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Family ties

As a child custody battle intensified, so did a young mother's fear that her daughter might be in danger.  So she turned to her close knit family for support. But who turned to murder?Keith Morrison reports.

The first 911 call came as the eleven o’clock news began, the second less than a minute later.

911 caller: Somebody’s laying downstairs and there’s a lot of blood.

There, in the courtyard, a young man was struggling for breath, bleeding to death on his own doorstep.

Neighbor: I saw Jarrod’s body. I saw a lot of blood.

His name was Jarrod Davidson and he was as unlikely a murder victim as you could imagine — a quiet, private young man, by all accounts. He was a University of California PH.D. student known mostly for spending hours in his lab or teaching students chemistry.

But his murder was anything but quiet or private.

Det. Greg Sorenson: It was ruthless,more like an execution... a high-powered rifle at short range. The bullet went right through his chest, entered the apartment next door, traveled through several more walls and wound up in a neighbor’s shower.

Jarrod Davidson was just 27 years old.

Detective Greg Sorenson: It was a gruesome, execution-style murder that you don’t see around here.

Detective Greg Sorenson works for the Sheriff Department in Tony, upscale Santa Barbara. He heard the gunshot from his house a few miles away just as he was going to bed.

Det. Sorenson:  I heard what I distinctly knew was a high-powered gunshot way off in the distance. And I knew something wasn’t right.

Neighbors at the murder scene told Sorenson they saw a man and a woman rush away from Jarrod’s building.

And then, something odd: When the paramedics arrived, they found a potted plant lying between Jarrod’s feet.

Det. Sorenson: It had a card on the plant that said, “To my teacher.” And then it was written, the victim’s name. However it was misspelled.

It was a Persian violet, a murderer’s calling card.

Detective Sorenson had no idea how important that plant and the card would become.

Right then, he was thinking how familiar this place was and this victim.

A particular suspicion was already focused by the time police finally located Jarrod’s parents, Richard and Susan Davidson.

Richard Davidson, Jarrod’s father: The phone call came in at a little before 7 a.m. I got up, answered the phone. He said who he was and he just said, “Jarrod has been murdered.”Keith Morrison, Dateline correspondent: Just like that?

Richard Davidson: Just like that. “I’m sorry to be the one to tell you, but Jarrod has been murdered.”  And in one flash of a second, I went into a primal scream of “They’ve killed him. They’ve killed him.” 

By then, Detective Sorenson was already at work on his own suspicions.

Keith Morrison, Dateline Correspondent: You had encountered this particular victim before.Det. Sorenson: Correct.

And suddenly, up to his ears in a bloody murder investigation, Sorenson knew he was about to be dragged back to a case he thought he’d already resolved.

Det. Sorenson: We had an investigation back in March of 2004, where some allegations were raised against him by his ex-wife.

Kelee Davidson is the ex-wife,  who, during a bitter dispute over visitation, had accused Jarrod of sexually molesting their little girl, a 3-year-old named Malia.

Kelee Davidson: When I asked her, “Does anybody touch you somewhere they’re not supposed to?” That’s when she disclosed that her father was touching her.

Kelee says she told her parents, who suggested she report her suspicions to Malia’s preschool teacher, knowing the teacher was required by law to inform authorities.

And that’s how Detective Sorenson got involved... how he met Jarrod Davidson. 

Det. Sorenson: Jarrod was very nervous when we brought him in here, he seemed surprised. He didn’t understand why he was here.

According to the sheriff’s report, Jarrod was “baffled” by the allegations, denied them vehemently, and said he was willing to answer any questions.

He agreed to a polygraph test. But as the examiner zeroed in, asking detailed questions about how he may have touched his daughter, and when, and where, Jarrod seemed nervous, unsure how to answer.

Morrison: Is it true that Jarrod actually failed a lie detector test in that investigation?Det. Sorenson: He failed one of them— true. Did not mean he was guilty of anything. There’s plenty of innocent people that have failed lie detector tests for some reason or other.

A second polygraph was conducted. And this time, Jarrod passed.

A psychologist interviewed Malia, who said Jarrod had not touched her.

After four months of investigation, authorities dismissed Kelee’s allegations. There would be no charges.

Det. Sorenson: They didn’t find that there was any of the elements of sexual child molestation were present so the case was dropped.

Back then, Sorenson wondered, was Kelee so desperate to win the custody battle that she would invent the story of molestation?

Now he wondered: Had she murdered him?

After Jarrod’s death, Malia was re-interviewed.

Forensic interview:Psychologist:  What did your mommy tell you?Malia:  She told me.... my mom didn’t like him.

A little girl caught in a domestic war. Was she confused about events? Had Kelee coached her?  After all, here she was months after the allegations against Jarrod were dismissed...  claiming he had molested her.

Forensic interview:Malia:  He did a bad thing.Psychologist:  What did he do?Malia:  He touched me.Psychologist:  Who told you that?Malia:  I just know that.

Detective Sorenson was almost certain that Jarrod’s murder was somehow connected to his domestic problems with Kelee. That suspicion only increased when he discovered that on the very evening Jarrod was killed, he had filed a complaint with local sheriffs, saying he had driven 70 miles to Kelee’s house for a court ordered visit with Malia only to find that his ex-wife had skipped.

Det. Sorenson: We immediately started to look at her.Morrison: She accused him of child molestation. She was involved in a child custody battle. He winds up dead. Doesn’t look good for her.Det. Sorenson: Does not look good for her.

The day following the murder, detectives brought her in for questioning. But at first, claims Kelee, they didn’t tell her Jarrod was dead.

Kelee Davidson: I’m just thinking, “Well this is a little bit ridiculous for a custody dispute. “You know, what happened? Did that complaint on Friday night go a little further than it should have? And I spent four and a half hours locked in a room with my daughter in handcuffs while we waited for Santa Barbara to show up.

Eventually, says Kelee, investigators told her Jarrod had been killed  but didn’t tell her how.

Kelee Davidson: I was still confused on why I was there. But I didn’t do anything wrong, so i didn’t see any reason...Morrison: Were you afraid?Kelee Davidson: ...why I should be concerned?Morrison: You weren’t afraid?Kelee Davidson: Not really. I didn’t do anything wrong.

Kelee told detectives that she’d spent the evening of the murder with her daughter Malia and a friend named Mark, first going out for barbeque, then watching television with them at home.  The story checked out. She was at home that night.

So even though Detective Sorenson was still suspicious, Kelee was released.

Morrison: And to think that you’re a suspect. Did you believe you still were at that point?Kelee Davidson: I knew I was at that point. Because when they did release me and let me go, they said, “Oh, you know. We’ll be back for you.”

In the weeks that followed the murder of the young chemistry scholar, Jarrod Davidson, Detective Greg Sorenson was one deeply frustrated cop.

He was sure that somehow, Jarrod’s ex-wife Kelee just had to have been involved in the killing.

Det. Greg Sorenson: My feeling was that she knew more that she was telling us, personally. And at that point, we only had her alibi.

And thus his frustration. No matter what Detective Sorenson turned up, it was defeated by that ironclad alibi. She had been home the night of the murder.

Det. Sorenson: We didn’t have any other evidence to tie her into the crime scene at all.

And so, though still a suspect, Kelee Davidson was left to go on about her life as before.

Soon after her divorce from Jarrod, Kelee and her parents had taken Malia away, moved north to the coastal town of Grover Beach.

And though Kelee kept a separate apartment close to her parents house, she was in constant touch with her mother. And Mindy and Phil cared for Malia at least part of almost every day.

And it was here at their home when Malia was just weeks shy of her fourth birthday, that the three of them told her that her father was dead.

Kelee Davidson: The three of us. We sat her down and told her. That way, we could make sure that she was okay.Keith Morrison, Dateline correspondent: Did she understand, do you think?Kelee Davidson: Well, she seemed to. You know, we explained it to her that she wasn’t going be seeing him anymore and he wasn’t gonna be taking her to the park. He wasn’t gonna be able to take her to the zoo anymore... that he was with the angels in heaven.

And meanwhile,  70 miles down the coast in Santa Barbara, Detective Sorenson and his team, trying to chip away at Kelee’s alibi, got lucky.

Not with the alibi, mind you. That held.

No, it was the plant, that Persian violet,  found at the scene.

One of Sorenson’s officers was convinced he had seen that plant before.  In fact, he’d seen a whole row of identical Persian violets at a local grocery store.

So, the morning after the killing, he knew just where to go — a Vons store, just a few miles from Jarrod’s apartment.

Officer Padilla:  With my luck, I got there real early in the morning.  I noticed it right there in the middle—there was one missing plant.

There it was, on the store’s surveillance video: an empty space among the violets.

And then, paydirt. A woman was seen buying the plant.  The timer reads 10:44 pm, roughly 20 minutes before Jarrod was killed.

But who was she..?  She seemed to be hiding her identity beneath that bulky sweatshirt, the hat pulled over her eyes.

But Detective Sorenson was almost certain it was Kelee.

Det. Sorenson: I thought immediately that that was definitely our suspect buying the plant that we found.Morrison: First thought must have been, “Let’s just go arrest Kelee right now.”Det. Sorenson: We had to have a lot more than just that video...

And soon enough, there was more..

The clerk who’d sold the woman the plant was shown a series of photographs, including one of Kelee.

Det. Sorenson: She narrowed it down... and to one person. and that was Kelee Davidson.

And then, as the lab pored over the plant and card holder for any possible DNA evidence, more luck.

One of the detectives had worked in a flower shop, and so knew exactly how to find the source for that unusual card addressed ‘To my teacher.’

He checked for that card in every card and florist’s shop for a hundred miles up and down the coast.

Det. Hennerby:We found it in only one florists shop… that was at Five Cities florist, which was approximately a mile from where Kelee lived.

Bit by bit,  alibi or no, the case against Kelee was growing. 

But still there was no physical evidence that would put her at the scene of the crime.

And then finally, five months after the murder, a breakthrough.

There was DNA on the cardholder attached to that Persian violet. A few skin cells... a drop of sweat.

Somebody handled that card holder.  Probably the killer. And that somebody was about to be revealed.

Det. Sorenson: When the DNA came to light, we knew we had the break we needed.

It had been five long months, during which Jarrod’s parents had waited for word... and when it came, they couldn’t believe it.

Susan Davidson, Jarrod’s mother: They called the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, the day before Thanksgiving and they said, “No, it’s not a match.”Morrison: It’s not Kelee.Susan Davidson: It’s not Kelee. And we were devastated. Absolutely devastated.

Richard Davidson, Jarrod’s father: When they said that they had a DNA sample, it was excrutiating when they came back and said, “No, it’s not hers.” I think that’s when we came the closest to saying, “She’s gonna get away with it.”

It was a complete surprise.

The Davidsons had been all but sure that their son Jarrod had been murdered by his ex-wife Kelee.

And yet, the DNA found at the murder scene wasn’t hers. They knew it was a woman’s, but if not Kelee’s, then whose?

The answer was an even bigger shock. It wasn’t just any woman: It was Kelee’s mother, Jarrod’s ex-mother-in-law, Melinda, or Mindy, Jones.

Susan Davidson, Jarrod's mother: They called us at 7:30 in the morning to say that they had arrested Mindy.Morrison: How did you feel?Susan Davidson: It was like losing Jarrod all over again. Because we had waited six months for them to make an arrest. And it’s just an overwhelming feeling.

It was early morning when Detective Sorenson and his team arrived to arrest Mindy Jones, who denied any involvement in the murder.

Sorenson’s officers took Mindy to the Santa Barbara jail, and then  searched every corner of her house, looking for a weapon or any other evidence that would tie her to the murder.

And?  Nothing.  No gun. No clothes that matched descriptions given by the witnesses.

In fact, the only item of any use at all seemed to be an address book.

Number after number, they called everybody in it.  Until they came across a man who, after much prodding, admitted that Philip Jones, Mindy’s husband, had asked him for an unregistered, untraceable gun.

The man claimed he refused. But for Phil, the story only got worse.

Det. Sorenson:  After the homicide, Philip called him later and said, “Forget we ever had that conversation about the gun.”Morrison: Did you find yourself going, “bingo!”?Det. Sorenson: Bingo!Prosecutor Darryl Perlin: It was clear that Phil Jones wouldn’t be asking someone for a gun that couldn’t be traced unless he was involved in the preparation and planning of a murder.

The case landed on the desk of Santa Barbara prosecutor Darryl Perlin.

Perlin: I knew from day one that there was no way that Melinda Jean Jones did this by herself.

Mindy, the prosecutor came to believe, made the decisions while Phil did her bidding. And so he charged both Phil and Mindy with first degree murder, then upped the ante by charging the additional factor of “lying in wait,” which if proven means a sentence of death or life without parole.

But the prosecutor knew he needed much more than a spot of DNA and a story about a gun that didn’t exist.

For one thing, there had to be some motive.

Why would two adults with no criminal pasts want to kill their former son-in-law?

The answer, Perlin was sure, had to be somewhere in the troubled marriage of Jarrod and Kelee Davidson.

Perlin: I wanted to know and understand what brought the divorce about and what went on after the divorce.

He already knew about the allegations of child molestation and how they’d been thrown out.  But now Prosecutor Perlin dug right back to the beginning.

He found, in family law documents, evidence of two young people from very different backgrounds, thrown together by an unplanned pregnancy.

Both were college kids, and though they were thrilled with their new baby, the marriage was doomed.

Kelee Davidson: Probably a few months after she was born, it started going downhill. But it wasn’t until she was eight months old that we finally separated.Morrison: What was the final straw? What made it break apart?Kelee Davidson: There was an argument that we had, where he was starting to become a little more physically violent. He didn’t hit me, but it was getting pretty close to that point.

Kelee doesn’t claim Jarrod ever hit her.  But she says that night he really frightened her, so she went to court to obtain a temporary restraining order.

Susan Davidson, Jarrod’s mother: That was the first indication of trouble down the road.Richard Davidson, Jarrod’s father: Exactly.

Again and again, say Jarrod’s parents, Kelee went to family court in what they believe was a concerted effort to keep Jarrod from seeing his daughter.  But an increasingly exasperated judge rejected most of her demands.

And that allegation of sexual abuse, say the Davidsons, was just one more baseless piece of legal harassment.

Susan Davidson: I think it was all a set up on how to get him out of her life. And that would be the final straw.

In his search through the old papers, the prosecutor also found, and read for us, a stern lecture to Kelee from the family court judge.

Perlin (reading family court judge's statement): “I severely question the way the mother is playing the game here. I question her credibility. I question her honesty. I question her respect for court orders.” 

If Kelee kept it up, the judge warned, the court could well transfer custody to Jarrod. 

Perlin: When you start looking at the family law documents, it tells you very clearly why Jarrod Davidson was murdered.Morrison: What do you mean?Perlin: Jarrod Davidson was murdered because he wanted to get full custody of his daughter.

In fact, Jarrod had obtained a court date to hear his custody appeal.  It was scheduled for July 28th: two weeks after he was murdered.

Richard Davidson: It was a long, hard decision—both on our part and his part, because we knew the type of commitment it would mean for a change of custody. He’s in a Ph.D. program. He’s working ungodly hours. But we’d talked to him on three occasions along this course, “Jarrod, do you want to continue? Jarrod, do you want to continue?” and repeatedly he said, “Yes.” And what July 28th represented was the finish line.

But murder?  To win a custody battle?

Besides, as the prosecutor already knew, Phil and Mindy Jones had an alibi for that night. And Kelee had backed it up when she testified before a grand jury.

Kelee Davidson (in court): When I called,  my mom goes, “Yeah, we’re going for a drive on the beach. It’s a beautiful night. You can see all the know, it’s really pretty.”Kelee Davidson (Dateline interview): So I told the grand jury, you know, cause they asked, “What was it made you convinced that they were at the beach?” and I said, “Well, I heard some noises in the background, very possibly could have been waves. Or it could have been the wind.”

The beach is 70 miles north of Jarrod Davidson’s apartment. If they were here all evening, as they said they were, they could not have killed Jarrod.

But were they really here?

Perlin: It was a cell tower off of U.S. Highway 101. 

Perlin subpoenaed a new tool of law enforcement:  cell phone records.  And they showed that two hours before the murder, Kelee had placed a call to her parents.

Perlin: It bounced off a panel of the cell tower which reflected that the movement of the vehicle that they were in was going south on 101.Morrison: Towards Santa Barbara?Perlin: Towards Santa Barbara. They weren’t at the beach like they claimed. They were in fact on a mission. And that mission was to assassinate Jarrod Davidson.

The cell phone records, said the prosecutor, proved something else, too:  that Kelee had lied to the grand jury about her parents’ alibi.  So Perlin charged Kelee with murder as well—for aiding and abetting her parents.

Kelee Davidson: I think they were grasping at straws. They had to find something.Morrison: They believed you were lying in order to protect your parents. Right?Kelee Davidson: They believed that. And so I believe they had to twist anything that I said to create that.

By court order, little Malia was sent to live with Jarrod’s parents, while Kelee, Phil and Mindy awaited trial, all three in the same jail, all still maintaining their innocence.

Kelee Davidson: I still, you know, believed in our innocence and that everything was going to be okay.

And then,  suddenly, a complication. And it was huge. Phil Jones, Kelee’s father, was diagnosed with aggressive, inoperable lung cancer.

Perlin: We had an oncologist who led us to believe his days were numbered.

It looked very bad for Phil Jones: terminal lung cancer.

And as he lay in a hospital bed, gasping his way daily toward death, Prosecutor Perlin offered a dramatic deal: If Phil confessed, fully admitting to what he and Melinda had done, Perlin would drop conspiracy charges against daughter Kelee. She’d plead guilty to being an accessory after the fact to the murder and for lying to the Grand Jury.

And so they signed the deal. And as a video camera hummed, Phil Jones—confessed.

The interviewer drew out the horrifying details.

(Death bed confession)Interviewer: Did you at that time determine where it was that you would stand when you would shoot Jarrod Davidson?Phil Jones:  Yes.

Phil admitted they planned it. Scouted the scene of the murder the day before: they chose that card addressed “To my teacher” and deliberately misspelled Jarrod’s name on the card.

On the night of the murder, they packed a rifle in their truck, then drove the 70 miles south to Santa Barbara where they bought the Persian violet.

Mindy placed it here just outside Jarrod’s door to lure him into a killing zone. And when he opened the door, Phil pulled the trigger.

But why did they kill him?

And now, an accusation from the past: Phil claimed Jarrod had molested little Malia... and was sure he would do so again.

Death-bed interview:Prosecutor: You said that that you and Malinda killed Jarrod because of the alleged molestation of Malia. Is that right?Phil Jones: Yes.

But a four-month investigation had found no cause to charge Jarrod with molestation.

And yet here on his deathbed, Phil Jones claimed the law had let them down— and that it was 3-year-old Malia herself who convinced him.

Phil Jones (death bed confession): Malia told me that when she and her daddy all alone sitting on the couch, he would push her panties aside and  use his finger like this… Kelee Davidson: They believe that the justice system had really let us down and my parents felt it necessary to take matters into their own hands.Keith Morrison, Dateline correspondent: To kill the father?Kelee Davidson: I don’t believe they were thinking clearly when they did that.

But, it was much worse than unclear thinking, said the judge supervising the Jones' family deal.

Judge at the hearing: Jarrod Davidson does not have the ability to respond to those allegations because you killed him. You murdered him.

Phil was sentenced to life without parole.  Everyone in the courtroom knew he wouldn’t last long.

For the reduced charges of being an accessory to the murder after the fact and of  lying to the grand jury, Kelee was sentenced to  four years at a woman’s prison in central California.

Judge (in court): “...This is a circumstance that never should have come about, clearly.”

But there was someone missing at the sentencing: Mindy Jones. She suddenly announced she would not sign the deal.

She wanted a trial.

And in a bizarre twist, the woman the prosecutor had come to believe was the real power in the family, now claimed traumatic amnesia.

She had absolutely no memory of the murder of Jarrod Davidson.

Prosecutor Darryl Perlin: She claims she remembers nothing. She claims that she doesn’t even recognize her own family members. She, in essence, draws a blank.Morrison: What did you think of that?Perlin: It was phony as a three dollar bill.

And so she was ordered to stand trial.

But before the trial could begin, the judge issued a crucial legal ruling. He would not allow any mention of that discredited sex abuse allegation.  So Mindy Jones couldn’t claim she killed Jarrod to protect her granddaughter from molestation. 

But to be fair, the judge also ruled the prosecutor could not claim Mindy killed Jarrod in an evil plan to win custody, meaning—neither side could say a word about motive.  Now that would hurt.  Question was—which side would it hurt most?

Perlin: The defense felt that there was absolutely no way that I would be able to put on a murder case without evidence of motive.

No, it wouldn’t be easy.  But that, it turned out, would not be his only problem.

From his opening statement on, prosecutor Perlin had only one option, one gameplan: lay out the evidence, piece by piece, and ignore the motive.

There was the neighbor who heard Jarrod’s dying words. A neighbor heard Jarrod say, “Help, help, they’ve killed me.”

The officer who found that Persian violet between Jarrod’s legs. There was also the witness Phil Jones had approached, asking for a gun.

Richard Jordan court testimony: He asked me to forget we had the conversation, which I thought was outrageous.

Mindy was no kindly grandmother, argued the prosecutor. She was the schemer, the planner, the Lady MacBeth, who wanted Jarrod dead but made a fatal mistake, when she left her DNA on that Persian violet. 

Prosecutor Perlin lingered over the powerful statistic—the chances of it not being Melinda’s DNA...

Prosecutor Darryl Perlin: 13 trillion to one.

It was an accumulation of damning facts about how the murder took place...  and not one mention of why. Then Perlin did something unexpected: He called a surprise witness to the stand: Phil Jones.

Remember, he had given a death bed confession but he did not die.

Though weak and on oxygen, it turned out that Phil had made a remarkable recovery in prison.

And now, to help his wife, would try to take back that confession.

But remember, the judge had already disallowed any talk of motive. So Phil was issued a stern warning out of the earshot of the jury before he began.

Perlin: You are not allowed in any way in response to any question to mention anything about child custody, visitation or child molestation.

And then, with the jury in the courtroom Phil sparred with the prosecutor.

Perlin: That’s why you went over to Vons and your wife went in to buy the plant so that you would be able to get Jarrod to come out. Correct?Phil Jones: So says you.Perlin: I’m asking you, sir. You’re the one who committed the murder.Phil Jones: I don’t consider it a murder and I resent you using that.Perlin: Well, did you kill him? Phil Jones: I did.

Didn’t consider it murder?  Phil had been warned by the judge not to talk about motive—that discredited allegation of sex abuse. But here, he seemed to be pushing the envelope.

Even as prosecutor Perlin tried to maintain control, Phil hinted for the jury at some powerful, unstated reason for killing Jarrod.

Phil Jones: We were not plotting or conniving. We were very upset. It was a spur of the moment thing.

Here in the courtroom, Mindy was seeing her dying husband for the first time in 8 months, as he tried to help dig her out of the mess they both created. For the first time in the trial, she began to cry.

Would a jury believe she and her husband were as evil as the prosecutor claimed?

Perlin: They decided to take the life of a father, graduate student, a person who had his whole life ahead of him. And they did it with an evil purpose. That purpose to end his life.

But was that the only explanation?

The trial had drawn a bit of a crowd here in the old Santa Barbara courthouse—a crowd that seemed mystified by a very unusual defense. 

No opening statement, no cross examination of the prosecution’s star witness, cross examination of only half the other witnesses,  for that matter. 

But why would the defense attorney adopt this strategy?

Robert Landheer, defense attorney: I had no case that I could put on after the rulings of the court.Morrison: It basically cut the rug out from under you.Landheer: Yeah.

The prosecution had called almost 40 witnesses—now the defense called just three, not one of whom seemed to offer anything to help Mindy Jones’ case.

Defense attorney Robert Landheer seemed almost aimless as he tried to chip away at the overwhelming evidence against Mindy, increasingly frustrated by the restrictions placed on his client by the court.

Thwarted at every turn from telling Phil and Mindy’s story, he looked like he might give up.

When the opportunity came to cross examine the prosecution’s star witness, Phil, he decided the risk was just too big.

But here, as the trial drew to its close, observers sensed that Landheer had little left to lose.  He looked straight at the members of the jury—challenged them to think about why.

The air grew tense in here. Landheer seemed about to take his chance... and raised the forbidden topic of motive.

Landheer: It is the context of what we do and how it is explained that makes it a crime or not a crime. It is the context ladies and gentlemen, that you do not have in this case.Perlin:  I would object to what counsel has just indicated.

At the heart of sunwashed Santa Barbara, in one of America’s most exquisitely preserved halls of justice, a grey, slightly dumpy woman, looking far older than her 51 years, moved silently in and out—betraying nothing, of character, of lost memory, of love for family or of motive.

Mindy Jones did not take the stand; her lawyer seemed to walk a tortured path as he looked to the jury and hinted darkly at what they had  not been told.

Defense attorney Robert Landheer: I attempted to present some evidence, I couldn’t. When I attempted, in my pedestrian way, to inform you of something that I thought was important for the defense, you didn’t hear it.

And by the time it was over, and the case finally went to the jury. Its members were, quite simply, wrung out—seven of them met with us on the afternoon of their decision.

Juror 1: I don’t even know what my emotions are right now.

There were two homemakers,  a customer service representative, a graphic designer, a retired radio announcer and a pharmacist.

And, perhaps because this is Santa Barbara, the jury foreman happened to be a CEO. 

Jury foreman: We had to judge on the facts of the murder...Keith Morrison, Dateline correspondent: ...alone.Jury foreman: On the facts and not on why.

But it’s often impossible to know just what a jury will think of the evidence, ...especially when it’s accompanied by a motive that is never addressed directly, but only hinted at repeatedly.

Juror 2: I was really appalled at what the defense did. You know, bringing up things that or hinting at things that were not even brought up in the trial.

In fact, the jury was so confused by what it considered a lack of a coherent defense, it had some wondering.

Juror 3: ...if it was a strategy.Morrison: What would the strategy be?Juror 3: I don’t know what could be expected of him, but I felt like he failed her.Foreman: He said nothing on behalf of the defendant, like, “She’s a good woman. They had a happy family.” We never heard any positive endorsement of the defendant.

It was a Monday, mid-day, when the jury filed back into Judge Ochoa’s courtroom. Silent, grey, Mindy Jones sat and stared.

The verdict: Guilty of the crime of murder in the first degree.

Guilty of consipiracy, of lying in wait, of planning and committing the cold-blooded execution of her own son-in-law.

Outside the courtroom, Jarrod’s parents let their pent up emotion fill the building.

Richard Davidson: We belong to a club now that we never wanted to be in. It’s called “family of murdered victims.”

When Dateline spoke to the released jurors and revealed details of those defense allegations withheld from them... there was a very slight pause, and then:

Juror 3: Well, there’s other things to do about that besides murdering him, you know. Juror 1: I don’t think it would have mattered. We weren’t trying Jarrod for abuse. We were there trying somebody for murder.

But for Defense Attorney Robert Landheer, the fact that the jurors never heard Mindy’s defense represented a lack of justice. She had not been permitted to tell jurors that she and her husband had feared for the safety of their granddaughter—even if that fear was unfounded.

Landheer: Constitutionally, she had a right to present a plausible defense. That is, a defense to first degree murder. And I wasn’t ever suggesting that if she was involved in it, she would walk away from it. I was suggesting that’s voluntary manslaughter.

But not to the prosecutor, nor in the end to the jury. To them, the death of Jarrod Davidson was quite simply a cold, premeditated murder.

On October 16th, Melinda Jones became the third and final member of the Jones family to be sentenced in Jarrod’s death. She was given a term of life without parole.

She has vowed to appeal.

In his prison hospice, Phil Jones is still holding out against the cancer, and is now trying to withdraw his guilty plea.

In her prison cell, Kelee Davidson draws pictures for the daughter she hasn’t seen in over two years... including incredibly one of Jarrod...

Kelee Davidson: I thought maybe Malia would like to have a picture of her father to remember him.

Kelee is scheduled for released in July of 2007.

She is determined, she says, to regain custody of Malia.

Today, with her parents in prison for life, her daughter fatherless, and her ex-husband dead, she still denies that the sad, sordid, tragic mess had much to do with her.

Keith Morrison, Dateline correspondent: Do you take any personal responsibility for the way things turned out?Kelee Davidson: I guess in some ways, yes, I do feel guilt. But I feel guilt for something that I didn’t really have much control over.

Today, Malia lives with Jarrod’s parents, who care for her as they mourn their son and defend his memory from the continuing attacks of the family that killed him.

Richard Davidson, Jarrod's father: We have a bit of bittersweet because we have Malia, and we can see her grow through what should have been his eyes. It’s heart-wrenching when her training wheels came off of her bike and she said, unsolicited, “My daddy would be proud of me.” And you have to not cry. you have to say, “Yes, sweetie, your daddy would be really proud of you.”

Malia started first grade this year. The Davidsons say she is doing as well as can be expected, although the 6-year-old does see a therapist on a regular basis.