.

    To illustrate, the jury heard about an incident at R.J.'s Meats the day of the murders.

    Christine Jabalee, the defendant's mother, had sent home a co-worker for taking too many bathroom breaks. So how did her son-the-boss react to that, the prosecutor asked this employee.

    RYAN PARKS:
    Slightly upset that she had made the call and not him.

    DENNIS MURPHY:
    My name's over the door, huh?

    STEVE KAPLAN:
    Right. This is my business, and who are you to banish one of my employees?

    DENNIS MURPHY:
    How much weight do you put on that, friction between the mother and the employee?

    STEVE KAPLAN:
    It's a potential motive. It might have given Ron Jabalee a reason to visit his parents that night.

    Kaplan argued that Ron Jr. was angry at his perfectionist father, and to make the point the prosecutor placed in exhibit one of history's vilest symbols-- a swastika. Ron Jabalee Sr.'s photo had been defaced with the Nazi emblem, and it was discovered on Ron Jr.'s home computer.

    STEVE KAPLAN:
    Whoever did that obviously had some hatred toward Mr. Jabalee.

    DENNIS MURPHY:
    Couldn't say whether that was Ron Junior's electronic finger prints on that image?

    STEVE KAPLAN:
    We couldn't show who did it, only that it was found on the defendant's home computer.

    DALE NELSON:
    The victim's best friend Dale Nelson offered another possible motive: finances, when he testified about a heart-to-heart talk he'd had with Ron Sr. six-months before the murders.

    STEVE KAPLAN:
    Did he voice any concerns about his son, the defendant?

    DALE NELSON:
    He was upset about some of the financial issues going on at the store.

    STEVE KAPLAN:
    And talking about his son, did he use a term that might have been derogatory?

    DALE NELSON:
    He did.

    STEVE KAPLAN:
    What word?

    DALE NELSON:
    Bleep this ****.  His specific words were, "I'm not losing my house because of that asshole."

    DALE NELSON:
    I put up my house to start that business, there's a line on my house for that business.

    DENNIS MURPHY:
    He thought there was funny business going on with his son and money, huh?

    DALE NELSON:
    Yes.

    DENNIS MURPHY:
    You're taking the stand and there's the defendant, the accused, your good friend's boy.

    DALE NELSON:
    Yeah.  I'm not there to speak for him. I'm not there to speak against him.  I'm there to speak for my friends that can't speak for themselves.

    Then the prosecutor laid out his timeline for the night of the murders.

    STEVE KAPLAN:
    And we're able to pinpoint the killing at about 8:15, 8:20 pm on Friday night.

    STEVE KAPLAN (in court room):
    Good morning, Detective Stevens.

    The lead detective testified that Ron told police he stopped at his new house to do some renovations that night.

    KEN STEVENS:
    He indicated he was at the house to approximately 8:30, 8:45.

    STEVE KAPLAN:
    How long did he stay there?

    KEN STEVENS:
    He indicated that he was there 30 to 40 minutes.

    The police theory is that Ron Jr. was at the new house alright, but he was there to clean up after he murdered his parents. He then drove home around 9 pm, according to the police chronology.

    Later, a neighbor across the street from Ron Sr. and Christine's noticed their lights on at 11:30 and then off around 1:30 in the morning -- surprisingly late for habitual early-risers.

    Det. Stevens believed the murderer came back to the garage.

    STEVE KAPLAN:
    Now, as a detective, why would a killer return to a scene?

    KEN STEVENS:
    It could be that he or she forgot to do something such as turning off the lights or left something at the scene.

    Police believe the defendant left evidence that needed to be washed clean, the same way a butcher shop gets hosed down every night.

    In his testimony, Stevens made mention of one section of the garage that still puzzled him.

    KEN STEVENS:
    There was a portion of the garage floor that I believe was mopped up. It would have been the area underneath the rear of the jeep.

    That's where those bloody letters were, indecipherable because they'd been mopped up.

    KEN STEVENS:
    You could see that water had been wiped through this message, and the message destroyed.

    Stevens told the jury that a slab of garage was sent to the crime lab for analysis but experts there couldn't make heads or tails of it, either.

    STEVE KAPLAN (in court room):
    There's also evidence at the scene suggesting a cleanup with a mop, so blood had been mopped up from the garage floor.

    DENNIS MURPHY:
    And tidily replaced in the garage in the place where the mop and--

    STEVE KAPLAN:
    Right.

    DENNIS MURPHY:
    Bucket always were.

    STEVE KAPLAN:
    The mop was returned to its place and Mr. Jabalee, the victim, was very regimented, and he instilled that regimentation into his sons so that was a key for us.  It was a clue as to who did it.

    For what he considered his best clues, the prosecutor returned to a familiar theme -- the defendant's own words.

    STEVE KAPLAN (in court room):
    An innocent person would not tell 15 people over a two-and-a-half-year period that he doesn't know whether he killed his parents.

    Ron did several interviews with police but Kaplan picked the one he thought was most concise: State detective Pat Young conducted it 18 months after the murders.

    PAT YOUNG:
    Did you take any Vicodin this morning?

    RON JABALEE:
    Yes.

    PAT YOUNG:
    You've taken some? How many did you take?

    RON JABALEE:
    Three.

    Ron Jr. arrived on Vicodin. His uncle Joe was with him as an advisor. That's before their falling out over Ron's alleged threats against him.

    PAT YOUNG:
    You asked your Uncle Joe, right? "Uncle Joe, is it possible I could have killed my parents and don't even know it?"

    RON JABALEE:
    I said something like that. I don't remember exactly what.

    PAT YOUNG:
    Do you recall kinda what your thought process was when you said that to your uncle Joe?

    RON JABALEE:
    I had a lot of guilt inside of me, um, thought maybe I went berserk, and woke up, drove over there, did this and drove back home.

    PAT YOUNG: 
    What made you even say this? I mean, this had been-- is this been in your mind from day one?

    RON JABALEE:
    It was in my mind when somebody said, "This is a crime of passion. It could be somebody in the family, um, or it could have something to do with someone in the family and they don't even realize it", and from that day on, I've been nothing but scared and paranoid.

    PATRICK YOUNG:
    Scared and paranoid because-- ?

    RON JABALEE:
    Is it possible this has something to do with family?

    PATRICK YOUNG:
    Or?

    RON JABALEE:
    Or me, yeah.

    STEVE KAPLAN (in court room):
    The defendant is saying to people, "Yeah, maybe I did it while I was sleepwalking."  He's setting up an excuse from the beginning. He doesn't know what the police will discover.

    PAT YOUNG:
    You don't know if you did this or not. You don't.  Right?

    PAT YOUNG:
    Right. How could you? You're asleep.

    Had the prosecutor, thin on hard evidence, told the jury a story convincing enough to win a conviction?

  • PART 9

    PAT YOUNG:
    You asked your Uncle Joe, right? "Uncle Joe, is it possible I could've killed my parents and not even known it?"

    RON JABALEE:
    I said something like that. I don't remember exactly what.

    When law partners Stephen Rabaut and Gail Pamukov-Miller signed on to represent Ron Jabalee Jr., he'd already broken Rule Number One of the Defense Attorney Handbook at least ten times.

    He gave lengthy interviews to the police -- without a lawyer present, a lawyer who may have kept Ron Jr.'s foot out of his mouth.

    DENNIS MURPHY:
    When you go to trial, you wish he had not said those things.

    GAIL MILLER:
    Well, it makes it more difficult because all those statements can be taken out of context.

    So the defense needed to paint the bigger picture. Rabaut told the jury that for every oddball statement Ron had made, he also clearly denied killing his parents. Like in the interview the jury saw with Detective Young.

    STEPHEN RABAUT (questioning Sgt. Pat Young):
    And during the course of that interview, he denied being involved in the death of his parents roughly a dozen times, isn't that true?

    PAT YOUNG:
    I did not count but I will agree with you.

    STEPHEN RABAUT:
    Multitude of times.

    PAT YOUNG:
    Multitude of times, yes.

    PAT YOUNG (flashback interview with Ron Jabalee):
    My concern is, is the fact that you don't know if you did this or not.

    RON JABALEE:
    I know I didn't do it.

    PAT YOUNG:
    But you just said you did it.

    RON JABALEE:
    I know. I didn't do it. It's impossible. There's no way I could hurt somebody.

    PAT YOUNG:
    Why is it impossible?

    RON JABALEE:
    I would never hurt another human being. I have a hard time swatting a fly.

    PAT YOUNG:
    Therefore, that's why it couldn't happen.

    RON JABALEE:
    Well, yeah.

    STEPHEN RABAUT (with Dennis Murphy):
    At all times, he rejected the fact that he had killed his parents.  He vehemently denied it.

    As for telling his two uncles he might have killed his parents and didn't remember, jurors watched Ron explain that he was merely accepting blanket responsibility as the family's new patriarch.


    RON JABALEE:
    I blame myself for everything, Detective. Always have. If something goes wrong at the house, I blame myself. If something goes wrong at the store, I blame myself. I'm the leader.

    GAIL MILLER:
    I think he tormented himself about what happened.  You know, was it something he did, something he didn't do, is it people that he knew, people that he didn't know?  Was it something related to the business? And I think that's the explanation.

    If there was another way to look at Ron's statements to his uncles, the defense tried to define it in cross-examination -- his grief.


    STEPHEN RABAUT:
    "Maybe I did it, I don't know."  Is that correct?


    RONALD LOHMANN:
    That is absolutely correct.

    STEPHEN RABAUT:
    Do you agree with me that that remark could have many interpretations?

    RONALD LOHMAN:
    That's correct.

    STEPHEN RABAUT:
    You indicated that at that time, ron junior was terribly upset?


    RONALD LOHMANN:
    Yes, he was. Very upset.

    STEPHEN RABAUT:
    And did you interpret that to be terribly upset because of the death of his parents?

    RONALD LOHMANN:
    Yes.

    "Uncle" Joe Polito testified that the whole "did I or didn't I" business came up in a casual remark the uncle made in passing to a New Baltimore police officer.

    Joe Polito and I said to him, "My nephew just left. The kid's so distraught. He said to me, 'maybe I did it and I don't know it.'" I never thought anything of that.                       

    And remember Ron's alleged telephone threats against Uncle Joe three years later, which prompted a request for police protection? The defense tried its best to soften the incident.

    JOE POLITO:
    He exhibited very little emotion during the entire phone call.  He spoke in a subdued monotone.

    STEPHEN RABAUT:
    All right.

    JOE POLITO:
    Almost like in a trance of some sort.

    STEPHEN RABAUT:
    Have you ever heard any conduct like that from him before?

    JOE POLITO:
    No.


    Rabaut argued to the jurors that the mild-mannered man sitting before them, the same man who may have seemed subdued the day his parents were found dead, was just reacting to tragedy in his own way.

    STEPHEN RABAUT:
    Whether Ron Jabalee should have left RJ's Meats at that time or should have acted in any other manner, I guess, what is the right reaction to circumstances?

    GAIL MILLER:
    The brutal killing of your parents, there's nothing in life that prepares anybody for that.  There's no playbook for that.

    More testimony about Ron Jr.'s laid-back, passive demeanor came from the brother-in-law who was in the passenger seat that Saturday as the two took a seemingly meandering route from work.

    RICHARD SZYLLER:
    He was like in shock, you know. He didn't say anything, nothing.

    GAIL MILLER:
    Do you see any injuries on his face?

    RICHARD SZYLLER:
    No, ma'am.

    GAIL MILLER:
    Was he bruised?

    RICHARD SZYLLER:
    No, ma'am.

    GAIL MILLER:
    Was he banged up?

    RICHARD SZYLLER:
    No, ma'am.

    GAIL MILLER:
    How about his hand, do you see any injuries on his hands?

    RICHARD SZYLLER:
    No, ma'am.

    DENNIS MURPHY:
    The defense was counter-punching what it regarded as the prosecution's rampant conjecture and speculation. The defense team needed to neutralize each claim as it appeared, starting with its cross-examination of the medical examiner and the state's critical theory of a single-killer.

    GAIL MILLER:
    You agree with me that it's reasonably possible that there were two perpetrators involved in this incident?

    DR. DANIEL SPITZ:
    I can't exclude it based on the wounds.

    Another button-up point: that theorized dispute between Ron and his mother over who had the power at the shop to send home employees.

    The defense countered in cross-examination with a co-worker who testified that flare-ups like that were no biggie because they happened all the time.

    GAIL MILLER:
    Is it fair to assume that you didn't think it was all that significant?

    RYAN PARKS:
    I did not.

    -- And what about this hint that Ron's relationship with his father had soured over money, as garage buddy Dale Nelson had contended?

    This bank officer testified that Ron Sr. asked if his son had used the dad's line of credit without permission. But, under cross examination, the witness said she checked, and Ron Jr., it turned out, did nothing of the kind.

    EILEEN KUHA:
    I didn't see that there was anything to be alarmed about.

    GAIL MILLER:
    People that saw father and son work together at the business. People that saw son and mother work at the business. People that knew the father-son, mother and son over many years, said they had a good, solid, loving relationship.

    The defense, of course, never had to address Ron's failed polygraphs because they were not admissible, and for good reason, Rabaut said.

    STEPHEN RABAUT:
    Some people cannot take a polygraph effectively.  There's people who are dishonest and pass 'em, there's people who are honest and flunk 'em.

    But the gaping hole in the prosecution's case, defense lawyer Rabaut argued, was the absence of any--any-- physical evidence linking the defendant to the gruesome crime.

    STEPHEN RABAUT:
    Their hands are completely bloody.  Obvious horrific altercation.  Where is any DNA evidence tying Ron Jabalee Jr. to that scene? 

    In cross-examination, the prosecution's crime-scene expert, Detective Ken Stevens, had no choice but to agree.

    STEPHEN RABAUT:
    There is no physical evidence tying him to the scene at all that you were aware of, correct?

    KEN STEVENS:
    That's correct.

    DENNIS MURPHY:
    And you don't have to be a criminologist to expect that there likely would be a bloody footprint or perhaps a fingerprint or palm prints, something there.

    STEVE RABAUT:
    I would suggest it as almost impossible for just some lay person, an inexperienced killer, so to speak, to come in to a scene like that and not leave any identifiable evidence.

    And as for the prosecution's timeline for the murders?

    All invented nonsense, according to the defense.

    And they called on this woman to prove how absurd it was. The night of the murders, she had dinner with the defendant and then shared his bed ... his wife, Debbie, his all-important alibi witness.

  • PART 10

    All through the trial of Michigan vs. Ron Jabalee Jr., the gallery behind the defendant was packed with family members -- the same relatives who'd mourned the murder victims four-years before.

    DENNIS MURPHY:
    Was it important, that tableau of the family four-square behind him?

    STEVE RABAUT:
    It is extremely important.  Normally, you will see the victim's family sitting behind the prosecution four or five rows deep. In this circumstance, they're sitting all behind the defendant.

    DENNIS MURPHY:
    And that's a statement, huh?

    GAIL MILLER:
    They believed in him.

    Ryan Jabalee wanted to be in the courtroom to support his brother but couldn't because he was on the prosecution's witness list. He wished he could have attended the trial on behalf of his mom and dad.

    RYAN JABALEE:
    I'm not being used by either side and, you know, my parents' case is going on, and I'm not in there hearing about it so I was a little upset at that.

    (Deborah Jabalee being sworn in and taking a seat.)

    On Day 5, tensions ran high as the defense introduced its sole star-witness, Ron's wife, Debbie, for what could be the winner-take-all testimony.

    STEVE RABAUT:
    She was an emotional wreck.  She did not want to be the primary witness where it could affect whether or not her husband Ron was convicted.

    GAIL MILLER (in trial):
    Let's go back to October 6, 2006.  That was a Friday.

    DEBORAH JABALEE:
    Yes.

    GAIL MILLER:
    Do you remember that day?

    DEBORAH JABALEE:
    A little bit, yes.

    Debbie Jabalee, the so-called alibi witness. If credible, her testimony could punch huge holes in the prosecution's case, especially its tight timeline for the crime, which was: -- the defendant kills his parents around 8:15, cleans-up and returns home for dinner around 9, a busy 45-minute window.

    GAIL MILLER:
    And do you remember what time your husband arrived that day?

    DEBORAH JABALEE:
    Um, about, probably around 8:30.

    Debbie said she remembered the time because Ron's sister, Nicole, dropped off her kids for a sleepover.

    DEBORAH JABALEE:
    Nicole was over for about half an hour, and as soon as she left, Ron was right home after.

    GAIL MILLER:
    When you saw your husband that night, did he have any bruises on his face?

    DEBORAH JABALEE:
    No.

    GAIL MILLER:
    Any scratches?

    DEBORAH JABALEE:
    No.

    GAIL MILLER:
    Looked beat up at all?

    DEBORAH JABALEE:
    No.

    GAIL MILLER:
    Is he nervous, shaking, hyperventilating, upset, bored, dazed?

    DEBORAH JABALEE:
    No, not at all, happy to be home, i would say.

    Debbie testified that her husband's activities that night were pretty routine.

    DEBORAH JABALEE:
    He ate dinner, then went upstairs, and we were supposed to watch a movie but he fell asleep.

    GAIL MILLER:
    About what time was that?

    DEBORAH JABALEE:
    He probably fell asleep around 10 o'clock.

    GAIL MILLER:
    Were you laying in bed next to him?

    DEBORAH JABALEE:
    Yes.

    Remember, according to the prosecution's timeline, Ron left his house to return to the crime scene. A neighbor across the street had seen lights switched on at the Jabalee house at 11:30, then off again at 1:30.

    GAIL MILLER:
    What time do you think you fell asleep that night?

    DEBORAH JABALEE:
    Sometime after 11:30, I would say.

    GAIL MILLER:
    Do you know after that whether or not your husband got up at night?

    DEBORAH JABALEE:
    Umm, it was very common for him to get up, get something to drink, sometimes even eat something. 

    GAIL MILLER:
    If someone woke up in the middle of the night and wanted to go out, is there some way that you would become aware of that?

    DEBORAH JABALEE:
    Yes, we had in our bedroom the security system, anytime anybody would enter or exit any door in my home, it beeps.

    GAIL MILLER:
    When you say it beeps, is it a loud beep?

    DEBORAH JABALEE:
    Yes.

    GAIL MILLER:
    Did you hear any beeping that night?

    DEBORAH JABALEE:
    No.

    After talking through Friday night, the defense lawyer moved on to the following day, again looking for the bigger picture. The prosecution thought it very odd and suspicious that Ron waited three hours before telling his wife Debbie that his parents had been murdered. And he told her only after she called him.

    DEBORAH JABALEE:
    I'm like, "What's going on, you know. Is everything okay?"

    GAIL MILLER:
    And what was his response?

    DEBORAH JABALEE:
    He told me, um, to not freak out, um, he told me that his parents were killed.

    GAIL MILLER:
    Your husband was upset?

    DEBORAH JABALEE:
    Yes.

    GAIL MILLER:
    How did you know? 

    DEBORAH JABALEE:

    I could tell in his voice.  He seemed scared and like in shock.

    GAIL MILLER:
    Thank you, Mrs. Jabalee.

    In a flash, prosecutor Kaplan was on the attack, leaping out of his chair. No hello. No good afternoon, Mrs. Jabalee. No nothing.

    His cross-examination focusing on only one thing -- discrediting Debbie any way he could, depicting her as a mistakenly loyal wife standing by her man right or wrong, in this case wrong.

    DENNIS MURPHY:
    Do you have to get her story tangled in some way? ///

    STEVE KAPLAN:
    Right.

    Particulary on the crucial timeline, the night of the murders.

    STEVE KAPLAN:
    Now, you said the defendant came home, possibly around 8:30 on Friday night, October 6th?

    DEBORAH JABALEE:
    Yes, about 8:30. Yes.

    The prosecutor wanted the jury to understand that the time she gave for her husband walking in the door, 8:30--a critical time for the defense, too soon to have murdered, cleaned-up and driven home--may just have been the wife's “guess-timate”.

    STEVE KAPLAN:
    And would you agree, you didn't say 8:30, you said, around 8:30?

    DEBORAH JABALEE:
    Yes, about 8:30. Yes.

    STEVE KAPLAN:
    And then you qualified it even more, you said possibly around 8:30, correct?

    DEBORAH JABALEE:
    Yes, about 8:30.

    STEVE KAPLAN (interview with Dennis Murphy):
    She wasn't certain as to the time the defendant returned home.  She said possibly around 8:30, which is two qualifying words.

    Kaplan also challenged her on what, he said, was a discrepancy -- She'd told police early on her husband didn't get out of bed that night, yet he'd told them, yes, he did go down to the kitchen.

    Was the prosecutor just picking nits?

    STEVE KAPLAN:
    Do you remember telling Sergeant Patrick Young that your husband never got up that night?

    (Deborah Jabalee shakes her head and looks confused)

    STEVE KAPLAN:
    You told him no, correct?

    DEBORAH JABALEE:
    I don't know.

    STEVE KAPLAN:
    Or would you dispute this?  Are you saying you didn't tell him "No?"

    DEBORAH JABALEE:
    No, I'm not disputing anything. I don't recall.

    STEVE KAPLAN:
    But you just told these jurors, under oath, that your husband did get up, remember?

    DEBORAH JABALEE:
    Because the police had told me that at one time.

    STEVE KAPLAN:
    Oh, so you're not testifying from personal knowledge then, whether he got up that night while you were sleeping.

    DEBORAH JABALEE:
    I guess not.

    STEVEN KAPLAN:
    But you didn't say that to the jurors, did you?

    DEBORAH JABALEE:
    No.

    STEVE KAPLAN (interview with Dennis Murphy):
    Her version of protecting her husband strengthened over time.

    Nonsense, said the defense.

    STEPHEN RABAUT:
    Mr. Kaplan did all he could to try to shake her up, and she was as solid as can be.


    GAIL MILLER:
    And there is power to telling the truth that is unshakeable.

    After she finished testifying, Debbie Jabalee walked past her husband without making eye contact. Emotion finally overwhelmed her, as she burst into tears and quickly left the court.

    Debbie was the second of 125 potential witnesses on the defense's master list. But when she stepped down, the attorneys took a huge leap of faith.

    STEPHEN RABAUT (interview with Dennis Murphy):
    And we decided, "Let's shut it down because this is our message right here."

    STEPEHN RABAUT:
    "Your honor, at this time, the defense rests."

    DENNIS MURPHY:
    It's kind of a guts-ball call--

    GAIL MILLER:
    Yes, it was.

    Twenty seconds later, prosecutor Kaplan was up for his closing argument.

    STEVE KAPLAN (in trial)
    How do you know that he's the killer? Of everybody in the world, you heard about who has any connection to this case, he's the only one who says, "I don't know if i killed my parents."

    Then, Stephen Rabaut for the defense.

    STEPHEN RABAUT (in trial):
    I submit to you that there is no evidence in this record to suggest that Ron Jabalee junior had anything to do with the death of his parents whatsoever.

    The verdict was at hand.

  • PART 11

    LINDA (juror):
    This is a man's life that we're talking about. We're either gonna find him guilty and gonna send him to jail or we're gonna give him his life back, and that was very serious to me.

    Nine jurors returned to their jury box to talk to Dateline. It turned out, our interview lasted as long as their deliberations.

    When they got to the jury room, they took a straw vote and found they were split. But after hashing it out, they quickly came together.

    NANCY (juror):
    By then, we were pretty sure everybody was of one mind. and we just did a hand vote, and we were ready to move on.

    DENNIS MURPHY:
    And that was it?

    NANCY:
    That was it.

    CECILIA (juror):
    I called my husband. I said, "I have this man's life in my hands." I says, "I can't talk about it." But I said, "I'm really upset over it."

    STEPHEN RABAUT:
    When the bailiff said to me, "Steve, we have a verdict," I said, "No, you mean the jury has a question." And he says, "No, we had a verdict.” I was stunned."

    COURTROOM BAILIFF:
    “All rise for the jury, please.”

    Friday, October 22, 2010. The jury needed only an hour to decide which competing bumper sticker won out: the prosecution's "He Said He May Have Killed His Parents" or the defense's "Where's The Beef? There's No Physical Evidence."

    Usually stoic Ron Jabalee Jr. appeared nervous. His family again packed the benches. This time, his wife Debbie was there. She had been prohibited from sitting behind her husband until she'd wrapped up her testimony.

    GAIL MILLER:
    It's such an emotional moment for us, for the client. I know I had  turned around to the family and told them not to respond to any verdict.

    Prosecutor Kaplan, head down, chest heaving, showed no expression.

    JUDGE:
    "Please provide the verdict."

    FOREMAN:
    "For count one, regarding Christine Jabalee, we find the defendant not guilty. For count two, regarding Ronald Jabalee Sr., we find the defendant not guilty."

    Not guilty of murdering his parents. Emotions took over Ron Jr. for the first time.

    DENNIS MURPHY:
    We see you give a little hop and a "yes."

    GAIL MILLER:
    Yeah, well, I know.  I didn't follow my own advice.

    There were hugs and tears throughout the gallery. The jubilant defense lawyers and their client congratulated and thanked each other.

    Ron saved his biggest embrace -- a 32-second bear hug -- for his wife. Her unshakeable testimony helped him win his freedom.

    RYAN JABALEE:
    I told everybody, everybody is getting loud and everybody is happy, giving each other hugs.

    Back at the store, Ryan Jabalee got the news by phone and -- in sharp contrast to his brother the day the bodies were found -- Ryan closed up shop right away for a celebration at Ron Jr.'s house.

    RYAN JABALEE:
    Told him, "I love him and I'll leave you some time with your family, and I'll see you at work tomorrow."

    DENNIS MURPHY:
    That's it.


    DENNIS MURPHY:
    Two brothers together selling meat?

    RYAN JABALEE:
    Two brothers together selling meat, just how Dad wanted us.

    RYAN JABALEE:
    Now, it's time to move forward and find out who really did this to Mom and Dad.

    Jurors were adamant the prosecution never proved that it was the defendant who did it. Despite Ron's peculiar statements, they were shocked by what wasn't there.

    ANDREW (juror):
    Lack of physical evidence.

    NANCY (juror):
    Lack of physical evidence, and really I didn't see where there was any motivation for it either.

    LISA (juror):
    They didn't bring anything to the table.

    LINDA (juror):
    You have to show me something that proves this defendant is guilty, and it just never happened for me.

    Lead detective Ken Stevens could understand. That a jury would think hard about putting away Ron Jr. for life -- without crime-scene evidence.

    KEN STEVENS:
    It wasn't gonna get any better.  There was no hard evidence that we were gonna find.

    And what he knew about Ron Jr., like the anger he'd seen in his office that one time, that wasn't evidence, either.

    KEN STEVENS:
    The jury never understood that there was a part of Ron that he couldn't control.  His Uncle Joe saw it in the phone call. I saw it in my office and, unfortunately, his parents saw it on October 6th.

    DENNIS MURPHY:
    So if I ask you, as I will, who killed Christine and Ron Jabalee, what's your answer?

    KEN STEVENS:
    My answer is, we put the man on trial that we believe that did, but a jury of his peers found him innocent.

    And innocent for all time. The "Double Jeopardy" provision of the Fifth Amendment prohibits anyone from being tried for the same crime following an acquittal.

    DENNIS MURPHY:
    New evidence comes forward even.

    STEVE KAPLAN:
    Doesn't matter.  He can call a press conference and proclaim his guilt, and he cannot be charged again.

    That made going ahead with this case, at this time, an even bigger gamble. Kaplan said his first cold-case defeat was painful and humbling but not totally unexpected.

    STEVE KAPLAN:
    The office always recognized the lack of physical evidence would be a difficult hurdle and, ultimately, it was the fatal hurdle.

    STEPHEN RABAUT:
    The trial worked. I'm not so sure the system worked.

    DENNIS MURPHY:
    Why do you say that?

    STEPHEN RABAUT:
    Because he never should have been charged. He never should have been indicted.

    DENNIS MURPHY:
    And the mystery's never been solved of the killing, has it?

    GAIL MILLER:
    No. So what you have is a man that went through two unmitigated years of hell, the focus of the investigation for almost four, and whoever did this is still on the streets.

    The defense attorneys said that the New Baltimore and state police investigators locked onto a theory of the crime early, never let go, and didn't look hard enough for the real killer.

    STEPHEN RABAUT:
    I think that perhaps a fresh agency take a look at this.

    So what does Ron Jabalee Jr. think about it all? Well, we may never know. He talked briefly to Dateline by phone but declined to do an interview, saying he wanted to move on with his life.

    But he did send us this instrumental, a musical composition entitled "Somewhere in Time," which he wrote and recorded in honor of his parents.

    In the end, it was Ron's brother, Ryan, who spoke for the family.

    In support of Ron…

    RYAN JABALEE:
    He's a good man. He's got a heart of gold.  He would never raise a hand to his mother and father.

    And in memory of his parents…

    RYAN JABALEE:
    My mom and dad do need justice.

    He said police owe them a more extensive investigation.

    RYAN JABALEE:
    Nobody has answers at this point in time. so, the only thing i can rely on is, you know, my mom telling me to have faith in god.

    (Dale Nelson in his garage)

    DALE NELSON:
    I miss him dearly. I miss her dearly.  I don't think I'll ever have another male friend like him.

    Dale Nelson has enshrined his friends' memory with an embossed tribute on the rear window of his race car and also something even more personal

    DALE NELSON:
    I made sure I'd never forget them.

    A tattoo on his left arm.

    If only the dying scrawl left in blood on the garage floor had been as easy to read as Dale's memorial. If only it hadn't been partially mopped away, we might know who murdered Ron and Christine Jabalee.

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