Dateline   |  May 17, 2013

'Shattered', Part 6

During cross examination, the prosecution challenges Amber Hilberling's claim of self-defense, arguing the 5'5" tall Amber would never have been able to push her athletic, 6'4" 220-pound husband with enough force to cause his fatal plunge. Which side will the jury believe?

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

>>> it had been nearly two years and now the mystery and controversy surrounding josh hilberling's death were coming to a head. his wife amber had just told a courtroom she had pushed josh in self-defense.

>> initially, she never ever said it was self-defense. in fact, i never heard that it was self-defense until she actually took the witness stand .

>> that also caught officer holloway by surprise. he says amber never mentioned self-defense as she waited in that interrogation room moments after josh's death.

>> so did it strike you at the time as unusual that that wasn't brought up?

>> yes, it did. if it had truly happened, there's no doubt in my mind it would have been brought up when i was listening to amber .

>> the prosecutor pointed out that amber seemed dumbfounded when her own grandmother appeared to suggest that amber might have been trying to protect herself.

>> were you both struggling?

>> what do you mean?

>> so now before the case was handed to the jury, the state had its chance to cross-examine amber .

>> she testified that when it happened, he grabbed her on the shoulders and she pushed him backwards.

>> the prosecutor asked amber to reenact there in the courtroom the supposed confrontation with her husband. detective felton played the part of josh with his arms reaching out, hands gripping amber 's shoulders as she described. amber didn't actually move towards him, but still pushed him away. the detective didn't buy it.

>> she described a gentle push. and you know, i think anybody would realize that it would take great force to get josh to actually go through the window.

>> we're talking about a woman who is 5'5", a man 6'4". some thing a gentle push isn't realistic.

>> yes, ma'am. in my mind, if he didn't want to go out the window and he wanted to fight back, there was no way that would happen.

>> to the detective that meant josh was distracted and that amber surprised him with that push. but would it seem that way to the jurors? after a week of testimony, they knew only one thing for certain. josh had gone out that window to his death. amber called it an accident borne out of self-defense. the state charged it was a reckless shove by an angry abusive wife, second-degree murder.

>> when you were waiting for the verdict, how did you think it was going to play out?

>> i mean, honestly, i had all the hope in the world. i had waited almost two years to get to that point, to get to my day in court when i could stand up and say this is what happened, this is what i've been through and hope that people see that.

>> which is what the hilberlings feared. they worried the jury had seen this case as amber had and would forget about their son.

>> josh is dead. a person died, and there has to be consequences. there has to be punishment.

>> and there was. after less than three hours, the jury had its verdict. guilty of murder in the second-degree.

>> i just grabbed on to levi. and i was like, this can't be happening, this can't be real. it was just awful.

>> the bad news for amber wasn't over. the jury stunned nearly everyone by recommending a 25-year prison term.

>> i have to assume that even the district attorney was -- has to be, i mean, in some state of surprise as to 25 years because they offered me five.

>> would you do it differently knowing what you know now? would you take the plea?

>> no. because what i know to be true is no different today than it was when they offered me that five years. you know, i have to put my trust in one day i'll be able to say the things left unsaid and hope for something better.

>> but to the woman who prosecuted amber and won, the sentence seemed a perfect kind of justice.

>> when you think of that it was from the 25th floor and it got 25 years, it's not the maximum, it's not the minimum. it's something that actually makes sense. it's like a year for every floor.

>> years that will keep amber away from her son. she'll probably only see him now ironically, through an unbreakable window in a prison visitor's area.

>> she's watching her child grow up in pictures. i'm watching my child grow behind glass. it is not fair at all.

>> but then the hilberlings will tell you what happened to their son and brother is not fair either.

>> we would never let anybody come between us and i miss him for that cause i don't have that anymore. there's no replacing him.

>> so zach hilberling tries to keep the ache at bay with a comforting image of his brother smiling, feet planted firmly on the ground victorious in life under friday night lights.

>> i think of him every time i see a football. i mean it's, i hear the word football and i think of. there are so many things that remind me of my brother.

>> cause he was in my life from day one and he never left. so, i mean he is still not gone. that's the best part.