Dateline   |  July 06, 2013

Shattered, Part 11

Eric Abshire stands trial for the murder of his wife, but  prosecutors face an uphill battle with an entirely circumstantial case.

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

>>> almost five years from the night when justine abshire was found lying dead on this dark, country road , her husband would finally stand trial for her murder. as we speak, we're awaiting trial, what do you want out of trial? out of the process?

>> the truth. i want to know.

>> the truth and justice.

>> it had been a long wait for justine 's parents, who had come to believe the worst about the man who had married their daughter.

>> my personal belief is that eric intended to kill her when he married her. he had made up his mind before they even got married that at some point he would do that.

>> they knew, though, that there was a big gulf between what they believed and what could be proved at trial. there was no eyewitness to the murder. no confession or physical evidence linking eric to the scene.

>> i know circumstantial cases are hard to prove.

>> prosecutors were committed to finding justice for the swartz family but it took so long to bring the case to trial because they knew they had only one shot at a conviction. if eric abshire was acquitted, double jeopardy kicked in. he would walk out of this courtroom forever a free man.

>> a guilty vote was not guaranteed in this?

>> no.

>> no.

>> the prosecution's theory was that justine had been strangled but was clinging to life when eric ran her over and placed her in the road as part of an elaborate plot to stage a hit and run for the insurance money payout. the problem with this theory is it raised as many questions as it answered. reporter courtney stewart covered the trial.

>> you don't really even have a crime scene . if she did not die on that road, where did she die? they don't know. they were never able to determine where this happened or even exactly what happened. they're just quite certain that she's dead and he did it.

>> the prosecutors called their witnesses. the medical examiner told the jury what he believed had caused justine 's death. other witnesses testified about cell phone records and insurance policies while justine 's friends and family talked about the troubled marriage and there was that parade float builder who said he helped eric get his wife's car out to the crime scene that night. at the end of the their case, the prosecutors felt they'd done the best they could with what they had.

>> it was all the evidence together and he's the last person to see her alive, the first person to find her, the only person to have any access to her between 7:00 p.m . and 1:00 in the morning.

>> but charles weber, eric 's defense attorney , would dissect the prosecution's case. he told the jury that even if his client wasn't always a model husband, it doesn't make him a murder.

>> it's not beauty or a personality contest.

>> he challenged the medical examiner's finding that justine could have been strangled and then ran over.

>> it is not supported.

>> medically, scientifically, you do not see that?

>> i do not see that scientifically.

>> the defense attorney called his own forensic pathologist to the witness stand to pose an alternative theory for how justine died. he testified that justine was struck in the road by a large vehicle that hit her hard enough to propel her through the air.

>> it would be sufficient to do a snap of the neck. it's an area of the spine that is attached directly to the brain that controls heartbeat and breathing and would cause that to stop immediately.

>> so scientifically and medically you're saying there's no reason to believe she wasn't standing in that roadway?

>> the evidence from our perspective cannot rule out the possibility of a hit and run .

>> and webber says there was a report of a large vehicle on the road that night that could have caused justine 's grievous injuries.

>> there was a witness statement that was jacked up toyota yet somehow that vehicle disappears and nobody ever sees it and the police don't see it.

>> he also didn't believe the story of the parade float builder who said he got lost and ended up in abshire's driveway that night.

>> there's so many holes in it it's unbelievable.

>> the prosecutors had also argued that eric 's cousin tracy was mistaken seeing him late at the hospital the night justine was killed but the cousin held firm.

>> at trial they would say we think you're confused about your evening.

>> i'm not.

>> you were at the hospital that night?

>> yes.

>> not the night before?

>> no.

>> and the family was lined up saying their good-byes.

>> yes.

>> and eric was there?

>> yes.

>> eric 's family says he was wrongly accused.

>> he said, no.

>> as the case heads to the jury, reporter courtney stewart thought it too close to call. she could see how the defense may have seeded the jury with reasonable doubt .

>> how can you convict somebody when there's not one shred of physical evidence tying him to do is this this? how can you be sure?

>> the courtroom buzz was he may walk on this.

>> a circumstantial case, when there's no eyewitness, no nothing, it could go either way. because it's going to be up to the jury to decide what's reasonable doubt .

>> and soon they would have