ANN CURRY: It’s a case with so much drama it actually became a TV movie. But now something’s happened that wasn’t in the script. After more than 10 years, there were new questions and a new ending to a crime many thought they knew. Here’s Hoda Kotb.
HODA KOTB reporting: (Voiceover) To all appearances she is just another 30-something mother of teenage children, not the starring figure in what has become a tale of love, lust and murder known around the world. And this woman, gone for years and thought by many to be gone forever, has now returned to these streets she left a decade ago; and therein lies a story.
(Sharee Miller; photo of Sharee and Bruce Miller; crime scene photos; buildings; Sharee)
Mr. PETER PLUMMER: If you wrote this book, it wouldn’t sell because people would say, ‘Don’t read it, it’s not believable.’ But it is believable because it happened.
KOTB: (Voiceover) Actually, someone did write a book about this case, and then there was a Lifetime movie—“Fatal Desire,” it was called. That woman, the central character. What was the desire? Why was it fatal? It is a story we’ve been following for a decade, and recent twists and turns have brought us back here to the junkyard outside Flint, Michigan, where it all began and the woman at the center, Sharee Miller. The story starts in November 1999. Sharee was at home on the phone with her husband, who was still at work at the yard a few miles away.
(Chain link fence; salvage yard; “Fatal Error” book; clips from “Fatal Desire”; computer screen; salvage yard; photo of Sharee; vehicle headlights; photo of Sharee; photo of Bruce; salvage yard office)
Ms. SHAREE MILLER: He had told me he had a customer. That’s why we hung up when we did. He said he had a customer.
KOTB: (Voiceover) Sharee thought Bruce would soon finish with the customer, pick up dinner and head home, but that customer would be his last.
(Salvage yard office)
Ms. MILLER: And it got later and later and he didn’t show up and he didn’t show up so I called up to the yard again and he wasn’t there. So I called where we ordered food to see if he had picked it up and they said he didn’t pick up dinner.
KOTB: So you were worried at this point?
Ms. MILLER: Oh, yeah. Then I’m getting upset, thinking OK, what’s going on, you know?
KOTB: (Voiceover) And then the 911 call. Another family member had come upon the scene.
(Light; salvage yard office)
Unidentified Woman #1: (911 call) We need an ambulance at A&B Auto Salvage.
Unidentified 911 Operator: (911 call) OK, what’s the problem?
Woman #1: (911 call) My brother-in-law, he’s laying on the floor and there’s blood.
KOTB: (Voiceover) Police found Bruce Miller’s body in the office of the salvage yard. Miller was shot dead behind the desk with rusted wrecks seemingly the only witnesses to the crime. It looked to all appearances like a robbery because the cash Miller was carrying, nearly $2,000, was gone. Sharee Miller was a widow. Now someone had to make the notification.
(Salvage yard office; photo of Bruce; crime scene photos; photos of wrecked vehicles; photo of steering wheel; salvage yard office; photo of Sharee and Bruce)
Ms. MILLER: My stepdad showed up in a police car with a police officer.
KOTB: What did he say to you?
Ms. MILLER: He just shook his head. That’s all it took. He just come in the house shaking his head, and he had been crying. So I knew. I knew that he was gone.
KOTB: (Voiceover) Who had killed Bruce Miller? His death seemed a monumental blow to his bride. Sharee and Bruce were newlyweds, after all, had been married for only seven months. Theirs had been a May/December romance. She was 28. He was 48. She had three children from previous marriages and relationships. And he was finally giving the kids a stable home life they’d never had. Sharee sold Mary Kay cosmetics and helped out her hardworking husband by helping out at the salvage yard a few hours a day. Police knew some rough characters can be involved in the salvage business. It turns out her husband had been wary.
(Photos of Bruce and Sharee; photo of Bruce, Sharee and children; photo of Sharee; salvage yard; police vehicle)
Ms. MILLER: Bruce just always told me to always stay out in the open.
KOTB: Sounds like a dangerous place, this salvage yard.
Ms. MILLER: Pretty much. We were broken into quite a bit. Quite a bit.
KOTB: (Voiceover) Detectives first turned to Miller’s salvage yard, where they began looking into the hardscrabble cash-and-carry nature of the business. In fact, Sharee remembered something strange the very morning of the murder.
(Salvage yard; salvage yard office; photo of Bruce; salvage yard office)
Ms. MILLER: I did have a weird run-in with some customers in the morning.
KOTB: Were they threatening you or were they saying...
Ms. MILLER: No, they were saying comments like, ‘What did you do have to do to get that kind of wedding band?’ and stuff like that. And usually I can put people off or whatever, but these guys wouldn’t stop. So I told them I was going to call the police, and then they left.
KOTB: (Voiceover) While that lead went nowhere, sheriff’s detectives began a routine canvass of Bruce Miller’s associates. One, a former salvage yard employee named John Hutchinson, had recently been investigated for tampering with vehicle identification numbers. He had no airtight alibi for the night of the murder and owed Bruce Miller $2,000.
(Road; police vehicle; John Hutchinson; vehicle windshield; headlights in car window; salvage yard at night)
KOTB: Did you think to yourself, Sharee, John Hutchinson had a motive, he had no alibi. Why don’t they go and arrest him?
Ms. MILLER: I thought that a lot. I called the police quite a bit.
KOTB: (Voiceover) But as the months passed, without a murder weapon or some physical evidence linking Hutchinson to the crime detectives could not make an arrest. Then something happened that would break the case wide open. Not in Michigan, but outside Kansas City, Missouri, more than 600 miles from Flint in the small town of Odessa. Here there was more wreckage of a life once lived and now snuffed out violently. In this house they found a body in an easy chair, an open Bible in its lap, and not far from the body a briefcase. And what was inside the briefcase in Missouri would change everything in the Bruce Miller murder investigation in Flint, Michigan.
(Police vehicles; highway sign; chain link fence; trees; Kansas City, Missouri; Odessa city sign; police vehicle with sirens; house; crime scene photos; briefcase and contents; house at night; vehicle headlights turned off)
KOTB: (Voiceover) Coming up, unlocking the briefcase also unlocks secrets from beyond the grave...
(Briefcase being opened; typed words; Sharee)
Ms. MILLER: I started crying. I couldn’t believe, it was like a nightmare.
KOTB: (Voiceover) ...when Instant Message Murder continues.
KOTB: (Voiceover) Bruce Miller had been murdered in November 1999. By the following February, the trail of his killer had grown as cold as the winds rattling the wrecks in the junkyard he’d owned near Flint, Michigan. But then a break: 600 miles away in Missouri a body was found, slumped in an armchair. And next to the body, found under the bed, a briefcase. Inside, a computer hard drive, some playing cards, a CD, a picture of a sonogram, a bundle of papers that looked like transcripts of a computer chat. And on top of the briefcase, a suicide note in which a stunning claim was made, a claim of responsibility for the murder of Bruce Miller.
(Cemetery; Bruce’s headstone; photo of Bruce; salvage yard; police vehicle; house; crime scene photos; briefcase being opened; computer hard drive; playing cards; CD; photo of sonogram; letter)
Ms. MILLER: They told me he got the guy who murdered my husband.
KOTB: (Voiceover) Sharee Miller was at home in Michigan when a sheriff’s detective delivered the news.
Ms. MILLER: He didn’t say he arrested, he said he got the man who killed my husband.
KOTB: (Voiceover) “Got” because the man, of course, was dead. He was a former police officer named Jerry Cassaday. And the briefcase told the story of a torrid affair he’d had, a torrid affair with none other than Sharee Miller.
(Crime scene photo; ID card for Jerry Cassaday; briefcase and contents; photo of Cassaday; photo of Sharee)
Mr. PETER PLUMMER: There wasn’t much job security in being Sharee Miller’s lover or husband.
KOTB: (Voiceover) Prosecutors Peter Plummer and Marcy Mabry caught the case.
(Peter Plummer and Marcy Mabry)
Mr. PLUMMER: If you just look at her history, turnover was fairly frequent, not a job that most people would want to sign up for.
KOTB: (Voiceover) The story, investigators said, started in Reno just three months after Sharee Miller’s wedding to Bruce. It was here at Harrah’s, they said, that Sharee met Jerry Cassaday while she was attending a Mary Kay convention and he was working as a pit boss. And immediately they began an affair. They met several more times, and in between they used the computer to stay in touch. Many of their e-mails pulled from that computer hard drive found in Jerry Cassaday’s briefcase were sexually explicit. Others appeared torn from the pages of a romance novel.
(Briefcase contents; Reno sign; street in Reno; photo of Sharee and Bruce;
Cassaday’s ID card for Harrah’s; photo of Sharee; photo of Cassaday; Reno sign; computer screen; computer hard drive; computer keyboard)
Unidentified Man #1: (Reading) “I will be your rock. I will be your soul mate.”
Unidentified Woman #2: (Reading) “Tonight is a night for a warm fire and plenty of cuddling.”
Man #1: (Reading) “My heart aches every minute we are not together.”
Woman #2: (Reading) “Winter is only good for one thing; that is getting snowed in and loving all day.”
KOTB: (Voiceover) Prosecutors said Miller and Cassaday also communicated using instant messages. And as the instant messages, suggestive photos and e-mails flew back and forth, the two almost always used the same screen names. She was Jerrysfool, and he was Shareesfool.
(E-mails; computer screen; instant messenger logo; computer screen; photos of Sharee; screen names on computer screen)
Mr. PLUMMER: I don’t think they could have maintained the relationship without the computer.
KOTB: (Voiceover) In addition, Sharee also sent Jerry videotapes, some sexually explicit, like the one found in the trash at Cassaday’s home labeled “For Jerry’s Eyes Only.” Then there were the sonograms. It turned out that twice in the months before the murder Sharee had told Jerry that she was pregnant. Two separate pregnancies, and both times she said he was the father. She even sent him photos of positive pregnancy tests and of her growing belly. But each time Sharee then sent Jerry photos in which it appeared she had been beaten. She told him one pregnancy had ended when she was raped by her husband, Bruce, the other when Bruce forced her to have an abortion. And then there was a threatening computer message that seemed to come from Bruce himself, saying, quote, “Now you know you won’t be responsible for any little bastards,” end quote. But the biggest bombshell found with the briefcase was the suicide note.
(Computer keyboard; photo of Sharee; dark screen; contents of briefcase; sonogram photo; typed document; computer screen; photo of pregnancy test; photo of pregnant woman; photo of Sharee; computer screen; photo of Sharee’s stomach; photo of Sharee and Bruce; computer screen; briefcase; letter)
Unidentified Man #2: (Reading) “Mom and Dad, I’m sorry for all the pain I caused you, but I had to do this. Here is why. After Sharee and I got together, I found out she was married. She lied to me and lied to me, made promises, as you well know, and I believed them all.”
KOTB: (Voiceover) In his note, Jerry Cassaday appeared devastated that she’d lost the pregnancies.
(Letter; photo of Sharee; photo of Cassaday)
Man #2: (Reading) “I’m sorry, mom. Those were my babies. I loved them. I wanted them. I drove there and I killed him.”
KOTB: (Voiceover) Jerry Cassaday was confessing to murder, but he didn’t stop there.
(Letter; crime scene photo; photo of Sharee)
Man #2: (Reading) “Sharee was involved and helped set it up. I have all the proof, and I am sending it to the police. She will get what’s coming. I have been so stupid, but now you know the real story of why I went into such a state of depression.”
KOTB: (Voiceover) Detectives asked Sharee Miller to come downtown.
Ms. MILLER: When I got down here, they took me in a little room. I started feeling uncomfortable because the questions he was asking me about, if I had life insurance and stuff like that, and they just kept asking question after question. Finally I got up. I got really uncomfortable. I said, ‘If I’m not under arrest, I’m leaving.’ I went to put my coat on, and he arrested me.
KOTB: (Voiceover) Prosecutors charged Sharee Miller with murder and conspiracy in connection with the death of her husband, Bruce.
(Mug shot of Sharee)
KOTB: When police said to you, ‘You’re under arrest for the murder of your husband Bruce,’ what flashed through your mind? What did you say?
Ms. MILLER: My kids. I just started yelling, ‘What am I going to do with my kids? Why would you think I would do this?’ I started crying. I couldn’t believe. It was like a nightmare.
KOTB: (Voiceover) But to prosecutors, it looked like a classic black widow case, Sharee Miller at the very center of a tangled web linking these two dead men.
(Mug shot of Sharee; photo of Bruce and Sharee; photo of Cassaday)
KOTB: Why do you think Sharee Miller would trust this man to do that deed?
Ms. PLUMMER: She had him. He was hers, bought and sold. I mean, she could pull the trigger herself and run the risk of getting found out. But aside from herself, she had no more control over anybody in this universe than Jerry Cassaday.
KOTB: (Voiceover) They were headed for trial where more secrets of the briefcase would come spilling out. Coming up, a plot to murder with a script typed right into the computer.
(Briefcase; briefcase opened; salvage yard office; computer screen)
Woman #2: (Reading) “Are you going to be able to live with this the rest of your life?”
Man #1: (Reading) “I love you. Yes, I can.”
KOTB: (Voiceover) When DATELINE continues.
KOTB: (Voiceover) It was a time-delayed murder/suicide, prosecutors said. Jerry Cassaday had killed Bruce Miller, then killed himself three months later. And in a suicide note he’d claimed he’d been put up to it by the victim’s wife, Sharee Miller. And in a briefcase found under the bed near Cassaday’s body was the evidence. There were lovey-dovey computer messages, the sonogram Sharee had said proved he was going to become a father, the photos showing beatings that had ended the pregnancies and the taunting e-mail from her husband, or so Cassaday thought which read, quote, “Now you won’t be responsible for any little bastards,” end quote.
(Vehicles in salvage yard; crime scene photos; photo of Cassaday; crime scene photos; typed document; photo of Sharee; photo of Sharee and crime scene photos flashing; briefcase; briefcase opened; computer messages, photo of sonogram, CD; photo of Sharee pregnant; computer screen; typed document)
Unidentified Judge: (In court) Ms. Mabry, are you ready?
KOTB: (Voiceover) None of it was true, prosecutors said. And when Sharee Miller went on trial for murder in December 2000, they told jurors it was all a clever, dastardly plot to convince Cassaday to kill her husband. And the Internet, they claimed, was her tool of choice.
(Court in session; photo of Cassaday; crime scene photos; computer screen; computer keyboard; computer screen; photo of Sharee)
Mr. PLUMMER: I don’t think she could have caused this festering boil of lust, love and hatred in Jerry Cassaday without...
(Voiceover) ...the ability to constantly pick at that through instant messages and e-mails.
(Photos of Sharee; computer screen)
KOTB: (Voiceover) And she couldn’t have caused Jerry Cassaday to drive to Michigan and kill Bruce Miller, prosecutors said, if Sharee hadn’t told Jerry she was carrying his babies. The only problem with the story? By the time Sharee and Jerry met in 1999, her tubes had been tied for years.
(Salvage yard; vehicle headlights shut off; photo of Sharee pregnant; photo of Cassaday; photo of Sharee)
Ms. MABRY: She knew how important children were to Jerry.
KOTB: The sonogram, the lies, the pictures of the bruised torso, all of this was to draw him into her scheme?
Ms. MABRY: Yes. To enrage him.
KOTB: (Voiceover) And Sharee Miller’s plan, prosecutors said, worked to perfection. How could they be so sure? Because, they told the jury, the briefcase that had been found near Cassaday’s body contained a smoking gun: instant messages between Sharee and Jerry. Two police officers read them in court.
(Court in session; briefcase; computer screen; instant messages on computer screen; court in session)
Man #1: (Reading) “Jerry, I am scared. Jerry, if this don’t work, he will hurt me bad.”
Woman #2: (Reading) “It’ll work. What is the fastest way into the yard from 75?”
Man #1: (Reading) “Seventy-five to Mount Morris Road exit. Now, you need to listen to me for a minute. I will call Bruce at 5 PM.”
Woman #2: (Reading) “OK.”
Man #1: (Reading) “Is the gun loud?”
Man #2: (Reading) “Somewhat.”
Man #1: (Reading) “Just do it and get the hell out of there.”
Woman #2: (Reading) “I want him to know who I am.”
Man #1: (Reading) “Jerry, please.”
Woman #2: (Reading) “He will know.”
Man #1: (Reading) “He will know?”
Woman #2: (Reading) “But not for long.”
Man #1: (Reading) “Are you going to be able to live with this the rest of your life? Because I can.”
Woman #2: (Reading) “I love you. Yes, I can.”
KOTB: How big of a “gotcha” were those instant messages that you found?
Mr. PLUMMER: I think in some regards the instant message was the big gotcha because how often do you have a transcript of a conspiracy to murder?
KOTB: (Voiceover) And prosecutors argued the actual murder took place almost as it was scripted in that instant message, that on November 8th, 1999, Jerry Cassaday drove from Missouri to Michigan and met Sharee and that she gave him her cell phone as a means to communicate. The state claimed Sharee then called him on that cell phone at about 6:15 that evening.
(Computer screen, instant message on computer screen; vehicles on roadway at night; salvage yard at night; vehicle headlights)
Ms. MABRY: (Voiceover) It’s a signal that says Bruce is there, and he’s alone, and now’s the time.
KOTB: (Voiceover) Prosecutors claimed Sharee then called up her husband and, while Jerry Cassaday approached, kept Bruce on the phone.
(Salvage yard office)
Mr. PLUMMER: (Voiceover) He says, ‘Someone’s here.’ He hangs up the phone.
(Salvage yard office)
Ms. MABRY: (Voiceover) So it was somebody he didn’t recognize who pulled up in a truck.
(Salvage yard; rain on vehicle window)
Mr. PLUMMER: (Voiceover) Sharee knows now that Jerry Cassaday has arrived. It was important to him that at least for a second this evil man who killed his babies would know who this is. He walks in the door, says something, Bruce gets up, he shoots him.
(Rain on vehicle window; vehicle headlights turned off; dark screen; salvage yard office; clock; crime scene photo)
Ms. MABRY: He used her cell phone, and at 6:47 called her house and just rang it once. In other words, the deed is done. It’s all been taken care of. And he goes back to Missouri.
KOTB: And after the murder? The e-mails and instant messages slowed, then stopped. And a month later Sharee Miller had a new boyfriend. But if who did it was no longer a mystery to prosecutors, the question remained, why would she want her husband dead?
Ms. MABRY: Only Sharee Miller knows what her motive is, but you might want to consider the fact she enjoyed taking everything up a notch and the lies and the sonograms and the pictures and the tapes and all the lies about beatings and deaths and whatnot, is that maybe, just maybe, she enjoyed it.
KOTB: So just a thrill seeker who wants to see how far she can go?
Ms. MABRY: It’s a possibility.
KOTB: (Voiceover) How could Sharee Miller possibly explain away what seemed like damning evidence? She was about to mount a vigorous defense and take the stand herself. Coming up...
(Sharee in court; computer screen; court in session)
Mr. PLUMMER: (Voiceover) He wanted Sharee’s money.
(Photo of Cassaday)
KOTB: (Voiceover) ...was this passionate Internet romance really what it seemed?
(Computer screen; photos of Sharee)
Ms. MILLER: If you’re reading a Danielle Steele book, you’ll believe that, too, you know? I mean, people talk. That’s what we were doing.
KOTB: (Voiceover) When Instant Message Murder continues.
KOTB: (Voiceover) In December 2000, Sharee Miller was on trial for murdering her husband, Bruce, charges that could put her in prison for life.
(Sharee in court)
KOTB: If you’re innocent of this crime, why aren’t you just furious? Why aren’t you hopping mad?
Ms. MILLER: I have faith. I have faith. If I get angry and stay angry in jail, what good is that going to do me? I still walk around with a smile because I know I’m going home.
KOTB: (Voiceover) But before that could happen, defense attorney David Nikola had his work cut out for him.
Mr. DAVID NIKOLA: (In court) This case has a common theme. And the common theme is, ‘Let’s just smear her.’
KOTB: (Voiceover) First he had to counter the image hung on his client by prosecutors, who painted Miller as a black widow, willing to use casual sex and cruel mind games to convince a former police officer named Jerry Cassaday to kill her own husband.
(David Nikola in court; photos of Sharee; ID photo of Cassaday)
Mr. NIKOLA: They morally destroyed her with sexually graphic photographs, with videotapes the judge described to the jury as pornographic, with these bit—two-bit actors coming in and reading these e-mails that would make a pimp blush.
KOTB: In addition, the defense had to offer an explanation as to why Jerry Cassaday would make up a story that Sharee Miller drove him to commit murder. And this was their argument: that, instead of an affair calculated to end in murder, it was actually a fling that went wrong—so wrong, the defense would argue, that when Miller’s husband was murdered, Cassaday had nothing to do with it, but sought to frame her in a last desperate bid for revenge before committing suicide.
Mr. NIKOLA: (In court) Did you kill your husband, Bruce Miller?
Ms. MILLER: (In court) No, I did not.
Mr. NIKOLA: (In court) Did you help anybody kill your husband?
Ms. MILLER: (In court) No, I did not.
KOTB: (Voiceover) Sharee Miller took the stand and testified that, despite her affair with Jerry Cassaday, she loved her husband and would never have killed him. She explained that she and Bruce had an unorthodox sex life, that they had often surfed the Internet to spice things up in the bedroom.
(Court in session; photos of Bruce and Sharee)
Ms. MILLER: (In court) I was obviously addicted to being online.
KOTB: What kind of a relationship did you and Bruce have? What sort of a marriage was it?
Ms. MILLER: Wild.
KOTB: Was it wild?
Ms. MILLER: Spontaneous. We could do it kind of like naughty at night, good in the daytime. I don’t know. You know, like I’m a Mary Kay consultant and mom and all that and business owner in the daytime. And, you know, we did wild things at night. That was us. That made us happy.
KOTB: (Voiceover) Sharee said she had an active computer love life as well. And while she admitted to sleeping with Jerry and writing those e-mails found in his computer, she said most of what she did with Jerry and with other men on the Internet was just a fantasy.
(Computer screen; photo of Sharee; photo of Cassaday; photo of Sharee)
KOTB: Did you love Jerry Cassaday?
Ms. MILLER: No. I wasn’t in love with Jerry Cassaday, no.
KOTB: Do you think Jerry Cassaday was in love with you?
Ms. MILLER: Did he love me or the fantasy?
KOTB: Some people might, just by looking at the e-mails, think, those are two people in love.
Ms. MILLER: Yeah. And if you’re reading a Danielle Steele book, you’ll believe that, too, you know. I mean, people talk, and that’s what we were doing.
KOTB: (Voiceover) And the talk included lies, Sharee admitted. Remember the ultrasound photo she sent claiming she was pregnant twice? She says Jerry had been depressed, and she had the notion that a child would give him something to live for.
(Sharee; photo of sonogram; computer screen; photo of Sharee pregnant)
Mr. NIKOLA: (In court) How did that make him feel?
Ms. MILLER: (In court) Good. He felt good. And it made him want to get better.
KOTB: (Voiceover) And those stories about rapes and abortions ending those pregnancies? She said she wasn’t trying to recruit Jerry to kill her husband but simply had to offer some kind of explanation as to why she wasn’t pregnant when she and Jerry met in person. And there were other lies she told about her husband. She said Bruce was a wealthy man involved in organized crime, which she made up. Sharee said that lie and others had an unintended consequence. Jerry Cassaday began going after her for money. So at the time of the murder, she claimed, they were not only not co-conspirators, their relationship was so bad she was trying to push him away.
(Photo of bruised torso; photo of Cassaday; photo of Sharee; photos of Sharee and Bruce; photo of Cassaday; salvage yard at night; photo of Cassaday)
KOTB: So this guy was not completely devoted to Sharee at all?
Mr. NIKOLA: He was devoted to the money. He wanted Sharee’s money. And that’s why he became very vengeful and sought revenge against her because he tried to blame her for all his life’s failures. That was the end of end for him. He went off into a spiral, and he never came out.
KOTB: And the defense would claim Jerry Cassaday was in a suicidal spiral long before he met Sharee Miller. The jury learned he had abused alcohol and prescription drugs for years. He’d been divorced, had financial problems and, in the months before the murder, he’d been charged with DUI and battery. And Cassaday had threatened to commit suicide before, even once making a very serious threat against Sharee Miller.
(Voiceover) One co-worker testified Jerry Cassaday told her he would kill himself, and Sharee would pay for it. And he pulled it off, the defense argued, by faking that smoking gun, those instant messages in which prosecutors claimed the two had been caught conspiring to commit murder. An official from America Online was forced to admit it was possible.
(Court in session; computer screen; instant messages on computer; man on witness stand)
Unidentified Man #3: (In court) If you knew what you’re doing, there’s more—there’s a few more technicalities you have to consider in order to that, but you could do that.
KOTB: (Voiceover) The defense claimed there was ample reason to believe not only that Jerry Cassaday made up the instant messages, but that he had not committed the murder of Bruce Miller, because there was not one piece of physical evidence anywhere—not a fingerprint, tire track or a murder weapon linking Cassaday to the crime.
(Court in session; instant message on computer screen; photo of Bruce; vehicle; water)
Mr. NIKOLA: He said, ‘I shot him. I drove there and shot him.’ That’s it. Where’s the gun, Jerry? Jerry, where’s your gas receipt? Where’s your hotel receipt? Just tell us where you threw the gun. Where are the bullets? These are questions I’d love to ask him. Jerry Cassaday had the ultimate opportunity here to set this up, but, you see, he didn’t know enough about what happened in the murder to be able to come through and say, ‘I did it,’ and put his fingerprint on it.
KOTB: (Voiceover) And if he wasn’t involved, the defense argued, then she wasn’t involved. But if Jerry Cassaday did not kill Bruce Miller, who did? The defense was about to name names and confront the man it called the lead suspect in open court.
(Photo of Cassaday; arrest photo of Sharee; photo of Bruce; court in session)
Mr. NIKOLA: (In court) We have a killer, ladies and gentlemen, in this case. The real killer is, ladies and gentlemen, is John Hutchinson. That’s who the real killer is.
KOTB: (Voiceover) John Hutchinson, the man police focused on at the beginning of the investigation, a former salvage yard employee already suspected in a scheme to switch vehicle identification numbers, a man who owed Bruce Miller money, a man a polygraph operator said had not told the entire truth. And, incredibly, the most damaging witness pointing to John Hutchinson? His own brother who testified that John threatened to dispose of Bruce Miller.
(Photo of Hutchinson; vehicles in salvage yard, vehicle windshield; photo of Sharee and Bruce; typed document; arrest photo and record of Hutchinson;
Harold on witness stand)
Mr. NIKOLA: (In court) A week before Bruce Miller’s death, John Hutchinson contacted you on the phone and told you that he was going to kill Bruce Miller over a loan. Is that true?
HAROLD: (In court) He was going to dispose of Bruce Miller, not kill him.
Mr. NIKOLA: (In court) OK. You took the word “disposed of” to mean “kill,” right?
HAROLD: (In court) One way or the other.
KOTB: (Voiceover) Finally, the defense reached its climax when it called John Hutchinson to the stand.
(Court in session; Hutchinson on witness stand)
Mr. NIKOLA: (In court) Did you steal from Bruce Miller?
Mr. JOHN HUTCHINSON: (In court) Yeah.
KOTB: (Voiceover) Hutchinson denied any part in Miller’s murder and claimed he was home at the time of the killing.
(Court in session; Hutchinson on witness stand; house)
Mr. NIKOLA: (In court) Do you remember telling the police you did not leave the rest of the night?
Mr. HUTCHINSON: (In court) I could have, yes. I probably—that’s—whatever I said is what it was.
KOTB: Even if half of what the defense says about John Hutchinson is true, isn’t it hard to believe that that’s just a simple coincidence?
Ms. MABRY: He was thoroughly investigated. And he was ruled out as a suspect.
KOTB: Did you murder Bruce Miller?
Mr. HUTCHINSON: No, I certainly didn’t.
KOTB: Did you have any idea who might have murdered Bruce Miller?
Mr. HUTCHINSON: No. There was only one person that had anything to gain out of the whole situation.
KOTB: And who was that?
Mr. HUTCHINSON: His wife.
KOTB: Why would your mind go to Sharee Miller, his wife?
Mr. HUTCHINSON: Because I’ve known her for a few years and how she operates, manipulative, how she does things.
Judge: (In court) We are ready, I believe, now for final arguments. Is that correct?
KOTB: (Voiceover) Jurors would soon have a decision to make. Did Sharee Miller enlist her lover to kill her husband, or, as the defense claimed, was the murder committed by another man?
(Court in session; arrest photo of Sharee; vehicle on road; photo of Cassaday; arrest photo of Hutchinson)
KOTB: Did you manipulate Jerry Cassaday into killing your husband?
Ms. MILLER: No, I did not.
KOTB: (Voiceover) Coming up, who would the jury believe? Dramatic moments behind closed doors.
(Sharee in court; empty jury chairs)
Unidentified Man #4: People crying, fists were pounded on the table.
(Voiceover) It was like something out of a movie.
(Jury room door; empty jury chairs)
KOTB: (Voiceover) When DATELINE continues.
KOTB: (Voiceover) After more than a week of testimony, Sharee Miller’s future was in the hands of jurors, among them a mail carrier and the jury’s foreman, a television news anchor.
(Sharee in court; empty jury chairs)
Unidentified Man #5: You can’t imagine what it’s like until you’ve been on the inside watching this.
KOTB: (Voiceover) In fact, the jury was split from the beginning. The vote was seven-to-five. At the heart of the debate, those instant messages prosecutors said were a virtual transcript of Sharee and Jerry planning to commit murder.
(Empty jury chairs; computer screen; instant message)
Woman #2: (Reading) “Jerry, if this don’t work, he will hurt me bad.”
Man #1: (Reading) “It’ll work.”
KOTB: (Voiceover) Some jurors believe that Jerry Cassaday may have fabricated the computer messages.
(Instant message on computer screen)
KOTB: Is it possible that Jerry Cassaday faked those instant messages?
Man #4: It’s possible. I don’t know if I could do it. But I guess there are people who could.
KOTB: (Voiceover) And what about John Hutchinson, the man defense attorneys said was the real killer? Jurors asked to review the testimony of his brother Harold, who said this.
(Arrest photo of Hutchinson; Harold on witness stand)
Mr. NIKOLA: (In court) You took the word “disposed of” to mean “kill,” right?
HAROLD: (In court) One way or the other.
KOTB: (Voiceover) Was John Hutchinson the real killer?
(Arrest photo of Hutchinson)
Man #4: If I was on a jury and John Hutchinson is being tried, there’s a possibility that, you know, he would have been convicted.
KOTB: (Voiceover) But others felt just as strongly that prosecutors had made their case against Sharee Miller, that her claims about those computer communications being some kind of fantasy were a lie. The two had, after all, slept together on several occasions.
(Court in session; photo of Sharee on computer screen; photo of Sharee)
Man #5: Fantasy is when you talk and you dream. When you touch and you do, it’s not fantasy anymore. It’s real.
KOTB: (Voiceover) And the foreman and the other jurors just didn’t buy the lies Sharee told, including the sonogram she sent to Jerry from pregnancies which did not exist.
(Empty jury chairs; photo of Sharee pregnant)
Man #5: The question that kept on coming up was why? Why would she claim that she was pregnant and that her husband beat her up and killed the baby? I mean, what motive could she have? And the only thing any of us could come up with is she was trying to get a response, obviously.
KOTB: (Voiceover) In other words, was she trying to provoke him? As deliberations went on, jurors couldn’t seem to settle their differences.
(Empty jury chairs)
Man #4: It was like something out of a movie. I mean, there was people crying, fists were pounded on the table. It was just so intense.
KOTB: (Voiceover) As day two of deliberations dawned, jurors told the judge they could not reach a verdict.
(Jury room door)
KOTB: What did you think when you heard that?
Ms. MABRY: Oh, no.
KOTB: Bad news?
Ms. MABRY: Yes.
KOTB: (Voiceover) But the judge asked the jury to keep working. And somehow, after 17 hours of deliberation, the deadlock was broken.
(Empty jury chairs)
Judge: (In court) Members of the jury, have you agreed upon a verdict, and if so, who will speak for you?
Man #5: (In court) We have, your honor, and I will.
KOTB: (Voiceover) Just three days before Christmas 2000, the jury was back with a verdict.
(Court in session)
Judge: (In court) What is your verdict, please?
Man #5: (In court) As to count one, the jury finds the defendant guilty as charged of conspiracy to commit first-degree premeditated murder.
KOTB: (Voiceover) Guilty. As the family of the victim, Bruce Miller, reached to grasp hands with the family of his killer, Jerry Cassaday, both families feeling they were victims. Sharee Miller was led from the courtroom in handcuffs. The evidence in that briefcase found under the bed by Jerry Cassaday’s brother had been the key to unlocking the mystery.
(Sharee in court; people in court room; Sharee led from court room; briefcase; photo of Sharee; instant message on computer screen; rain on vehicle window; car headlights)
KOTB: How close did Sharee Miller come to getting off?
Mr. PLUMMER: If Mike Cassaday hadn’t looked under the bed, Sharee Miller would have gotten off because no one would have known. Nobody.
KOTB: (Voiceover) And a month later Sharee Miller was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
(Sharee in handcuffs)
Ms. MILLER: (Voiceover) I will fight this for the rest of my life, if I have to.
(People in court room)
Ms. MILLER: I can’t see myself spending the rest of my life in prison for something I didn’t do.
KOTB: (Voiceover) And her attorneys quickly turn their attention to the future.
(Sharee in court room in handcuffs)
Mr. NIKOLA: We’re going to have a hell of an appeal.
KOTB: (Voiceover) David Nikola claimed Miller deserved a new trial, saying that the judge should never have allowed the jury to hear the contents of Jerry Cassaday’s suicide note found near his body.
(Nikola; Nikola and Sharee in court; letter)
Mr. NIKOLA: It’s a basic fundamental, constitutional right under our Sixth Amendment, that we can confront our accusers. And Jerry Cassaday was a ghost in this case because of his own calculated suicide.
KOTB: How do you fight the words of a dead man?
Mr. NIKOLA: It’s very difficult.
KOTB: (Voiceover) Sharee Miller was sent off to serve her life sentence in a Michigan state prison. Year after year her attorneys filed appeals. And year after year, court after court turned them all down, until finally, nearly eight years after her trial, the defense attorney’s prediction came true. A federal judge overturned Miller’s conviction, ruling that jurors should never have heard the contents of Jerry Cassaday’s suicide note.
(Arrest photo of Sharee; Nikola in court; Mabry in court; court building; judge banging gavel down; empty jury chairs; typed document)
KOTB: Now, since you predicted this 10 years ago, why did it take the court so long to realize that there was a problem? I mean, it’s been 10 years.
Mr. NIKOLA: Listen, justice is not swift. But thank god it’s righteous.
KOTB: (Voiceover) Sharee Miller was released from prison, but her newfound freedom was not welcome news to the family of Bruce Miller.
(Photo of Sharee; Chuck and Judy Miller sitting on couch)
Mr. CHUCK MILLER: I can’t stand it that she’s out walking free, you know.
KOTB: Chuck Miller is Bruce’s brother. He and his wife, Judy, were shocked by Sharee’s release.
(Chuck and Judy)
Mr. MILLER: She’s a two-bit whore as far as I’m concerned. That’s what she is.
Ms. JUDY MILLER: You know, and she says she’s changed and she wants to help people she’s hurt. Well, she hasn’t reached out to any of us to see, you know, how much hurt she caused our family. I think until she can accept the responsibility for that, I don’t believe anything she has to say.
KOTB: (Voiceover) Judge for yourself. An exclusive interview with the newly released Sharee Miller is on the way. Coming up...
KOTB: ...it’s a whole new you.
(Voiceover) Sharee Miller speaks about lessons learned.
Ms. MILLER: I know that morally I was not right. That doesn’t mean I was capable of murder.
KOTB: When Instant Message Murder continues.
KOTB: (Voiceover) It was a twist to the story that perhaps only Sharee Miller and her lawyers saw coming. In July 2009, after more than a decade behind bars, Sharee was a free woman. And shortly after her release, Sharee, now 38 years old, strikingly different in dress and demeanor, sat down with DATELINE for an exclusive interview.
(Salvage yard; prison door unlocked and opened; Sharee; Sharee and Nikola)
Ms. MILLER: I literally walked out with the clothes on my back and my Bible in my hand. It was the best feeling. I will never take anything for granted for the rest of my life. Nothing.
KOTB: Tell me about the moment when you first saw your kids as a free woman, a woman out of prison. What was that like?
Ms. MILLER: They’re grown now. They’re teenagers. They have their own lives. They’re not the babies that I left. My mother became their mother. It’s hard. I’m just looking forward to being a grandma now.
KOTB: (Voiceover) And Sharee Miller says she has come out of prison a changed woman, thanks to two books: the Bible and that true crime book written about her case, the one we told you about at the top of our story, “Fatal Error.”
(Sharee; chain link fence; salvage yard; “Fatal Error” book)
Ms. MILLER: When I got to the end of the book, it broke me. It broke me what people thought of me.
Ms. MILLER: They didn’t know me. They didn’t know who I was. They just knew what all these people were saying about me.
Ms. MILLER: I reached out for help.
KOTB: Did a person help you or did you find it yourself?
Ms. MILLER: Mental health services in prison are wonderful.
Ms. MILLER: As long as you want help, it’s offered to you there. And I took the opportunity to get the help that I needed for me. I found Jesus while I was in prison.
KOTB: I can’t believe it’s been a decade since I last interviewed you. Does it feel like 10 years?
Ms. MILLER: No. It went by really fast. I stayed focused.
Ms. MILLER: I wanted to come home. I wanted to come home right. So I stayed focused.
KOTB: (Voiceover) But incredibly, as soon as Miller was released from state prison in July 2009, her murder conviction overturned, she found herself in shackles again. Authorities rearrested her, again charged her with murdering her husband, Bruce. She spent nearly two weeks in the county jail before she was released on bond. Prosecutor David Leyton:
(Sharee; county jail building; photo of Sharee)
Mr. DAVID LEYTON: I wasn’t just going to let her walk away and hit the—head to the nearest McDonald’s.
KOTB: (Voiceover) The prosecutor is planning to move forward with a new trial, but first asking the federal courts to reinstate Miller’s conviction.
Mr. LEYTON: If I win there, the conviction is reinstated, Ms. Miller has to go back to prison. If I lose there, I can still appeal it to the full US Circuit Court of Appeals and even to the United States Supreme Court if necessary. If I lose all of that, I can still retry her. So this really gives me two bites at the apple.
KOTB: (Voiceover) The question: Would a new jury convict Miller if it were not allowed to read Jerry Cassaday’s suicide note in which he confesses to the killing, but says Sharee put him up to it?
(Nikola and Sharee in court; typed letter; photo of Sharee)
Mr. NIKOLA: Listen, the suicide note was a big problem. And the jury was out for three days. They were hung twice. They were crying. They were yelling at each other. They were fighting with each other. And they came out at—three days before Christmas at 7:00 on a Friday, they had had enough. And they came to a compromise. But that was with the suicide note. So without the suicide note, there’s no question in my mind that they’ll come to the right decision this time.
Mr. LEYTON: I certainly hope she’s not going to beat a murder rap on a technicality, and I’m going to go right down to the mat to see that that doesn’t happen.
(Voiceover) I think it’s pretty clear, when you look at all the evidence, even if you take the suicide note out of the mix, you look at all that other evidence, she enticed Mr. Cassaday to come to Flint and kill her husband.
(Court in session; typed document; photo of Cassaday; photo of Sharee and Bruce)
Mr. LEYTON: I don’t think there’s any doubt about it, and she should not be free. She should be imprisoned.
Mr. MILLER: If everything goes in our favor and she gets put back where she has to serve her full sentence, you know, she’s going to die of old age in there.
(Voiceover) She don’t need to be out on the street walking free, that’s for sure. She needs to be locked right back up and stay there.
KOTB: (Voiceover) But until a new judge or a new jury makes that decision, Sharee Miller is out, admitting her faults, her extramarital affairs, working, she says, to do better; working on an autobiography and writing an ending of her own to this strange, sad story.
(Sharee; Sharee reading; Sharee at computer)
KOTB: As we sit here today, do you feel like you’ll remain free?
Ms. MILLER: Yes. I know that morally I was not right. I know that. I’m not bitter about prison because I got better.
Ms. MILLER: You know, I got the help that I needed. But because my morals were so bad, that doesn’t mean I was capable of murder.
KOTB: What do you think, though, Sharee, of people who will look at this and say, ‘Oh my gosh, there goes another person getting off on a technicality?’
Ms. MILLER: I feel like there’s a lot of society that has a big problem with me being free. A lot of people believe exactly what they see on the media. I used to be one of those. I used to believe if they arrested you, you’re guilty. But I went to prison. And I learned that that’s not always so. I would really hope that society would give me a chance, just—I mean, I got a second chance and that’s all I’m asking for.
KOTB: (Voiceover) Can Sharee Miller’s life be salvaged? Should it be? It’s too late, of course, for the two men who loved her and for their families. So much damage. And in the junkyard where it all began, the rusted hulks bear silent witness to the wreckage left behind.
(Sharee; photo of Cassaday; photo of Sharee and Bruce; salvage yard)
CURRY: Prosecutors have asked the federal court of appeals in Cincinnati to reinstate Sharee Miller’s conviction. A decision is expected in the next six months. And you can find more information on the Sharee Miller story on our Web site.
(Voiceover) That’s at dateline.msnbc.com.