Dateline   |  July 06, 2013

Shattered, Part 10

A parade float builder’s story adds another piece to the case the investigators are piecing together. 

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

>>> sometimes things happen out of the blue and sometimes out of the dark. and that's what occurred next in the investigation into the death of justine abshire. a man had stepped forward with a strange tale about how he inadvertently became involved in the case one november night. it was late when the man says he found himself hopelessly lohse on these winding country roads .

>> it was a crazy night. i mean, i know i was way out in the middle of somewhere i'd never been before.

>> sicil pursued his passion for building parade floats. so here he was after work only two months away from his deadline to finish floats for the big charlottesville, virginia, new year's eve parade and he was in dire need of one more old school bus chassis to build upon.

>> that was a normality of my life, looking for something to put this last unit on.

>> his float building partner left him directions to check out a school bus he heard was for sale. but instead of going south from charlottseville mistakenly headed north.

>> you were upside down?

>> i was upside down.

>> left was right and right was left.

>> correct, right.

>> lost and late, he said he did finally spot one parked school bus parked in his headlights but there was no for sale sign in it. he gave up and was pulling in a driveway to head for home when a man approached out of the night.

>> i was turning around and a gentleman comes around to my car and he says, can you follow me, my wife's car is almost out of gas? can you follow me to a gas station ? i said, well, it would be great because i'm totally lost . and he said, well, no problem. we'll get to the gas station and this is going to be right on the main road .

>> so you can do each other a little bit of good here?

>> exactly. absolutely. so i pull out, he pulls out, i follow this little car all the way through these little winding roads.

>> a few miles down the road, he says, the man pulled over .

>> i pulled up behind him and said, i ran out of gas. so can you take me back home? i said, well, i can run you up the gas station ? maybe we can get something. oh, no, it's fine. just take me back home.

>> that would make sense, let's go to the gas station and get a five-gallon --

>> yes, that's what i thought.

>> get this road off the road.

>> he said he could take care of it from there. i took him back home, left his driveway.

>> as you dropped him off --

>> that was it.

>> hopped out of the car.

>> and went into his house?

>> went right away.

>> helping out the man with the car was a story quickly forgotten, forgotten until two years later when a friend sent him a news report about an unsolved hit and run case. the few details, the victim who walked away from her car, the picture of the husband took secil back to that night. he was certain that eric abshire, the man in the news report under suspicion for killing his wife was the same person who had asked him for help the night he was lost. cecil got in touch with the authorities.

>> all i knew was that the guy that was in the picture was the guy that was sitting next to me in my car when i drove him back.

>> it had always been a missing link for investigators. if eric abshire had killed his wife, how did he do it alone? at minimum, staging the hit-and-run required getting their vehicles out here five miles from the home. now the parade float builder's story provided a possible solution to those complex logistics. as a good samaritan motorist, he followed eric to where justine 's body was later found. convenient but what are the chances that that story was true? you had to believe he appeared at the very moment that eric staged help.

>> i was skeptical. you know? it's a nice story but without anything to go along with it, it's just a story.

>> special agent mike jones started the long process of trying to verify the float builder's account.

>> i wanted to check the area to see if there might be a school bus that was where he said he was going and that proved to be true.

>> next, he wanted him to trace the route he took.

>> put him in the car, said, okay, this is where you said you started that night. now tell me where to go.

>> you're in charge. which way are we going, huh?

>> i didn't give him any feedback. it was always one way and i was on the receiving end of it. if he told me to turn, i turned. if he told me to stop, i stopped. pull off, i pulled off.

>> in his show and tell recreation of the drive, cecil did not point to the very spot where the car had been found.

>> he didn't get it to the right spot?

>> he didn't. i thought, well, if he would have picked that up in the media or something like that --

>> well, what about that? didn't everybody in the county know where all of these things had happened?

>> well, that's the thing. it wasn't too perfect. and generally, i don't know, sometimes when it's too perfect, it can be regurgitated and i thought, all right, he had enough room of ir ror in there that he might be credible.

>> nor did he have anything to gain by coming forward.

>> was he interested in any of the reward money that had been posted?

>> he's never asked about it.

>> and cecil willingly underwent a polygraph.

>> so you took a lie detector test about your story?

>> absolutely.

>> how did you do?

>> i passed it. 100%. no problems at all.

>> and yet it all seemed so pat. a solution to a mystery in the movies but not in real life . even cecil saw the problem posed by his story. it is perplexing, here this guy we're told is staging a murder, and here's the part where cecil shows up in the driveway. he can't plan on you showing up.

>> no.

>> what would he have done if you didn't appear in the driveway?

>> i have no clue.

>> i felt like that the information he had is fascinating but the information that mr. abshire provided was fascinating.

>> do you think the story is true?

>> i do.

>> did he become the guy that had helped him get the car out on that back road?

>> i do.

>> the investigators now had another piece to the intricate puzzle that they were piecing together. and when they looked at it all, the medical examiner's findings, the insurance, the troubled relationship, and the story of the lot of parade float builder, a special grand jury was convened. after four long years of investigation, they finally felt they had their case.

>> when we were able to get all of the information that we felt that we were ever able going to be able to get, we looked at the picture and it was clear to us what had happened and that who was responsible.

>> go arrest abshire?

>> yeah.

>> news of an arrest that justine 's family thought might never come.

>> it felt like this huge bag of rocks i had been carrying on my back for four years was lifted off me.

>> yet they knew the arrest was only step one and that their former son-in-law could easily beat the charge. that tlunt a shred of physical evidence to link him to the murder. it would be an entirely circumstantial case.

>> we were nervous but we just had to put our faith in to the system that this was the right time to roll the dice.

>> eric abshire would stand trial for the murder of his wife but 0 conviction was anything but certain.