Dateline | June 08, 2013
>>> summer had come and gone in l.a.'s south bay without an arrest in the murder of beloved el segundo real estate agent deede keller . and as the months dragged on, detective jimmy gates kept pounding the pavement, building what he thought was a strong circumstantial case against keller 's ex-husband erwin howard , but the l.a. county d.a.'s office had so far declined to issue a warrant for howard 's arrest. deede's son michael wanted answers. there was a long time when erwin was walking around free.
>> seemed like decades. it was so frustrating, painful, emotional.
>> reporter: jimmy gates was feeling all of those same things, and soon his hard work started paying off. that unusual red tape found on deede's body? a specially trained dog found erwin 's scent on it. and detectives found similar tape at erwin 's workplace, that american airlines hangar at l.a.x. but what about erwin 's alibi, computer records showing him at work in that same hangar the night of deede's disappearance? and that he worked a ten-hour shift? it turned out the more detectives dug into that alibi, the less solid it seemed. detective gates painstakingly dissected the procedures at the hangar and he found this. erwin howard could swipe in to work at the employee parking lot using a key card at this turnstile, then clock in inside the hangar, but he could also leave whenever he wanted by walking out the large bay doors and catching an employee shuttle back to the parking lot . there'd be no record of his leaving. jimmy gates discovered that on the night of the murder erwin used his key card to swipe in to the parking lot at 8:24 p.m . and again at 10:21 p.m . and for a third time at 1:47 a.m ., which completely blew apart his alibi that he'd been at work the whole time. so he would swipe his card to get back in?
>> reporter: after there was no record of his leaving.
>> reporter: by now you're convinced erwin 's the guy?
>> absolutely. all the witness, all the evidence, everything pointed directly at erwin .
>> reporter: and there was one more key piece of evidence. the day after the murder, a witness saw a mercedes on the street in el segundo . she thought it belonged to a friend, so sheped up to catch her.
>> she sees it's not her friend and she sees a male hispanic driving the car, and she remembers that license plate .
>> reporter: the license plate belonged to the mercedes owned by deede keller . the man driving, the witness helped the police artist draw this sketch. who does it look like?
>> it looks like erwin .
>> reporter: the witness was then shown a photo lineup, and she picked out erwin howard . that's like lightning striking.
>> reporter: and then it struck again. six months after the murder, jimmy gates' phone rang. it was deede's next door neighbor who'd been interviewed once and had offered nothing of value, but now apparently she was having an attack of conscience. the neighbor now told the detective that she'd seen erwin on june 30th , the day erwin had confronted and slapped deede.
>> she said the conversation lasted 15 or 20 minutes where he articulates that he was mad enough to strangle her with work gloves.
>> reporter: that's what deede neighbor said erwin said to her?
>> reporter: why do you think she didn't tell you for six months?
>> i have no idea why a neighbor during a murder investigation just wouldn't simply tell the cops the truth, he wanted to kill her.
>> reporter: armed with that new and threatening statement, detective gates was able to get his warrant and soon erwin howard was under arrest for the murder of deede keller . now the case was in the hands of l.a. county deputy district attorney john lumer. what made this case different?
>> i love cases where you have a very good idea who the suspect is, but it's a question of kind of putting the evidence together. so circumstantial cases where you have high motive, but you're looking at lots of little facts and seeing, okay, what can you turn this into?
>> reporter: it would take three years for the case against erwin howard to come to trial. cameras were not present in the courtroom that day when trial began in the fall of 2008 . john lewin laid out his case in a devastatingly thorough 2 1/2-hour-long powerpoint presentation to the jury.
>> opening statements are like a check. i'm writing a check. jury hears it. and if i do my job right after opening, all they're waiting to see is if there are funds in the bank.
>> reporter: in other words, if you deliver during your case what you say you're going to deliver in the opening statement , you'll get a conviction.
>> that's my hope.
>> reporter: but never in this prosecutor's wildest dreams did he believe his opening statement would have the effect it did on erwin howard and his defense attorney andrew flyer. you hear that opening statement and something changes.
>> something changed. after the opening statement , i went back into lockup and i spoke to erwin , and i said, hey, listen, remember how i was speaking about the circumstantial case and it could be powerful, i think there could be some problems now. and his answer was, i need to tell you something.
>> reporter: that something would stun deede keller 's family and friends and the prosecutor himself.
>> one of the most shocking things i've ever seen in one of my cases in