James Keown was a man who circled back to where he’d come from—the morning man on news-talk radio in Jefferson City, Missouri.
After a taste of the bigtime, and studies at no less an institution than Harvard, Keown, the 30-year-old call-in host, had found a place to regain his footing and heal his wounds after what many thought was his great loss.
It had been years since he’d been behind the mike. Radio was James’ first love and now he was working again with the man who’d given him his big break when he was just a teenager with ambition and no experience.
Warren Kretch, mentor: He had just an uncanny confidence about him.
Warren Kretch remembers he was doing his show as a live remote when this 15-year-old kid stuck out his hand and told the veteran broadcaster he could do him some good if he’d hire him.
James Keown, even then, was nothing if not glib and confident.
Kretch: I put him on the air as a disc jockey.
Murphy: He had the goods?
Kretch: [He was] an amazing kid. I have hired umpteen part timers in my day. And he was the standout in that whole crowd, in my 35 years in this business.
So in 2004, when a very grown up James Keown showed up back in Jeff City looking for work, Warren Kretch urged his bosses at the radio station to hire his former protege.
Kretch: Frankly he would have been way overqualified to go back to work in Jefferson City, Missouri after all the things he had done.
Murphy: Even as on air talent?
James Keown, son of a statehouse lobbyist, grew up with an ear tuned to the state capitol’s gossip. Two decades later, that’s what his popular morning show was all about— dishing out the latest political buzz around town. He’d gab about the politicos he’d seen at dinner the night before, rubbing prominent elbows at the Capitol’s watering holes.
What he kept out of the banter for the most part was maybe the important biographical detail of his life: That his wife of nearly 8 years, Julie Keown, had died recently. The man behind the mike was trying to open a new, happier chapter in his life.
To this friend from high school days, James Keown confided a secret: the real reason for his wife’s death. She had been chronically ill, he said, before falling into a severe depression.
Julie Webber, James Keown's friend: Julie had actually committed suicide because she had been depressed.
In the rare times he shared his story, his friends and family understood that his desperate wife had loved him right up to her final hours.
They’d been an opposites attract couple from the start. Him, the teenage disc jockey, the child of a state bigwig, and she, a farmer’s daughter from the rolling soybean fields of western Missouri.
Nancy Oldag, Julie’s mother: I thought a perfect child. She never gave us any problems at all.
Before James came along, she was known as Julie Oldag. Her parents Nancy and Jack, remember a sharp-witted, outgoing kid with a small appetite for mischief.
Nancy Oldag: I think the only thing she did was wrong was during high school. She had a music teacher that she really liked and her and her friends went out and stuck plastic forks in his yard one night (laughter). And she drove the getaway car.
Harmless pranks aside, her parents say Julie was always a sensible, rooted person.
At college, friends set Julie up with a guy they knew from the campus radio station. Mike and Stephany Webb— now a married couple— thought that Julie might blossom in the company of James Keown.
The salt of the earth girl and the full of himself boy always swinging for the fences.
Mike Webb, friend of the couple: Well, her being very down to earth, very grounded... and him being very ambitious and sort of... larger than life. There was a balance there.
That blind date freshman year was a success as Mike and Stephany watched their friends James and Julie find an easy pace for their growing relationship. When his balloon threatened to sail away, Julie would tug James back to earth.
Stephany Webb: She would just say, “That’s not true. That’s b.s., James.”
When Julie graduated with a degree in nursing, James hadn’t finished college. It seemed only natural to one and all that the two were getting married.
Mike Webb: Watching the two of them together had inspired us as a couple because of the way they loved one another.
The newlyweds settled just outside Kansas City where James still worked in the radio biz—mostly behind the scenes. No one doubted James, the big dreamer with his non-stop chat, would make it in radio, or anything else he set his mind on.
Things certainly seemed to be going well for James a few years later when he went home to Jefferson city and took his one-time boss and mentor Warren Kretch out to lunch. He announced he was now working a cushy gig in Chicago with ESPN Radio, the sports broadcasters. From what his old boss could tell, the protege was earning a good living.
Kretch: There was a little twinge a jealousy when this kid that I trained in when he was 15 years old picks me up for lunch in a BMW.
Betsy Dudenhoeffer—a high school classmate—says Keown’s old pals wore a similar shade of envy green when he pulled up to their 10-year high school reunion in a rolling success story and a slightly different set of wheels.
Betsy Dudenhoeffer: He shows up in a brand new, top of the line, fully loaded Mercedes-Benz -- gorgeous and easily a $60,000, $70,000 car. And he tells us he’s the voice of ESPN. He’s living in Chicago. He’s living the high life.
But by his late 20s, the old friends had lost touch with James’ brilliant career. Word reached home that he’d left Chicago, gone back to Kansas City – and after some setbacks, had gotten out of radio and into marketing and Web consulting.
His new boss Tammie Blossom liked her hire.
Tammie Blossom, James Keown's boss: Boy, he’s got an impressive resume. And this is a guy that’s smart and going places.
And where he was going next came as something of a surprise—good news certainly—but not expected. James announced that he’d been accepted into the prestigious Harvard Business School.
He and Julie would be uprooting themselves from Missouri and heading for Boston. A new beginning for the Keowns which would turn out to be the end.
Boston, Massachusettes, home to the Bean and the Cod, was also home to Julie and James Keown from Missouri and as of January 2004. After nearly 8 years of marriage it was almost as though they were starting over.
James would be throwing himself into studies at the elite of elites, Harvard Business School, while still telecommuting via laptop to his old job back in Kansas City. His employer thought it was a win-win situation.
Tammie Blossom, James Keown's boss: Things were clipping along and moving along. And we thought things were just fine.
The Keowns rented half of a two-family house in the Boston suburbs. Like James, Julie had a job that let her work out of the home by computer. Friends and family in Missouri were hearing only good things about the couple’s excellent adventure back East.
Dennis Murphy, Dateline correspondent: So he’s telling about attending lectures, going to courses, hitting the books, meeting lots of people.
Mike Webb, friend: Right.
Murphy: Everything is going up, up, up, up.
Webb: It’s great. Everything’s great.
But a few months later, by June of 2004, it wasn’t so great. Julie was feeling unwell, chronically draggy. More disturbing: It wasn’t clear just what her problem was.
When James’ mother Betty Keown came out for a visit that July, Julie had taken to bed.
Betty Keown, James’ mother: She was not feeling well. As a matter of fact, when we were there, she was upstairs a lot laying down.
She rallied a bit after that, enough at least for James and Julie to take a vacation in North Carolina with their dear friends from college days, Mike and Stephany Webb. It was August and Julie had talked about her recent illness.
Stephany Webb: And her electrolyte count was off. James had been pushing Gatorade to get her electrolytes back in balance.
Mike Webb: Keep her rehydrated.
But the Webbs noticed that the glass half-full in all the months of a puzzling illness was that James and Julie seemed closer than ever.
Stephany Webb: In fact we commented that he was very loving. He got her drinks, cuddled with her...
Mike Webb: He was much more attentive to her needs minute by minute than I’d ever seen him.
But all of James’ TLC wasn’t making his wife well. A few weeks later, after the couple had returned to Boston, the nurturing husband placed another call back home to Missouri... a disturbing one to his in-laws. Julie’s dad Jack Oldag picked up the phone.
Jack Oldag, Julie's mother: I got a call, I think it was a Friday night. And that Julie went to the hospital and her speech was slurred and her motor skills were out of whack.
Days later the doctors still weren’t sure why Julie had become so ill so suddenly. But this time doctors did diagnose something wrong with her. Tests revealed one of Julie’s kidneys was smaller and scarred. She had lost almost half of her normal kidney function.
Murphy: That’s shocking news for a young lady.
Nancy Oldag, Julie's mother: Yeah, she was very upset.
Murphy: Was she talking about having a family or planning a family and—
Nancy Oldag: They told us that they had been trying to have children. We weren’t aware of it before.
During that late August visit to Boston, Nancy was relieved to see the color coming back into her daughter’s cheeks and she was pleased to note her son-in-law James giving Julie so much tender attention.
James took his in-laws sightseeing, on a tour of Harvard Square and on a road trip to Maine. Julie recalled while they were driving how the doctors at the hospital had asked her just the most absurd question. Was her husband poisoning her? And the doctors were serious.
Nancy Oldag: And then she tapped James on the shoulder and said, “Isn’t that right, James?” And he says, “Yeah.” And he says, “I was really getting annoyed at them because they kept bringing that up.”
By the time they left at the end of August, the Oldags were feeling better about Julie. She was already searching the Internet for information on how to get pregnant while battling kidney disease. And she was e-mailing friends with nothing but praise for James for taking such good care of her while working and going to school full-time.
And then, a few days later, Saturday morning, September 4th, Julie Keown’s mysterious malady came roaring back. A kidney doctor later testified that James Keown had called her explaining Kulie’s latest symptoms: garbled speech, confusion, difficulty walking. The doctor advised Keown to get his wife to an emergency room right away. Roughly ten hours later, he walked with Julie into an ER. Two hours after that, she had lapsed into a coma.
Her parents in Missouri got the news, flew back to Boston and headed straight for the hospital. This time the doctors examining Julie came up with an even sharper diagnosis. Yes, they said, Julie did have a chronic kidney disease, but it wasn’t the reason the young woman was deathly ill. She’d been poisoned with ethylene glycol – otherwise known as antifreeze.
Nancy Oldag: How did this happen?
Murphy: Adoctor is telling you she’s been poisoned.
Nancy Oldag: Yes.
Murphy: Whether she did it herself or by someone else you don’t know, but she’s been poisoned. That’s why she’s in desperate straits in the hospital.
Jack Oldag: And they suspected that she’d been getting this all along.
Nancy Oldag: Uh-huh (affirm), for over a long period of time.
The doctors explained that Julie’s kidneys were shutting down, being blocked by tiny crystals manufactured from the antifreeze. The diagnosis explained her months of illness, nausea, and slurred speech.
Doctors administered the antidote but it was too late to flush out her kidneys. She was going into irreversible decline, kept alive only by machines. James’ mother Betty Keown watched her daughter-in-law fading.
Betty Keown: I just thought she’d be okay. And then her body would jerk. And I thought, “Ah, she’s coming around. She’s gonna be okay.” And that wasn’t to be.
It was too late: The poison had taken her. As their 31-year-old daughter lay dying, the Oldags walked out of the hospital and hailed a cab to the local police station.
They wanted detectives there to help them answer two questions: How could a car additive like antifreeze wind up in their daughter’s system—and who on earth could have put it there?
On September 8th, 2004, four days after first being admitted to the emergency room, the machine keeping 31-year old Julie Keown alive was turned off. Doctors said she had died because she’d ingested a massive amount of ethelyne glycol: antifreeze.
There seemed to be only two plausible theories: she’d either committed suicide or someone had killed her.
Police investigators began taking down information from the attending doctors and from her husband James. Nat Yaeger is an assistant district attorney just outside Boston.
Nat Yaeger, Assistant D.A.: [James] gives a very unusually detailed medical history—
Dennis Murphy, Dateline correspondent: Of his wife?
Yaeger: --Of his wife.
Murphy: Not being evasive, here?
Yaeger: Not at all.
The husband James Keown also had a theory about what may have happened. He told a friend that in the hours before she’d become violently ill, he’d seen Julie looking disoriented, sitting on a curb in the neighborhood, drinking from a bottle of Gatorade. Maybe, he said, she had picked it out of a neighbor’s trash bin and maybe it had contained discarded antifreeze—a terrible accident.
The police went to the couple’s home in Waltham, a Boston suburb, to look for any trace of antifreeze.
Yaeger: They searched the house for obvious signs of ethylene glycol. Antifreeze, basically—and they don’t find anything.
But police eventually did take two computers from the home which were mainly used by Julie. That’s when they found her Web searches for ways to live with chronic kidney problems. Or, perhaps, was there another way to look at her Googling? Had she been so distressed by what she found there that she slumped into despair and, the nurse that she was, had found a cheap and widely available poison to take her own life?
Antifreeze’s key ingredient, ethylene glycol, can be lethal. It’s also sweet-tasting and blends easily with sugary liquids—like sweet tea or Gatorade. A person drinking a mix like that might never detect the danger. Victims of ethylene glycol poisoning can recover from small doses but in large amounts the antidote has to be administered immediately. To wait is almost certainly to die.
But the suicide theory was problematic. Death-by-antifreeze is a slow, painful way to go. How many people would actually choose to kill themselves with it?
That and the victim’s state of mind, as related by friends like Mike and Stephany Webb, started to make the idea of suicide sound implausible to detectives.
Stephany Webb: I thought she must have committed suicide. She must have. But then I looked back and I thought, “But she was hopeful. She had talked about seeing a specialist. She wouldn’t have done that.” And I couldn’t explain it.
And yet, there was something about the Gatorade story that sat uneasily with the detectives. The Webbs recounted what Julie had said during their last vacation together—how James wanted her to drink Gatorade, keep her from dehydrating. Even Julie’s mom remembered seeing the beverage in the couple’s home during that August visit.
Nancy Oldag, Julie's mother: I noticed there was a partial bottle of gatorade in the refrigerator. I didn’t think anything of it.
One obvious conclusion was almost too hard to contemplate: Could the loving husband, James Keown, have slowly poisoned his wife to death by lacing her Gatorade with ethylene glycol over a period of weeks or even months?
If so, police were coming up empty-handed on any forensic link between the husband and antifreeze.
Murphy: Neighbors didn’t see him siphoning it out of the car?
Murphy: You didn’t get lucky of anything like that?
Yaeger: Nothing like that, no. And we looked. We looked for receipts for ethylene glycol, credit card records for ethylene glycol. Antifreeze, that kind of thing. We couldn’t find it.
Instead, they’d have to learn more about who James Keown was. The investigation would take more than a year.
In the meantime, James pulled up stakes in Boston and returned to his native Jefferson City, Mo. He found a job back on the radio, in a hometown that years before had seen him as a rising star. His mom Betty was happy to have him back.
Betty Keown: He wasn’t making a whole lot of money at it, but at least he was gonna get back on his feet and try to get his life together.
At one point, his in-laws casually asked how he planned to make a living. That’s when he mentioned Julie’s life insurance policy of $250,000.
Nancy Oldag: And he says, “I went and filled out the paperwork for that after the funeral was over.”
According to some friends, he talked about using the money to buy a new home and BMW. Whatever was left, he reportedly said, he’d use to set up a foundation in Julie’s memory.
Until the life insurance paid off, though, he’d have to work. Besides, his new radio gig seemed to be just what James Keown needed. As he signed on with his first show, he briefly mentioned his recent loss.
But when it came to explaining how his wife had passed away, he told old friends different things.
Betsy Dudenhoeffer: He told me she died of stomach cancer.
Warren Kretch, mentor: Congenital kidney problem.
And to another friend, he offered yet another cause of death. It was a secret, he said. And a bombshell.
Julie Webber: Julie had actually committed suicide.
Suicide. Maybe the social stigma of it explained why he so rarely mentioned Julie. Instead he blogged and dated and got on with life.
He’d just kicked off his daily radio show at 9am that first Monday in November 2005 when he stepped outside the little studio during a commercial break. Warren Kretch had just gotten off the air and watched dumfounded as a group of men in State of Massachusetts windbreakers walked in and confronted the talk radio host.
Kretch: These guys weren’t messing around. They walked right in the door. They saw him in the hallway. And they arrested him on the spot.
The Massachusetts State Police informed Keown he would be arraigned in court for the murder of his wife Julie.
James Keown—who always knew how to fill dead air—barely said a word as he was led away to a holding cell
He’d always wanted to be the talk of the town and now he was.
For months after his arrest, James Keown’s family and friends wondered why the State of Massachusetts would make such an outrageous claim against such a decent guy. Still, even his own mother had to swallow hard and ask her son the tough question.
Betty Keown, James Keown's mother: I say, “James, did you do this to Julie?” And he said, “Mom, no.” He says, “You know, I didn’t.” I said, “I know.” But, I said, “I had to ask you.”
For awhile, some here even wondered if Massachusetts might release James Keown. Two and half years after his arrest, his case still hadn’t gone to trial. And then in June of 2008 the former radio star was back in the news: The state was finally ready to try James Keown for his wife’s murder.
“Murder by deception,” claimed the prosecution. The prosecutor told the couple’s story: Julie Keown had been living and sleeping with a stranger for most of her marriage. James Keown, he said, was a shameless liar, going all the way back to his early days in radio.
Those stories he told friends like Betsy Dudenhoeffer about being the voice of ESPN radio in Chicago — bogus. James had really been more of a behind-the-scenes guy.
And that fancy car he paraded in front of Betsy, the one he said he had paid thousands for?Friends later found out the nice wheels had been a rental.
But the biggest whopper James Keown had told—the granddaddy of them all—was about getting into Harvard.
And he’s telling friends and family, and they’re all buying it, he’s going to one of the most elite, prestigious institutions in the country, Harvard?
Nat Yaeger, prosecution: He fakes a letter saying basically that he got into Harvard Business and ‘I’ll see you at Harvard in the yard in the fall.”
In court, the prosecutor asked a former admissions director for Harvard if she’d ever written that acceptance letter to Keown: it wasn’t.
In fact, Keown’s only connection to Harvard was a computer course he took from the university’s extension school. He flunked it.
But James Keown, claimed the prosecutor, was more than a liar. He was also an embezzler. He had bilked his Kansas City employer out of $60,000, billing them with phony invoices for work he’d never done.
Nat Yaeger: It’s fraud.
He committed extortion, there’s no doubt about it.
On the stand, his Kansas City boss testified how her starry-eyed view of Keown quickly darkened when she realized his scam. In July 2004, Tammy Blossom phoned Keown—known as JP to his coworkers—and confronted him. She ended up firing him as a result.
Still, according to the prosecutor, Julie Keown was in the dark about everything: about the firing, the fraud, the Harvard that wasn’t. She didn’t even know they were dead broke and unable to pay their rent. The prosecutor said Keown concealed it all from her.
Murphy: Not to speak ill of the dead, but how could she be so naïve?
Yaeger: Well, that was something I was very worried about. And I think the answer is, is she was in love with him. She trusted him. And she was in love with him.
Murphy: So, he was running a con on her?
Yaeger: No question about it. I believe James Keown ran a con on everyone he ever spoke to.
By July 2004, with his world imploding, the prosecutor said Keown saw only two choices before him. One: He could tell his wife everything. In essence to gamble his marriage...
Yaeger: Or he could kill her.
And Plan B came with an added benefit—a payout of $250,000 from his wife’s life insurance policy. Enough to get James Keown out of debt and onto a new life.
The prosecutor said the poignant story told by Julie’s laptop underscored how clueless she was: he argued that all the while her husband was slowly killing her a dose at time with antifreeze, she was making online searches on how to deal with a failing kidney, the consequences for pregnancy. Just days before her death, the prosecutor said, she even sent an email to a new friend.
Yaeger: “I’m very fortunate to have a husband like James, who’s working fulltime, going to Harvard fulltime. I worry about messing that up for him.”
Meanwhile his laptop told a different story altogether. The prosecutor said James Keown was Googling different ways to poison someone, with searches for “arsenic” and “ricin” before finally settling on antifreeze, lethal, cheap and available. The prosecution wouldn’t bring it up at trial but Keown’s sometime handle online was “Kaiser So-say,” the character from a cult movie favorite “The Usual Suspects.” Kevin Spacey won an Oscar for his portrayal of an amoral conman and killer who fools police with a yarn about an imaginary, murderous villain named “Kaiser So-say.”
Why had the glib radio man identified with such an oily and lethal character?
Keown friend Mike Webb said his hairs stood on end when he learned about the Kaiser So-say business.
Mike Webb, friend: Chilling that it could have been, from end to end, something that he dreamt, that he built. It’s not something I can reconcile. I can’t make it fit with what I knew of him before.
But the prosecutor said it was all just that: an elaborate plot hatched by a cold, hard man whose tissues of lies were shredding around him. There were no forensics to put the antifreeze in the defendant’s hands. But make no mistake, argued the prosecutor, James Keown was a killer.
Still, maybe there was more than one way to read the evidence so painstakingly laid out by the prosecutor: those damning computer files, the emails, Julie’s long illness. The jury was about to take a look at all those things through another lens—one that trained its focus squarely on the victim herself in the agonizing days before her death.
One key issue wasn’t in dispute: Julie Keown had died a terrible death by ingesting antifreeze. No doubt about that from either side in the courtroom.
Defense attorney Matthew Feinberg said the big question, however, was how the poison got in her system.
Matthew Feinberg, defense attorney, at trial: This case is about how this happened, and by what means. And the fact is, and it will remain, the commonwealth doesn’t know how it happened and neither do we.
The defense found the state’s charge that Keown had murdered his wife to be pure conjecture. There was no real evidence, it argued, nothing to tie the defendant to the so-called murder. In fact, the defense countered that it probably wasn’t a murder when you took a closer look at the victim’s deteriorating health and mental state in the last weeks of her life
The defense’s sole witness, a medical expert, testified that Julie Keown was a young woman whose kidneys had grown weaker over the course of many years.
Dr. Hellman, medical expert: The kidney when it’s injured and chronically injured becomes small and shrunken. So it is my opinion that this is evidence that the kidney, in fact, had evidence of significant chronic disease.
And Julie Keown, the doctor said, was taking a drug called prednisone to treat the condition. A steroid that can produce dramatic side effects, severe mood swings.
In higher doses, Prednisone could even make the patient lose touch with reality, the doctor testified. Remember, days before Julie death, James Keown had reportedly seen his wife wandering the streets, looking dazed and drinking from a Gatorade bottle. A devastating illness, mind altering drugs?
Even Julie Keown’s own mother conceded on cross-examination that suicide was not out of the question.
As for those damning computer searches for poisons and ways to die found on James Keown’s home computer, the defense grilled the prosecution’s computer expert. After all he said, the couple shared a home office, perhaps even each other’s computers.
Defense attorney: Anybody could simply turn on these computers and use it under any account name at all, right?
Andrew Winrow, computer expert: Theoretically, yes.
Defense attorney: Well, not theoretically. I mean—as a matter of fact, isn’t that right?
Andrew Winrow: If they had access to it, yes.
The suggestion was clear. Maybe Julie Keown, in a fog of drugs and depression, had been trolling her husband’s computer looking for a way out of her misery. Suicide. To the defendant’s mother, the evidence suddenly looked less incriminating.
Betty Keown: They didn’t know who did those. Anybody could have done those.
Not only that, said the defense, but the prosecution’s theory that James Keown’s tumbling house of cards had driven him to murder didn’t make sense either. It noted that Julie was well of aware of what was happening: that her husband wasn’t exactly enrolled at Harvard; that he’d just lost his job; that money was tight.
And Julie’s frequent bank transfers, claimed the defense, proved she understood their financial dilemma. What’s more, she was still drawing a paycheck. Each had retirement accounts and ready access to cash.
In other words, there was no reason for a loving husband to kill his wife—not for a life insurance policy that paid only $250,000 dollars.
Instead, the defense aruged, James Keown loved his wife deeply and with devotion. Witness after witness, for the prosecution had admitted as much to the defense.
So in the end, at least to James Keown’s mother, sitting patiently by her son in the courtroom day after day, the prosecution’s case did not amount to much. No sound motive. No solid proof. No figurative murder weapon in the hands of her son.
The jury had heard all there was to hear—the evidence, or lack thereof. But they would not hear from the defendant himself. James Keown would not take the stand. He had no legal obligation to do that, and it didn’t matter anyway said defense attorney Matthew Feinberg. There was no murder here—just a sad death of a sick woman.
James Keown, the man who had captured loyal radio listeners in his hometown had just made his best case for freedom to 12 strangers.
More than three years after the death of Julie Keown, one of two things was about to happen: her parents would win what they saw as justice for their daughter or her husband would walk free. The case of The Commonwealth of Massachusetts versus James P. Keown was in the hands of the jury.
The parade of witnesses had convinced the jurors, including Danielle Savado and Charmaine Cooke, that poison had indeed killed Julie Keown. Now they only had to figure out by whose hand.
Juror: It could have been an accident, it could have been a suicide, it could have been a murder.
The first scenario, an accident, was an easy one for jurors to throw out. The story about Julie drinking from a tainted Gatorade bottle sounded too convoluted. What’s more, those computer searches for ways to poison showed someone was planning something weeks before Julie died.
Juror: Somebody did a search for poison. Whether it was him or her, somebody did it so obviously it wasn’t an accident.
Was it possibly Julie who’d done the web searching looking for an exit from her misery? Was it suicide? Danielle and Charmaine said this was the most time-consuming question they posed. After all, Julie Keown had plenty of reasons to be depressed.
Juror: We were thinking maybe she was depressed because of her kidney disease and maybe not being able to have children.
And yet those damning computer searches were, after all, done on James’ computer—not on Julie’s. Still, Danielle believes Julie Keown may have been the one at the keyboard.
Julie Keown committing suicide was a plausible scenario to everyone deliberating. Even Julie’s own mother conceded as much on the stand.
But the suicide theory came with a thorny problem for the jurors: If Julie had been hunting for ways to kill herself on her husband’s computer, why in the world would she also be hunting for ways to keep herself alive on another? Her own laptop yielded search after search on anything and everything related to surviving kidney disease—the illness she thought had doomed her.
Juror: She looked like just wanted to figure it out, just fight it through—
Dennis Murphy, Dateline correspondent: Solve the puzzle of—
Juror: --just solve it.
Murphy: --Her illness?
Juror: And just get it over with and done. Like, she documented so much of how she was feeling and her medicines and the effects they were having on her. And she just had so much hope.
For jurors it boiled down to a tale of two computers: one used to hunt out death, the other, life. Those were two entirely different pursuits and two entirely different users. There was only one person left to blame.
Juror: We had to go on all of his lies. His deceit, we just had to go on the picture that was presented to us.
The jury found James Keown guilty of first degree murder. The jurors had concluded that James Keown had planned his wife’s death, had executed it, and then had slowly watched her fade away over the course of several weeks.
Juror: I think it was his lies falling in on him. I think it was having to face her. It’s easier to be a widower… instead of be the big liar.
For Julie’s parents, a chance— finally— to exhale.
Nancy Oldag:[It was] just a big sense of relief… he didn’t get away with it.
Murphy: But it doesn’t bring Julie back.
Nancy Oldag: No, no.
The Oldags, though, got a chance to tell their former son-in-law just what they thought of him after the verdict in open court.
Nancy Oldag: He is just a mass of flesh and bone taking up space on this earth.
Even the judge lashed out at James Keown.
Judge, in court: I am truly in the presence of an evil person.
The judge sentenced him to life in prison, no possibility of parole. For James Keown’s mother, virtually the only one to stand by him, the verdict may have upended her world—but not her deep faith in her son.
Betty Keown: James is a wonderful man. And James will be back home. I just hope i live to see it. But, he will be.
The Oldags, of course, are of a very different opinion about their former son-in-law. To them he is a stranger of terrible talent and skill, so glib he was able to fool them all and fool their daughter even up to the very minute she drew her last breath.
Nancy Oldag: The most important thing in his life and the only person he loved was himself. And all the rest of it was just a façade. Everybody else on earth, everybody else he knew was there for his use.
His listeners have moved on. The James Keown show is off the air.
James Keown has a new lawyer who's planning to help him appeal last year's conviction. Julie Oldag's family is campaigning for laws requiring a bitter chemical to be added to anti-freeze. It's estimated that hundreds of children and thousands of animals accidentally ingest the sweet tasting poison each year.