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The Mysterious Death of a Titan

There was a time when former NFL quarterback Steve McNair seemed indestructible. But when he wasn't playing on the field, was he playing with fire? Learn from insiders what may have led to the football star's murder.
/ Source: Dateline NBC

Nashville, Tenn., Saturday. The fourth day of an unusually cool July. Reporter Josh Devine wasn't all that happy to be going to work.

Josh Devine: I had friends who were going to be barbecuing, like everybody else was on the fourth of July.  But had to be here.  So I walked in the door at 2:00, like I normally do.  Sat down at my desk.  Started checking e-mail.

It promised to be a slow countdown to the nighttime fireworks.  And then...

Josh Devine: We had heard a little bit of scanner traffic about this shooting in downtown Nashville with two victims.  And so, your ears always perk up when you hear that kind of thing.

Before Devine could even get out the door to check it out, the news got much, much bigger.

Josh Devine: We got a phone call from one of our reporters who had said, "I have it on good authority that this might be Steve McNair. 

Steve McNair.  In Nashville, he was a household name, a local hero. A titan.

Josh Devine: My initial reaction was, "What?  You've got to be kidding me."

Steve McNair had quarterbacked the Tennessee Titans to the 2000 Superbowl.  Known for his courage on the field – and his grace and charity off it. McNair was 36-- just a year into what promised to be a long and prosperous retirement.

Devine rushed to the reported scene of the shooting. Not McNair's multimillion-dollar home in the suburbs. But a modest apartment near downtown.

Josh Devine: Everyone knew that it was certainly serious.  I mean, you had police all over the place.  You had detectives all over the place.

Word was spreading among those closest to McNair. Eddie George is a friend and former teammate.

Lester Holt: I want you to take me back to July 4.

Eddie George: I get a phone call from a friend sayin', "Have you heard that-- that Steve was shot at a party last night?"  And I said-- and this is-- I'm like, "Come on, man.  You know, doesn't even sound right." 

Joseph Walker is the McNair family's minister and friend.

Joseph Warren Walker: There were text messages coming back and forth about what might have happened, maybe Steve had been shot.  But, you know, maybe some fight had taken place and maybe he'd been shot in the arm.  Nobody thought the worse.

But back at the apartment, medical examiner Feng Li knew instantly that the worst had happened.

Dr. Feng Lee: I respond to the scene.  And I saw two victims, one male and one female.  The male victim was obviously Mr. McNair, I recognized him right away.

McNair's wife Mechelle was at home with the couple's two sons, ages 5 and 10. Pastor Walker arrived just moments after police notified her of Steve's death.

Joseph Warren Walker: And I think yet there was a sense of denial.  I think when I walked in, I think that denial went away and it became very, very real.  All I knew to do was embrace Mechelle-- embrace the boys.  And-- a moment I'll never forget the rest of my life.

The family's grief didn't stay private for long. Eddie George and his wife drove to McNair's house.

Eddie George: It was just total silence.  Crying.  Hugging.  And just shock. 

Back at the apartment – the crime scene – Josh Devine saw firsthand that it was not just friends and family who mourned Steve McNair.

Josh Devine: People literally came out of the woodwork.  And it was an interesting cross section of Nashville. I think there was just this general sense that people were wholeheartedly stunned that a guy who had contributed so much to Nashville on and off the field had-- had died in-- in such a way.

Died in what way, exactly? The bodies had been found by a man named Wayne Neeley-- who had a key to the apartment.  He in turn called Robert "Big Daddy" Gaddy, who had known McNair since college. Gaddy rushed to the scene.

Gaddy: When I walked into the room, that’s a vision I will be haunted with for the rest of my life. That's not the way I ever want - or thought -  I would remember one of my best friends.

It was Gaddy who called 911.

In time, the actions of both men would raise questions.  But that first day, it was something else that caught everyone's attention.

Don Aaron: McNair was hit multiple times, including a gunshot wound to the head. His female friend, Ms. Kazemi, suffered one gunshot wound to the head.

Female friend?  Sahel Kazemi, the second victim, was just 20 years old. 

Don Aaron: From what I understand, she was a friend. She was a friend of McNair's. The vehicle, the 2007 Cadillac Escalade, is registered to both her and McNair.

The black Cadillac Escalade was parked at the scene of the double shooting.  But how was it that McNair and his young "friend" bought a luxury SUV together? 

And how did it happen that McNair had been in the vehicle-- apparently drunk-- when Kazemi was arrested for DUI just two days before the shootings? It began to seem that Steve McNair had a secret life.

Lester Holt: Were you angry at all with Steve when-- when you heard the circumstances of his death?  Disappointed?

Eddie George: I-- I-- not-- not angry.  Disappointed. 

How did this beloved and richly paid athlete, in just a few short years, go from the pinnacle of his sport to a violent death in a tiny apartment?  Was Steve McNair done in by his own bad decisions, or was there a deeper mystery here? How and why did the Titan fall?

Part 2

When Steve McNair died, thousands of people came to pay their respects to a man they may never have met, but considered a hero. A small-town boy who made it to the top, but never forgot where he came from.

Drive about 50 miles southeast of Jackson, Miss., and you'll come to Mount Olive.  A one-lane town of 1,000 souls that proudly identifies itself as "the home of Steve McNair."

Steve was born on Valentine's Day, 1973.  One of five sons raised in this home by a single mom, he soon became a standout athlete. McNair played college ball at Alcorn State, a small school he transformed into a football powerhouse.

In 1995, the Houston Oilers drafted McNair in the first round, signing him to a seven year contract that paid $28 million - and changed his whole life.

Eddie George: You literally go from-- depending on your background, not having anything to overnight having anything you want.

Eddie George knows exactly what it's like to be young, rich and a superstar.  The oilers drafted him in the first round too-- just a year after McNair.

Eddie George: You walk into a situation where you have millions of-- millions of dollars and it's guaranteed--

Lester Holt: How do people treat you? Friends, strangers?

Eddie George: Oh, you're their best friend.  (laughs) I mean you go from bein' a funny lookin' guy to bein' the best lookin' guy on-- in the world.  You know?

Lester Holt: What's not to like?

Eddie George: I mean it's-- it's a great lifestyle.  But the flip side of it, it-- it's a mean business.  And you can be taken advantage of very easily.

McNair seemed to take it in stride.  In 1997, he married his college sweetheart.  He and Mechelle had two sons.  Steve also had two older boys from previous relationships. Mechelle McNair became the very image of the supportive NFL wife.

Mechelle McNair: I always tell him, I'm behind you 100%. We're your family, we're there for you.

But George says all of it - money, fame, women- come at you so fast, it can be hard to handle.

Lester Holt: We all face struggles. But as a professional athlete it just seems like the temptation just must be rollin' in front of you all the time?

Eddie George: Oh yeah.  I mean you walk in the clubs and-- and people recognize you.  And it's like flies.  You know?  They're attracted to-- to the light. 

Yet Steve McNair seemed to avoid all the pitfalls. A celebrity who didn't act like one. He used some of his NFL money to build his mom a nice home in Mount Olive, 640 acres on newly christened "Air McNair Road." McNair also plowed some of his football millions back into the towns he called home. He sponsored football camps for kids. He was a major benefactor of the Boys And Girls Clubs.

Lester Holt: What kind of leader was he?  What-- what tone did he set for the team?

Eddie George: Oh, Steve was-- was a quiet leader. So tough inside the pocket. I mean, he would get up after plays wincing, limping, out of breath--

Lester Holt: He wasn't--

Eddie George: --and still--

Lester Holt: --afraid to take a hit?

Eddie George: No. 

McNair led his team through a move from Texas to Tennessee.  Renamed the Titans, they fought their way to the Superbowl in 2000.

The fairy tale ended with a heartbreaker: the Titans lost on the last play of the game.

The Titans never recaptured the magic of that Superbowl run. But McNair played on.

Steve McNair: If I don't win the Superbowl, it's not the end of the world. As long as I can come home and kiss my kids and enjoy my family, I'm fine.

McNair had some trouble off the fileld. Arrests for DIU in 2003 and again in 2007. Both times, charges were dismissed, but he was remoreseful. 

Steve McNair: I want to apologize to my teammates, coaches, this organization for putting myself in a situation of this magnitude. This is another hurdle I gotta jump over, but I will bounce back.

By the time he retired in 2008, after two seasons with the Baltimore Ravens, Steve McNair was rich, famous, and just 35 years old.  Sounds great. But Eddie George, who's also retired, says it can be anything but.

Lester Holt: Do-- does anybody prepare you for that moment--

Eddie George: No.  No.

Lester Holt: --when-- when you take off the pads--

Eddie George: No, no.

Lester Holt: --for the last time?

Eddie George: No.  No one prepare-- you can't prepare for that. You can't. You-- you're literally stepping out of a role of playing the football player, getting ready to play every single Sunday of being a warrior.  Man, and being the face of a franchise.  And-- pumpin' up the crowd and run s-- running for touchdowns to now being a civilian.  Now you're like, "What do I do with my life?"

Lester Holt: From-- from the outside Steve McNair looked like he was doing okay.

Eddie George: Absolutely. But I wasn't aware of his-- his personal life. I can understand we-- he was probably searchin' for something.  You know?  He's probably searching for-- for happiness.     

But maybe he was looking in the wrong places...

Sara Dorsey: If you are a person that goes out in this town that pays any attention, you were not surprised to learn that Steve McNair was with a young woman when he died.

Sara Dorsey of WSMV in Nashville has reported extensively on the McNair case.  People wouldn't talk on camera-- but they would talk.

Sara Dorsey: he never seemed to hide what he was up to.  Whether or not these were just friends or indeed mistresses, he was often seen with women.

Women, in other words, who were not his wife.  McNair's longtime minister acknowledged it too.

Walker: I think that Steve-- unfortunately, his celebrity created more exposure for his vices.

Sometime in December 2008, Sterealve McNair went to the Opryland Mall, to a place called Dave and Buster's.  It's like a playground for big kids, with arcade games, food and drink.

It was there that Steve McNair, age 35, famous, rich and retired, in his first winter without the roar of the crowd, met a 19-year-old waitress named Sahel Kazemi.

Lester Holt: I mean, was she really into him?

Emily Andrews: She was.  She was-- she was crazy about him.

McNair couldn't hear it, but the clock was ticking.

Part 3

Emily Andrews: It wasn't about his status or what-- what he drove or what he could give her.  She-- she really fell hard for-- hard for him.

Emily Andrews probably knows as much anyone alive about the relationship between Steve McNair and Sahel Kazemi.  She was Kazemi's roommate at the time.  They both waited tables at Dave and Buster's.

Emily Andrews: We were really close. We worked together, we lived together, and we socialized together.  So there wasn't a day when we lived in Nashville together where I didn't know what she was doing, or she didn't know what I was doing. 

Lester Holt: Did most of her friends know her as Jenni?

Emily Andrews: Yeah.

Lester Holt: I'm curious where she got that name?

Emily Andrews: I guess someone told her she looked like a Jenni, and she picked it up and became Jenni.

Emily was four years older, and Jenni sometimes confided in her.

Emily Andrews: She was born in Iran.  And then lived in Turkey.  And when she was 13 years old she moved to Jacksonville with her family.  And she told me about her mother.  It--

Lester Holt: What happened to her mother?

Emily Andrews: I believe she was strangled to death. They never found the killer. 

Jenni was just nine years old at the time.

Emily Andrews: She had kind of used that story as a way to really love and appreciate her own life.  And love and appreciate the people that she loved, their lives.

Jenni moved to Nashville at age 16 with her boyfriend, Keith Norfleet, an aspiring rapper who sometimes posted videos on Youtube. But while waiting tables one day in December, Jenni met a new guy.

Lester Holt: She told you about this guy, Steve--

Emily Andrews: Yup, and I didn't--

Lester Holt: --did you know who he was?

Emily Andrews: No, 'cause I'm not from Nashville, I didn't-- I had no idea who he was.

Lester Holt: So she said, what, he's-- he's a former pro football player?

Emily Andrews: Yeah, and I was just like, "Okay, you know, big deal." 

She says Steve's fame didn't seem to faze Jenni, either.

Emily Andrews: She wasn't a groupie.  Absolutely not--

Lester Holt: Not a football fan?

Emily Andrews: No. (laugh)

Lester Holt: Not a Steve McNair fan?

Emily Andrews: You couldn't even get her to sit through a football game, even if it was the Super Bowl, she-- she didn't have any interest. And maybe he liked the fact that she really just took him for just being a normal guy.  She didn't treat him like he was this huge celebrity, which he was kinda used to getting.

She says the relationship developed rapidly.

Emily Andrews: And they hung out around Christmas time for the first time, and then I remember in January I dropped her off at his house, and after that it was just kind of like they had really, really started to like each other, and they were dating.  It wasn't just, you know, hang out every now and then.  They were dating.

Lester Holt: There's dating and having fun, and there's dating, "I'm serious and I'm falling in love."

Emily Andrews: Uh-huh.

Lester Holt: Which was this?

Emily Andrews: I mean, she fell in love with him, if that's what you're asking. She was crazy about him.

Remember, Jenni was 19 at the time.  Sixteen years younger than McNair.

Lester Holt: The age difference didn't make a difference to her?

Emily Andrews: No, we joked about it, but it wasn't anything that she was worried about, or that bothered her, or anything like that.

And, of course, there was this uncomfortable fact:

Lester Holt: At what point did you realize that Steve McNair was married?

Emily Andrews: She, she told me right away, she knew right away.  But she was-- she was under the impression that they were going through a divorce.

Neighbors told us that they saw McNair so often at Emily and Jenni's apartment, they thought he might move in. That was in February-- two months after the couple met.

Lester Holt: He made no effort to-- to hide publicly that they were in--

Emily Andrews: Oh, no.

Lester Holt: --a relationship?

Emily Andrews: No.

Lester Holt: If-- if-- if I ran into them at a restaurant, I would think that's a boyfriend and girlfriend?

Emily Andrews: Yeah, yeah.  We went out to bars together, we went to clubs where people knew who he was, and people saw that they were dating.  And we had been out before without him and someone had came up to her and said, "You're Steve McNair's girlfriend, aren't you?"  So it's-- it wasn't-- (LAUGH) it wasn't a big secret.

Jenni’s family later told police she thought Steve was going to divorce his wife and marry her.  They said Steve supported her financially and took her on vacation to Las Vegas, Key West, even Hawaii.  Mcnair didn’t seem shy about being photographed with her.

Which leads to an obvious question:  if everybody seemed to know, did McNair's wife know?  Mechelle McNair has not spoken publicly since the murder. She has reportedly told friends she didn't know about Kazemi, which is not the same as saying she did not know her husband was seeing other women.

Sara Dorsey: Nashville is a very small town. I can't believe that Mechelle McNair didn't know what Steve was up to. 

Lester Holt: is there an unspoken acceptance among the families of athletes?

Eddie George: It could be.  I don't know.  I'm pretty sure it's not.  I'm pretty sure-- if someone is married to an athlete they know what's out there. 

By the spring of 2009, Steve and Jenni had been an item for five months. She was spending more time at his downtown apartment.

Emily Andrews: It was a small bachelor pad pretty much.  I mean, there weren't pictures on the wall.  it wasn't a great luxurious place.

Lester Holt: Was it your impression, and was it Jenni's impression, that this was Steve's full time residence?

Emily Andrews: No.  Neither of us believed that.  We knew it was kind of-- his place to get away.

Lester Holt: Is this where they hooked up?

Emily Andrews: Yeah.

In May, Jenni turned 20.  Steve helped her buy a present she'd always dreamed of: a black Cadillac Escalade.

Emily Andrews: He put the down payment on the car.  And she wanted to make monthly payments.  But it was under both of their names.

Lester Holt: That had to be a pretty good chunka change.

Emily Andrews: Yeah.

Shortly after that, Emily decided to move back home to Pittsburgh. Shortly before she left, she says, she bumped into steve at one of his favorite bars.  By this time, he and Jenni had been an item for about six months.

Emily Andrews: And I pulled him aside and told him watch after her.  And you know, don't hurt her, and that's my best friend, and if you really love her, then really, you know, do a good job at loving her.  And he looked at me in the eyes, and he told me, "Emily, I love her, and I'll take care of her for you."

Words that proved to be unforgettably ironic.

Part 4

On June 24, ten days before the shooting, Vera Mosely, of Decatur, Ala., was passing through Nashville with her daughters.  They stopped for lunch at Dave and Buster's. 

Their waitress: Jenni Kazemi.

Vera Mosely: She asked me, can I talk to you? She put the drinks on the table. I said, sure. So she sit down in front of me and the very first thing this young lady asked me was have I ever been in love? She went on to tell me she's dating a guy and they had been dating for 8 months and she said she was dating Steve McNair.

Why would Jenni Kazemi sit down in the middle of her shift and share her personal life with a total stranger?

Vera Mosely: And she said, we have been on all kind of trips and vacations and she said lately he act like he don't wanna spend time with me. It's like the relationship is ending.

Kazemi's roommate, Emily Andrews, had moved back to Pittsburgh a few days earlier.  She says Jenni seemed convinced Steve was going leave his wife for her.

Emily Andrews: From what she had told me, his divorce was supposed to be finalized-- within weeks.

Lester Holt: Of course, Emily, it all comes out now that there's no record of any divorce proceedings between the two of them.

Emily Andrews: I know. He clearly told her that to keep her around. 

But now, it seemed-- maybe Steve was moving on. 

Lester Holt: Had you heard that he had a reputation for fooling around?

Emily Andrews: Yeah.  I had heard that.  I heard that-- he went out more than he said that he did.  And hung out with girls.

Police later learned that, in fact, Steve had been seeing another woman for about a month.

Her name was Leah Ignani.

In this audio-only interview, she told police she met steve in early May.... and he said things that would have sounded familiar to Jenni Kazemi.

Investigator: What did he tell you about his marriage?

Leah Ignagni: He said that they were in the process of divorcing. They had been for the last two years...

Ignagni: He said that he loved me and he was gonna make everything work so he could be with me....and to wait for him.

Leah Ignani, 25, told police she didn't believe it.

Ignani: But not like—like i’m trying to marry this man, okay?... I’m realistic, okay?  I know what it is.  It is what it is.

Ignani, too, had been visiting Steve’s downtown apartment, even though she didn’t like going there.

Ignani:   Because my girlfriends called it the trap house...they’re like, “yeah, that’s where these athletes take their, you know, booties.” And I’d be like,  “ugh, of course i’m not his booty, girls.” 

Police say Jenni staked out McNair's downtown apartment one day, and followed a woman she saw leaving. On July 1, she called Emily.

Emily Andrews: She had found some used feminine products in his bathroom of his condo.  I guess the Wednesday before the 4th of July.

Lester Holt: This is the Wednesday before the murder?

Emily Andrews: Yeah.

She asked me for my advice.  And I couldn't really give her any, because I've never been in that situation.  But she kind of-- we ended the conversation as her just saying, "I really don't know what to do."

Lester Holt: Was she upset?

Emily Andrews: Yeah.  She was upset.

Just hours later, in the early morning hours of July 2, a Nashville police officer pulled over the black Escalade - Jenni's dream car.  She was doing 54in a 30-mile an hour zone.  Steve McNair was in the passenger seat, apparently drunk. Remarkably, it was the same officer who'd arrested McNair for DUI in 2007.

The dashboard cam of the patrol car shows Jenni stepping out in a short dress and platform heels.  The officer puts her through a sobriety test. She tells him she isn't drunk-- but she is high. Moments later, McNair and another man exit the passenger side of the vehicle.  Then they get in separate cabs and leave. In the patrol car, under arrest for DUI, Jenni seems surprised.

Jenni Kazemi: Can I call him?

Officer: I talked with him and he didn't want to come back to the car.

Jenni Kazemi: Yeah…

Officer: He chose to take a taxi and leave, so…

Lester Holt: When you heard later that he left the scene where she was arrested in a taxi--

Emily Andrews: I was mad.  I mean, you s-- if you see the footage, she's in the back seat just broken hearted and confused.  And she's never been-- she's never been arrested behind, probably scared out of her life, and he just-- he left her there.

Multiple witnesses later told police Jenni was mad too. But Emily says Jenni didn't seem upset later that day, after McNair bailed her out of jail.

Emily Andrews: And she called me and said, "You'll never believe what happened."  And I said, "Oh no, what."  And she said, "I got a DUI."  And immediately, I was like, "I told you, you shouldn't drink and drive.  You know, you-- you drive like a maniac."  And I went off on her, and she said, "Yeah, yeah, yeah, but it's okay." 

Lester Holt: She was not--

Emily Andrews: It's-- it's okay.

Lester Holt: She was not upset?

Emily Andrews: She didn't appear.  If she-- if she was upset, she hid it.

And yet, text messages revealed months after the shootings paint a different picture.

July 3rd, the day after the DUI, the day before the shooting... Jenny texted Steve:

10:05 a.m.: "baby, i might have a breakdown, i'm so stressed."

10:12 a.m.: "can you transfer 2-thousand to my account."

10:21 a.m.: "baby what's wrong with me i can hardly breathe."

Mcnair responded:  "everything gonna be ok.  I'm here if you need me."

Police say, at about 5 p.m. that same day, Jenni met this man in the parking lot of the Dave and Buster's where she worked. Adrian Gilliam was on parole after serving time for second degree murder and attempted robbery. A convicted felon, he could go to prison just for owning a gun. And yet, police say he sold one to Jenni, a cheap 9-millimeter for $100.

Emily Andrews: I can't even imagine her buying a gun.  I can't imagine her knowing how to shoot a gun.

The same night, police say, Jenni "remarked to an associate, 'my life is a ball of s... And I should just end it."  They say Jenni clocked out of work at 10:07 p.m., then went home.  She was on her computer until about 11 p.m.

She called Emily's cell sometime that night, but Emily missed the call.

Emily Andrews: She could have been calling me to tell me something, you know, a stupid story about work.  Or she could have been calling me to ask for help.  Because-- maybe she was in a situation where she knew she couldn't control herself anymore.  I'll never know.

Jenni's sister says she did speak to Jenni that night, and while she seemed concerned about money-- she did not seem angry or upset.

A security camera caught Steve McNair at a video game store. It turned out to be the last picture of him ever taken.

At 10:45 pm, Kazemi texted McNair: "I'm going to the condo in a minute."

He replied that he was at home, putting his children to bed.

Then at 12:38 a.m.: "On my way."

He had no idea what was waiting for him.

Part 5

Steve McNair arrived at his apartment between 1:30 and 2 a.m.

12 hours later, McNair’s friend Robert Gaddy dialed 9-1-1.

From 911 call: “It's two... there's two people?” “Yeah.” “And they appeared to be deceased?” “Yeah, I think so, sir.”

When police arrived, they found McNair sprawled on the sofa, shot twice in the chest and twice in the head. 

At his feet, Sahel "Jenny" Kazemi, shot once in the head.

And under Kazemi's body, the gun.

On July 8th, police announced their conclusion.

Chief Serpas: Steve McNair was murdered by Sahil Kazemi and in turn, Sahil killed herself with a single gunshot wound to her head.

Nashville police offered a simple explanation for what happened to Steve McNair:  that Sahel Kazemi, afraid that McNair was breaking up with her, upset that he had left her in a patrol car, saddled with high payments on that escalade, snapped. But people who were close to Kazemi say no way.

Emily Andrews: It wasn't like if Steve McNair won't be with me, no other guy will. She was very capable of moving on. 

Lester Holt: You don't think she shot him?

Emily Andrews: I don't think-- it's that simple.

Lester Holt: What-- what else could it have been?

Emily Andrews: I think-- there was just someone else involved. I don't think she was capable of just doing this by herself. 

Kazemi's family declined repeated requests for an interview-- but they told us off camera they were 100-percent convinced that she didn't kill McNair or herself. Apparently, this man convinced them. His name is Vincent Hill. He is a former Nashville police officer.  Hill contacted Kazemi's sister soon after the shootings.

Lester Holt: And what did you basically tell her?

Vincent Hill: That the conclusion that the police were giving was more than likely not what happened.

Hill says the way McNair was shot-- twice in the chest and once in each temple-- took too much skill and calculation for someone who'd apparently never fired a gun before.

Vincent Hill: That's more on the lines of execution than a troubled girlfriend.

Lester Holt: That doesn't make sense to you?

Vincent Hill: It doesn't make sense.

Nashville police offered a simple explanation for what happened to Steve McNair:  that Sahel Kazemi, afraid that McNair was breaking up with her, upset that he had left her in a patrol car, saddled with high payments on that escalade snapped.

But people who were close to Kazemi say—no way.

Holt:  Do you accept the official version of what happened?

Emily Andrews: No.It wasn’t like if Steve McNair won’t be with me, no other guy will.”  she was very capable of moving on. 

Holt: You don’t think she shot him?

Emily Andrews: I don’t think—it’s that simple.

Holt: What else could it have been?

Andrews: I think there was just someone else involved. I don’t think she was capable of just doing this by herself. 

Kazemi’s family declined repeated requests for an interview—but they told us off camera they were 100-percent convinced that she didn’t kill McNair or herself.

Apparently, this man convinced them.

His name is Vincent Hill.  He is a former Nashville police officer.  Hill contacted Kazemi’s sister soon after the shootings.

Holt: And what did you basically tell her?

Vincent Hill:  That the conclusion that the police were giving was more than likely not what happened.

Questions arose from the very first day, when McNair’s friend Wayne Neeley told police how he let himself into the apartment on the fourth of july , but somehow failed to recognize it was a crime scene.

Neeley: I saw a male on the couch and I thought he was sleeping, I swear.

Investigator: You saw two people laying on the couch...

Neeley: No, no, no. One was on the couch and one was on the floor. And I went in and I didn’t think too much about it

Reporter Sara Dorsey, who walked through the apartment after the murder, doubts Neeley’s story.

Sara Dorsey:  For the amount of blood that I was able to see, it was hard for me to believe that he wouldn’t have immediately noticed that there were two dead bodies there.

When Neeley did realize what had happened, he did not call 911, but instead called another friend of Mcnair’s, Robert Gaddy.

Gaddy was clearly shaken by McNair’s murder, but told police he was upset for another reason as well, he and Steve had not been on good terms lately.

Gaddy: I’m so upset because, you know, we was going through one of our ups and downs, but you know he, cause, we had told each other often and I know if that hadn’t happened he would have called me if anything—was going down (Starts crying more.)

Investigator: What was the fall out between you and Steve? When did that happen?

Gaddy: That was really not a fall out. I mean—Every—Every so often we always... Alright, we started this business venture together, alright?

Investigator: The restaurant? GADDY: Yeah, the restaurant. I wanted to do something else and he got upset about it.

There may be more to that story.  According to police documents, Kazemi’s roommate, Emily Andrews, told police that McNair had recently fired Gaddy for stealing from him: $13,000.

Although Gaddy declined our interview requests—he denied stealing anything.  

Vincent Hill says questions about McNair’s friends are just the beginning.

Vincent Hill: Whoever planned this—planned it perfectly. 

Hill says the way McNair was shot—twice in the chest and once in each temple—took too much skill and calculation for someone who’d apparently never fired a gun before.

Hill: That’s more on the lines of execution than a troubled girlfriend.

Hill also doubted another part of the official story, that Sahel Kazemi bought a gun from a convicted felon she barely knew—and who barely knew her.

That’s what Adrian Gilliam had told police when they traced the gun to him, one day after the shootings.

Gilliam: I sold it.

Investigator:  Who did you sell it to?

Adrian Gilliam: I sold it to uh, some young lady.

Investigator: What was her name?

Adrian Gilliam: I don’t even know her name, sir.

Gilliam claimed the whole thing started when she approached him about getting rid of her car.

Gilliam:  I told her, “Well, maybe I can—sell it for you.”  You know what I’m saying?  ‘Cause I sell cars.... And through talking to her about selling the car, she eventually asked me about a gun.

When we spoke to Vincent Hill shortly after the shootings, he said Gilliam’s story didn’t add up.

Hill:  What would cause a perfect stranger during a car deal to ask, hey, I’m lookin’ for a gun? You and I just met, you know, 20, 30 minutes ago.  Hey, Lester, nice to meet ya.  By the way, do you know where I can buy a gun while I’m in the city?  Wouldn’t that raise flags to you? 

It turned out, Hill’s hunch was right on the money.  Although they wouldn’t reveal it for months, police spoke with Adrian Gilliam again in late July, more than two weeks after they’d publicly concluded their investigation of McNair’s murder.

This time they had Gilliam’s phone records, which revealed a completely different story about him and Jenni Kazemi.

Adrian Gilliam:  It was—within a three week timeframe.  I’m almost certain.

Gilliam admitted he first met Kazemi three weeks before the shootings, outside a nightclub and that there was more to their relationship than car and gun sales. 

Adrian Gilliam:  We used to text frequently, all the time.  I mean, she was flirting with me.  And trying to lure me in...She flirted with me all the time.

Investigator: So the original story you told us when we first met with you about you first met her when she got in contact with you about selling the car.  That—that wasn’t true at all.                      

Adrian Gilliam: My fiancée was sitting right there...So, I had to—to say something, you know what I’m saying?  So, that’s why I told—that’s why I told you that.

Gilliam claimed he lied about his relationship with kazemi because he didn’t want to make his fiancee jealous.

But Hill wonders, was he lying to cover up something much more sinister?

Hill: here’s a guy, Adrian Gilliam, who’s got a few robbery charges.  His gun ends up at the crime scene.  You know, this whole thing is more than a coincidence.

Part 6

Hill: This was perfectly planned.  This wasn't a spur of the moment murder suicide. 

From the very beginning, former Nashville police officer Vincent Hill believed there was more to the shooting of Steve McNair and Sahel Kazemi.

And Hill was right about one thing.

Adrian Gilliam,  the ex-con whose gun was used in the shootings, lied to police about how he ended up selling a gun to Sahel Kazemi.

Investigator: You say you didn't know s*t about her.  Why would you sell that girl a gun?

Adrian Gilliam: Man, I was just-- financially strapped, brother. 

In fact, Gilliam and Kazemi had known each other for weeks.

He'd been to her apartment twice.

He said they weren't lovers, but exchanged hundreds of texts and phone calls. 

Investigator: Did-- did she ever bring up-- Steve McNair's name during the time you--

Adrian Gilliam: No, never.  I never knew she dated Steve McNair man.

Or did he?  Gilliam's phone records revealed he was one of the last people to speak with Shahel Kazemi. At 12:02 a.m. on July 4, when she was at McNair's downtown apartment.

Investigator: Have you ever been to that condominium on Lea-- Avenue (PH)--

Adrian Gilliam: No, no.

Investigator:  (UNINTEL PHRASE).  You never been to that condo?

Adrian Gilliam: Never (UNINTEL).  No.

Gilliam claimed that the night of the shooting, he was 12 miles away from McNair’s apartment, talking and drinking with a friend.

There's just one problem.  The friend told police that in fact, Gilliam *wasn't* with him that night.

Hill: His alibi was shot during the time of the murders.

Vincent Hill asks a provocative question: What if Adrian Gilliam is lying about the gun sale itself?  What if the gun never changed hands?

Hill: The fact is, to this day, the only person that has had that gun in their possession until July 4th is Adrian Gilliam. 

In other words, hill says, Gilliam could be the shooter.  Maybe he was jealous... Or maybe the motive was money.

Vincent Hill: Based on countless people I've talked to, it was typical for Steve to carry at least $2,000 on him.

And yet, police documents show Mcnair had only seven dollars in his wallet when he died.

Hill: here's a guy, Adrian Gilliam, who's got a few robbery charges.  His gun ends up at the crime scene.  You know, this whole thing is more than a coincidence.

Gilliam, who is now serving two and a half years in prison for possession of the gun that killed Steve McNair , declined our request for an interview, but told police he had nothing to do with the shooting.

Vincent Hill spent nearly a year on his own investigation... Looking for someone in authority to listen to him.

Finally, on June 11, he got his hearing.                   

Hill: Today I will be presenting a case to the grand jury to attempt to get the murder investigation of Steve McNair and Jenni Kazemi reopen.

The Nashville grand jury agreed to hear Hill out.  If they agreed with his conclusions, they could re-open the case.

But plenty of others doubted Vincent Hill.  For one thing, he'd only been a patrolman, not a detective.  He'd never worked a homicide.

And he'd resigned while under investigation for disobeying orders during a high speed chase-- although he was eventually cleared.

And he has self-published a book about the McNair case. He's been accused of trying to cash in.

Holt: Are you at all concerned about Sahel's family and the possibility that maybe you're wrong?

Vincent Hill:  Oh, I could be wrong.  I'll admit that.

Holt: But are you worried about giving them false hope?

Hill: I've thought about that.  And I said, "In my heart, I don't believe she did it.  The evidence which-- suggest otherwise as well."  So I don't think I'm stringing them along.

It's not just Kazemi's family.  Steve McNair’s oldest son, Steve Jr. and his mother Cotina both told NBC affiliate WSMV that they think the case should be re-opened.

Steve Jr.:  I think it should, but I really don't know all the details.

Cotina: I don't think what they said happen, did happen. I don't think this young girl did what they say she did.              

One week after Vincent Hill made his case,  the grand jury issued its finding:

"[Hill] shared with the committee his views of the case but lacked evidence to support his views."

Detective Sgt. Pat Postiglione, of the Nashville Police department who supervised the McNair investigation, agrees.

Postiglione:  He has no evidence, he has no credibility, he has no basis for anything he says.

Postiglione says police did look at other "persons of interest" in the case.

Postiglione:  We traced the gun to Adrian Gilliam, and he was a person of interest, obviously.  Wayne Neeley and Robert Gaddy, they were persons of interest, obviously.  They discovered the bodies.

But he says extensive interviews, as well as cell phone records cleared all three.

Postiglione also says the crime scene would have been impossible to stage.  Remember the gun was found under Sahel Kazemi.

Postiglione: All the blood pooled around the weapon.  When her body was moved and the weapon was lifted, you could clearly see the imprint of the pistol, which would clearly suggest to anybody that weapon wasn't moved or/placed there later or anything like that. 

And finally, he says, there was Kazemi's mental state: the money trouble, the stress, the need to possess Steve McNair.  He cited one of her very last texts.

Postiglione:  she told him a day or two prior to this happening, "Pretty soon i will have all of you." It's our opinion what she meant by that was exactly what occurred.  She did, in her mind, end up with all of him.

And so , the deaths of Steve McNair and Sahel Kazemi remain what they were from the start: a tragedy for two families - a cautionary tale for many more.

McNair’s friend and teammate, Eddie George:

Holt: Because he was a famous athlete and because of the circumstances of his death, you know, people jump to the stereotype.  "That's what it's like bein' a pro athlete."

GEORGE: No, that's--

Holt: "Women-- women-- "

GEORGE: --no no.

LESTER Holt: "Everywhere."

GEORGE: That's what it's like bein' a man.  That's what it's like being a man, period.  It's not about pro athlete entertainers, doctors, priests, pastors, all men have struggles.  It's not about an athlete.  No.

Lester Holt: 'Cause I would think a lot of guys were sayin', "There but for the grace of God go I."

Eddie George: Absolutely.