Dateline | January 25, 2013
>> in a michigan courtroom not far from his old comic bookstore michael george was standing trial, charged with the first-degree murder of his then wife barbara.
>> he was the husband from hell.
>> in early 2008 the man who intended to put georgia, way was steve kaplan , then the trial prosecutor for the county's cold case unit.
>> it's true, we didn't have forensic evidence supporting our case.
>> he knew getting the comic book man with nothing, but circumstantial evidence , no weapon, no witness, no dna this was a tough one to win, something he never let on to the jury, of course.
>> we will prove to you that it was a murder, and if it's a murder there's only one person in this world who had a reason to kill this wonderful person and that's michael george .
>> for kaplan, proving it all boiled down to a case of who do you trust? would the jury believe janet george , michael 's mother? she said her son was sleeping on her couch at the time of the murder or would the jury accept the word of the comic book collector mike renaud ? he said the defendant was in the store around that time answering his phone call .
>> who answered the phone?
>> michael george .
>> how long did you talk to the defendant at that time?
>> less than five minutes.
>> what time did you call the defendant?
>> anywhere between 5:15 and 5:45.
>> do you remember how he seemed to you?
>> he seemed like he was in a hurry.
>> how important is he to your case?
>> without michael renaud we cannot win this case because without michael renaud we cannot place the defendant physically in that store close to the time of barbara's shooting.
>> and then came a routine moment that we've all seen in courtroom dramas on tv. the prosecutor in this case, steve kaplan rose and told the judge.
>> your honor, people rest.
>> and the defense response in this michigan courtroom just as predictably was to try to get the case thrown out. not enough evidence. the case hadn't met its burden argued carl marlinga and asked for the judge for what's called a directed verdict .
>> when you just don't know you have to -- you have to pull the plug. you have to say that's it.
>> and then it got really strange. and you say, your honor, the state has not proved its case. we ask that you dismiss it right now and that it not go to the jury. it happens all of the time.
>> right. and almost always you're rebuffed.
>> that's right. and almost always you're rebuffed within about 10 to 15 seconds.
>> that didn't happen here.
>> this time the judge listened intently for 20 minutes as michael george 's defense lawyer argued that there was no way the prosecution had proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was in the comic bookshop with a gun in his hind.
>> the trial judge is obligated to make a call to say whether or not there was sufficient evidence to justify this.
>> prosecutor kaplan knew that by law the judge has to regard all evidence in a light most favorable to the prosecution. he took just 30 seconds and perried with a brief citation of case law arguing why the case should go to the jury.
>> the evidence presented to this court begs the question of fact to the jury whether michael george is the murderer and the motion should be denied.
>> and then the judge retired to his chambers to ponder this motion to dismiss and ponder he did, staying out for hours.
>> eric smith , the county's chief prosecutor.
>> what was going on?
>> well, i -- i can tell you what was going on in the prosecution's end. we were fit to be tied . we've all tried hundreds of cases, and these motions for directed verdicts are dismissed almost immediately.
>> did you expect it was possible that he would come out and say this case is dismissed, jurors, you're dismissed. we don't have a case here.
>> well, initially, it never crossed my mind. after a couple of hours it never crossed my mind. after five hours you start to worry.
>> carl marlinga was feeling better by the hour.
>> i remember walking outside with my client and saying this is obviously good news. i cannot lie to you. judges don't take this long to decide these motions.
>> after hours of watching the clock go round, the defendant, out on $1 million bond praying with his circle of friends and family in the hallway, the judge at last returned to the bench.
>> the court has been reviewing this matter for approximately five hour, i think an extraordinary length of time to review any motion for directed verdict .
>> he started, was there a case to be made for the defense's position.
>> albeit, it could be argued that this evidence is marginal. then he seemed to point out the perris of the prosecution.
>> this is in many ways the classic murder case. if the evidence is believed by the jury then the jury could reach a finding of guilt.
>> on the one hand, and the other. where was the judge going? so the court, at this point, cannot substitute its judgment for that of the jury.
>> he decided for the prosecution. there was enough evidence to go forward.
>> the verdict was denied. the defense had lost a five-hour long high-stakes game and apparently by the closest of margins.
>> that's probably the toughest moment i ever had as a lawyer.
>> you thought you might have had it.
>> i thought i delivered this guy from this horrible, horrible experience of not only having lost his wife, but having falsely blamed for it for all these years, i thought the ordeal was almost over .
>> the jury filed back in to the defense case unaware how close they'd come to being thanked and sent home without hearing more evidence. if the judge had indicated he had doubts about the case, what with would the jury think once the defense played its trump card , michael george 's alibi witness?
>>> coming up, the verdict. count number one, first-degree murder. we find the defendant --
>> when "dateline" continues. [ male