IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

The stranger

After a kind family takes in a charming and mysterious stranger, they discover what he was really escaping from a little too late.
Dateline NBC

He'd been a runner in the past. And he would run again -- leaving unbearable grief behind, creating more heartache as he moved across the country.

Donna Dobson: Like the tsunami that you have to pick up the pieces afterwards. A lot of the pieces cannot be picked up.

It all started during his marriage to this woman.

Kathy Rysgaard: She was my baby sister. She was my sweet, baby sister.

Jean Kilduff grew up in a large Irish Catholic working class family in St. Paul, Minn. She was the youngest of four girls, sandwiched between two boys. Jean was known for being thoughtful and cheery. She was an absolute doll, her oldest sister, Kathy, says. She loved reading and especially enjoyed mystery novels.

Kathy Rysgaard: Jean was a wonderful woman. Just kind, good-hearted, sweet, smart. I can't say enough good about Jean and how many friends she had, how beloved she was.

Lucky as she was in her own family, Jean seemed to have been equally blessed in the man she chose.

She met Gordon Weaver in college. He was an excellent athlete, a competitive runner. Jean was attracted to his good looks, keen intellect and what seemed like a promising future.

Gordon was from an upper-middle class family. His father was the one-time dean of the pharmacy school at the University of Minnesota, so distinguished he'd had a building named in part after him.

The couple married in 1981. The following year, Gordon earned his master’s in business and they moved to California, where he took a job at a large construction company. The following year they had a son, Sean, the delight of Jean's life.

Kathy Rysgaard: She was a wonderful mother.

To outward appearances, they were the perfect family. But the move to California had sealed a secret.

What no one, not even her family knew, was that the marriage had been toxic almost from the start.

Kathy Rysgaard: We later found out that he was emotionally abusive to her out there. When they finally moved back here, she told us, and they separated shortly after that.

Her other sister, Colleen, says that even from the beginning, Gordon was aloof, reluctant to socialize with the rest of the close-knit family.

Sara James (Dateline NBC): Would you describe him as a loner? Colleen Dropps: Definitely a loner who communicated better with the kids than with the adults.

In 1987, Jean moved out with their son Sean. But Jean's sisters say Gordon pleaded with his wife to move back home, and after four years, she did so -- for the sake of their child.

Colleen Dropps: She wanted to keep her family intact. Kathy Rysgaard: I think it was okay for a while. They went on a European trip, but it - I remember it wasn't long after that that things started to go sour again.

Sometime in late 1998 Jean confided in Colleen that her marriage to Gordon was in name only.

Colleen Dropps: She said that Gordy lives in the basement and had for the past year and she had the bedroom upstairs.

Colleen says Jean told her she was going to hang on until Sean graduated high school in 2001. But in 1997, a traumatic illness in the family would change everything. The fourth Kilduff sister -- Patty -- was diagnosed with brain cancer.

Kathy Rysgaard: We just surrounded her with love and care. The final day she waited until everyone was there and then she passed.

It was May 1999. And then there were just three Kilduff sisters.

Colleen Dropps: Once Patty died, it was like your world can change in a day. Jean realized that. Kathy Rysgaard: That is when Jean knew -- time to get out. Life is too short. Colleen Dropps: She wanted a new life. She was excited about making changes.

The sisters say that Jean told Gordon in August 1999 she wanted a divorce.

Colleen Dropps: She told him, "This is it. I can't do this anymore."

She told her sisters he'd asked her to reconsider, to give it some more time. She reluctantly agreed, but continued to plan for her future as a single mom. Part of her plan was to find a new job more in keeping with her growing skills.

Jean eventually was recruited to be a human resources executive.

Kathy Rysgaard: She was very excited to be starting a new life. She was going to divorce her husband. She was going to move on.

As summer turned to autumn, the trees flamed scarlet and gold. Jean, who had just turned 40, seemed to glow just as brightly. On Saturday, Oct. 16, the sisters were meeting for a weekend at Colleen's cabin in northern Minnesota.

Jean planned to meet Kathy at her home, and they would drive north together.

Kathy Rysgaard: She was supposed to be here at a certain time. And she didn't show up. Sara James: Were you worried? Kathy Rysgaard: Oh! I called their house. The phone was like dead. I told my husband something's wrong, something is just wrong. So we got in the car and started driving to her house. Sara James: You had a bad feeling. Kathy Rysgaard: Oh my God, yes. We get to her house. Her car was in the garage. I ran around to the front of the house. She had a big picture window and it was all black. So I ran to the front door and I heard beeping and then it's when it hit me that that's the fire alarm.

Terrified, Kathy called out to her husband to phone 911 as she tried to get into the house, but the smoke was too black and oily.

Kathy Rysgaard: I smashed her bedroom window open and she wasn't in there. And then all we could do was wait for the firefighters to come. And I just, oh, was praying and praying.

When firefighters arrived on the scene, they made their way into the smoke-filled home, where they discovered Jean lying face down in the basement laundry room.

Kathy Rysgaard: They wouldn't let me go near her, and they -- I understood that she was still alive when they brought her out and that they were working on her. And I remember thinking, you know, this is bad. And then the fire chief came over and said she was gone.

A fire. Their beloved sister dead. What could have happened? Was this a terrible accident -- or something far more sinister?

When firefighters pulled Jean Kilduff Weaver out of her basement that October Saturday in 1999, the choking, black oily smoke made it instantly appear she must have died of smoke inhalation.

But when firefighters lifted the limp woman, they discovered she also had a life-threatening injury.

Kathy Rysgaard: She had that terrible head wound.

Jean Weaver had a massive, deep bloody gash in the back of her head. Had someone attacked her?

Kathy Rysgaard: My husband saw her and said her shirt was ripped.

What's more, it quickly became obvious that this fire was no accident. Chemical accelerants had been poured around the basement -- including directly onto Jean herself.

That day, Jean's relatives tried to locate her husband, Gordon. They called the indoor golf and tennis club he owned.

Sara James: And what did Gordy say? Colleen Dropps: He, according to my husband, just acted really matter of fact and said, "Well, you know, he left that morning at such and such a time and she was getting ready to leave -- he didn't know anything about it." Sara James: Didn't act at all-- Colleen Dropps: No, just totally acted normal.

The police questioned Gordon, who told them he knew nothing about any of it. His wife had been perfectly fine when he'd left for work that morning.

But police didn't believe him. Neither did Jean's sisters.

Kathy Rysgaard: I said to the first cop on the scene, "Her husband has done this." Sara James: What made you so sure? Kathy Rysgaard: Because that she had told him she wanted a divorce and that he was a control freak. And I bet anything he went - he was mad that she was going away that weekend. And he went to confront her and he was mad and I think he shoved her so hard. After she was unconscious, he saw his chance. He set the house on fire. He set her on fire.

Jean's sisters say there was another reason they were suspicious of their sister's husband -- timing.

They say while Jean initially agreed to Gordon’s request to reconsider getting a divorce -- on Oct. 13, three days before the fire -- she'd told them she'd warned Gordon that his time was up.

Colleen Dropps: Unlike in August when he had been very upset about it, he was very calm and matter of fact that Wednesday morning. And he said, "You know, this isn't what I want." Sara James: Why didn't he want it? Given the way they were living, why would he want to go on that way? Colleen Dropps: We thought maybe it had to do with the fact that he was struggling in his business and she was supporting the family. That it was a control issue. He didn't want - he didn't want her to be the one that left him.

The sisters say that Gordon’s golf and tennis club was in financial trouble. They believe he was counting on his wife's income from her new job to make ends meet. What would he do when she divorced him?

Kathy Rysgaard: I just can't get over the fact that my sister was treated like a piece of trash by him.

Police wasted no time. Two weeks later, they arrested Gordon Weaver for second-degree murder and first-degree arson.

Surprisingly, he was granted bail -- he wouldn't have to await trial in jail. Then it looked like the charges were going to be even more serious.

Just before he was to be indicted for first-degree murder in March 2000, he disappeared. The last trace of him? His mother's car, which he had been driving. Police found it abandoned, 400 miles away in suburban Chicago -- with blood inside. At a nearby hotel, police also found some of his personal items: clothing and medication for depression.

Colleen got the news when she was at her brother Rich's house.

Colleen Dropps: I was totally shocked. I can still remember that day. Rich got the phone call and turned around and said, "They can't find him. He's gone."

Gordon Weaver was not only gone, but his parents said they feared he was dead. In December that year, his mother sent out this Christmas letter in which she wrote what they thought had happened.

It read: "In October of 1999 a fall and a fire in their home took Jean's life... Gordy suffered deep depression which was exacerbated when he was charged in Jean's death and faced multiple legal complications. In March, while on a trip to Illinois, he disappeared... We do not believe that he is still living...”

Around the time that Gordon Weaver went missing -- his parents say he was probably dead -- a stranger named David Carson arrived in Eugene, Ore.

While staying at a motel in town, he answered an ad for a room to rent at this rooming house owned by Jaime Jaramillo. It would be a chance meeting that triggered unforeseen and seismic consequences.

Jaime Jaramillo: I feel sad for him. There were tears in his eyes.

When David Carson showed up at the rooming house, he had little more than a baseball cap, duffel bag, running shoes, and a tale of woe about a tragic accident, back in Maine. He had no bank account, but ample cash, and offered to pay Jaime three months rent in advance. Soon after the stranger moved in, Jaime introduced him to his son, Jon, who also heard his sad history.

Jon Jaramillo: His story was that his wife and two daughters had died in a car crash. He was the driver and the car burst into flames and they all perished in the car wreck, but he survived. You just immediately - you feel compassion for the person, thinking, "Oh, you know, what a tragic thing."

The stranger was convincing. And Jaime, the father, quickly grew fond of the quiet, intelligent man from Maine.

And it turned out, he was very handy -- especially when it came to construction. Jaime, who was recovering from prostate cancer and was 67 at the time, needed someone just like David to help him out at his home in Florence, Ore., 60 miles west of his business in Eugene.

Within a few weeks, Jaime invited the stranger to stay at what he called "the ranch," the spacious, secluded hilltop dream house he shared with his wife, Lueene.

Jaime Jaramillo: I like him very much. That's why I invite him here.

Jaime and Lueene had many friends - especially from their church - none closer than Richard and Donna Dobson.

Donna Dobson: They were full of electricity. Full of life, kind of the center place for people to gather and have food and fellowship.

The Jaramillos soon began considering the stranger a part of the family. And their church friends took to him as well.

Donna Dobson: I just thought he was a quiet, nice guy. Richard Dobson: He was always helping people with projects. Wouldn't charge a nickel. Sara James: And he did a good job, right? Richard Dobson: Yeah, real good job.

Especially on this sunroom he helped build onto the Jaramillos' home in the summer of 2000.

David also made an impact by helping out with two grandsons who were living with the Jaramillos. He paid the boys a lot of attention and they soon grew attached to him.

Joconda Nielson: I was divorced at the time and the two boys needed some sort of a friend or father figure.

Joconda Nielson is a daughter of the Jaramillos and the boys' mother.

Joconda Nielson: And they had a lot of fun with David. He spent a lot of time with them.

He helped the boys with homework, which improved their grades, took them on runs through the hills and built bonfires with them.

Eventually the daughter herself become close with the stranger and they developed an intimate relationship. But there was always something about him which troubled her.

Joconda Nielson: He held back from me. He couldn't really express a lot of his feelings through words like couples do. And the closer we got together, the further away he got away from me.

It must be because of that horrible car crash, she thought. Still, he was becoming an integral part of the family and their community.

Jon Jaramillo: He's becoming like a big hit in the home, in the family, with everybody.

But not exactly with everybody. There was one member of the family who was never quite comfortable with him. Jon himself had doubts about David Carson. Just who was this guy? Was he really who he claimed to be?

Jon Jaramillo: I tried to do some research, trying to look up a name, David Carson, anything I could find, even a story about some family that died in a car crash in Maine. Sara James: And did you have any luck? Jon Jaramillo: No, no, I couldn't find anything.

His father even had a criminal background check conducted on David Carson - and that, too, came back clean.

Meanwhile, as Jaime spent much of each week working in Eugene, his wife was at the ranch with their grandsons and David. She seemed increasingly enchanted by the stranger, despite her being a generation older, especially after he began attending her church.

Jon Jaramillo: Whenever I would question or voice my suspicions, she would always come back with, "Well, he's such a great Christian man. He doesn't drink, he doesn't smoke, he doesn't swear. He's not a womanizer and he's helped the kids. The kids love him.” Sara James: He sounds like a perfect guy. Jon Jaramillo: You couldn't ask for like, you know, a better person. And so I - whenever she'd go on this laundry list of things of how great he was, I’m saying, "Well, mom, there's just not something -- there's something not right about this guy." Sara James: Your mom was bewitched -- Jon Jaramillo: Absolutely, absolutely. Sara James: Entranced. Jon Jaramillo: Yes.

If only they'd known who he was. Did Jon sense it? On some level he knew something wasn't quite right with this man.

David Carson had arrived by train in Oregon in the spring of 2000, running from what he said were horrible memories of a fiery crash in Maine that killed his family.

Now he'd insinuated himself into an unsuspecting family, who, along with their friends, had embraced the helpful stranger. He'd made a good impression on nearly everyone, although, as they got to know him over the years, some things about him were more than just odd.

Jaime Jaramillo: He says he won't ever drive a car. He is traumatized by driving. Sara James: Did he ever get on a plane? Jaime Jaramillo: No, he took a train. Sara James: Did he have a bank account? Jaime Jaramillo: No bank account. He had cash. He had a lot of cash.

Cash, David told them, from a computer consulting business he was able to run from his room in Florence. And there was one more thing.

Donna Dobson: He never had any pictures of his wife and daughters. There just was something that just didn't ring true to me. But I didn't talk about it to anybody because I didn't have anything to go on other that what he said.

After all, David had contact with relatives -- especially an Aunt Rita, who called him often. He also spoke lovingly about a nephew. Meantime, David increasingly was inserting himself into the midst of the Jaramillo clan.

As the months passed, the father spent more and more days in Eugene, tending to rental properties, while David remained at the ranch with the wife, Lueene, and the couple's grandchildren.

Donna Dobson: It was a very gradual thing that things began to change because he became more in control and Jaime was kind of just being less -- Sara James: Pushed out? Donna Dobson: It was a gradual thing. Sara James: Is that how you saw--? Donna Dobson: And my husband and I, we were both aware of it because we talked about it between us. We didn't talk to Jaime and Lueene or anybody else, but we talked about it - that something happening that we felt very sad to see happening.

Looking back, Jaime says he should have seen what was happening. He was losing his wife.

Jaime Jaramillo: That's why I call him master of manipulation. Jon Jaramillo: He is a master of manipulation. He is like a chess player, someone like a Bobby Fischer, who's always thinking 10 moves ahead.

But back then, all they knew was that they felt increasingly unwelcome at the ranch -- it seemed the stranger was becoming the man of the house. Jaime felt anxious and sad - but wasn't sure how to handle the situation. While his son wondered - and worried - what this man, who was already causing a rift in the family, was really up to.

Could he hurt the family even more in some way? There was one more reason to worry -- he had a fascination with fire.

Jon Jaramillo: He just seemed to be so enthralled with fire. That he'll pour gasoline into the anthills and light up the anthills to kill the ants and pour gasoline down into the mole holes.

Then one night in late 2002, two and half years after David arrived in Oregon, a friend of Jon’s called to say he'd caught the tail end of "America’s Most Wanted" and had seen a picture of a man who looked eerily like David. Jon immediately called his mom.

Sara James: What was your mother's response? Jon Jaramillo: "Oh, ridiculous - that's just absurd." And she said, "Honey, we already did a background check on him and he came out clean." I said, "Mom, this is really serious. I can just call them. They can verify. He doesn't even have to know." Sara James: And was she game to do this? Jon Jaramillo: She's like, "No, no." She says, "You're just going to create a lot of heartache for someone who's already been through enough losing his family. And it's not him. It can't be him."

Jon tried to put the matter out of his mind, but was still deeply troubled that David Carson seemed to be splitting the family apart. He spent less and less time at the ranch.

Then on Mother's Day, 2004, he decided to make a special effort to see his mom. He was shocked by how the situation had deteriorated. Their close family friend was there as well.

Donna Dobson: Lueene said, "David will not come and eat at the table with Jaime." That's how the disrespect had grown to that magnitude.

Jon said his dad seemed utterly defeated. But rather than tell David Carson to leave his home, he decided he should be the one to go.

Jon Jaramillo: So then two days later, my father calls me on the phone and he says, "I know I’ve come to a decision. I am not going to go back to the ranch anymore. I'm not going to live there. I'm not wanted there. I'm not happy there - I get a terrible knot in my stomach every time I drive up the road.”

Indeed, his dad even seemed a little afraid of the stranger. And there was more.

Jon Jaramillo: "So I’ve decided I’m going to just give them the house. I'm going to sign it over to them." Sara James: What did you think? Jon Jaramillo: I was like, "What?? I don't understand this."

Jaime explained that he wanted his 65-year-old wife to be happy. Since she seemed infatuated with David, 18 years her junior, and together they were doing a good job raising the grandsons, Jaime felt his best option was to step aside -- on one condition.

Jon Jaramillo: He says, "I’ve made the decision, but before I do that I want you to help me find out who this David Carson really is." I said, "Well what do you mean? Why? I thought you guys already did a background check." He goes, "Well, yes, but that was -- we didn't get satisfactory results." He had ran the social security number, it came back as invalid.

His father had ignored that problem with the social security number because no crimes were found in David’s past.

Jon suddenly had a very bad feeling.

Jon Jaramillo: My partner said, "Your face is like completely white. You look like you've seen a ghost." And I said, "no, I think – I think that my friend was right. I think that that guy was on America’s Most Wanted."

Jon immediately logged onto the show's Web site and started scanning the mug shots of men who'd appeared on the program since the fall of 1999, shortly before David arrived in Oregon. And that's when he saw it -- a photo of a man who looked a lot like David Carson in a show that had aired in late 2000. He downloaded the picture and blew it up to an 8 x 10 for a closer inspection.

Jon Jaramillo: He had changed his hair color - he didn't have the grey. He wasn't wearing the glasses and he had a goatee and he had put on weight. But I thought, "This really looks a lot like him."

Trembling, hardly able to believe the evidence, Jon rushed over to his dad's home in Eugene, showing the photo to his father and a visiting friend.

Jon Jaramillo: And I put the picture down on the table and I said, "Does this look like anybody you know?" and they both said, "It's David!" And I go, "Well, it's not David. His name is Gordon Weaver and he murdered his wife in Minnesota."

A stranger with a sob story had charmed his way into Jaime Jaramillo's family. His wife had been bewitched by him -- especially after he'd starting attending her church. Now, Jaime had just been told the man was not only a liar, but an accused killer.

Jaime Jaramillo: I was in shock. I tell you -- I had tears about this because I feel pain for my grandchildren, for my wife and I care about him. Sara James: Even though he was pushing you out of your own home. Jaime Jaramillo: Yes, that's who I am.

As Jaime and his son, Jon, sat absorbing the news, there was a knock on the door.

Jon Jaramillo: All of a sudden, who shows up but my friend who saw him on America’s Most Wanted. Walks in the door. He sees the picture on the table, he goes, "Oh my God, that's the guy I saw on America’s most wanted." Sara James: Confirmation. Jon Jaramillo: I was like, "Oh my God, we've got to call."

Just two days after what was supposed to have been a sweet Mother's Day celebration, everything had changed. The man at the center of the family crisis, the stranger who had lived in the Jaramillo home for four years, had been unmasked.

Sara James: What was it like for you to realize that this man, who your family had trusted, was wanted in another state on charges of murdering his wife? Jon Jaramillo: I was totally distraught. I felt horrible. I sobbed for hours and hours.

Jon had made contact with an FBI agent. The following morning, he called his mother to make sure she was at work.

Jon Jaramillo: And I knew the kids were at school, so I called the agent and I said, 'Go get him.' And they came here and they pretended to be church workers coming to talk to him. Sara James: And arrested him Jon Jaramillo: And they arrested him without incident.

For the four years David Carson lived at the ranch, he'd been pretending to be someone he was not -- even perfecting his deceit right under their noses. In his room at the Jaramillo home, authorities found these 20 books on how to get a new identity and disappear.

Sara James: Did you think, "Certainly now my mom will be so relieved that I’ve helped her?" Jon Jaramillo: I thought she would be relieved, she would be happy and that the whole family could rally around this incident. But yet she said that he was innocent, that all of it was just false accusations, lies.

But the lies were actually those of David Carson, aka Gordon Weaver. So how had Weaver turned into Carson? Well, he'd had some help from his parents.

Remember: They are affluent, respected and accomplished - his father is a retired college dean with a building named after him. Those calls from "Aunt Rita"? They were really from his mother. And his father had obtained a credit card for him in the name of David Carson. They also met up with him a couple times in other cities over those years.

And from letters he sent to his parents, it's clear they were in on the plot from the beginning. In one he wrote:

"…like mom said,'Try out your options, you can always kill yourself later.'"

One of those options was to try to take on the identity of a real person. He suggested someone "with AIDS, cancer or some form of terminal disease." That was particularly disturbing to Jaime, who, as Gordon Weaver knew, had had cancer, and his son, who is HIV-positive.

Jon Jaramillo: It sent chills through me when I read it.

Jon says Gordon Weaver apparently chose well -- picking his family - with more than its share of dysfunction and problems - though they'd always found common ground before -- then slowly, inexorably, widening gaps, preying on weaknesses, until the family broke apart.

Jon Jaramillo: He made himself so indispensable and so loved that he divided our family to the point where we are completely all torn apart.

The break-up of the Jaramillo family, though, was collateral damage as Gordon Weaver ran from a real crime. After all, during the four years he lived with the family in Oregon, Jean's family back in Minnesota had been waiting for justice -- waiting for Gordon Weaver to go on trial for murder.

Kathy Rysgaard: Prolonging our suffering. It's all about him. Never about anybody else.

Gordon Weaver was accused of causing a serious head injury and then setting his wife on fire. It certainly seemed like an open and shut first-degree murder case. And after running from his crime, he would finally go to prison for the rest of his life. Or would he?

It seemed like a clear-cut case of murder in the first-degree: after all, the victim not only had a major head wound, she'd also been set ablaze.

Colleen Dropps: That is somebody that has absolutely no emotion. How can you do that to someone you profess to love?

But this case turned out not to be so straightforward. The key question in the November, 2005 trial of Gordon Weaver -- exactly what caused his wife's death? The gash in her head? Or the fire? This was far more than a legalistic, academic argument. Hanging in the balance was whether or not Gordon Weaver -- the one-time runner who'd been caught -- would go to prison for the rest of his life.

Shannon Prather covered the trial for the St. Paul Pioneer Press. She said prosecutors described what they believe happened in the Weavers’ basement: Gordon was so angry about Jean wanting a divorce, he attacked her, pushing her onto a cement wash basin, causing a deep gash in her head and rendering her unconscious. He then lit her on fire.

This, they argued, was the act of a cold-blooded killer.

Shannon Prather: Instead of calling 911, instead of rendering aid, he left his wife, who was severely injured and bleeding, face down on -- you know, cold, hard concrete of the basement floor. And picked up chemicals and poured it on her body and lit a match.

The prosecution told the jury that tests conducted at the time revealed that, indeed, smoke inhalation, not the head wound, killed Jean.

Shannon Prather: They relied heavily on the medical examiner's testimony. She took the stand and she describes, first of all, that they had found soot in her airways and her nose, past her vocal cords. They said it was proof that she would -- was breathing for at least 10 minutes after the fire, which means the head wound hadn't been immediately fatal.

An intentional act, prosecutors contended, by a calculating man who set the fire to cover his tracks and ensure that his wife died.

Shannon Prather: They argued that Gordon Weaver was meticulous, that he was not a spontaneous person that he was not hard-wired to be that way. He planned everything in his life.

The state argued the motive was control. His wife, Jean, wanted a divorce and the prosecutor's theory was: if Gordon Weaver couldn't have Jean, no one could -- not even the couple's son Sean.

What's more, prosecutors said, the defendant had practically admitted guilt by running away.

But, the defense argued that this wasn't murder but manslaughter, little more than an accident. How could that be? They said Gordon Weaver never intended to kill his wife, and they put Gordon himself on the stand to try to prove that. It would be the first time he'd spoken publicly about that October morning in 1999.

And testifying, his defense team said, was proof that he was coming clean about what happened that day.

Sara James: Is he a cold-blooded murderer? Friedberg: No, absolutely not.

Gordon Weaver wouldn't speak to Dateline, but his attorney Joseph Friedberg -- considered one of the best in the Twin Cities -- would.

Friedberg says the couple got into a spat about Jean's decision to spend the weekend at her sister's, when Gordon wanted her to attend their son's soccer game.

The attorney showed the jury this animated reenactment of what Gordon says happened next.

Friedberg: He said he got annoyed at her and he pushed her with his forearm. She stepped back from the push. She put her hand out behind her and she grabbed onto one of these collapsible dowel driers, which collapsed causing her to fall backwards in an unprotected fall. Her back of her head hit the concrete washbasin that was right behind her. Her brain herniated and impacted her brain stem.

Friedberg says when Gordon saw what he'd done, he became desperate.

Friedberg: He was shocked. There was blood all over the place. He got down. He picked her up. He felt for her pulse. He could detect neither breathing nor a pulse. Sara James: Why doesn't he call 911? Friedberg: Because he panicked. He thought she was dead -- which is another reason for not calling 911. Not a good one, but a reason. He panicked and that's when he burned the house down.

This wasn't premeditated, Friedberg argues, but an impulsive act.

Sara James: That's a pretty big panic. This isn't a teenager; this is a grown man. Friedberg: It's a big panic. Bad choice, but it's our position that that isn't what killed his wife. If Gordy Weaver had called 911, they wouldn't have been able to save her - that's for sure - because that was a fatal head injury. She'd have never survived the injury.

So as despicable as it was to set the fire, Friedberg told the jury, legally, it was irrelevant because Jean had died from the head wound and Gordon hadn't meant to kill his wife when he pushed her. That meant this wasn't first-degree murder, but unintentional manslaughter.

Sara James: I'm sure that the prosecution was able to say, "Look, this is a guy who's lied all these times -- why should we believe his version of events?" Shannon Prather: The prosecution said, "’Lliar' seems like a strong word but that's exactly what this man is. And he's a shrewd liar. The best lie is the one closest to the truth."

So who would the jury believe? And what would they decide? After more than 24 hours of deliberation, the jury, in effect, split the difference.

Gordon Weaver was convicted of second-degree unintentional murder and sentenced to 25 years in prison. But that verdict was overturned on appeal, largely due to questions about lab testing used by prosecutors in their case. Gordon Weaver has been granted a new trial. Given that he's a proven flight risk, he remains in prison.

Despite the heartache Gordon Weaver, aka David Carson, created, first and foremost in Minnesota and then in Oregon, he still has his defenders. And not just his own mother and father, who were both charged with aiding an offender.

His mother admitted in court they had helped their son and was sentenced to community service, while the case against his father was dropped because of a medical condition.

In Oregon, Jaime Jaramillo's daughter, who says the break-up of her family was inevitable, still speaks fondly of her one-time lover who abandoned his own son but helped raise her two boys.

Joconda Nielson: I'm grateful to that he came to our family because he helped me to change and grow. He helped my boys to become young, wonderful men.

And her mom appears even more devoted. She has moved to Iowa, her home state, which happens to be closer to Gordon Weaver's prison cell, and she often visits him there.

Such support is impossible to comprehend for Jean's sisters.

Kathy Rysgaard: I think Gordon Weaver is a monster. Sara James: In his writings, he wrote, "Jean has forgiven me." Kathy Rysgaard: My sister would never forgive him for taking her away from her son whom she adored. She would never forgive him for trying to destroy our family. Colleen Dropps: He just took one of the most precious people. He just yanked her away from us. Kathy Rysgaard: It is destruction to lose someone like that.

No date has been set for Gordon Weaver's new trial. Because of the Constitutional protection against double jeopardy, Weaver can't face any charge more severe than the one he was convicted of in the first trial: Second-degree unintentional murder.