Dateline   |  July 06, 2013

Shattered, Part 9

Justine’s family struggles to deal the aftermath of her loss, while investigators continue the hunt for their daughter’s killer.

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

>>> as time passed after justine 's tragic death on this country road , eric 's mother finally passed away . and while he seemed to be moving on with his life, justine 's family was falling apart. at one point, heidi was hospitalized for two months for clinical depression .

>> just couldn't get up and get going?

>> uh-huh. posttraumatic stress. severe depression .

>> lauren, too, found work and life meaningless life without her older sister. not long after justine died, she left her job.

>> it was just too overwhelming to try and figure out how to get up in the morning and how to go through a normal life and also be dealing with this.

>> they had all sunk into a black hole of would a, could a, should a. what do you tough on yourself about?

>> not having been more involved and attentive.

>> you're a career-driven guy?

>> yeah, i always have been and i'd trade all of that away in a heart beat to have a second shot at getting things right with justine .

>> on the one-year anniversary of her death, justine 's parents organized a vigil in a downtown park to bring attention to their daughter's unsolved case. they had initially posted a $10,000 reward for any information leading to justine 's killer but by now had upped it to $50,000. they were determined to do whatever they could to jump-start an investigation that they worried was grinding to a halt.

>> we were like, well, okay, next week, next month.

>> eric came to the vigil. the swartz family hadn't seen him in months. in steve and heidi's minds he had migrated from simply being undeserving of their daughter to the prime suspect in her death. someone else in the eric 's guilty camp was college roommate holly boardman who joined them at the vigil. she had been convinced he was the one from the moment she got the letter notifying her that her good friend was dead.

>> all i remember i was just reading "tragic death." as soon as i got to the word death, just instantly, not even half a second, my mind just said, he finally killed her and i just knew with every fiber of my being that he had killed her.

>> yet even though justine 's family firmly agreed with holly about eric 's culpability, they were less certain he would ever be charged with the murder.

>> he's very clever. he's much smarter than most people give him credit to and i think that's made the investigator's jobs much harder.

>> with the investigation seemingly stalled, they tried to become their own detectives of sorts. after all, they knew their former son-in-law best and were determined to figure out what really had happened to their daughter. with no criminal charges in sight, they file a wrongful death civil suit pointing to eric as their daughter's killer. courtney stewart, a reporter for the local newspaper "the hook" had launched her own investigation into justine 's death. she said everyone understood where the family was coming from. justine 's parents believed eric had brutally killed their daughter and were going to do everything they could to bring him to justice.

>> it's a pretty blunt allegation but i think that civil suit is part of this maneuvering that her parents felt like they were going to do whatever they could to make sure he did not get away with her murder.

>> they're squeezing him. they're putting pressure on eric ?

>> yes.

>> the swartz family wrongful death civil suit alleges nine others, most of them unnamed, had conspired with eric to kill their daughter. he denied the allegation and so did alison crawford, his former girlfriend and one of the named defendants in the lawsuit. and while sympathetic to the swartz family mission to find answers to their daughter's death, she believes they crossed the line by filing the civil suit .

>> although initially this situation was a pursuit for justice for justine , it has transitioned into a punishment for the people that are associated or connected with eric .

>> the focus became nailing eric and getting him put away?

>> correct.

>> and eric 's family says he found himself living in a very uncomfortable investigative limbo.

>> eric is a guy with a bull's eye around him?

>> right.

>> people pointing a finger, he killed his wife, getting away with it?

>> yes.

>> crawford says the investigation put so much pressure on eric that it erupted in their investigation. she ended up receiving a protection of order against him after they had an argument.

>> it ended with eric touching me physically and i simply wanted to make sure that that wouldn't happen again.

>> but alison chalks his behavior up the behavior to the intense scrutiny because of the investigation and says it has been taken out of context.

>> it was used in a manner that manipulated the public opinion .

>> the story is that he went for you by the throat.

>> eric 's life was turned upside down in an effort to turn against him. public opinion against him. he wasn't perfect by any means but the eric i knew was an active participant in his children's lives. he was not abusive.

>> but it was the medical examiner's final findings that helped tie things together for agent jones . maybe he hadn't seen debris or much blood on the road because justine wasn't killed there.

>> there was findings that are considered consistent with strangulation. it's telling me that she was incapacitated in some which and placed in the middle of the road . my theory and the body tells me that she was likely manually strangled to near death , transported to the location that she was found and then run over .

>> the m.e. believed justine 's injuries pointed to a large vehicle, something much bigger than her mustang.

>> the vehicles lower to the ground you're going to see more scrapes and drags whereas a taller vehicle, usually the wheels just catch you and they might grab you a little bit. this case is more consistent with probably a suv .

>> something with a little heft to it?

>> yes. and a lift to it.

>> turns out there was a vehicle like that that made its way into the investigator's case file. a big black ford expedition like this one that eric looked at the week before justine died. an ignition key went missing and the suv itself went missing a few days later.

>> and the theory of foul play , what might this black suv , what role might it play?

>> i think the question was, is this the vehicle that could have been used to run her over?

>> big, heavy, gigantic suv ?

>> right. her injuries were consistent with being essentially crushed under the wheels of a large vehicle.

>> a little over a week after justine died, the suv turned up in a storage unit about a mile from where justine 's body was found.

>> it has less than 50 miles on the odometer. there was no damage to the ignition which to them seems to suggest that somebody used a key but it's not connected with justine 's death far couple of months and in, in fact, before police ever get to look at it, it's detailed, cleaned, and sold.

>> eric indicated to the investigators he had nothing to do with the missing suv . but did say something else that caught their attention.

>> he tells them that, oh, yeah, she came to look at the car with me and she crawled all through it.

>> leaving dna? trace evidence?

>> right. that would be perfect if they happened to find one of her hairs, well, she was crawling through it when we were thinking about buying it.

>> again, the investigators were left with a little more than suspicions. they couldn't tie the suv to eric .

>> we were far from saying homicide.

>> the case, once again, seemed to be at a standstill. and not the least part of the dilemma was the commonsense problem with the crime itself. step back and look at how complex the investigator's operating theory was. that eric strangles justine within an inch of her life, runs her over with a large vehicle. now he has to get her body, her car, and his motorcycle all out here to the scene. that was a scenario with a lot of moving parts , one that needed time to execute and maybe one with several vehicles. it just seemed like more than one man could hand until a narrow window of opportunity. so the investigation sputtered for more than two years when an odd thing happened. someone came forward with a very bizarre tale of happenstance involving a parade float .

>>> when we come back, a