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Canyon of secrets

Did abuse lead a 14-year-old to kill his father, stepmother, and stepsister? And if so, should he be punished? John Larson reports.
Cody Posey in court
Cody Posey in courtCourtesy Court Tv

It's a land of hard work, sage and bitterbrush. Ranch country is where the sky embraces everything like a blessing, but the wind, the wind can scream like a curse— wild, sudden, twisting, violent.

It’s not unlike a story that blew down from the ranchlands two years ago, and battered almost everyone.

The sheriff says it’s a cold-blooded execution.

Even the ranchowner, ABC newsman Sam ranch owner said he couldn’t understand how it happened on his land, to people he knew.

In pictures, the family looked happy: Paul Posey, the dad, Donaldson’s ranch foreman; Tryone, his third wife; 13-year old Marilea Schmeed, Tryone’s daughter from a former marriage; and 14-year-old Cody Posey, Paul’s son from his first marriage.

But family pictures, of course, never tell family secrets... they could never explain the grisly scene Sam Donaldson came upon two days after the fourth of July 2004. He immediately called the sheriffs, who arrived quickly.

John Larson, Dateline correspondent: What did you see when you went up to the ranch?Sheriff Tom Sullivan, Lincoln County, New Mexico: The blood on the porch, blood in the kitchen, blood in the living room.  And blood smears in the kitchen.  And blood chunks of hair on the porch. It was a crime scene: a violent crime scene, obviously. Larson: Now were you thinking that the whole family had been lost?Sullivan: Well, we didn’t know. We didn’t know how many people lived there...

Sullivan’s detectives lit the ranch house up like a Hollywood Western and began working into the night.

They had a grisly crime scene, but no bodies. Then one of Sullivan’s deputies noticed some backhoe tracks.

Sullivan: So then, decided to follow the back hoe tracks.  And they went away from the house, down around some bluffs, and to an area where there was a compost pile.Larson: Now this is a manure pile? Sullivan: Manure pile.  Yeah.  And so, he just happened to notice that there was a lot of flies buzzing around one spot. We went up there with a stick, and just kind of moved some things.  We moved some of the dirt around.  Moved some of the manure around.  And you could see the back of somebody’s belt and a pair of Levis and a shirt.

By morning, in temperatures over 100 degrees, deputies uncovered three partially decomposed bodies:  Paul Posey, the father; his wife, Tryone, and his 13-year-old step-daughter, Marilea.

But the boy, Paul’s son, 14-year-old Cody?  What happened to him? Where was he?

Turns out, at the same time deputies were uncovering the bodies, Cody was down the road, playing basketball with his friends Leo and Gilbert Salcido.

Gilbert Salcido, Cody's friend: We were up all night shooting fireworks.  We were just having a blast all night. We just had fun non-stop.Leo Salcido: I’ve never seen that side of Cody, really.  I’ve never seen him so happy.

It was a full 2 days after the killings that the seemingly innocent horseplay came to an abrupt end.

Leo Salcido:  Someone knocked on the door and it was a cop.

Sheriff’s deputies began interrogating 14-year-old Cody Posey, the beginning of an interrogation that would soon worry the two adults present, including Cody’s friends’ uncle—ranch hand, Eli Salcido.

Eli Salcido, ranch hand: That’s when I went and started asking questions to the sheriff about why, what are they doing, why doesn’t he have a lawyer. What are they doing interrogating him without a lawyer? They just told me, “He’s not being interrogated.”

Yet, investigators soon took the 14-year-old to a safe house, a room for interviewing children, where two officers, one male and one female, began their questioning.

Deputy sheriff (at the interview, on tape): Ok, you feel comfortable talking to me and Melissa like we did before?

Cody’s friend’s father was with him.

Deputy sheriff : So the argument starts in the kitchen?

Cody tells several versions of a fight he’d had with his father, a fight about how best to clean the horse corral.

Cody Posey: And, uh, he got all mad and said if it wasn’t illegal he would knock my head off and roll it across the floor.

Then, a little more than an hour after the interview began...

Deputy: Okay, now I’m sitting here and I’m watching you, Cody.   And you got tears in your eyes, and I need to know why. So what did you do, Cody?Cody Posey: I tried getting rid of him.Deputy: How?Cody Posey: Get him off this planet ‘cuz it would be better here without him. Deputy: So what did you do, Cody?Cody Posey: I shot him.Deputy: With what?Cody Posey: .38 special.Deputy: Where did you shoot him?Cody Posey: In the head.

In a calm voice, Cody tells how he killed his family, one by one.

Deputy: What about your stepmother?Cody Posey: I shot her too. Because she was mean.  She hit me and stuff.Deputy: What about Marilea? What did you do to her?Cody Posey: Shot her too so she wouldn’t go tell or nothing.Deputy: Where did you get the gun, Cody?Cody Posey: Marilea had it in her saddle bag for shooting snakes.

Cody explained how before the shooting began, he had carefully emptied the gun of its snakeshot, and reloaded it with more lethal bullets.

At this point Cody’s friends’ father interrupts the interview.

Eli Salcido: Don’t you think we need a lawyer, before they question you anymore, or something.Deputy: It’s up to you guys, it’s up to you.Salcido: Because he’s still a minor.

But by then, the deputies already had what they needed:  a full-blown confession.

Cody Posey:  I regret it.  Deputy: You regret it? Why? Cody Posey: It was the wrong thing to do. I miss ‘em even though they were mean.

It seemed like an open-and-shut case: Cody had confessed and there was even a videotape. But the picture of what really happened on the ranch began to change quickly.

And, in the rising wind, there was soon the sound of voices— many voices telling stories of the darkest violence, whispers of what really happened out on that ranch in the brush pasture, where only the wind bore witness.

So much is wide open in New Mexico. But so many family secrets out here can remain hidden, coiled like a snake—secret, and sometimes, lethal.

Soon there was talk, whispers of how cold and calculating the killings had been, how the boy had planned, executed and covered up the crime. But there were also rumors that the seeds for this violence had been planted long ago.

Slim Brittan, cowhand: The West is kind of tight-lipped about things like that...

Slim Brittan is a tough-talking cowhand, worked for Paul Posey for eight months on the Donaldson ranch.

Brittan: In the West, you just don’t talk about it. I mean, you just don’t, it’s just not something you put around.

What he didn’t “put around” was what he says he saw happening on the ranch. A cruel, angry Paul Posey, abusing an obedient but battered son.

Brittan: He rides up to him, and hits him. "Whack" with the rope, just right in the back.  You’re out of the drive.  Whack.  Right across the back.John Larson, Dateline correspondent:  This is with a coiled rope?Brittan: Yeah. With a coiled rope.

Slim was let go a few months before the killings. But says he saw trouble between father and son almost every day, excessively harsh words and sometimes, beatings.

Brittan: I never saw a hand laid on him in love. Larson:  Never an arm around the shoulder?Brittan: Never.

There were others who said they saw it, too.

Jim Forrester: He was mean, real mean on his family.

Jim Forrester remembers putting in a new heater for Cody’s dad, Paul. Cody was just a baby in diapers and not understanding his dad’s order to move:

Forrester: And all of a sudden Paul just leaped and whipped his belt off and grabbed that kid by the arm and just went to warpin’ him down across the head and ears and face and neck and back.  The kid was just screaming you know, bloody murder, big, wide cowboy belt.

Cody’s mom pulled the baby away. A short time later she and Paul divorced, and mother and son left to live together.  But in 1994, his mom joined the navy. A 4-year-old Cody was sent back to live with his father, this time with his second wife, Sandy.

Sandy, Paul Posey’s ex-wife: Oh, he was a dear little boy.  Everybody loved him.  He was sweet and kind and polite. You know, he was my son.

Sandy adored Cody and cared for him as if he were her own: birthday parties, friends, lots of love. But she says she had to keep Paul from hitting Cody.

Sandy: He would yank him out of the bed, the bunk bed on the top, yank him off on to the floor. Larson: Just pull him all the way from the floor—Sandy: Yes.  Yes.  Yes.Larson: Slam him down on the floor?Sandy: Yes.  Yes.

But one time, she said she came home from work and found the father beating his son with a board.

Sandy: I said, “Paul, that’s enough. That’s enough.”  And he stopped.

Cody was just 7 years old.  His mom, home on leave, saw the bruises, and called police. There were pictures and a hospital examination but no charges were ever filed.

Meanwhile, Paul, Cody’s dad, moved on to his third wife, Tryone, and took 9-year-old Cody with him.  Tryone had a daughter—Marilea Schmeed. She became Cody’s stepsister.  So the four became a new family: Paul, Tryone, Marilea, and Cody.

But Cody longed to be back with his biological mom. So when she retired from the navy, his dad gave Cody back.  The boy was 10 years old and he, his mom, and her new husband took off in their pickup for a new job.  But the trip turned deadly...

There was an accident, and Cody’s mother was thrown from the back seat and was dying in Cody’s arms.

Cody’s life had been blown like a tumbleweed through New Mexico’s pinion and dry cottonwoods, out of control, spinning. He was blown right back to the old life with his father. There was old hurt, but soon with fresh wounds.

Alvera Lerma: I remember Cody pulled up his sleeve and he had burn marks from cigarette marks.

Alvera Lerma saw a lot. Her Spanish-speaking husband worked for Cody’s father, and she was often with both of them, translating, since Paul Posey didn’t speak Spanish.

Lerma: And he was violent when he would get mad.

At one point, Alvera told her husband something that now gives her chills.

Lerma: To me, "I feel that something’s gonna happen to that family, either Cody’s gonna kill Paul, or Paul’s gonna kill Cody."

Four months later, three people were dead and Cody was in custody. For many, the stories of an abusive, violent father were so convincing, they were ready to forgive the killer— even the father of Marilea Schmeed, Cody’s stepsister and third victim.

Larson: What do you think now that you know Cody was responsible for taking your daughter’s life?  Jake Schmeed: Cody doesn’t need to be punished for this.  He didn’t do it. Paul and Tryone did this.Larson: We know that Cody pulled the triggers.Schmeed: Paul and Tryone made him do it, created him and made him the weapon that caused their death and Marilea’s death. 

On the other hand, Cody had confessed, he’d tried to cover up the crime by burying the bodies in the manure pile. And as for the abuse, some people around the area started thinking that somehow Cody’s stories didn’t quite add up.

Verlin Posey, Paul Posey’s brother: I mean you basically have nobody to contradict his word.

Paul Posey’s older brother, Verlin, says the stories didn’t add up, because the abuse never happened. It was just an excuse implanted in Cody by his mother.

Verlin Posey: Anytime he got a spanking that was abuse.  He was told that was abuse. Every time he got in any trouble, he was disciplined by my brother.  His mother’s family told him that was abuse.

The uncle questioned why no teacher, principal, or school counselor had ever reported any evidence of abuse.

Verlin Posey: How do you hide it?  This kid ought to have enough scars on his face that look like a roadmap. If you listened to Cody, he took as many licks as Muhammad Ali. 

Finally, Posey says his brother loved Cody.

Verlin Posey: But Paul would have given his life for that boy and Marilea.  So I don’t know. And if at some point he wants to talk to me, I hope at some point he wants to, it’ll be down the road before I probably can do it.

And there was another question: If Cody’s father Paul was so violent, wouldn’t he have taken some of his anger out on his ex-wife, Sandy?

Larson:  Did Paul ever hit you?Sandy:  No.Larson:  Never?Sandy: Never.Larson: So, we’re supposed to now believe that this man is some sort of controlling, abusive, violent monster, that he beat his son so badly that he would somehow be forced to murder.  But he never hit you?Sandy: No.  He never laid a hand on me.

It didn’t sound as if Cody’s stories of abuse would be enough of a defense, unless you know what happened on the exact same ranch 40-some years ago...

There was another murder  — a wife shot a husband at point blank range and she even confessed.  But when it came time for her trial, her defense tried something almost unheard of in these parts at the time: a battered wife defense. And it worked. The jury acquitted her. Now Cody’s attorney wondered, with a triple murder, how would a jury respond to these stories of abuse, could a battered child defense work?

Sandra Grisham (in court): It was a day that dawned as bright as any other on the Sam Donaldson ranch. But that was a brightness that soon was to be dimmed in horror. Because Cody Posey decided his world would be better off without his family.  He made an unbelievably vicious and selfish decision that his belief was more important than the most basic universal human belief of all:  that life is precious.

From the start, prosecutor Sandra Grisham made her position clear—that Cody Posey should be convicted of three counts of first degree murder.

Cody was only 14 at the time of the killings, so this was children’s court. But the prosecutor was determined to send him to an adult prison for life.

And she said this was not a trial about abuse, and it would not play out like some case of a battered wife.

Grisham: This is not an issue about a battered woman.  Battered women don’t kill their husband and then turn around and kill their sister and their kids.

The prosecution began with someone who could be called a star witness – ABC newsman and ranch owner, Sam Donaldson.

Prosecution: What did you see sir? Sam Donaldson: I saw a large, reddish, dried swath which I identified clearly as blood. I’d seen, I covered the war in Vietnam, saw a lot of it there. And walked to the kitchen and immediately saw, the red swath that was on the porch was on the kitchen floor.

Donaldson testified for about 15 minutes then left quickly, ironically refusing to answer any questions.

Back in court, the prosecution zeroed in on its most important piece of evidence: the confession tape.

Grisham:  Ladies and gentlemen, the first thing we want to know is why.  Why? But there’s no legal need to prove the why. The legal need is to prove how these killings occurred, where they occurred, and who committed them.  Cody Posey himself answers these questions.

Grisham argued almost everything the jury needed could be found on the videotape.

She let Cody’s own taped confession describe how he had calmly loaded and hidden the gun.

Deputy (tape): Okay, so you come back from the barn, you have, where did you have the .38?Cody Posey: Tucked in behind, behind my back right here.

How he had shot his step-mother first while she was reading a book.

Deputy: What happened?Cody: I shot her in the head.

And how he was laying in wait, like an assassin.

Cody: I was standing right here and he came, come up to the door and I hit him right here, in the head.

And then, most disturbingly of all, how he had shot his stepsister, who had never laid a finger on him.

Deputy: What about Marilea, what did you do to her?Cody: I shot her so she wouldn’t go tell or nothing.

This was anything, the prosecutor argued, but some confused, abused boy.

Larson: The sense you get from the defense is that he snapped and from the point he snapped he was not responsible for what happened.Grisham: That’s absolute nonsense.  How can anyone possibly claim that? If his father had come up to him and slapped him in the corral and he’d taken that rake and beaten his father to death and then shown a great deal of remorse afterwards, that’s a different case. You don’t snap and lose your mind and then—let’s see, I’ve got to replace these bullets with bullets that’ll do the job.  You don’t describe killing people as hitting them if you noticed in his confession. He actually used an assassin term.  Cody:  I hit him right here, in the head.

Grisham laid out Cody’s careful attempt to conceal his victims, breaking a window to make it look like burglary, even writing a fake note to help his alibi.

Grisham: What worries me about this child is that he was so cold about the killings. Totally without any kind of empathy towards his sister whom he shot four inches from her face.  Most of us cannot imagine being able to take someone whose face we just blew off and be able to actually handle the body.  That takes someone extremely cold.

In addition, Grisham wanted to show the killings were pre-meditated.  She called Paul Posey’s older brother, Verlin to the stand.

Grisham (in court): Do you know if at some point in time Paul started locking up his guns in a gun safe?Verlin: Yes ma’am.Gary Mitchell: Objection, it’s hearsay.

What the prosecution wanted the jury to hear but was prevented—was this veiled threatVerlin said Cody made to his dad and stepmom one night when they went out and told him they’d be back later.

Verlin Posey: Cody got up and said, “Well how do I know it’s not an intruder and how do you know I won’t shoot you?” And they told him, “Cause we’re going out, we’ll be right back.”  And this went on and on.  He kept repeating it.  “Well how do you know I won’t think you’re an intruder and I won’t shoot you?”  That’s why they had to lock gun safe.

When Cody took the stand, prosecutor Grisham accused him of suddenly coming up with incidents of abuse he’d never shared with any of the doctors who saw him before trial.

Grisham: Cody, in fact, you remember a lot more incidences than you told any of these doctors about, didn’t you?Cody Posey: I believe so, yes ma’am.Grisham: When did you remember all those? Never mind, your honor, withdraw the question. Pass the witness.Larson: So, you don’t even think he was abused?Grisham:  That’s correct. He couldn’t use the abuse excuse on his sister. I don’t believe that his parents abused him either.  As I said, I think his parents were good, honorable people doing the best that they could to raise a very difficult child.

The clean cut teenager, she suggested, was a liar.

Grisham: You had a lot of problems with lying, a lot of arguments over lying, didn’t you?Cody Posey: In my past I have lied, yes, ma’am.Grisham:  Stolen?Cody Posey: I had stolen one time.Grisham: Cheated?Cody Posey:  I believe so.  I believe it was in a card game. Grisham: So you only cheated one time too?Cody Posey: To my recollection.Grisham:  You did illegal drugs?Cody Posey:  I believe—as we covered earlier, I had experimented with marijuana.

She wanted to prove he was not suffering from any mental condition when he killed his family. First, she took on the defense psychologist:

Grisham: When he takes the snake shot out because “I didn’t think that would do the job,” that is indicative of some thinking and some intent, isn’t it?Dr. Christine Johnson:  Yes.Grisham: And when he reloaded it with .38 that he did think would do the job, that again is some indication that he is thinking, isn’t it?Dr. Johnson: Yes.Grisham: And that he is intending to kill?Dr. Johnson: Yes.

Then, she called her own expert witness: a psychiatrist from the University of South Florida, an expert on kids who kill.

Grisham: And what was he thinking?  What did he report to you that he was thinking doctor?Dr. Wade Myers:  Should he run away? Should he tell a teacher or tell his teachers or should he just live with it?Grisham: And did he tell you what he decided to do?Dr. Myers: Yes, in his words, “He said, nothing else worked, might as well just do it, so I did.”

The prosecution appeared to have the wind at its back. But would it last?

Cody Posey: I wanted a family. Sir, I wanted to please everybody that I could to make a family.  I wanted to be the kid that my dad said, “You know what, look, that’s my son.”

But now it was it was time for Cody to explain why he’d killed him, along with his stepmother and stepsister.

But what no one knew as he took the stand was how many more secrets were about to spill out— dark sexual stories at the heart of Cody’s case that no one had heard, which would rock the courtroom and the community.

But first, Cody calmly described a list of physical abuse.

Cody Posey (in court):  When I was a younger child and had loose teeth, I would mess with them and wiggle ‘em around. My father pops me hit me in the jaw to knock my tooth out.  And he said, “There, now you’ll stop playing with it.”Gary Mitchell, defense lawyer: How were wakened up in those days?Cody Posey: I got shocked with a hot shot which is an electronic cattle prod.

The defense never disputed that Cody gunned down his family.  But it wanted the jury to understand why... what happened to Cody in the days, the months and years that led up to that terrible morning.

In a flat, emotionless voice he described his life as a boy—emotionless until he got to his mother’s death.

Cody Posey: They took me away from my mother as I was trying to help her.  And they put me in the back of the ambulance. And I remember going to a hospital, sir.  I asked many times if she was okay. And doctors said she would be fine. Before I went to bed that night a doctor came in and told me that she didn’t make it.

The defense wanted the jury to know how much Cody feared his dad. They called witnesses who described how he reacted at his mother’s funeral when he learned he would have to go back to live with his father:

Courtney Taylor: He was devastated. He was crying like nothing you’d ever seen before, it was almost like a horror movie.

A science teacher described a disturbing parent-teacher conference:

Science teacher: They were screaming and hollering and carrying on, both of them at the same time. Cody began sobbing and I was in shock. And Paul said, “You’re gonna get it when we get home.” He says, “You know what’s going to happen when we get home.”

By law, teachers are required to report abuse, but Cody’s teachers’ said, at the time, they didn’t think it was abuse. But the defense called others who said abuse was very much on their minds, beginning with the cowboys who worked on the ranch. They backed up Cody’s stories. Remember Slim?  He described an incident with an iron hook used for lifting hay.

Slim Brittan: He’d go like this (Slim gestures with hook) and that’s when Paul would reach over and hit him across the hand or hit him on the hand.

And how Paul beat Cody with a rope.

Brittan: You take one of these and if you hit someone with it across the back like that (slim gestures again) it really hurts.

In all, the defense called three dozen witnesses, including Pilo Vasquez who still works on the Donaldson ranch.

Prosecution: Did he strike him both on the chest and on the shoulder?(Pilo Vasquez motions to his stomach and chest to show where Paul hit Cody)Translator: First here and then here.

But then the defense began exploring the family’s darkest secrets, suggesting that Cody’s father had forced all of them down a forbidden road.

Defense lawyer: Can you tell us what we’re looking at?Computer expert: The remains of an AOL search. The keywords are “free incest stories”Defense lawyer: Does that have a particular relevance as to whether or not someone was intentionally searching for incestual?Computer expert: Yes, those are the actual words they typed in.

In disturbing testimony, the computer expert told how the computer in the father’s office proved someone was often interested in incest.

Defense lawyer:  And was there incestuous pornography found on the hits in which you found the words ‘son’ and ‘wife’ and ‘daughter’ as well?Computer expert: Yes.

Not the word, “sister”... but “daughter.”

Defense lawyer: Is this a compilation (witness is holding a large binder) of all the images found on the hard drive whenever you searched the words incest and daughter?Computer expert: Uh…  yes.

Then the defense went to the heart of its case— what happened the night before the killings that put the 14-year-old  over the edge. A sexually explicit story involving his father and stepmother that only came out in his confession when the male detective left Cody with the female officer.

Cody Posey (tape): My dad and her would like, would have sex, or something like that and they were trying to do something to me.  She grabbed my head and put it on her breast.  That’s how I got these burns.  He had a hot torch thing, like a welding rod, and he told me he was going to burn me if I didn’t do it.

He would say even more in the courtroom.

Cody Posey (in court): As I stood at the front of the bed, Tryone—pulled down the covers and she was laying there completely naked.  My dad striked up the torch and told me that I was gonna have sex with Tryone. I refused to do it.  Told him I wasn’t gonna do it.  And as I was telling him I wasn’t gonna do it, he was heating up this rod. As he burned me he told me to do it again and I said no.  I remember Tryone scooting down the bed—to the foot of the bed.  She grabbed my head, put it into her breast.  And at that time to make her let go of me, I remember biting her.  As I bit her I got burned another time with the rod.

The defense attorney argued it was sexual abuse that triggered the killings— that Cody felt his life had gone in such a frightening direction that there was no way out.

Gary Mitchell, defense attorney: it was a culminating factor. I expect at that point in time the child realized, wait a second, this has gone to an altogether different level.

The incest testimony was provocative, but still didn’t answer the question: Why did Cody shoot his stepsister, Marilea? The defense had an explanation for that:

Mitchell: This was a situation in which he reacted to the three of them and what had been happening to him all his life.  And that, as a child, he’s unable to discriminate and distinguish between the three actors.

In the end, the defense knew the jury would still be weighing “the why?” Why did Cody start shooting?

Mitchell:Cody Posey:  I just, I lost control, sir.  I didn’t know what I was thinking.  I didn’t know what I was doing.

The case would soon go to the jury. Their verdict would be only the beginning of a surprise conclusion to this trial.

As the jury of 7 women and 5 men began to deliberate, it was clear they’d been deeply affected by the testimony at trial.

Norm, juror: I think after 14 days of listening to witnesses talking about pliers and hay hooks, you can get there.Beverly, juror: It’s horrendous.  I hope something is done now to stop all this.

When defense attorney, Gary Mitchell addressed the jury, he said Cody was simply defending himself.

Gary Mitchell, defense attorney (in court(: In the end, ladies and gentlemen, it is this: how much do we demand of a child? How much do we ask him to tolerate? And do we allow them to defend themselves? Do we allow them to defend themselves from the rapes? From the beatings?

It was the issue of defending himself or self-defense that the jury focused on right away. Five of the jurors spoke with dateline. They said the panel was initially divided.

Norm, juror: You had two or three people on this extreme, say wanting to be very lenient.  And perhaps four or five others on the other extreme, who would have been more stringent.  More severe.

But the judge’s instructions were very clear: self defense meant immediate danger. Cody would have had to be facing an immediate threat to his life.

Jonathan: Self-defense was the acquitting factor.  And we ruled that out based on the instruction the judge gave us.Beverly, juror: He kept reading the instructions and we kept going over them and over them.  And that’s all we could do.  We did what we had to.

Once they decided Cody could not be acquitted, they had to decide what he was guilty of.

Some jurors felt the abuse should somehow mitigate the crime.

Cathy, juror: He was a child. He was 14 years old.

But others, like jury foreman Jonathan Bachman, thought even a 14-year-old had to be responsible for his actions.

Jonathan Bachman, jury foreman: I guess my bottom line is we have to be responsible for ourselves.  We can’t blame others for our decisions.John Larson, Dateline correspondent: Even if you’re 14.Bachman, foreman: Yeah, I think even if you’re 14.Larson: How hard was it for you to move towards the center?Norm, juror: Being obstinate, holding out for a hung jury, that wouldn’t accomplish anything. And I felt some sense of accomplishment, actually, at even getting the compromise that we got.  I felt that’s probably as good as I was gonna do.

After 12 hours, they reached a decision.

Judge: In the matter of Cody Posey, a child, we find Cody Posey guilty of  first degree murder.

Cody received first degree murder for killing the stepsister, Marilea;  second degree murder for the stepmother, and manslaughter for Paul, the father.

Cody sobbed and his aunt collapsed, worried that Cody could go to prison for life.

But there’s one more twist: what the jury decided might matter less than what a judge was about to decide.  Because in children’s court in New Mexico, a judge has the final word. A judge could decide whether to sentence Cody as a child or as an adult  -- which means he could either give Cody probation, in which case he might be let off in a few months, or life in prison.

As word leaked out that the judge wasn’t waiting, he would hold a sentencing hearing quickly, supporters of Cody gathered outside the courthouse. Included in the gathering where three of the jurors: Cathy, Diane, and Beverly.

Beverly, juror: When we came out of the verdict, I broke down. I couldn’t talk to anybody for over a week.

And then something almost unprecedented: seven jurors sent letters to the judge begging him not to put Cody away in prison and to sentence him instead as a child.

What happened? How is it that jurors who voted unanimously to convict Cody were now seeking to save him?

Larson: What made you feel so bad about the verdict that you brought back?Diane, juror: The way our instructions were written, we did the right thing. But that didn’t make it the right thing for a child. I really felt that was kind of a legal trickery.Cathy, juror:  He killed three people.  But what led up to that?  What led up to that? 

The prosecutor, however, had a first degree murder verdict and was pressing to put Cody in prison for life.

Sandra Grisham, prosecutor (in court): Cody Posy is a cold-hearted killer. I know that it’s difficult your honor, but I’m asking the court to protect society from him as long as you possibly can.

The defense argued that Cody was still a child and could still be rehabilitated in a juvenile program.

Gary Mitchell, defense lawyer (in court): Is Cody Posey amenable to rehabilitation or treatment as a child?Dr. Buser, Cody’s psychiatrist in prison:  In my opinion, Cody is very treatable.

Dr. Robert Buser was Cody’s psychiatrist while he was held by the state. In cross-examination, prosecutor Grisham implied there were no sure fixes for Cody.

Grisham: How much time do you think Cody will need in treatment before you can say he’s not going to kill again, he’s not going to hurt again, he’s not going to do any of these things again? How much more treatment does he need?Dr. Buser: I think his risk of re-offending is very low.

Cody was the last one to address the judge.

Cody: During the past two months you’ve heard accusations of me being a liar, a psychopath.  You’ve heard that I’ll kill again or end up back in the courtroom. I can tell you right now that I will never kill again.

But would the judge believe him?

Outside the courthouse, the community, shocked by the jury’s verdict, had rallied around Cody’s case, as everyone nervously waited for the judge’s decision.

Judge (in court): The court orders that the child be committed to the custody of Children Youth and Family Dept. until age 21.

The judge decided not to send Cody to prison but to a juvenile treatment center for a maximum of five years.

Then he would be free to try to start his life over.

Now Cody could look to his future. But could Cody Posey  escape his past? A past much darker than the jury ever knew? There had been one more horror, kept secret from the jury.

When he was only five years old, a headline appeared on the front page of the local paper: A “murder-suicide” was Cody’s grandfather and grandmother, his father Paul’s parents.

Cody’s grandmother shot his grandfather as he slept, then shot herself. Was it because of abuse?

Cody’s Uncle Verlin insists his father was no abuser, though he admits his father was tough.

Verlin Posey, Paul Posey's brother:  I’m not gonna lie to you.  My dad was a hard man.  And when we got a spanking, it counted.  We both got spankings.  I mean with a belt or reigns or whatever.  You know I mean we got our butt busted.

A neighbor, Jim Forrester, says he saw those boys get their butts busted and he saw their mom, Cody’s grandma, when she was hurt.

She told Forrester to go away before her husband saw them talking.

Jim Forrester: And she turned around and the whole side of her face was just black and red.  She had big sunglasses on but she was, oh, she was hurt. 

And Cody’s dad Paul had even told his second wife, Sandy, that he had grown up in a family with regular beatings—where violent outbursts were normal.

Sandy, Paul Posey’s ex-wife:  He did tell me one time they were driving down the road and his dad just reached over, opened the door, and pushed his mom out of the car.John Larson, Dateline correspondent: When it was moving?Sandy: When it was moving.  Yes.

Folks around here still whisper about the murder-suicide, though no one will ever be sure why it happened. For Cody, it is a part of his young past that he must grow to live with. He’s hoping to break the cycle of abuse in his family.

Cody Posey:  I want to go to fathering classes. I would like to know how to become a good parent. Being that I only knew one father’s way, I need to learn more.

As for the others who watched Cody grow up, many still felt somewhat guilty that they hadn’t alerted authorities.

Slim Brittan, one-time ranch hand at Donaldson ranch: If I had it all to do over again, yeah, I’d be calling the sheriff, the state police, the governor, whoever I had to call I’d be doing it that way.

And they now knew that just like a range wind storm, murder can begin with silence.

Alvera Lerma: I think everybody felt helpless. We could all have done something together, and we none of us stood up when we knew it was going on.Sheriff Tom Sullivan: I believe there was abuse.  I believe there was.  But it just wasn’t reported. We didn’t know about it. Maybe we could have prevented this.

Cody Posey is said to be doing well in a juvenile treatment center in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Some day he hopes to go to law school.