Dateline   |  May 18, 2012

Poison, Part 6

Sarah Dutra stands trial for the murder of Larry McNabney. The defense says Elisa was responsible for the murder. What would the jury decide?

Share This:

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

>> reporter: it was the winter with of 2003 , more than a year since larry mcnabney was poisoned with horse tranquilizer. his admitted killer, elisa mcnabney, his wife, chose her own destiny. and her alleged accomplice, sarah dutra , alone, faced the possibility of spending the rest of her life behind bars . you attended the trial every day.

>> yes. 11 1/2 weeks.

>> why? why?

>> our d.a. had talked to us about the importance of our family being represented, that my dad not being forgotten.

>> reporter: tavia believed her father died at the hands of both elisa and sarah , but, while sarah it admitted to being there when larry die 0ed and in the day as and months that followed, she adamantly claimed she never went to police because she was so afraid of elisa and of ending up just like larry . a theory that even prosecutor thomas testa found, well, believable.

>> when i first got this case, people in my office will tell you that's exactly what i was saying walking up and down the hall.

>> poor sarah !

>> poor sarah . she's just an aider and abetter. but as i got deeper in the case, i totally turned around. i started with that mindset.

>> testa reviewed the evidence and became convinced that sarah dutra was, in fact, the woman in charge.

>> sarah did not like larry . she always accused him of being full of himself, talking about himself all the time, self-centered. she didn't like him. so larry didn't want sarah around. sarah did not like larry .

>> you know, this sounds to me like two people who both love lee lisa and want the other out of the way.

>> that's it. that's exactly it. it was a love triangle , and one of them had to go.

>> reporter: sarah , said prosecutor testa , was enjoying a very fancy life with elisa , and larry was simply in the way. if your theory is right, these are two kind of good-time girls who have this great relationship and living off the proceeds of lay, why get rid of him? they had no motive.

>> larry was elisa 's golden goose , but elisa was sarah 's golden goose , and sarah was about to be cut out of this whole triangle. larry had just told her two days before he was killed, you know, that he wanted her gone, he wanted her fired.

>> reporter: so, said testa , it was sarah who had the motive to kill larry . sarah 's lawyer, of course, saw it differently.

>> it seems like the classic instance of, you know, evil sort of wrapping around a sweet young little baby.

>> reporter: at the trial, defense attorney kevin climo portrayed elisa as a black dow, sophisticated con artist who wanted her husband dead and sarah was her innocent and terrified pawn.

>> it was the most horrible thing i've never -- not because i wanted to. not because i wanted to. i want you to know that.

>> reporter: really? now prosecutor testa introduced ginger miller. remember her, the other secretary who worked alongside sarah and elisa ? she said, in the days and weeks after larry vanished, elisa and sarah seemed to feel anything but remorse.

>> they're laughing together. they're shopping together. they're eating together. they're sleeping in the same bed together. she's living at her house.

>> so they were not really working, were they?

>> they were. they would get maybe two hours of work done a day.

>> what did they do the rest of the time, just party?

>> shop, hang out, sleep late, go flirt with boys.

>> reporter: all the while spending the firm's money, larry 's money. a lot of money.

>> elisa got a red jaguar, sarah got a d w.

>> reporter: such close friends . or maybe more than friends.

>> they bought matching underwear together.

>> come on.

>> my first week, they were, like, look what we bought, they were wearing matching underwear. they were best friends .

>> reporter: they were blowing through money so it fast they fell behind on rept payments for the law afs office, got evicted. so they moved the office into elisa and larry 's home, which, acrdinto ginger, now seemed more like elisa and sarah 's home.

>> up in the rooms they had no clothes of larry 's. the closet was cleaned out. in the bathroom, hers and sarah 's sinks, instead of his and hers.

>> like they knew he wasn't coming back.

>> yeah. they were pretty much living in the house.

>> reporter: well, not quite. because all this time, remember, larry 's body was still in the garage, still in the refrigerator. and, as for the idea that sarah was an innocent child, elisa 's puppet, that was nonsense, said ginger.

>> everybody knows that she wasn't terrified of her. sarah had as much say as elisa had in the whole situation.

>> reporter: but at her trial, sarah , the daughter of those devout christians, sat quietly at the defense table, a wide-eyed innocent. elisa wasn't around to be cross-examined so her videotaped confession didn't get played for the jury. and, with no dna, no prints, no trace evidence , no living eyewitnesss, the case against sarah was entirely circumstantial.

>> the first-it degree murder.

>> first-degree murder, yeah.

>> but would the jury see it the way he did? after four it days of deliberations, the jury found sarah dutra guilty of voluntary manslaughter and accessory to murder, not first-degree murder.

>> had she not been a young, attractive, tall blonde whose parents were clutching bibles, crying in the first row, one wonders if the verdict would have been the same.

>> reporter: sarah dutra was sentenced to 11 years, served 8, and, in the summer of 2011 , at age 31, she was released.

>> it's painful to know that such little time was given for such a horrific crime and one that seemed so premeditated to me and so thought out and so callous to the end.

>> sarah dutra is on parole for three years, and she has not responded to our irnnterview request. and tavia says she's forgiven sarah . as much for her own sake as anything.

>> will i ever forget what she's done? never. but i don't want to have my whole life be their cruelty and the things they chose to do to him. i'd rather remember the loving times we had together. and they're not going to take that away from me.