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Cause for alarm

The debate over whether a wife shot her cheating husband divided everyone – including jurors for two trials.
/ Source: Dateline NBC

It was a warm early June night in Jackson, Miss. Elicia Hughes had just closed up her third-grade classroom for the summer.

The 32-year-old teacher had been over at her parents with her two kids earlier.

Her husband Brian wasn't home yet. He'd gone out to with his brother.

Elicia Hughes: Brian had a very erratic schedule. So it was not uncommon for him to get home late. So I didn't sit up and wait on Brian.

That night, June 3, 2004, she put the two girls — one 3, the other 4 — in the big bed with her.

Now, after 10 o'clock, she could barely stay away as she read in the master bedroom.  

Elicia Hughes: It was like I’m in bed, I’m reading a book and kind of started dozing off.  

Then, a little after 7 p.m., she said she heard a " pop pop pop" noise.

Elicia Hughes: I couldn’t even really figure out if it was inside of the house or outside of the house. And then hearing that alarm sound that made me aware that was the popping sound was probably something pertaining to my house.

Her husband Brian was known as a security conscious guy. And the alarm he'd had installed --the kind you have to arm and disarm on entering and leaving --was blaring.

Elicia Hughes: It wasn’t even the thought of dealing with the pops, it was the thought of dealing with the alarm.

She got up and looked at the bedroom keypad to disarm the horn, she said, but couldn't remember the code. She started walking down the hallway.

Elicia Hughes: I’m looking outside and I don't see anything.  And then I kind of glanced across the foyer and I see Brian laying in the living room.  And his back is to me, and he's facing the couch.  And the first thing I felt was relief because I thought, oh, he is here.  He is at home.  He can handle this.  And it never, it did not enter my mind at that point that he was hurt.

Brian Hughes, her 32-year-old husband, was on the floor near the coach, not moving.

The alarm was still going off and the front door was open.

Elicia Hughes: Worse case scenario: I thought that he was intoxicated.  And one of his friends had brought him home and just laid him on the floor, and I was, okay, you need to get better friends.  So I go over to him, and I’m on the floor beside him.  And I’m touching his back, and I’m saying, "Brian, Brian."  I said, "The alarm is going off.  I need you to help me.  I need to turn it off.  What’s the code?" And at the point, I realized that he's moaning.  And I didn't know what to do.  And as I was touching him, I felt blood and he was there, and he was hurt.  And my mind was racing.

Brian and Elicia had met in high school when they were 17. He spied her through the door of her classroom and made a point of talking to her, the pretty girl who'd been chosen Miss Lanier High.

Elicia Hughes: He was so outgoing. He was such a people person. And he had a way about him that made you feel important.

Early on, they were more friends than a couple.

Elicia had graduated college, taught a little, then worked in insurance before she and Brian finally became engaged.

They married in 1999 when they were both 27.

Brian had served in the Air Force and for the past few years had been working alongside his dad at the Delphi Packard plant where he fabricated moldings for the automobile electrical supply company.

The overtime was good and Brian was pulling in upwards of $60,000 a year.

Two kids.

Two paychecks.

A single-story ranch with plenty of family nearby, always up for babysitting and backyard barbecues.

Now at 11:15 at night, Brian was lying on the floor of his home, not passed out drunk as Elicia first thought, but riddled with multiple gunshot wounds.

Elicia Hughes: I did not realize that he had been shot until I was kneeling on the ground beside him. There were some shell casings that I stepped over going into the living room, and I’m just you know putting these things together. And you know I’m figuring out that he's been shot.

About then the phone rang. It was the alarm company, someone asking what was going on there.

As the alarm company notified the police, Elicia says she took stock the best she could: Husband shot. Who and where was the shooter now?

Dennis Murphy, NBC Correspondent: Do you worry that this guy might be in the house, and maybe has even gotten back to where you were with the children?

Elicia Hughes: I can't remember what I did specifically first.  But I know that I was kneeling beside Brian, and I was trying to comfort him.  And I was still thinking, "Oh god, somebody could still be in the house."  And I was looking around, just kind of scanning around the room that we were in. I remember crawling towards the front door, and kicking the door shut.

Dennis Murphy: You thought whoever shot him might be just outside the door still?

Elicia Hughes: Could have been, I didn't know.  I closed the door, I locked the door. At some point I remember peeking out the window in the living room. And it was just a lot of back and forth.  Because I would like close the door, go back to Brian, peek out the window, go back to Brian. 

Dennis Murphy: Brian's mother, Pat Hughes, was notified by the alarm company that something was wrong at Elicia and Brian's house.

Pat Hughes:  All I could think of, is the house is on fire.  So on my way I call my brother-in-law, who worked with the fire department, I said, "Did you hear anything?   Is Brian’s house on fire?" And then I call my son and he ran and I’m driving' as fast as I can to get over there. 

Brian's mother got to the front door but the police would let her go no further.

Pat Hughes:  One of the policemen at the door told me Brian had been shot so I called his name.  And I called Elicia's name she called back to me.  And I told her, "Elicia, don't have Brian die.  Talk to him.  Hold him.  Please don't let my baby die.

Willie Jr.-- who'd just been dropped off his older brother -- arrived within minutes to the confusion in the front yard.

Willie Jr.:  Fire truck in the road. My mother's car, police cars. It’s a total nightmare. I just hoped that I was dreaming and I had passed out and went to sleep and was in a deep dream. 

The EMTs had raced in with a gurney but walked out with it empty.

Brian didn't make it.

An officer went to tell Elicia. 

Elicia Hughes: One of the detectives came into the kitchen and told me that Brian's injuries had been fatal. It just seemed that everything just seemed kind of surreal and I just kept thinking I don't know what to do. I just didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know whether to sit, to scream to shout or what so I just sat.

Life of the party Brian was gone just like that.

He'd been murdered, apparently, by an intruder who unloaded a gun on him when he opened the front door.

Pat Hughes:  I just knew he was gone and I couldn’t even wrap my mind around who could have disliked him to do that I knew my two boys had been together and I thought if somebody followed him home I guess I was grateful that they didn’t take them both.

Crime scene investigators began their work gingerly because this case was sensitive, almost like a murder in the law enforcement family.

Willie Jr., the brother, was someone they worked with at the crime lab.

The victim's uncle Vernon is the ranking fire chief and a former arson investigator.

Vernon: We met up with a couple of detectives to try to decipher what had actually happened.

Dennis Murphy: Because you are a close family member but you're also a professional crime scene investigator?

Vernon: That is correct.

Dennis Murphy: So you're just trying to put together what is this little bit of evidence I have? What’s the story it is telling me?

Vernon: Exactly.  

The Hughes family was clustered in the kitchen.

By then aunts, uncles and cousins had arrived.

All of them were numb from the sudden violence thrust upon them.

All trying to comfort the new widow.

Bonnie: Elicia was sitting at the kitchen table saying, wringing her hands, saying "what am I going to do, what am I going to do?"

The police worked the crime scene at the Hughes home late into the night.

Detective Kent Daniels raced to the house.

Daniels, a patrol officer, briefed me on what it was: "I've got a black male. He’s in the den area. Appears to have multiple gun shot wounds."

Someone had unloaded a .45 on Hughes at close range, but what caught the detective's eye was the lack of blood where he expected it to be: Where the gunfire presumably started.

Dennis Murphy: Did you find any blood from, say, the doorway threshold back to where the body was?

Daniels: No, no blood.

Dennis Murphy: The front door of the house opens into a small foyer, the body lay about five feet away from the door by the couch in the living room.

The master bedroom where Elicia said she was drowsing off is to the right.

The floor tiles inside the door showed no sign of blood spatter, as the detective expected.

Daniels: All the blood was right there with the body.

The type of weapon used, a .45, ejects bullet casings as it fires and the crime scene techs had found some both inside and outside the house by the door, and in a garden bed by the steps

One shot looked as though it had gone wild and lodged in the door molding. 

The victim's wounds -- all around the arms and torso, six in all, including two to the groin area -- told the detective it wasn't a professional hit.

Daniels: That large of a gun was being shot by an inexperienced shooter. That’s why the bullets was spread as they were.

Routinely, when a husband and wife are together in a house and one of them has been shot to death, the police immediately take a hard look at the surviving spouse, but that didn't happen on that night at the Hughes home.

Daniels: The commander of the unit advised us not to talk to her because he felt like she was going through a lot, she was grieving real hard.

Dennis Murphy: The victim’s family were really prominent people all through law enforcement?

Daniels: The victim, his sister-in-law works at the state crime lab. Then his brother works at the police crime lab. They have an uncle that is the arson investigator for the fire department.

So the detective admits out of respect for the family, the crime-scene work was less aggressive than it might have been.

Investigators sawed out the sheetrock where a stray bullet came to rest, but they didn't do a thorough search of the house.

They did, however, recover what they thought was a small baggie of marijuana.

Daniels: Some was found on the scene. 

But detectives never did find the weapon.

The investigation headed outside.

Daniels: Next door neighbor said they heard the gunshot and they looked out. There wasn’t nobody, didn't see anything.

Dennis Murphy:  Didn't see anybody running out the front door...

Daniels: Didn't see anybody running...

Dennis Murphy: See a car peeling off.

Daniels: Driving away or anything. 

Over the next few days the police continued their legwork but without any breakthroughs.

And while the police searched for the killer, Elica has to tell her two girls --  3 and 4 -- that their father wouldn't be coming home.

Elicia Hughes: That was probably the hardest thing I ever had to do. I told them Brian had died and that he had gone to heaven, and there, he wasn’t going to be here with us anymore.

Dennis Murphy: Do you think they absorbed it?

Elicia Hughes: I know they didn’t because there would still be comments they would make expecting him to pick them up from school, different things. They were still looking for their dad to come home.    

Brian's family's had to say their goodbyes at the cemetery.

Pat Hughes:  I couldn't wrap my mind around burying my child 

Willie Sr.: It was like a nightmare.

And Brian's big family would embrace their daughter-in-law in the weeks ahead.

What was theirs was now hers.

Pat Hughes:  I gave her a key to the house and I told her when she's on this side of town she could always come by the house and just be there.

The detectives needed, of course, to get Elicia's statement about that night down after the shock had worn off, so six days after the shooting she went to the police station for an interview.

As she spoke, the detectives wondered why she didn't hear the alarm go off before the "pops" of gunfire? 

Shouldn't the sequence be reversed, they thought?  

Elicia Hughes: I heard what I heard.  I heard it in the order that I heard it.  And I did not change it around. They would ask the question, you know, different ways.  And I would answer it according to how they asked it.

But the police detectives were also adding to their case file information about the marriage of Elicia and Brian.

Did it mean anything that he'd had children before the marriage and was paying child support?

Elicia Hughes: Brian had two children prior to our marriage.

Dennis Murphy: Everyone knew the facts involved in that yes?

Elicia Hughes: Yes.

But when they found out Brian had two current girlfriends, they definitely wanted the details.

Phone logs told them he'd been talking to one of his lovers on the his cell phone that very night, as he went in the door.

Daniels: We found out that as he got home he was on the phone with his girlfriend.

Dennis Murphy: That gives you a very interesting lead?

Daniels: Yes.

Brian's parents were saddened by the news that he'd had other women.

His father Willie couldn't help but think back to the day of Brian and Elicia's wedding, how out in the garden he'd taken them both aside for some pre-wedding counseling from a 30-year veteran.

Willie Hughes Jr.:I used that moment to encourage them that if there are any kind of situation that arrive during the marriage, and they felt they could not continue their marriage to bow out gracefully.

And, as it turned out, once you got past the family portraits, Brian's happy-go-lucky air, and Elicia's beauty, his parents both knew it had been a rocky union for a while.

Brian had said of his wife that looks were deceiving.

Pat Hughes:  Brian told me how mean Elicia was.  "She was pretty, but she's mean."

Willie Hughes Jr.: Mean spirit.

Pat Hughes: He told me he was going to move out, and I took off my job and went to where he worked. And he and I sat in the parking lot and cried together. And I begged him not to do it.

Dennis Murphy: Stay with her, try and hold it together?

Pat Hughes: Yes.     

As for Elicia, she concedes the two of them were in a rough patch but nothing any worse she thought than most couples go through.

Elicia Hughes: I'm not going to sit here and say that "oh we had a perfect life, perfect marriage," because we didn't. But I thought we had a happy life and good marriage.

Dennis Murphy: Was your marriage in trouble at that point Elicia?

Elicia Hughes: There was not any discussions of divorce, of leaving, of separating, or anything like that.  We were doing what we were supposed to do as parents.  And we were doing what we were supposed to do as a husband and a wife.

Dennis Murphy: Was it a less happy proposition than you thought marriage with Brian might be?

Elicia Hughes: I knew that a marriage would have seasons, you know, seasons of happy bliss, and then seasons of hard work.  And at this particular time, it was an in-between season.  It wasn't, you know, that we were walking' around giddy and happy.  But we weren't walking around the house arguing and bickering either.  It was just an in-between season.

Dennis Murphy: Was Brian seeing women on the side, Elicia?

Elicia Hughes: At the time that Brian died, I did not believe that he was seeing other people.  But Brian and I met when we were 17, and we didn't marry until we were 27.  And so there had been instances before where there had been other people in in the relationship.  So if anyone had asked me, "Was Brian above cheating," I would have said, "No, he's not above it."  But if they had asked me, you know, the day before he died, "Was he seeing somebody else," I didn't think that he was.

But he was seeing someone — a young woman who'd just lost a baby, and the scuttlebutt was that it had been Brian's. It was the same woman he was talking to on a cell phone as he walked into his home that night.

Remember, Brian had been shot six times, what cops refer to as overkill.

And it was not only the number of bullets that caught the detective’s eye, but where they landed.      

Dennis Murphy: What does that tell you when a man gets shot in the groin?

Daniels: That an angry woman did the shooting.

Did that mean the killer was a spurned lover?

Dennis Murphy: As you did what you could do at the scene and you're putting away your notepad going back to the car what did you think you had, detective?

Daniels: It kind of got in my head that "okay, something is not right. Either the wife did something here or she knows something."

Whichever it was, the cops were no longer going to be treating Elicia as a handle-with-care widow.

That kid glove stuff got in the way of cracking homicides.

Seasons had passed in Jackson, Miss. Winter became another spring.

Elicia Hughes had sold the ranch house where her husband Brian had been shot to death the previous June.

She was trying to hold her life together, teaching third grade, caring for her two small girls.

She kept after the police about the unsolved case.

Elicia Hughes: I would show up at the police department and ask them a question about, you know, where are you with this investigation?

Dennis Murphy: What's going on?

Elicia Hughes: What's going on. I haven't heard anything. What have you got?

But Brian's family, who'd been so close to their daughter-in-law going back years, could feel it more than put their finger on it. Elicia, they thought, seemed to be turning her back on them, acting colder somehow.

The murdered husband's kid brother, Willie Jr., said he'd always seen a side to Elicia that was a little different than the young woman his family had known and loved.

He believed his sister-in-law had a deep-down mean-streak in her and now he saw it really coming out, even as he tried to help her.

Willie Hughes Jr.: The phone calls stopped. The times that you did attempt to contact her, you didn't get a return call. She kind of became real stand-offish.

Well maybe that was her way of dealing with the tragedy?

Willie Hughes Jr.: When it first happened, I offered my home to her, asked her anything I can do, things that he would normally do for her. I tried willingly to put myself in that position to assist, and instead of embracing me; she kind of pushed back on me and continued to push back.

The homicide detective was pushing back, too.

There'd been some grumbling at the time of the murder about Elicia Hughes getting off easy during the initial stages of the investigation because of her family connections. But not anymore.

The questions in Detective Daniel's mind at the scene that night, the stuff that just wasn't adding up, had only become more insistent.

The blood.

If the husband was shot at the front door: Why wasn't there blood on the floor?

Daniels: The way the body was positioned and the blood was there, we knew the shooting occurred in the den. We knew that from day one.

Dennis Murphy: Why did you think that?

Daniels: Because of where the blood was by the body. Underneath the body. 

And it made no sense to the investigators that Brian would have failed to disarm the alarm that night before opening the door.

And just why would a security-obsessed man like Brian Hughes even open the door after 11 pm in the first place?

Brian's family said his home was his castle and you didn't get across the moat unless you gave him warning.

Not even his father got in unannounced.

Willie Hughes Jr.: Early one morning, my dad popped up he didn't call and my brother got back in bed. He actually laid back down and some time later, he must have looked back out the window and saw my dad was still in the truck. 

Dennis Murphy: So he had a thing about it?

Willie Hughes Jr.: He had a big thing about it.

Dennis Murphy: You weren't getting in his house unless you followed his rule of "call me"?

Willie Hughes Jr.: It's his house, so I understand his rules. I respected his rules. I would call him before I left to come his way so it wasn't just happy-go-lucky "oh I’m going to open the door at 11 at night."

And then, the detective thought, thought there was major problem with the logic of the story Elicia had first told him about being awakened that night.

The door's opened, and alarm — followed by gunfire.

But that's not what Elicia said.

She told the police she heard the "pop pop pop," then the alarm went off.

Dennis Murphy: So the sequence of events here, detective, what do you have to believe has happened for her story to be right?

Daniels: For her story to be right is that the intruder came in, the alarm went off, then the shooter shot Brian.

Dennis Murphy: Then "pop, pop, pop."

Daniels: Right.

And another part of the growing case file was what Brian's family regarded as Elicia's demeanor that night.

As shook up as Elicia was in that call recorded by the alarm company, Brian's family say that in the hours they were in the house with her, they never saw or heard those kinds of emotions again.

Dennis Murphy: When you talked to Elicia?

Pat Hughes: Yeah.

Dennis Murphy: She seemed calm?

Pat Hughes: Yeah.

Dennis Murphy: That's kind of unsual?

Willie Hughes Jr.: Very unusual.

And one of the aunts saw Elicia slip off into the bathroom.

Had she, perhaps, been washing away evidence, the cops would later ask?

That night, almost as an after-thought, the police gave her the only forensic test.

Daniels: The mobile crime lab investigator did a gunshot residue on her hand that night.

So as the weeks went by, in the investigators' mind there was no question that Elicia Hughes was a suspect in her husband's murder.

But the victim's family just could not wrap their minds around that concept, that Elicia could be the killer of their Brian.

Pat Hughes:  My heart wouldn’t let me believe it. My heart would not let me believe it. I’m at restaurants and the police department come up to me and they say things to me, and I tell him "please not now." I just couldn't take it. I just couldn’t take the thought.

Willie Hughes Jr.: That she was involved. 

Pat Hughes: That she was involved. I didn't want to believe it.  

But after eight months of investigating, the gunshot residue test on Elica's hands was finally complete and had tested positive for a trace on the back of her left hand.

That missing puzzle piece pushed the case to the next level.

Daniels: When we got the gunshot residue results back, we went over everything we had. And the district attorney said "you have enough to cut an arrest warrant."

Elicia, the sweet-faced third grade teacher and mother, was charged with the murder of her husband.

Elicia Hughes: I did not see it coming. I went to work that day. I received a phone call from my attorney and she said, "well, I heard that they have a warrant out for your arrest." And I’m like what? And immediately the adrenaline is pumping and I was really hoping she was joking, but knowing that she wasn't. And not knowing what to do.

Dennis Murphy: Did they handcuff you?

Elicia Hughes: I was handcuffed.  I didn't want to be handcuffed in front of my children, so we arranged for a meeting place.

Dennis Murphy: Charged with the murder of your husband Brian.

Elicia Hughes: Charged with the murder.

Dennis Murphy: Read your rights.

Elicia Hughes: Read my rights. Read my rights, placed in a police car and driven downtown.

She was accused not just of a crime of passion, but plotting it all out.

The charge against her included pre-meditation.

And the authorities believed she unloaded a .45 on him as a remedy for his serial cheating and what's more, the insurance money she would receive would give her a fresh start on the next act of her life.

Daniels: The fact that she knew was she going to get all this money, plus the fact that he was doing all this cheating, it's time to get rid of him.

On Jan. 3, 2007, Elicia Hughes went on trial.

And the prosecutors, partners Stanley Alexander and Rebecca Mansell, thought they had plenty to convince a jury: The philandering husband, the angry wife, no blood where it should be, an across-the-street neighbor who'd looked out and seen no killer speeding away.

Dennis Murphy: You had to believe this demure third-grade teacher got a .45 and blasted her husband?

Stanley Alexander: No doubt about it.

He's on the phone with his girlfriend, then moments later he's dead.  If there was no one at the door, then the gun is in Elicia's hand, argued the prosecutors.

Rebecca Mansell: There is no question that not only the forensic evidence, but every other piece or shred of evidence we could put together and the witness accounts, Elicia Hughes is the only person that had access.

And it didn't take the jury of six men and six women, almost evenly split on race, to see the case just way the prosecutor laid it out.

They needed only two hours to find Elicia Hughes guilty of murder.

Dick: We decided it was murder.

Dennis Murphy: No question you spoke as 12.

Dick: Exactly. We felt that she had planned it and executed it.

Even the husband's family that stood by her for so long was finally now convinced.

The mom and third-grade teacher was sentenced to life in prison.  Bonnie Smith was Brian's aunt.

Bonnie Smith: We still couldn't believe Elicia could have done that, because we loved Elicia just like she was my blood niece. We were very close. It was just unbelievable -- until the trial did I finally make up my mind that she did do it.  Up until then I still had doubts.

There was someone else with doubts about the trial. Someone who's opinion mattered. The trial judge.

The murder of Brian Hughes wasn't case closed.

Elicia Hughes, the 35-year-old mother of two, was going behind bars for virtually the rest of her life for a crime she proclaimed she didn't commit.She said her husband Brian had been shot to death by someone who came to their front door that night.

She heard a "pop pop pop," then found him on the floor.

But the jury believed otherwise.

The trial had seemed out-of-body to her.

Elicia Hughes: It was very surreal, to the point you almost don't believe it's happening to you. You’re just kind going through the motions that they're directing you to do and you're doing them because you -- I -- didn’t know what else to do.

Dennis Murphy: And it was also very real. It wasn't a movie because there you were: standing before a jury and a judge accused of the murder of your husband saying "jurors, the motivation here is this man has a lot of girlfriends on the side. The wife was absolutely outraged and you need to find her guilty of premeditated murder."

Elicia Hughes: Not only did they think that I was angry with Brian because he had multiple girlfriends but they also alleged I was greedy and I killed him for the insurance money.

Dennis Murphy: And the jury believed it.

Elicia Hughes: They believed it.

Dennis Murphy: You were found guilty and sent away for life.

Elicia Hughes: Convicted for life.

Elicia Hughes was turned over to deputies and put in a prison cell.

The comfortable home in Jackson, Miss., was a memory.

Elicia Hughes: Through this whole situation, it's always like I can't believe this is happening. I cannot believe that it has gotten to this point. I can't believe it has gotten this bad. I always thought that the justice system worked. And I couldn’t figure out how 12 people could think that I was guilty of something I did not do. I thought that if you told the truth, that the truth worked. And it's not working for me, the truth is not working for me. And the system is not working for me and not only was it not working for me, it was almost like it was working against me.

Dennis Murphy: They processed you into the county jail?

Elicia Hughes: Yes.

Dennis Murphy: They take away your clothes, your personal things?

Elicia Hughes: Yes. I grew up a pretty sheltered life. I’ve never had any dealings with the court system, the justice system. Never been arrested. Didn’t really know anything about the inside of a jail. And to go from my life as I knew it to a situation where they take everything that you have on and give you an outfit that says "convict" on the back of it — property of the state -- it's just all humiliating. It’s degrading. It’s hurtful. And I was hurt that this had happened to me for something that I did not do.

Her late husband's family, of course, had come to believe she was guilty. Didn't understand the crime. Didn't want to believe the facts laid out by the prosecution, but it was what it was.

Pat Hughes: I’d lost not only Brian, now I’ve lost Elicia. I guess I was hoping something in that trial would have convinced me the other way.

Dennis Murphy: So you wanted to be persuaded that there was somebody else at the front door?

Pat Hughes: I wanted to. I wanted to. Yes. But it didn't happen.

Dennis Murphy: In the end they settled all your doubts about what had happened?

Pat Hughes: Yes.

Dennis Murphy: There was only one person in that house with a gun and it was your daughter in law?

Pat Hughes: Yes.

Willie Hughes Jr.: We felt that we had gotten a good verdict, a verdict of guilt. So I guess from that standpoint that eased the pain to a degree.

But nothing but pain was what Elicia was feeling inside a prison cell.

She had to find a way out, but doesn’t every inmate feel that way?

Elicia Hughes: As hurt as I was by the system and my situation I never believed that I was going to spend the rest of my life in jail.  I didn't know how long I would be there but for me I couldn't sit there and accept this idea that I was going to be there for the next 30-plus years.

In every prison, that’s how no-hopers talk to keep hope alive, and Elicia Hughes was no different.

But her fortunes were about to get brighter.

She’d only been locked up for a little under two months when the judge issued a ruling that the jury hadn't been as racially and gender balanced as it could have been ... therefore, he ruled, Elicia Hughes will have a new trial -- and the young woman who had thought she may leave prison in a pine box was released.

The two prosecutors disagreed passionately with the judge's ruling about the fairness of the jury composition but he was the one wearing the robes.

Dennis Murphy: So here you are, she's going to get a new trial.

Rebecca Mansell: She is.

Dennis Murphy: The person that you believed had killed her husband in cold-blooded fashion is out on bond.

Rebecca Mansell: Not only do I believe, but 12 other people believe, 12 other jurors ruled six weeks earlier that she was guilty of murder.

The Hughes family believed it, too. And now this. Another trial.

Wille Hughes Jr.: When he threw the first verdict out it just really devastated my family and myself.  

Elicia was out of prison, but she would have to be back in court to stand trial again in about eight months.

The first had only been a dress rehearsal.

Elicia Hughes: Going into the second trial I was more knowledgeable with the process and what's going to be said about me. So I felt our chances would better this time because of that knowledge.

What had happened inside the home of Elicia and Brian Hughes as their children slept?Had an unknown assailant, perhaps an angry lover or jealous husband -- maybe even a drug dealer -- gunned him down?

Or had his wife been looking for a insurance payout and a way to put an end to all of his infidelities, as the prosecution told the jury?

Ten months after they'd gotten a conviction from a jury, the prosecutors were doing it all again.

Calling the same witnesses, introducing the same evidence but this time before a jury that met the judge's test for fairness.

He'd thrown the first verdict out.

And there was Elicia, again sitting at the defense table looking like a courthouse visitor who'd walked in and inadvertently taken the wrong chair.

Rebecca Mansell: She does not look like she could kill her husband. But that's kind of the irony to it is that anybody in this room is capable of murder.  When pushed to a certain point, anybody is capable of it. And it doesn't matter if you're a blue-eyed blond or a beautiful woman that has a master's degree like Elicia Hughes. Anybody’s capable of firing that weapon.

Dennis Murphy: You believe viscerally she did it.

Rebecca Mansell: Elicia Hughes is the only person that had the access to do it. Unless you're going to blame her two daughters, which we know they're not capable of firing a .45 seven times.

As they had before, the prosecutors wanted the jury to understand the timeline of events on that night in June 2004.

Early that evening, Elicia's husband Brian had gone out to meet his brother, Willie Jr., at one of their usual hangouts.

Willie: We went to Olive Garden, that's one of the bars we always met up at and we just sat in in the bar and talked

Afterward, the younger brother said they drove over to a friend's house to watch a movie.

Willie: We watched "Walking Tall" until just about the end and he ended up taking me home. He dropped me off and said "We'll talk tomorrow."

After he dropped off brother Willie, the prosecution says Brian didn't go straight home. He stopped by his current girlfriend's.

Rebecca Mansell: After he drops his brother off, he goes and sees one of his mistresses. They do not apparently physically see each other, according to the mistress, they just talk on the phone. He sits in the parking lot and talks to her.

In the statement Elicia gave to police, she said she had called Brian's cell phone a couple of times in the course of that evening to ask him when he was going to be home?

Stan: What Elicia said was she had been calling Brian that night to come home, she wanted to talk to him. It started out as "when you coming, honey," but at one point she made a statement that said "I asked him real nice, when are you coming home." Now most of the time when you're talking about what you say to people, you don’t describe what tenor you put it in. You just say "I asked when he was coming home." But she went out her way to say "I asked him real nice," which made me think "hey, something is not right."

The two prosecutors could easily imagine a frustrated Elicia Hughes that night, pacing impatiently, with a plan all set to spring and no prey.

Rebecca Mansell: I think luring him to come, that she was ready to get this over with and he was obviously out catting around.

We know after he left the girlfriend's place, he swung into a Wendy's for a take-out order.

A policewoman, who happened to notice Brian's Car, saw him pull out of the lot.

Officer on stand: When I pulled out of the Exxon, he had just pulled out of Wendy’s, and I noticed the car and I liked it and I pulled behind him.

From this point on in the timeline the prosecution had an intriguing nugget of evidence: An eyewitness almost to the crime itself.

The prosecution said that it knew from his cell phone that Brian was still talking to that same girlfriend when he pulled up to his house.  And she would later confirm exactly what she heard.

Stan: Cell phones have pretty sensitive microphones. She heard him close the door to his car in the garage. She heard him set the alarm on his car. She heard him go into the house. She heard him set the house alarm, the beeping sound when you push the buttons in. She heard him place his food down, place his keys on the table and he was on the phone with her right before he died.

Dennis Murphy: So this cell phone gives you a pretty tight window.

Stan: Absolutely.

Dennis Murphy: How this thing is tic-tocking down. You know when he hangs up from the call.

Stan: Absolutely. The phone call ends at 11:12.

A few minutes later, at 11:14, the burglar alarm goes off, according to alarm company records.

ADT guy: The first entry is the activation of the alarm at that location.

Stan: Their time is set by the atomic clock, which is perfect.

That's when the ADT operator gets a hold of Elicia and she reports her husband down and in trouble.

Even though Elicia sounds distraught and emotionally torn-up, the prosecutors aren't buying it.

Stan: You just shot somebody. This is something new to you. She doesn't do it for a living. So of course we expect her to be emotional. Now whether or not it's the emotion of fear of being caught or fear that my husband's been killed, that's the question. I’m hearing her screaming into the phone.  Usually when people are really afraid and crying, their speech patterns are broken up. Hers aren't broken. She is saying what she had to say and that's it.

And the prosecution made sure the jury understood what was implied by the alarm going off at all. It shouldn't have, because A) Brian would have disarmed the alarm before opening the door, and B) he would never have opened the door in the first place, as his brother told the jury.

Willie Hughes Jr.: My brother was known for leaving you outside if you didn't call.

Brian Hughes was security-conscious to the point of being nearly obsessed about it, the prosecution said.

Stan: Brian had a history and he had a strong habit of not opening the door from anyone that didn't call first. Every family member, every friend that we talked to told us that "hey, if you don’t call, you don’t get in."

And there was something else about that front door lock.

There was a deadbolt on the top that could be opened with a thumb latch but the doorknob lock could only be opened from the inside with a key, the prosecutor said.

Rebecca Mansell: Do you remember on the doorknob part, how was the door locked. I know it was a deadbolt, but was it a push lock or a key lock on the doorknob?

Charles Taylor: On the doorknob is a key lock.

Rebecca Mansell: So you would have to have a key to unlock the door?

Charles Taylor: Yes.

Brian's keys were later found resting on a counter by the living room.

Think, asked the prosecutor, what the door lock alone tells you you have to believe for there to be a gunman at the door knocking to get in.

Rebecca Mansell: Brian would have to go back into the living room, get his keys, come in, unlock the door, not disarm the system which again Brian is not that dumb that he's going to let the system go off and wake up his wife and two children. So you'd have to believe that he unlocked the door, saw this person with a gun, runs back into the living room, drops his keys back off, come backs back into the foyer and lets someone shoot him seven times with a .45.

Back on the timeline, the prosecution says the first patrol officer arrives at 11:26.

Thirteen minutes, they say, have elapsed since the alarm has gone off. What was Elicia doing?

Stan: She was in the home alone for 13 minutes.

Dennis Murphy: So within this 13 minutes, she's found the body, she's closed the door. What else does she say she is doing?

Stan: That's a good question, that's a good question. What did she do?  What did she do?

The prosecutors believe she's using the time to hide the gun and retrieve the shell casings on the floor around the couch to cluster them where they'll suggest an assailant firing from the doorway. Staging a scene for the crime techs.

Rebecca Mansell: I think that she is a very sophisticated, a very smart woman. She has law enforcement around her as either family members or close relationships. So it's not like she doesn't know how to do this.

The next part of the prosecution's case would be about the forensics and what people saw in the house that night.

Wasn't it odd, they thought, that the children slept like little logs the whole time?

Elicia Hughes was accused of unloading a .45 on her husband, murdering him as their two children slept in the bedroom beyond.

But the prosecution argued that this hadn't been a crime of passion so much as a crime of profit.

Stan: This was not an anger crime. This was a greed crime. And that's what we told the jury "don’t look at this like a jealous wife. This is a wife who does not want to lose her husband and standard of living and the only way she is going to keep it is by getting the life insurance money."

Brian Hughes had a life insurance policy that would pay the beneficiary, Elicia,  about $250,000.

And the prosecution was about to run through its forensic evidence from the crime scene to convince the jury that this was a cooly thought-out homicide by the third grade teacher.

It's a story told mostly by blood: Where it was and where it wasn't.

First, said the prosecutors, forget about Brian letting his assailant in through the front door.

Stan: Brian Hughes never went to that front door. He wasn't shot at the front door. If he had been shot he would've bled. Newton’s laws of gravity are in effect in Mississippi just like in the other 49 states of the union.

The prosecution says a .45 handgun is like a cannon. It makes big holes.

How come, asked the prosecutor, there's no blood, no spatter, at the doorway where the supposed assailant starts blasting him?

Lawyer: Did you look on the floor?

Charles Taylor: Yes, I did.

Lawyer: Did you look up on the wall?

Charles Taylor: Yes.

Lawyer: Did you look on the ceiling?

Charles Taylor: Yes.

Lawyer: Did you see any blood whatsoever?

Charles Taylor: None at all.

Lawyer: Was their any blood or any blood droplets anywhere around the body of Brian Hughes other than underneath his body.

Charles Taylor: No. No.

Stan: There was no blood, not a drop of blood trail from that front door to that living room.

Dennis Murphy: Vitually all of the blood at the scene had pooled beneath his body?

Stan:  Not virtually. All of it.

Dennis Murphy: All of it.

Stan: All of it.

Dennis Murphy: Not a drop.

Stan: Not a drop out from underneath his body. 

As the medical examiner reviewed the six bullet wounds on the victim. He pointed out that they didn't appear to be fired by a skilled marksman.

Lawyer: What made you think this is an inexperienced shooter?

Medical Examiner: You have multiple pistol trajectories, different angles. There’s only only one lethal shot out of six. And they appear to have been inflicted in close proximity to each other. That’s not very good shooting in my book.

Rebecca Mansell: He said that the random patterns of the shots seemed to indicate to him a non-sophisticated shooter.

And there was one wound in particular, a gunshot to the groin area that, to the prosecutors, was the signature of a woman wronged.

Rebecca Mansell: I think it sends a message that I don’t like what you've been doing with that area, so let's take care of business.

The bullet that went astray and lodged in the door molding was more evidence of a person firing wildly, argued the prosecutors.

And, the prosecutors thought, the "where" of the wounds on the victim drew a picture of how he was shot.

Rebecca Mansell: The trajectory of all the shots indicates that he was in a sitting or leaning position where they're all going in a downward trajectory.

When the police arrived that night, they found bullet casings clustered on the floor by the doorway inside and out, including one in the garden bed.

The prosecution argued that Elicia had scooped them up and scattered them about the doorway to suggest a front-door shooter who, in fact, didn't exist.  

Rebecca Mansell: I think she gets as many shell casings as she can find. She then opens the door and she starts to throw them out. That’s why one either rolled or was in the bushes right there by the front door. And then there are three nicely, neatly, packed right by the front door, as you would open it.

And there was something else about those bullet casings: The prosecutor said they were found on the wrong side of the doorway, left when they should have been right.

Rebecca Mansell: I think anybody that knows anything about guns and .45s in particular, they're going to eject up or back and to the right. There is no .45 that's made that ejects to the left.

Prosecutor: Do you know of any ejection ports on semi-automatics .45's that are on the left?

Expert: No ma’am, I do not.

And suppose for a minute, said the prosecutors, that there was a gunman at the doorway, how come none of the neighbors saw him fleeing?

The Hughes family lived in a ranch house on a street with many others like it, all built on small, average-sized subdivision plots.

The gunshots were loud and not a customary sound of the night in that neighborhood.  

The man across the street testified he looked out his window right away.

Robert A Wall: We were awakened by gunshots. I looked out the window and I could see the house across the street because of his lights

Lawyer: Did you see any people?

Robert A Wall: No sir, I did not. Because the shots were so loud. So, I didn't just only look out that window. I went to my daughter's window. I went to the window at the end of the house.

Stan: He immediately got up, looked out his window, at the house across the street, which was the Hughes home. There were no doors opened. There was nothing amiss at the house.

Still, none of the evidence so far screamed "gotcha," and if there was an elephant sitting in the room of the prosecution's case, it was the police work done, or not done, that night.

It was ruefully conceded later by both the lead detective and prosecutors that Elicia Hughes and that house should have gone under the microscope right away. But it didn't happen.

Rebecca Mansell: Elicia Hughes was related to all these people involved in law enforcement, and I think when police got on scene they never would want to think that Elicia had just killed her husband. So they did allow a lot of things that would not normally occur.

Dennis Murphy: It seems to be it got a CSI light treatment ...

Rebecca Mansell: Exactly.

One of the arriving officers admitted she moved some bullet casings out of the way of the EMT's.           

Lawyer: Where were the shell cases located that you moved?

Officer Westerbrook:  In the hallway. In the foyer.

And the kid-glove treatment that Elicia got that night was illustrated by a story. The cops had asked her if she had a gun in the house. They said she said no.

But when the officers discovered an empty holster in the bedroom, she changed her story. Yes, they did have a gun, a .9 mm.

Sgt. Eric Smith: I explained to her that we found a gun holster in her bedroom and did she know anything about this?

Rebecca Mansell: And what was her response then?

Eric Smith: She said "I know where that gun is."

Rebecca Mansell: So her response changed?

Eric Smith: Yes.

Stan: That's important because they asked her "is there a gun in the house," and she said "no." And when they show her the holster, she miraculously remembered that "oh, yeah, there's a gun," and she led them to a gun that was in the laundry cabinet.

It was a handgun, but not the murder weapon.

But a coworker of Brian's told the jury he did see a .45 in the Hughes home just a year before the murder.

Lawyer: Did you know whether or not Brian owned any handguns?

Rodney Day: Yes I do.

Lawyer: What type of gun did he own?

Rodney Day:  .45.

Lawyer: Do you know where he kept this .45?

Rodney Day: At one time I saw at in his house in the kitchen --higher up in the cabinet.

Lawyer: Did you see it with your own two eyes?

Rodney Day: Yes.

For Elicia to be the shooter, then the .45, the prosecutor said, had to be concealed somewhere in the house; she had 13 minutes to hide it between the alarm going off and the arrival of the first officer.

But in another police failure, they did only a superficial search of the house that night.

Dennis Murphy: They never did find the murder weapon, did they?

Stan: No they did not. I think that weapon did one of two things. Either it left with her that night, because she was allowed to leave the house that night...

Dennis Murphy: Is that possible?

Stan: To leave with the gun?

Dennis Murphy: She could have squirrilled it out of the house that night?

Stan: God yes. She took an overnight bag with her. She could have put the gun in her overnight bag, or she could have placed the gun in her house and hid it. You've got to realize no one knows your house like you do. And if their house isn't being searched, then it could be there.  

But how to explain the trace of gunshot residue on the back of her left hand?

It could be regarded as ambiguous evidence, but it was something to the prosecutor not explained by her story of how she cared for her husband that night as he lay on the floor moaning.

Stan: We asked the officers where did she touch him, and they said she touched him on the back shoulder with her fingertips. If you touch someone with your fingertips that's where the gunpowder is. It was on the back of her left hand. That’s important because when you hold the gun with one or two hands the gunpowder comes out in a plume and that is how it gets to the back of your hand. 

What remained to be told to the jury was the story of Elicia and Brian and his surplus of girlfriends.

One of the other women was going to testify she'd lost her soul mate.

The night of the murder, Brian's family huddled in the kitchen, comforting Elicia, as the crime scene technicians in the living room began their work. Some of those in-laws thought Elicia really didn't seem to need that much solace.

Willie Sr.: She was crying, but she wasn't hysterical or anything like that. Seemed rather calm to me, especially looking at what had happened. I think my wife and myself and the other family members were probably more hysterical than she was.

Bonnie: She wasn't hollering or anything. You know? She, it was like you've done something, you got your hand caught in the cookie jar or something.

And in all the confusion that night someone finally had the presence of mind to ask where the two children were.

Looking back, it didn't seem to them that Elicia had been all that concerned initially about the supposed intruder and her babies.

Dennis Murphy: Wouldn't you worry that maybe this intruder is still in your house?

Bonnie: I would.

Dennis Murphy: Your husband's been shot, your baby asleep in the other room. Where's this other person?

Bonnie: I would've gotten the children out of bed to get them out of the house, but she didn't indicate anything about being concerned about going to get the children out of bed.

The children, it turned out, had slept through it all.

The gunshots, the blaring alarm, the raised voices inside the house, even a saw cutting a piece of sheetrock out of the wall for evidence.

The murdered husband's family wondered if Elicia had maybe doped the kids because she knew what she'd planned for that night? 

Was it a sign of premeditation?

Elicia had visited her stepfather at his pharmacy earlier that evening.  

Willie Sr.: She did tell us occasionally she would get medication from her stepfather. We know that. 

And Maria Smith, a cousin of Brian's, testified that she'd been on the phone with Elicia about an hour before Brian came home that night.

She said she could hear the two kids in the background very active, raising a ruckus.

Lawyer: Did you hear the children in the background?

Maria Smith: Yes, sir.

Lawyer: What were the children doing?

Maria Smith: It sounded like they were playing.

But an hour later, they would be in such a deep sleep that the sound of the .45 wouldn't wake them up. Nor all the family members and crime scene investigators who descended on the house.

The cousin had often babysat for the girls and knew them both to be light sleepers.

Maria Smith: Often times, my younger sister would just come in the room and they would wake up. They were not sound sleepers at all.

Brian's family said the kids never did surface from their deep sleep that night.

In the wee hours, they were lifted from the bed still slumbering and carried on shoulders to relatives.

Maria Smith: Before we got ready to leave and I tried to wake them up, touching them, kind of pushing them, calling their names.

Dennis Murphy: And nothing?

Maria Smith: No response.

Dennis Murphy: And that was unusual in your experience?

Maria Smith: Very unusual.

Bonnie: The children were drugged, and I have no doubt about that. Because we babysat them to know their sleeping habits. So to me it was premeditated.  

It was premeditation, the doping of the children, a step along the way in Elicia's plan to stop her husband's chronic cheating, as the prosecution saw it.   

They would tell the jury a psychological story about a wife not so much snapping as a woman who finally had enough of his womanizing, then quietly resolving to do something about it.

A lethal solution with a tempting amount of insurance money on the far side of all the messiness.

The prosecution called the other woman.

Robbie Rayford testified that she'd been involved with Brian for a couple of years at the time of his murder.

Stan: And at the time you were dating him, were you aware that he was married?

Robbie Rayford: At first I didn't know.

Stan: And how far into the relationship were you aprised that he was married?

Robbie Rayford: About two or three months later?

Stan: After you found out, did you continue to see him?

Robbie Rayford: Yes.

She supposedly had been pregnant and lost the child not long before Brian's murder.

Dennis Sweet: About two weeks before he got murdered, you were pregnant and you lost the baby. Is that right?

Stan: Objection, your honor.

And while the jury wouldn't officially hear as much, it was believed that Brian had been the father.

Robbie Rayford: I felt like he was my soul mate.

The soul mate girlfriend, Robbie, was the woman who'd been talking to Brian on his cell phone that night when he walked in his door.

Lawyer: Did you speak with Brian on the night of his death?

Robbie Rayford: Yes. I heard him open the door to the home because I could hear the alarm go like "beep beep" and then I head him set the alarm back.

She told a damning story for Elicia about the end of that conversation.

Brian, she said, had abruptly cut off the call saying, "Let me call you back" -- a lover's code of sorts, the prosecution contended.

Lawyer: What did those words mean to you when he was at home?

Robbie Rayford: It meant that his wife was in his presence.

Rebecca Mansell: Anybody that's ever been in an affair or situation like that, I think most people do have some kind of code like "got to go." You know, "red code."

Dennis Murphy: So the girlfriend asks him directly "Is she there in the room with you?"

Rebecca Mansell: Right.

Dennis Murphy: And he says?

Rebecca Mansell: Yes.

Moments later, Brian is dead of six gunshot wounds.

The picture snapped together clearly for the prosecutors.

Brian had already fathered two children before they were married and was paying them child support.

Now he'd gotten another woman pregnant and wasn't breaking off the affair, even after the baby was lost.

Had Elicia reached the end of her rope?

Rebecca Mansell: I think for any woman in America, that's just a slap in your face. Especially if she had known what was going on, which we have no doubt she knew.

Brian was on the phone with the girlfriend in the living room, though by then, the prosecutors argued, Elicia had already made up her mind.

Stan: I believe Elicia had planned to kill him ahead of time. I think she put the children to bed. She gave them something to make them sleep well.

Brian comes home. He’s on the phone with his girlfriend. Elicia walks in to the hallway of the living room. When she walked in and the girl asked him "is she standing in from of you?" he said yes. Of course, he hangs up the phone. Elicia shoots him six times. The main bullet that killed him went through the back of his hand and into his heart.

The next few minutes, they said, were about executing the plan: Gathering up the bullet casings, setting off the alarm, waiting for ADT to call so the cover story about an unknown intruder could begin.

The story made sense to the prosecutors, satisfying both forensically and psychologically.

A carefully laid plot.

Dennis Murphy: You think this was percolating a long time.

Rebecca Mansell: I think that she, for a long time, had been thinking about it.

The defense was up next.

Remember: This was Elicia Hughes's second trial for murder. The facts were mostly the same as the ones that had convicted her the first time, but there was an additional attorney at her defense table, a charismatic courtroom lawyer named Dennis Sweet.

He worked civil cases primarily and had won his clients some huge judgments, but the case before him now wasn't about dollars, it was higher stakes: About giving the accused her very life back.

Dennis Sweet: It was a circumstantial case. There was no eyewitness or direct evidence. I thought there were a lot of holes. I thought the police work was shoddy and I thought she may be innocent.

Dennis Murphy: Did you come to believe "I can't put this gun in her hand?"

Dennis Sweet: Yes.

Dennis Murphy:  Doing what she's accused of?

Dennis Sweet: Yes.

Dennis Murphy: You don’t always do that with a client.

Dennis Sweet: No, no.  It’s far more difficult to represent innocent people than guilty people, because you have a fear of losing and this innocent person sitting in prison.

The defense built its strategy around putting Brian Hughes's lifestyle on trial.

He was a man with an untidy love life and what was believed to be marijuana near his body.

Who could say, argued the defense, what kind of a person might have been drawn to his front door, him living carelessly like that?

Angry lovers? A jealous spouse? Maybe even a drug dealer?

Dennis Sweet: The evidence points to other places. There were several people who had motives stronger than Elicia's to harm Brian. There was girlfriend who had a husband and Brian had words with the husband. There was the issue of the drugs and the guy saying he wanted his money and hadn't been paid.

Dennis Murphy: So you can put several possible type of suspects at the door.

Dennis Sweet: I think there were several scenarios consistent with other people doing it, other than Elicia.   

Elicia's statement to police -- the one about being wakened to a "pop pop pop pop"-- had been picked apart by the prosecution and presented to the jury as evidence that she was lying.

She should have heard the alarm then the "pop pop pop pop," but she hadn't said that.

But the defense replied: Just look at your own experience.

Dennis Sweet: You're asleep, something wakes you up, and you're called to identify everything from your sleep? And then within a minute or less of being woken up you find your husband dead? And then you come back days or weeks later and are asked to give every scenario or every detail. And she told them "I can't remember the exact sequence," so I don't think it was unusual.

As for Elicia's demeanor — not appearing sufficiently weepy to satisfy all her in-laws -- defense attorney Sweet answered that that's just not the real picture.

Dennis Sweet: I don’t think it was fair when we have an ADT tape where she's just frantic, all right? I think her reaction was more consistent with innocence than guilt. 

One of the best things the defense had going for itself was the appearance in court of Elicia herself.

She was never going to take the stand, but just the way she projected herself at the defendant's table wasn't hurting her. Attractive. Composed. Petite. It was hard to envision her wielding a .45.

And as for drugging the kids so they wouldn't walk in on her murdering their father?

It didn't happen, according to the defense.

Dennis Sweet: This is a trial. A trial depends on evidence. There was no evidence that she had given them a sedative.  There’s no evidence that she gave them one thing.

The prosecutor had even had the jurors hear the sound of the saw that cut through a wall that night ...

Rebecca Mansell: Go ahead...

But, as loud as it was, Sweet said it was all still meaningless speculation.

Dennis Sweet: You can sit there every day and see kids at games asleep. You can be riding in the car, playing your music. Child right there on the back sleep. So the fact that a child may sleep when something's loud is nothing unusual.  

But the one thing knew he had to do if he had a hope of winning the case was blunt the testimony of the girlfriend that puts Elicia in the room with Brian moments before the shots were fired.

Dennis Sweet: The girlfriend was a problem. If you believed this girlfriend's testimony, Elicia Hughes was in the room with her husband only minutes before he was killed. 

Dennis Murphy: Are you thinking in terms of strategy, if I do not demolish the girlfriend’s story Elicia Hughes is going back to prison?

Dennis Sweet: Yes.

Dennis Murphy: That big a gamble?

Dennis Sweet: Yes, yes.

Remember, Rayford told the police two days after the murder that Brian had ended their call with "I'll call you back" — their lovers' code for "wife's in the room."

But seven months later, she would tell detectives that she had something else to add to her statement: She hadn't initially mentioned that before she got off the phone with Brian she specifically asked him if Elicia was standing in front of him and he had said yes.

Dennis Sweet: That's nowhere in here. Is that right? Isn’t it right?

Robbie Rayford: That's nowhere in there where I asked him, "is she in front of you?"

Dennis Murphy: This has not been part of her story.

Dennis Sweet: Not part of her story. It appears to me like "oh, we haven’t given you enough to indict Elicia, well let me add a little bit more on to it."

The defense did have a clear advantage when it came time to talk about the police work on the case.

Even the prosecution admitted it had left a lot to be desired.

The defense attorney's message was clear to the jury: The cops didn't have much on this woman and don’t trust what they do tell you about her.

Take the location of the bullet casings -- grouped in a phony kind of way, on the wrong side of the doorway, the prosecution had argued.

The defense answered back by getting one of the arriving police officers to admit that she'd moved the casings so the EMTs could get by with their gurney.

Dennis Sweet: Prior to those pictures of the shell casings being moved, you moved at least two of them didn't you?

Officer Westbrook: Yes sir

Dennis Sweet: By the time it was over we had them picking up gun casings and moving them and the gurney coming out. They couldn’t tell you where those gun casing were

And the prosecution had made a huge deal -- a case closed argument -- about the absence of blood around the doorway where Brian had presumably been shot by an unknown assailant.

The defense challenged that very assumption of a bloody mess.

Dennis Sweet: Where is the proof that the blood was going to splatter? There is none. Like on TV you expect to see every time a car rolls over it explodes. Every time somebody's shot there's splatter. There was no proof of that from the nature of these wounds that there were going to be blood spatter there.   

And as for that piece of forensic evidence that looked bad for the defendant, the trace of gunshot residue on the back of her left hand.

To defense attorney Sweet, the trace of residue they did find was useless as meaningful evidence, and was best explained by transference: The accused touching the victim as she tended to him.

Dennis Sweet: If someone touches something where all these thousands of residue particles are there, they may get some on them?

Expert: Yes sir, that is a way that residue can show up -- is through a transfer of someone touching something.

It's the nature of a defense lawyer's work to mostly counter punch. Let the prosecution give it their best shot, then jab their witnesses in cross-examination with hopes of bruising their testimony.

The defense team would do that in this case, but Dennis Sweet was also going to call to the stand a witness who hadn't been heard from during the first trial.

A witness whose testimony just might change the entire direction of the trial.

The second trial was being argued to a jury of mostly African-American women, meeting the judge's prescription for a fairer jury in the re-trial.

And now midway through the second trial, the prosecutor came to the defense with a deal.

If Elicia Hughes pleads guilty to manslaughter, she'll get no more than 10 years in prison.

A few years served versus life if the verdict went against her again.

Elicia Hughes: It was very tempting. I spent over six weeks in prison and I knew what prison is like. And for the unknown variable of the second trial not knowing how it was going to conclude, 10 years — where I will still get to be a part of my children's life as to opposed to reading about it in a letter or seeing pictures in the mail. It was very attractive to me. But in the end there was no way that I could say that I did something to hurt Brian when I know that I did not.

The prosecution's deal was rejected.

So the trial continued and the defense had a surprise witness, someone whose story hadn't been heard in the first trial at all.

This neighbor, who lived across the street from the Hughes, said the night of the shooting she she distinctly remembered hearing a car peel away.

Neighbor: That night I was on the phone with my aunt and, I heard some shots, and it's very unusual for me to hear shots in my neighborhood shortly thereafter I heard a car skid away.

Dennis Sweet: And you heard car tires screech away?

Neighbor: Yes, what I heard -- it sounded like a back out, and then skids away.

Dennis Sweet: She heard a car take off. Heard a screech off, right after the shots.

Dennis Murphy: And you had photo to show of tire marks?

Dennis Sweet: Right.

And while the prosecutor would point out there was no way to know if the skids marks were made that night, or even the year before, the defense hoped it had raised some doubt with the jury.

And the defense also attacked the prosecution’s theory of the motive for the murder -- that this was really a case about greed, a woman who not only wanted out of a failed marriage, but who wanted to buy a fresh start for herself with the insurance money she'd receive on her husband's death.

Dennis Sweet said, look, she's a third grade teacher who gave up a better paying job in the private sector. Clearly, she's not a person driven by money.

Dennis Sweet: You have a young lady with a Master's degree.  She’s worked hard, nobody's given her anything.  She’s living the American dream.  She has two beautiful children.  She doesn't seem to be motivated by money.  You know, she was working at an insurance company.  She gave up the job, came back and went to teach school.  

Dennis Murphy: Took a pay cut, right?

Dennis Sweet: Yeah, pay cut to go teach kids.

Why kill him for the insurance? It just didn't add up.

Sweet called to the stand the agent who sold Brian and Elicia the insurance policy. 

She testified she wrote the policy for a prudent amount -- just enough to cover the family if either Elicia or Brian died.

Dennis Sweet: And was the amount based on a recommendation by you?

Woman: Yes, it was.

Dennis Sweet: And what was that recommendation based on?

Woman: The financial needs that they would have, that either one of them would have if something happened to them. What would it take for him to be able live without her income and vice versa?

Dennis Sweet: They had an insurance policy. And so I guess anytime somebody's dead you can argue it's a motive for them to be dead. In, fact the evidence was that Brian and her purchased it together. They bought the insurance policy, it's in place. And she's done nothing about it. Been in place for a couple years.

Could someone have come to the front door that night, just as Elicia claimed?

She insists she was not the shooter.

Elicia Hughes: I did not kill my husband.

Dennis Murphy: You didn't take the gun and shoot him?

Elicia Hughes: No.

Dennis Murphy:  Because he was a run-around?

Elicia Hughes: No.

Dennis Murphy: For the insurance?

Elicia Hughes: No.

Dennis Murphy: Things weren't perfect but they were okay?

Elicia Hughes: They weren't perfect but they were okay.

The first jury had taken only two hours to find Elicia Hughes guilty of murder.

Now with virtually the same facts before them, the second jury was about to deliberate the school teacher's fate.

Elicia Hughes had been given a rare chance in the criminal justice system, a retrial, a do-over.

Elicia Hughes: Going into the second trial, I was little bit more knowledgeable but I still felt like a cork bobbing in the ocean, like I was a victim of the system. And then I just never knew what was going to happen from day to day. It was always something, and just when I think it couldn’t get worse, it would always get worse.

Would she walk free, or return to prison for a sentence to be determined but something approaching life?

Dennis Murphy: How agonizing is the wait?

Elicia Hughes: It was bad and I had friends and church members and everybody was praying that the verdict will come back as it should be.

Her lawyer sat and waited with her. He knew one jury had already found her guilty and the same thing could easily happen again.

Dennis Sweet: I was worried when the jury's out. I’ve been there when they say "guilty" before, and I thought that they should find her not guilty. But you never know what the jury's doing. And it's difficult waiting.

And now this second jury would decide her fate.

Among the 12, they were the forewoman, a city supervisor, plus a grocery store manager, a clerk, a school aide, an automobile factory manger, a hospital worker, and a factory supervisor -- all called to sit in judgment on another person and make an agonizing decision.

Linda: When it first started, I was thinking "oh my god, she did kill him."

Dennis Murphy: She had the motivation...

Linda: Yes.

Dennis Murphy: He was messing around...

Linda: Right.

They saw the husband as a guy who might have been asking for trouble.

Dennis Murphy: Who did Brian Hughes turn out to be for you?

Lesenta:  A young man that loved women.

Dennis Murphy: Liked women more than he should have, you think?

Lesenta: Right

Dennis Murphy: So he's not only cheating on his wife...

Linda: He's cheating on.

Dennis Murphy: He's cheating on his mistress

Linda:  And it just caught up up with him and it cost him his life.

But the more they thought about it, and the more evidence they heard, the jurors were having a hard time seeing the gun in Elicia Hughes' hand.

Demarcus: I couldn't see her killing her husband.

Dennis Murphy: Grade school teacher, taught third grade?

Demarcus: Yes. I just couldn't see her doing it.

Linda: She did not picture me as the type of woman that would kill her husband because she had found out that he was having an affair. Elicia gave me the impression that she was the type of woman that would have said, "Brian I can't take any more of this. I’m going to pack my clothes, my kids and I’m going to leave you."

And the jurors did not buy the testimony of the other woman in Brian's life -- the one who, seven months into the murder investigation, added that detail to her story, the one where she said she specifically asked if Elicia was standing right in front of him.

This juror didn't understand how come the girlfriend hadn't said that from the get-go.

Linda: The day after he was killed, she didn't mention anything about that. I thought that was very strange.

And the jury thought the police work was shoddy: The house not properly searched, the crime scene not tightly secured, those bullet casings moved.

Demarcus: They picked up, moved a lot of stuff around. They shouldn’t even touched a lot of stuff. They moved a lot of shell casing around.

Catherine: Nothing was right. They never searched the house for evidence to see if she did really do this or who did it.

Linda: Very poor police work.

And the jury wasn't persuaded by the prosecution's argument for a coolly plotted out, premeditated murder, if all they could show by way of evidence for that theory were two sleepy children.

Not drugged, thought the jurors. Just kids.

Shirley: I didn’t wonder why the children slept. I have children. And when my children went to sleep when they were little, they slept; they slept through a lot of things.

Linda: I mean kids of that age, once you put them to bed, they're normally asleep. Nothing wakes them up.

The jurors sifted through the evidence.

Could Elicia's low-simmering burn on Brian's womanizing finally have reached a boil?

Did her story about hearing the pops first and then the alarm that night make sense?

And what about that trace of gunshot residue on her hand?

Piece by piece, they came to terms with the evidence.

Remember: Another jury of 12, hearing much the same case, had convicted Elicia Huhges of murder. They saw her as a woman who, finally fed up with her husband's chronic philandering, executed a carefully laid-out plot to get rid of him and start the next chapter of her life with a generous insurance pay-out.

Now this second jury was finally ready to vote.

Dennis Murphy: Were you of one mind as jury?

Tina: One voice.

They're coming back with a verdict.

The courtroom rose as the jury returned with a verdict.

Dennis Murphy: You've made your decision, you're coming back in the courtroom, how did you feel?

Theresa: I felt very relieved. I feltlike I had done the right thing.

Prosecutor Rebecca Mansell may have looked composed, but...

Rebecca Mansell: Every time I come down for a jury verdict, you never know that I’m nervous except my hands sweat. And my hands were just pouring water.

The stakes were highest, of course, for Elicia Hughes herself.

Elicia Hughes: I was anxious. There was fear. There was hope. There was just a whole bonanza of emotions.

The courtroom settled for the reading of the verdict.

Verdict: We the jury find the defendant not guilty (crying...)

"Not Guilty" of murdering her husband, Brian.

Elicia Hughes: Utter relief. Great joy. Gratefulness to just a whole bunch of emotions that might appear random, but they just kind of meshed together and came out as I think a scream. 

For the prosecutors, it was nothing less than a bone-crushing defeat, made all the more personal by their utter conviction that a guilty woman was walking free.

Rebecca Mansell: I am not a very teary person, usually, but I actually cried when it was all over. It was because I felt so sorry for the family. And I felt like we had disappointed them because 12 people had said "yes, she's guilty of murder," and then we have 12 people that say "no, she's not guilty." It's so disparate what these two juries had come to and the evidence had not changed.

Dennis Murphy: She killed her husband and got away with it in the state of Mississippi?

Rebecca Mansell: She did.

Dennis Murphy: You think?

Rebecca Mansell: I know. This is not an "I think” this is an "I know." I know the evidence. There’s nothing else that points to any other person other than Elicia Hughes. And she was lucky. She got off. And she could literally go screaming down these streets "I killed Brian Hughes! I killed my husband!" And we could never try her again. Double Jeopardy has attached.

Dennis Murphy: And you believe she did it?

Rebecca Mansell: I have no question she did it.

Dennis Murphy: And you believe she got away with murder then?

Rebecca Mansell: Absolutely.

Remember, this was Elicia Hughes's second trial.

The jurors from her first trial who'd found her guilty were stunned by the second jury's polar opposite verdict.

Dennis Murphy: Do you think they got it wrong?

Dick Sevier: Absolutely.     

Dennis Murphy: Do you think that somebody decided not on the evidence ...

Dick Sevier: That's probably the only -- that it came out with a not guilty decision that the guy needed to be killed, and she was too nice a person to sentence to for murder.

Dennis Murphy: With two small children to care for.

Dick Sevier: Exactly.

Shirley Carr: That's my thoughts exactly.

Dennis Murphy: But what does that tell you about our justice system?

Dick Sevier: It's too flexible, if that's the case.

Shirley Carr: Yeah. 

The second jury couldn't disagree more. They thought Elicia Hughes was flat-out innocent.

Dennis Murphy: So what would you tell the first jury?

Female: They made a mistake.

Linda: They made a mistake.

Dennis Murphy: They got it wrong?

Linda: Got it wrong.

For Brian's family, the world had gone upside down.

Guilty in January. Free in November.

Dennis Murphy: Can you accept this?  A jury of her peers said --

Willie Hughes: No.

Dennis Murphy: ... "you are not guilty."

Willie Hughes: Within my heart, I don't feel that justice was served. Don't care how beautiful she may look.  I don't care how smart she may be.  She’s still a murderer.  

Dennis Murphy: And you believe she got away with murder?

Willie Hughes: I believe she got away with murder.

Dennis Murphy: Of your son, Brian.

Willie Hughes: That's correct.

Dennis Murphy: In a cold blooded manner, premeditated, you think.

Willie Hughes: That's right.  That's right.

Dennis Murphy: Stood above him, probably.

Willie Hughes:  That's right.

Dennis Murphy: With a .45 and unloaded on him.

Willie Hughes: Exactly.

Elicia has moved from the house where her husband was shot to death, but she still lives in the area, trying to erase certain memories and preserve others.  She still attends the same church, although she's not teaching anymore.

Dennis Murphy: You got your life back.

Elicia Hughes: Yes.  I did I’m definitely grateful for the not guilty verdict.  And it did give me the opportunity to live the rest of my life not behind bars.  But until the person who actually committed the crime is caught, you know, I don't feel like I’ll have my life back totally the way I want it back. Before this whole ordeal, you know, I had a family. I had a husband.  I had a job that I liked.  And, you know, now everything's changed.

Dennis Murphy: You're staying in Jackson.  You’re keeping your married name and yet people have to be looking at you sideways when you're at the grocery. When you're at church. Whispers, right?

Elicia Hughes: And they do.

Dennis Murphy: "She's the woman who got away with killing her husband?"

Elicia Hughes: I’ve heard that. But I also hear "Elicia, we were praying for you and your family." So my hope in how I make my comfort level okay to venture out into public is that as many people who think negative I think that an equal amount of people are thinking positive.  And I just kind of lean towards that.

Elicia is thinking about moving out west someday.

She can do as she pleases because she is among the rarest of onetime defendants, able to tell her story to two different juries, and get results as different as walking free — or going away almost forever.