Dateline | October 25, 2013
>> narrator: travis stay was looking at a real life halloween nightmare. more than 60 years in jail if he was convicted of murdering joel liveling. after nine days of trial, jurors began deliberating. you're looking at what basically is life in a north dakota prison if you're convicted?
>> i'm nerve ous. but i have confidence.
>> narrator: joel 's fiance heather was also confident of a guilty verdict .
>> it just seemed like, okay, we have the right guy, and, yeah, done.
>> narrator: the jurors we spoke with said prosecutors presented its case as if it were open and shut.
>> i would not say their style was cocky at all. they were confident and they had enough evidence.
>> narrator: the jury began examining the evidence and the testimony. one key issue was the prosecution's timeline in which the bus had gone by the time joel was killed.
>> the bus was there at the time, it had to have been. the bus was there longer than the prosecution was saying.
>> narrator: jurors were also troubled by the clown. remember, he was found crying soon after joel was murdered.
>> and that just struck me as completely odd, out of character for a young guy on a halloween night.
>> narrator: they were also concerned by what the clown told police that evening.
>> it was pretty important that you would actually say things got out of hanged.
>> narrator: and they questioned why only travis stay's lion costume was tested for blood.
>> why didn't they examine any of the people's clothes that were on the bus? you know, why didn't they check anyone else ? anything else besides this lion?
>> narrator: it took the jury only about five hours to reach a verdict.
>> we the jury find the defendant travis robert stay not guilty of murder.
>> my attorney said a quick verdict is a good verdict in this case and he was right. it was vindication.
>> travis , what are you going to do with your life now? any ereaction to the verdict? were you surprised?
>> and the verdict comes?
>> not guilty?
>> yes. i didn't understand that, i still don't understand that. i don't know everything, but i do know that joel 's blood was found on one person.
>> narrator: detective mile sholes?
>> you don't think he's innocent?
>> the fact that he was acquitted by a jury doesn't mean he was acquitted by me. the facts are strong, the physical evidence is strong. there's not one stitch of physical evidence to suggest anybody else was involved other than speculation.
>> grand forks police consider this case closed and in an unusual move, some of the evidence was destroyed. "dateline" contacted the cowboy, the gangster and the construction worker who were all on that bus, all declined our request for on camera interviews, but told us on the phone, as they maintained from day one, they had nothing to do with joel loveling's murder and they feel they have been unfairly accused by the defense.
>> people talk, and when you're accused of something like this, i'm sure it has a negative impact on your reputation.
>> since the trial, even joel 's parents have been divided over travis 's guilt. joel 's mom believes he is most likely guilty. but joel 's stepdad thinks travis didn't do it.
>> travis was so drunk he couldn't hit the ground with his hat. how is he going to beat up a 247 pound fellow that's 6'3" or 4 when he can hardly stand up himself?
>> do you think people know more than they're saying?
>> people other than travis ?
>> yes. somebody knows something.
>> joel 's daughter alexa, now 21, is left with just memories of her dad who would take her outside to taste the snowflakes.
>> he was kind of like my best friend .
>> when you remember him, what do you think about?
>> him laughing, just so genuine and deep. it's just easy to remember. because he laughed a lot. he liked to make other people laugh.
>> travis stay never became a nurse. after going through the legal system himself, he decided to enroll in law school . he's in his last year and is now clerking for one of the attorneys who helped win his freedom and he wants to publicly apologize to joel loveling's family.
>> i'm sorry for being a part of the equation that night. you know, i drank too much and it was irresponsible, it was reckless. it was shortsighted and regettable. but, you know, i didn't kill joel . he was my only friend in the parking lot that night.
>> narrator: the idea behind this night at the end of october is that all that fear, danger and horror are supposed to be imaginary. manufactured for the child living in every one of us.
>> narrator: of course there is genuine evil out there, no matter what the calendar says, and sadly, sometimes the horror of halloween is the real thing.
>> that's all for this edition of "dateline." i'm lester holt , i'll see you tomorrow on "today." now stay tuned for the premiers of "grimm" and