Dateline   |  April 20, 2012

'Day of Reckoning', Part 5

Brian Sugrim is charged with murder, but the prosecution will rise or fall on his wife's testimony. His defense team tries to poke holes in her story.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> bernadette sugrim had turned her husband brian in for murder.

>> i didn't kill anybody.

>> but now to keep him behind bars , she had to testify against him in court. she felt her family's lives hung in the balance.

>> there's no way he would get out and let us be. he would find us.

>> and brian managed to find her even before trial, reaching out from behind prison walls in a series of letters.

>> what was he saying in those letters?

>> i love you. i'll always love you.

>> he was also trying to manipulate you into changing your testimony.

>> absolutely. you're sick. your heart attack caused brain damage. you're not thinking clearly . you're being manipulated by all these people involved.

>> did it affect you?

>> yeah. it bothered me that he could still say these things over and over and over again, and he still had that control.

>> one of the defendant's favorite themes has to do with evil.

>> when the trial began, prosecutor stuart fenton made it clear his case would hinge on bernadette .

>> pay careful attention to bernadette sugrim, both her words and her demeanor.

>> allegedly in 2003 brian confessed to his wife that he committed this crime.

>> brian 's defense team focused on bernadette , too, trying to poke holes in her story.

>> all bernadette would have had to do was call police. hey, he confessed to me. she didn't.

>> defense attorney robert champion said bernadette had concocted the whole story to avoid a prosecution herself for not intervening that day when brian beat their daughter sky.

>> if what bernadette is saying repeated opportunities to go to the police. she never did. not until she was facing a criminal investigation did she make up these false accusations.

>> investigators have told "dateline" bernadette was never facing any criminal charges herself.

>> next witness.

>> sky sugrim.

>> to bolster bernadette 's stories, prosecutors called her daughter sky to testify about the day she ran from her father.

>> did your mom try to help you at all if you remember.

>> she was very scared. she even got out her gun. she hid it.

>> you took the stand, and your dad was in that courtroom. what was that like?

>> it was -- i'm going to use a quote from a book i read, nervous making. but i felt empowered to know i was doing this. i looked at my dad a couple of times, and i did see him cry a little bit. but they were fake tears, crocodile tears . he was just trying to get my attention and make me feel bad and i'm not going to do that.

>> you told the truth.

>> yes. it made me feel good to let people know what was happening and what was going on and just the kind of person my dad was.

>> finally it was time for bernadette to take the stand.

>> were you nervous? were you scared?

>> yes, absolutely. i didn't want to look at him. i hated being in the same room with him.

>> did you live with some deep, dark secrets of his for a long time?

>> yes, i did.

>> did he ever tell you where physically he actually killed linda gibson?

>> he told me he stabbed her to death in the van, and that he bleached the van out and the body and he dumped her body.

>> on cross-examination, the defense tried to show bernadette had made up the whole tore.

>> so you didn't feel safe in your home.

>> yes, i did.

>> yet all these times you felt safe, you never disclosed these deep, dark secrets.

>> no, i did not.

>> in the end the emotional high point of the trial came when bernadette testified about this letter revealing her years of fear.

>> please read it as loudly and clearly as you can for the jury.

>> i'm writing this letter because i want everyone to know the truth in the event something should happen to me. my husband besham brian sugrim has threatened my life. if he should succeed, he will make it look like an accident or suicide. i would never take my own life. he has killed in the past and admitted it to me, and i have no o it again. please understand that i live in fear. if i leave, he will find me and kill me as well as my entire family. i have no choice but to stay and try to make the best of it. bernadette sugrim.

>> now as the case went to the jury, she worried whether jurors would believe her. and if they didn't and brian went free, what would she and her children do?

>> i was terrified of that. what if they let him off.

>> coming up.

>> what is your verdict?

>> the jury speaks. so at least does the accused.

>> did you come here to get footage of the monster, or do you actually want