Dateline   |  December 13, 2013

'Unstoppable' part 6

Trial begins in the case against Jody Byrd for the murder of his wife. His defense attorney proposes a new theory as to how Desta died – suicide. But who would the jury believe?

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

>> understand why the state wanted to prosecute his client for murder. for starters, he said, jody byrd had no reason to kill his wife.

>> we didn't see any evidence of the motive. the witnesses that we interviewed created a pretty consistent pattern of a loving relationship with very few issues.

>> or so it appeared anyway.

>> i've never seen anything to indicate otherwise. they didn't have financial difficulties. there was no affairs going on. they were living a happy, quiet life .

>> besides that, nothing in the state 's case had changed since 1999 when desta died. there were no new eyewitnesses. no suddenly discovered dna.

>> so for all intents and purposes, there is nothing new.

>> the evidence didn't change.

>> correct.

>> the only thing that was new, he told the court, was the post-arrest video where his dlient change his story just -- client did change his story just a bit about that night. big deal , said the defense . 14 years had gone by. furs his story would vary. it was the mark, he said, of an innocent man.

>> one of the things you look for in someone that may be lying is that their details are so consistent over time , unnecessarily consistent.

>> because they've been rehearsed.

>> bizarrely consistent because they've been rehearsed.

>> so because it didn't have a case, highway said, the state was desperately picking through the past trying to find discrepancies with what jody said that night in shock and what he said years later.

>> law enforcement chooses to accept as fact certain things that jody says. and then assume other things are a lie. i mean, you can't have it both ways. either he's telling you the truth or he's not.

>> he said the state even tried to use what jody didn't say against him. take the kitchen counter . the state believed jody 's items on that counter proved he was home before his wife died. the defense argued that jody simply forgot to tell police he put them there after he rushed inside that night to call for help .

>> tee tohe took off his brown u.p.s. shirt to give more freedom of movement and probably threw the other junk that he had with him on the countertop right there.

>> more disgraceful, said the defense , was the state 's attempt to show desta was miserable in her marriage.

>> i had never heard her confiding to anyone that she was unhappy.

>> to desta's best friend , christine, the defense argued she couldn't be trusted. she and her friends, he said, hounded the state to prosecute his clientd a -- client and wrongly name him a killer. but he said the only thing jody admitted in the phone calls christine taped was her fear of being unjustly pursued by police. certainly possible that he's worried about getting railroaded, right?

>> yes.

>> ies that t that he's trying to keep himself out of trouble.

>> yes. he mentioned that several times on the phone.

>> and you would say, possible --

>> could be. could be.

>> the truth was that nearly everyone wanted to blame jody for deficit's death when really the only -- for desta's death when really the only person to blame was desta herself.

>> suicide can be a silent killer. it can be a surprise to the family. it can be something that the person hides from everyone else.

>> suicide. this case, he pointed out, had never been ruled a homicide by the medical examiner. and here at last was the defense 's theory of how desta died. she was a woman, jody 's lawyer said, who was tormented by her own fears and self-doubt and who hated the way she looked.

>> she was secretly contacting plastic surgeons . in retrospect, it appears to us that she had a dramatic self-image problem.

>> so bad, he said, that desta decided to end it all that night by kneeling on the ground and shooting herself. her husband, he said, came home just after that fatal moment. and the weapon she used would have proved that, he said, if police hadn't accidentally wiped her fingerprints from the firearm. one of the points the defense made was that you didn't bag the rifle. you wrapped it up in a towel or blanket, and that could have taken prints off it.

>> that's correct. we had no resources to wrap the rifle at that particular time.

>> even so, the defense said something else did prove its suicide theory. the wound desta suffered. a ballistics expert told the court and later "dateline" how he thinks desta shot herself on an upward angle in the left temple.

>> the end of the barrel was in contact with the skull at the time of the shot. it begins on the left temple and goes upward and backward until the bullet impacts on the inside of the skull. all of that is consistent with a suicide. not a homicide.

>> and said the defense , nothing else proved otherwise. suicide or homicide? after all these years, would there finally be an answer to what happened that night? as the jury deliberated, desta's best friend and supporters knew this might not go their way.

>> i say i made peace with the fact that i would have accepted either verdict.

>> i think we convinced ourselves that ready for an acquittal. it certainly wasn't what we wanted.

>> in less than three hours, they had l answer. the jury came -- they had their answer. the jury came back, and the foreperson rose. jody byrd , she said, was guilty of murder.

>> i was thinking, did she really just say what i've been waiting to hear? yes. victory finally. justice finally.

>> but for desta's family who lost a daughter and was betrayed, there was also sad resignation.

>> i always felt that if there was an arrest, it would bring closure, but i think the only thing that could bring closure is bringing her back, and we know that's not going to happen.

>> jody byrd will fay sentencice sentencing in a week. it's entirely possible he'll spend the rest of his days behind bars. all that's left now of what he and desta once shared before that terrible death and the mystery that followed is a house on a hill, built on dreams, ready for new owners, and for better days .