Dateline   |  July 12, 2010

Mystery on Reminisce Road, Part 4

Investigators begin to realize that their theory of the murder wasn’t holding up and Roger Mooney tells his side of the story.

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This content comes from a Full-Text Transcript of the program.

MANKIEWICZ: to make an arrest in the Melissa Mooney case.

Mr. B. DAVID: We had a single mother , a member of the law enforcement family who was dead in her own home.

Mr. B. DAVID: And there were people who said, `It's the ex-husband. You should be arresting him tonight.'

MANKIEWICZ: The case against Melissa 's ex-husband certainly seemed strong. And nobody knew that better than the ex-husband himself.

Mr. ROGER MOONEY: I understand how bad it looked for me.

MANKIEWICZ: Roger Mooney , a kid from California who'd always dreamed of joining the Marines . By the summer of 1999 , he was a staff sergeant at Camp Lejeune , 29 years old and living his dream. But on August 6th , Roger received an urgent summons to the Naval Criminal Investigation office at the base.

Mr. MOONEY: The agents broke it to me that Melissa was found dead, and then after a couple of minutes accused me of killing Melissa .

MANKIEWICZ: Just like that?

Mr. MOONEY: Just like that. `You did it. You killed her. And you're a liar.'

MANKIEWICZ: A liar and a logical suspect. Homicide investigators always start with the victim's inner circle. Remember, Roger was the husband with the temper, who frightened his ex-wife, whom everyone suspected once Melissa 's body was found. And his DNA was at the crime scene .

MANKIEWICZ: You see where this is all going?

Mr. MOONEY: That's why I spent two, three years being investigated by it.

MANKIEWICZ: But logical suspect Roger Mooney had his own set of

facts, starting with this one: He insisted he didn't kill Melissa .

Mr. MOONEY: The only thing that I could get -- rely on was the fact that I didn't do it and eventually the truth would come out.

MANKIEWICZ: His truth: first, those marital arguments.

Mr. MOONEY: She had a temper. I had a temper.

Mr. MOONEY: But it's always easy to point to the 6'1", 200-pound Marine guy as being the bad guy rather than the small, quiet, reserved girl.

MANKIEWICZ: Did you ever hit her?

Mr. MOONEY: No.

MANKIEWICZ: Never?

Mr. MOONEY: Never.

MANKIEWICZ: Not once?

Mr. MOONEY: Not once put a hand on her. No. Why would I hit the one girl in the world that I actually loved? You don't do that.

MANKIEWICZ: So how did she get that bruise on her cheek? An accident, he says, in the heat of a fight.

Mr. MOONEY: I was walking out of the house, and she was so little she kind of got in my way to get out of the house. And basically we collided into each other, and she hit the door frame. I felt horrible about that.

MANKIEWICZ: Did you say to other Marines at target practice not long before Melissa died, `My aim would be a lot better if that were my ex-wife's face on the target'?

Mr. MOONEY: It was a tasteless joke is what it was.

MANKIEWICZ: And her mother's claim that Melissa was scared of him? And her friend's story that if anything happened to her, it was Roger ? He says the friend is unreliable. And as for Melissa 's family...

Mr. MOONEY: Her parents weren't big fans of mine, to say it nicely. And I think maybe Melissa may have said something, and it was assumed to mean something else.

MANKIEWICZ: What about the angry comment that Melissa would never see a penny of the money she wanted for child support? Roger says there's an innocent explanation.

Mr. MOONEY: What I said was, `That's more than I make. You'll never see it because I don't have it.'

MANKIEWICZ: In fact, he says, a satisfactory settlement was eventually reached. To hear Roger tell it, he and Melissa were the best of friends by the time she was killed, sharing custody of the daughter they both loved.

Mr. MOONEY: Melissa and I took care of each other, and Melissa and I took care of Samantha .

MANKIEWICZ: That was Roger 's story, and he stuck to it. And over time , one FBI agent began to think Roger might be telling the truth.

Mr. BONNEY: The other people in the room said, `It's Roger , and we're going to prove it. I started saying, `It should be Roger , but I don't think it is.'

MANKIEWICZ: There was no indication that Roger and Melissa were fighting or combative at that time?

Mr. BONNEY: None.

MANKIEWICZ: The provable facts began to bear out Bonney 's doubts. That boot print on the door didn't match Roger 's boots. And no one could find a scrap of evidence to prove Roger made that 140-mile drive to Melissa 's house and back the night of the murder.

Mr. ACKLEY: We had agents canvass every possible route...

...pull every convenience store videotape, receipts during that time frame .

Mr. ACKLEY: It was a lot of manpower.

MANKIEWICZ: No trace of Roger Mooney ?

Mr. ACKLEY: No trace of Roger Mooney .

MANKIEWICZ: And even though they drove the routes again and again and knew it could be done, investigators began to realize that their theory of the murder didn't hold up.

Mr. BONNEY: He's got to maintain that level of anger while he's putting the child in the car seat...

....driving down that road at breakneck speed, kicks that door open, kills her, races back, takes Sammy out, puts her back to bed, gets up, takes her over to the babysitter, and is at PT in the morning.

MANKIEWICZ: Would he have left Sammy behind, asleep in her bed? Unlikely, says Melissa 's boss.

Mr. BONNEY: One thing you got to know about Roger . Roger was a good father. Roger was a responsible father.

MANKIEWICZ: But there was the matter of Roger Mooney 's DNA at the crime scene . The DNA on the mattress could be explained; it had once been the Mooneys ' marital bed . But how could Roger 's hair be found in a house he said he'd never been to? The answer could rest with their daughter Sammy , who often stayed with her father. Roger 's hair could have ridden to the crime scene on Sammy 's belongings.

MANKIEWICZ: So that didn't set off an alarm bell?

Mr. ACKLEY: It was absolutely logical to find hairs from Roger Mooney in those possessions in the house somewhere.

MANKIEWICZ: And finally, the issue of motive. Investigators eventually concluded that Roger Mooney had every reason not to kill his ex-wife. Why? Because he was a dad. If Melissa were dead, his career in the Marines would crash and burn.

Mr. BONNEY: If he doesn't have a wife, he becomes a single parent .

Mr. BONNEY: If he's a single parent , he can't be deployed. If he can't be deployed, he can't get promoted. That was the worst thing that could have happened to him right there.

MANKIEWICZ: And that's what he says he'd tried to tell them.

MANKIEWICZ: I don't think you can blame the FBI for looking at you.

Mr. MOONEY: No. Not at all. I don't -- I don't resent being investigated.

What I resent is they were -- they were convinced it was me before they actually started looking at the evidence.

MANKIEWICZ: Two years after Melissa was murdered, after poking into every corner of Roger Mooney 's world, investigators were fairly certain of one thing, and one thing only.

Mr. ACKLEY: We reached a point where we said, ` Roger Mooney 's not our guy.'

MANKIEWICZ: But if Roger Mooney didn't