Dateline   |  May 15, 2013

May 15: 'Behind Closed Doors', Part 5

The defense makes its case in the murder trial of Jeffrey Pyne.  They argue that the crime scene was not properly investigated.

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

>>> ladies and gentlemen of the jury --

>> reporter: jeffrey 's attorney, james champion , argued that the case against his client wasn't based on any hard evidence but was simply a grab bag of prosecutor's hunches.

>> we utterly, categorically, absolutely reject any notion that jeffrey pyne is responsible for the death of his mother. somebody else committed this crime.

>> there was no proof in this case, no direct evidence . and the circumstantial evidence had too many holes in it.

>> reporter: it all began, the lawyer said, with a slipshod investigation. why, for instance, weren't ruth pyne's clothes sent to the lab for testing?

>> wouldn't you start by submitting the clothing that the victim was wearing? i mean, that's where hairs are. that's where blood is. that's where any other type of dna is going to be.

>> reporter: as for the prosecution's theory that jeffrey showered in the upstairs bathroom, who knows? no evidence was taken.

>> did you collect that shower curtain as evidence?

>> no, sir.

>> did you take the faucets from that tub?

>> no, sir.

>> did you take the drain trap from that tub?

>> no, sir.

>> do any tests on the faucet or the drain trap?

>> no, sir.

>> reporter: and in cross-examination the defense got the crime scene technician to concede that a trace of ruth pyne's blood on a laundry room sink didn't really mean much.

>> there's no way to time stamp when that blood was left there, correct?

>> correct.

>> it's not evidence that jeffrey or anybody else cleaned up in that house.

>> reporter: another defense point -- that same tech was so inept that he actually used bernie pyne's own tools to remove the drain trap from the laundry sink and the blood-stained door.

>> is that common, for you to use the homeowner's tools?

>> no, sir.

>> why did you do it that way?

>> my toolbox i noticed was missing when we went to get the tools.

>> so you have your own toolbox?

>> correct.

>> csi just bungled that case. if you're using tools other than your own, they're not sanitized. they could contaminate the scene.

>> reporter: it was all, the defense argued, simply a rush to judgment. but what about jeffrey 's interview with detectives?

>> he answers all of their questions, and every single answer he provides checks out.

>> in fact, it didn't all check out. the story about mrs. needham and the lilac bushes collapsed almost immediately.

>> well, if you believe her.

>> reporter: mrs. needham's testimony, adamant that no, jeffrey did not plant those lilac bushes on the friday his mother was murdered, had scuttled his alibi. the lawyer went after her on cross-examination.

>> and you're certain your memory is infallible?

>> that i definitely remember.

>> do you remember everything? do you have --

>> oh, no.

>> -- any difficulties with your memory?

>> i tend to forget things and remember other things.

>> in order to believe her you've got to put aside the fact that she admitted on the stand that she forgets some things and she remembers other things.

>> i was flipping it over --

>> reporter: the defense lawyer also disagreed with the medical examiner's opinion that the young man's explanation for shredding his hands on the wooden pallet was highly unlikely.

>> nobody can prove that you couldn't shear off the skin from a pallet to me. it certainly seems plausible.

>> also couldn't find any skin or traces of blood on it.

>> nothing was found on it. but that doesn't mean that jeffrey 's story doesn't pan out.

>> reporter: and then there was this theme running through the trial.

>> what the [ bleep ] is going on?

>> reporter: the perception that jeffrey was faking his grief.

>> people show emotion different ways. to say that he didn't show enough emotions is not evidence of a crime. certainly not proof that he killed his mother.

>> reporter: was jeffrey even a fundamentally honest person? his former girlfriend holly had testified no.

>> kid lies.

>> because jeffrey lied about a relationship some time prior, he killed his mother? the two just don't equate. holly has been jilted. hell hath no fury like a woman scorned .

>> reporter: the defense attorney believes his cross-examination of holly revealed that jeffrey was a young man without a violent streak.

>> did you ever see him hit anybody?

>> no.

>> reporter: he even kept his cool, the lawyer argued, that time his mother tried to choke him.

>> he did not retaliate. he didn't hit her back or anything like that.

>> reporter: and even holly, now no longer a friend to jeffrey , testified that the only thing he ever wanted was for his mom to get better.

>> so it seems that's the most important thing to jeffrey .

>> for her to take her medication? yes.

>> reporter: the defense lawyer rejected out of hand the prosecution's big theory, that jeffrey simply reached his boiling point over his mother's mental illness and snapped that day in the garage.

>> jeffrey could have left and gone and done his own thing at any given time. he didn't have to stay there. when ruth took her meds, it was one happy family. there was no reason for him to do this.

>> the people have rested.

>> reporter: when it came time to call his own witnesses, though, the defense lawyer made a risky calculation.

>> your honor, at this point the defense rests.

>> reporter: he rested his case without calling anyone to counter the prosecution's version of events. not so much as a character witness to speak well of his client.

>> we got all the character evidence we needed from the witnesses that the state called in.

>> but very often in these kinds of case you have a counter scientific expert , an alternate medical examiner's report. and you didn't do that here.

>> no. we had experts lined up to do that work, but the prosecutor's case was running out of gas. we were ahead. tack a knee, get off the field. that was the mentality.

>> reporter: a smart, quiet young man misread or a son who was finally at the end of all patience? it would be up to the jury to decide.