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The Secret Life of the Homecoming Queen

He was the football player, she was the homecoming queen. They fell in love, had four beautiful daughters and became prominent members of their church community.  But when she started to feel ignored at home, her eyes wandered a few pews back to the church youth pastor. When the husband was found dead, the trail of evidence lead back to the lovers

He was number 15, a boy named Thad. Fate maybe because number 15 was her lucky number, the girl from the cross-town rival watching the game up in the stands, the pretty blonde named Michelle, who would become 1986 homecoming queen at Pepperell High.

Ms. MICHELLE REYNOLDS: It was an honor because the whole school votes for the queen, and so it was an honor.

MURPHY: So you were the really cool girl at school.

Ms. REYNOLDS: I guess.

MURPHY:  Number 15, Thad Reynolds, and Michelle Sullins were prom dates, married right out of high school.

Ms. BEVERLY OWENS: They were both popular, both nice looking, both friendly, had a lot of friends, social. I mean, they had it all.

MURPHY:  But 20 years on, people had strong opinions about the one-time homecoming queen.

Ms. LEIGH PATTERSON: She is one of the most evil people that I’ve ever dealt with.

MURPHY:  And that’s because of what happened early one morning.

Mr. JIMMY BERRY: Lots of stab wounds. It certainly was a bad crime scene.

MURPHY:  With their church at the center of their lives, supportive families living right next door, how had it come to what it did?

Sheriff TIM BURKHALTER: This kind of gruesome murder was very eye-opening for our community and very big news.

MURPHY:  So much lost in the blink of an eye, so much blood.

Mr. SCOTTY HARPER:  I’m looking at myself in the rearview mirror for a minute before I go in.

Mr. HARPER: It’s hard to believe things got to where it was.

MURPHY:  A sense of place is important to this story, and here it is. Rome, Georgia, a county seat northwest of Atlanta, population about 35,000. Not too big, not too small. Proud to be in the Bible Belt and all that implies about how you live your life and treat your neighbors, a great many of whom you’ll know by name. Growing up here in this conservative community in the ‘70s was a sparkly little girl named Michelle. She always seemed to end up front and center in the family snapshots kept by her Aunt Trish Benefield.

Ms. TRISH BENEFIELD: She was always wanting to pose for my camera. And she would sit at my mom’s and dad’s in the swing, I would take her picture. So grab the little poodle, you know, the doggy, and take another picture.

MURPHY:  What the old photos of a happy kid don’t reveal were the fault lines in Michelle’s childhood. Her parents split up when she was a little girl and her father died when she was only 13. Her single mom raised Michelle and her two older brothers with the teachings of the Baptist Church as a moral foundation. Michelle grew older and stayed cute, a kind of “Little Miss Sunshine” who always thrived in the attention her golden looks brought.

Ms. BENEFIELD: I mean, she was just a beauty, absolutely. Walk into a room, and everybody looks. You know, she had that presence.

MURPHY:  There were teenage boyfriends, but no one special until she went to that football game, the one with number 15 on the field.

Ms. REYNOLDS: And I asked who number 15 was, and it was—it was Thad. And I saw him at a dance and then I just fell, you know, head over heels for him.

MURPHY:  Thad Reynolds, football player, wrestler later on in the school year, and an athlete not afraid to be in the school play and skits, seen here dancing in his number 15 jersey. He started seeing Michelle, someone as full of life as he was. Thad’s sister Beverly remembers it as a match made in high school heaven.

Ms. OWENS: He was the football player. She was the cheerleader. I mean, I guess that’s how it started.

MURPHY:  The pair reminded their friends of another couple.

Ms. REYNOLDS:  A lot of people called us “Ken” and “Barbie.”

Ms. REYNOLDS: And he was just fun to be around.

MURPHY:  Fun for Thad was down home and yee-haw.

Ms. REYNOLDS: Our first date was a tractor pull in Atlanta with his family.

MURPHY: A tractor pull with his family?

Ms. REYNOLDS: Yes, sir. And...

MURPHY: This is a good start.

Ms. REYNOLDS: Right. And actually when we got back to their house, I got sick and threw up because I was so nervous.

MURPHY:  Still, Michelle remembers having a good time, and two months later Thad asked her to wear his class ring.

MURPHY:  No sooner had she slipped it on, then 10 minutes later, they both remember the space shuttle exploding. The date, January 28th, 1986. But they didn’t see the disaster as a personal omen. They finished high school as a couple.

Ms. REYNOLDS: We went to the prom together.

MURPHY:  And right after Michelle and Thad graduated, the football player and the homecoming queen got married. They picked August the 15th, 15 their now mutually lucky number. They had a big church wedding at Hollywood Baptist, the church that would be so important in their lives in the years ahead. Ken and Barbie were now Mr. and Mrs.

Ms. BENEFIELD: This was it. This was her family. She was finally going to have what she wanted.

MURPHY: So how was it to be a young married woman?

Ms. REYNOLDS: It was awesome. I enjoyed it. And having our own place was nice.

MURPHY:  Reliable Thad was unlike the father that had left the family. Her aunt Trish wasn’t surprised that Michelle married young.

Ms. BENEFIELD: Security because when I saw them together I saw that. I saw that security. I know she loved him. I also know that she could lean on him and depend on him.

MURPHY:  Thad, like Michelle, had been raised religious. The Baptist Church was a cornerstone for the young couple. Thad was a come in even when he was sick kind of hard worker at a grocery.

Ms. REYNOLDS: We had goals. We wanted to buy a house, we wanted to go on a cruise and buy a camcorder; and we did all three. And after that, we decided to try and start having children.

MURPHY:  They had a little girl and named her Olivia, but the young marriage was foundering. Five years in, Michelle and Thad divorced.

Ms. BENEFIELD: One had cheated. The other one had cheated. So you have both stories.

Ms. REYNOLDS: We had problems.

MURPHY:  Michelle got an office job and started dating a little. Thad kept on plugging along sort of, but he especially took the divorce hard. His mom remembers getting a bad phone call from Thad.

Ms. KITTY WALKER: He was in an apartment that he had rented, and I can remember him saying that he curled up in the fetal position in the closet and asked for God and asked for reconciliation.

MURPHY:  Michelle, too, wasn’t finding much satisfying as a single mom in the dating scene.

Ms. REYNOLDS: I dated a few times, but I knew back in my mind that I still loved Thad, and I kept our wedding rings in our safe. But we still did things together. We had Christmas together and some holidays, and I even went to Florida with his family. So it’s almost like we really wasn’t divorced.

MURPHY:  After four years apart, Thad and Michelle went into counseling, and at the end of that, they decided to try it again. They would get remarried. So one Sunday at Hollywood Baptist, with some of the same friends from the first wedding looking on, Thad and Michelle exchanged marriage vows for a second time.

Ms. BENEFIELD: It was a beautiful ceremony because it involved Olivia. It was the three—it wasn’t just the two of them. It was a family.

MURPHY:  The local paper splashed a heartwarming story about the young couple who’d overcome adversity and been reunited with all their church members looking on. The article concluded, “Theirs isn’t a fairy tale, it’s a love story.” Aunt Trish though, thought Michelle looked at it through less rose-colored glasses.

Ms. BENEFIELD:  I thought it was more, ‘I’ll have a home for my child and for future children, and he’ll provide it.’

Ms. BENEFIELD: Which he did, a great provider.

MURPHY:  Later on, with everything that happened, some church members would rue the day they ever encouraged Thad and Michelle to get back together.

MURPHY:  Coming up, among the flock, wandering eyes and suspicious wives.

Ms. REYNOLDS:  Scotty told me that she was jealous of me and asking him if he thought she was prettier than me.

MURPHY:  When The Secret Life of the Homecoming Queen continues.

MURPHY:  Thad and Michelle, after four years apart, began marriage take two. They built a little house for themselves on a plot right next door to his parents. Thad and fellow church members pitched in on the construction. By then his mom, Kitty Walker, knew that Michelle would always be her boy’s one and only.

Ms. KITTY WALKER: He just fell head over heels, and it was total commitment. MURPHY:  Commitment to a growing family. He and Michelle would have three more girls, commitment to his job, working his way up the ranks at Frito-Lay, and commitment, most of all, to the God he worshiped every Sunday at Hollywood Baptist Church.

Ms. BENEFIELD: You know how they always say God, family? I think God was first with him, then his family.

Mr. THAD REYNOLDS: (On stage) God working in my life, watching God work in their lives.

MURPHY:  Thad was perfectly comfortable rising in front of the congregation at Hollywood and speaking with the conviction of a polished preacher.

Mr. T. REYNOLDS: (On stage) John 8:36, God has done a miracle in my life. God says pursue righteousness, pursue faith, pursue love with others who call on the Lord.

Ms. WALKER: I really truly deep down think he wanted to be a missionary.

MURPHY:  Thad and Michelle decided to home-school their four little girls to shield them from the secular worldly influences of public classrooms.

(Photo of Thad and children; children writing and reading)

Ms. REYNOLDS: When we were getting back together, he had asked, you know, if

I’d pray about it, about home-schooling our children.

MURPHY: So I think I hear you saying you’re really living quite an active

religious Christian life.

Ms. REYNOLDS: Yes, sir.

MURPHY:  The church became their family’s focal point. Thad was elevated to deacon at Hollywood Baptist, a volunteer position as one of the pastor’s right-hand men. Michelle became active with the teens, putting on dance performances.

Ms. REYNOLDS: A lot of Baptist church that I’ve been to, they’re just, you know, quiet and don’t clap or anything. It’s to where, you know, there was more freedom to worship at Hollywood.

MURPHY:  The teen group Michelle helped organize was foot-stoppingly professional. And to further cement their commitment to God, Michelle and Thad both starred in an elaborate church play.

(Teen group performing; Thad and Michelle performing with others)

Ms. REYNOLDS: (On stage) Now that you have asked Jesus into your heart, we’re a complete Christian family.

MURPHY:  Thad and Michelle are featured in a scene about a Christian couple, the wife traditional, the husband understanding of her lapses.

Ms. REYNOLDS: (On stage) Oh, honey, I was so busy this morning, I forgot to put the roast in the oven. You know how crazy it gets around our house on Sundays.

Mr. T. REYNOLDS: (On stage) That’s OK, sweetheart. I understand. We’ll go out for lunch.

MURPHY:  When Thad’s sister Beverly Owens looks back, those days of church and family were good times for her brother.

Ms. OWENS: If I had to pick a time that he was his happiest, it was when he had all four kids and Michelle at home.

MURPHY:  And the church provided like-minded, God-fearing friends.  One of those couples was Scotty and Paige Harper, almost a mirror image of Thad and Michelle in so many ways. Scotty on Thad:

Mr. HARPER: You know, he was—he was a good guy.

MURPHY:  Like Thad and Michelle, they lived next door to his parents. Like Thad, Scotty was deeply religious and also a church volunteer leader. He was the volunteer family pastor, giving his time to tend to the young people of Hollywood Baptist. And Scotty and Paige had their own three small children, also all girls.

Ms. REYNOLDS: Our children were like best friends, and we would go out to eat with them, go to a movie.

MURPHY:  Barbecues, volleyball, camping trips, prayer groups. Thad and Michelle, Scotty and Paige and all the kids together. The husbands, who’d first met when Thad was divorced, became especially fast friends, the Bible and scriptures their glue. Thad thought so highly of Scotty, he praised him in front of the congregation.

Mr. T. REYNOLDS: (On stage) Our family pastor, official title now, Scotty Harper, has always taught the people that are under him and the kids that we need to teach them the things that are relevant to them these days. That’s his keyword, right? Relevant. How to minister to them right now with their lives.

Mr. HARPER: He was a good role model.

MURPHY:  Thad and Scotty became the tightest of friends, helping each other hold firm to their faith.

Ms. WALKER: Sunday mornings before church, that him and Scotty and several other guys at Hollywood would meet at McDonald’s...

And have a little worship there before they actually went on to church.

MURPHY:  The two moms, though, Michelle and Paige, never grew as close.

Ms. REYNOLDS: Scotty told me later on that she was jealous of me and asking him if he thought she was prettier than me, and she was just jealous of me, and so she just started getting away from me.

MURPHY:  But Michelle was getting closer to Scotty. Her church performances for the middle schoolers came under his direction as the family pastor. They talked church business on the phone and exchanged e-mails. Scotty had actually gone to the same high school as Michelle, two years behind her, when she’d been elected homecoming queen.

Mr. HARPER: I knew who she was. I mean, I—if I saw her, I might say hey. But I—we really didn’t cross many paths in high school.

MURPHY:  After a tour in the Air Force, including duty in Desert Storm with a combat communications unit, Scotty parlayed his electronics savvy into a good job at the county’s major medical complex, Floyd Medical Center.

He helped keep the computer systems going.

Mr. HARPER: Everything was good, you know, as far as vocationally, you know, a good job.

MURPHY:  But there was some turbulence on the home front with Paige. He prayed for his marriage with Thad, who as part of his duties as deacon regularly counseled church couples at his home.

Mr. HARPER: He and I over the years have batted things off of each other. I mean, he’s had some downs, I’ve had some downs, and we’d go to each other.

MURPHY:  For her part, Michelle was happy to see Scotty at her house. He was always so complimentary about her church work with the teenagers and her effervescent good spirits.

Ms. REYNOLDS: He was fun to be around and made you laugh, and just a great sense of humor.

MURPHY:  By 2004, there were signs that Michelle was getting restless about Rome, Georgia, and maybe even all the churchiness in their marriage. Like a lot of families in the area, Michelle and Thad liked to visit the campgrounds in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, the Smoky Mountains. Michelle felt so itchy, she seriously wanted to buy a cabin resort property from her family, uproot from Rome and cater to the tourists in Tennessee.

Ms. WALKER:  And it was unreal, a million dollars or something.

Ms. WALKER: They had already qualified for it. And some guy stepped in supposedly before they did and bought it. And that was Thad’s excuse as to why she was so down in the dumps and everything.

MURPHY:  That spring Michelle started popping in on her in-laws next door less frequently. When Thad got home from work, she’d say she’d had a long day with the kids and she was going off to shop. Thad, meanwhile, was becoming even more involved in the church. After a missionary trip to Cuba, he came back home afire with the idea of becoming a minister full-time, leaving his job to see where Jesus would lead him. Michelle was said to be frosty to the idea. When did it begin? We’ll never know, but Michelle, feeling she was playing second fiddle to God in her marriage, began telling someone she was having naughty thoughts about him. Someone very taboo. And he was only too happy to say, ‘Funny, me, too.’

MURPHY:  Coming up, two of the faithful play with fire.

MURPHY: He’s saying, ‘Boy, you are a beautiful girl.’

Ms. REYNOLDS: ‘You’re awesome.’

MURPHY: Very welcome words for your ears at that point.

Ms. REYNOLDS: Yes, sir.

MURPHY:  When DATELINE continues.

MURPHY:  Michelle Reynolds had become almost a theatrical producer at Hollywood Baptist Church. Her Christian rock and gospel presentation with the church’s young people were slick and polished. But in their marriage, by May 2004, Michelle and Thad had again hit a rocky patch. He was thinking about pursuing the ministry full time, and that would mean major changes in their lives with four little girls. Certainly less money. But money didn’t mean all that much to him. His mother tells a story about Thad driving along one day listening to Christian talk radio.

Ms. WALKER: God spoke to him, and he said, ‘Son, give.’ And he said, ‘What do you want me to give?’ And he said, ‘Ever what you have.’ And Thad opened up his wallet, and he had $35 in there, and he drove to this radio station and he gave the $35 to the receptionist, and he said he wanted it to bring marriages back together.

MURPHY:  Did Thad, who’d been through an excruciating divorce from Michelle, even realize that his wife was feeling ignored?

Ms. REYNOLDS:  My husband was married to his job and church.

(Photo of Thad holding baby, Hollywood Baptist Church)

Ms. REYNOLDS: And I did everything from A to Z in our household and home-schooled and had toddlers, taking care of babies, and I would tell him I needed a date. I always told him, ‘I need a date. I need a date.’

MURPHY:  Now they did have an active social life, but it was mostly with other young couples from the church, mainly Scotty, Thad’s friend, the youth pastor, and his wife, Paige. They went on weekend camping trips together, grilled burgers, played family volleyball.

MURPHY: But something had made its way back to Michelle when Thad had been counseling Scotty over some marital problems he’d been having. Thad told Michelle to be careful around Scotty because when Scotty had confided in him during those sessions, it dawned on Thad that Michelle would make his best friend Scotty the perfect wife.

Ms. REYNOLDS: My husband, he told me to stay away from Scotty because he’s—I’m everything that he wants in a wife.

MURPHY:  But even if she wanted to, which she didn’t, there was a problem with avoiding Scotty. He was her boss in a way. All those church youth extravaganzas were planned with him.

Ms. REYNOLDS: I would, you know, have to ask him if I needed like costumes or something for one of the dramas, and he would tell me how to go about getting it.

MURPHY: So you’re seeing him and talking on the phone, I imagine, e-mailing and...

Ms. REYNOLDS: Yes, sir.

MURPHY: You got issues to talk about with the church.

Ms. REYNOLDS: Yes, sir.

MURPHY:  Now on Scotty’s end, he says his wife, Paige, was sensing that her husband and Michelle were getting way too cozy. After a rafting trip they’d all taken together that May, when there seemed to be electricity dancing between the two of them, Scotty says Paige told him to back off from Michelle.

Mr. HARPER: Not wanting me to be around her without Paige around, not wanting me to talk to her.

MURPHY:  But they did talk, and a favorite topic, their spouses’ suspicions that something flirtatious was going on between them. By the end of May 2004, Scotty, who seemed to put the one-time homecoming queen up on a pedestal, and Michelle the ignored spouse, were crossing the line from friendship to intimacy.

Ms. REYNOLDS: I started getting the attention from Scotty. I was like, ‘Well, OK. Somebody is showing me attention and, you know, saying that you’re awesome.’

MURPHY: So here comes Scotty and he’s saying, ‘Boy, you are a beautiful girl.’

Ms. REYNOLDS: ‘You’re awesome.’

MURPHY: Very welcome words for your ears at that point, huh?

Ms. REYNOLDS: Yes, sir.

MURPHY:  Michelle began by sending Scotty an explicit, erotic e-mail, the Kama Sutra of things she’d like to do with him.

Mr. HARPER: I would have never suspected that we’d go there.

MURPHY:  Scotty was tingling and hit return with equally naughty thoughts.

Mr. HARPER: I mean, you don’t get tempted by something that you don’t want.

MURPHY:  The weekend following the exchange of sexy e-mails, the two church leaders and their families shared a camper vehicle together. In the afternoon, Scotty and Paige went off to the lake with the children.

Ms. REYNOLDS:  And Thad and I were left in our camper sleeper, and I tried to make love for my husband, and he said no.

Ms. REYNOLDS: He brushed me off, and that was very frustrating.

MURPHY:  That night in the camper, with Thad sleeping next to Michelle, Paige by Scotty, Scotty says there was erotic midnight tension crackling between the two not-yet-lovers only a few feet apart.

MURPHY: Was she flirting with you?

Mr. HARPER: Yeah, we were.

MURPHY: Her husband there and your wife there and the kids around and...

Mr. HARPER: Yeah.

MURPHY: She was coming on to you?

Mr. HARPER: We were just enjoying the weekend, yeah.

MURPHY:  On that camping trip, Scotty says Thad teased him about losing Thad’s hunting knife. Scotty promised to replace it. The following Tuesday, Michelle met Scotty in the parking deck of the medical center where he worked. She waited for him in her SUV, and they clambered into the back seat like teenagers. The two had crossed the line, and for Scotty, anyway, there was no looking back.

Mr. HARPER: I wanted what I wanted.

MURPHY: Which was?

Mr. HARPER: Michelle.

MURPHY: So this was the big thing. You thought you’d met your soul mate here?

Mr. HARPER: Yeah.

MURPHY:  It was June 2004, and Scotty, the family pastor, and Michelle, the youth pageant director, were suddenly hot and heavy. Mornings when they used to go to the gym were now passed in illicit hours at motels just down the road from Hollywood Baptist. They started whispering about Portland, the city of their fantasized exit strategy. They called and e-mailed all day long. There was even a stolen dinner together and a movie in a neighboring town.

MURPHY: I’m guessing neither of you wants to be found out at this point.


MURPHY: You want each other, but you still want to keep what you have, is that the dilemma?

Mr. HARPER: We want each other and we don’t want to destroy what we have.

MURPHY: So how do you get out of that box?

Mr. HARPER: The easy thing was just keep going day to day, but that obviously wasn’t reasonable.

MURPHY: That wasn’t working, huh?


MURPHY:  Michelle also felt trapped between the two men.

MURPHY: Did you start to feel bad, Michelle, about what was going on?

Ms. REYNOLDS: Yes, sir. I actually...

MURPHY: That you were cheating on Thad?

Ms. REYNOLDS: Yes, I actually did. At times I was like, ‘I can’t believe that it came to this.’ I really wanted to grow old with my husband.

We always talked about walking on the beach all pruned out.

(Family photo)

MURPHY:  Mid-June, and another families together weekend, a big one, a road trip to Alabama, where Michelle’s kids from the church dance troupe would attend a Christian gathering at a place called the Ramp. Thad had stayed behind at home. The group overnighted at a nearby motel. While most of the parents, including Scotty’s wife, Paige, stayed in rooms piled high with sleeping bags chaperoning the teens, Scotty, the family pastor, arranged for Michelle to have her own room.

MURPHY: I get the picture of you kind of easing your way out of the room after lights out, tip-toeing down the hall, is that the way it happened?

Mr. HARPER: Correct. Yes.

MURPHY: Into Michelle’s room.

Mr. HARPER: Yes.

MURPHY: Spend the night with her.

Mr. HARPER: Yes.

MURPHY: Make love and then sneak back into your own bed?

Mr. HARPER: Pretty much.

MURPHY:  That night, in Michelle’s single, the two in pillow talk used an expression for the first time that would become their lovers’ code, the word “ugly.” A word that would come to hint at where they were heading. At the end of the weekend, they headed back home to Rome, Georgia, but they’d all be getting together again soon for the big Fourth of July weekend racing up on them.

Mr. HARPER: Everything about Michelle was great to me.

MURPHY: You loved her.

Mr. HARPER: Yeah.

MURPHY:  Coming up, Michelle tries one more time to put her marriage back together. A date night that goes horribly wrong.

MURPHY: So pick a word for how you feel listening to this.

Ms. REYNOLDS: I was disgusted.

MURPHY:  When The Secret Life of the Homecoming Queen continues.

MURPHY:  The deacon’s wife and the family pastor were having a torrid affair. In only a month’s time they’d crossed the line from friends to lovers. Scotty didn’t think his wife knew.

Mr. HARPER: I think Paige knew that Michelle and I was closer than she wanted us to be.

MURPHY: She didn’t know you were physical?


MURPHY:  Michelle was sure her husband, Thad, was in the dark. Not surprising, she says he was oblivious to everything but his job and church.

Mr. T. REYNOLDS: (On stage) Be not therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord and what he’s done in your life.

MURPHY:  All of which she says pushed her into the affair with his best friend.

MURPHY:  Was this love or lust we’re talking about here?

Ms. REYNOLDS: I would say a need. A need that needed to be met that I wasn’t getting at home.

MURPHY: But there was a major lovers’ problem here. Scotty was reasonably sure that Paige would give him a divorce. Michelle was just as certain that for her divorce wasn’t in the cards. By then Thad had started chatting with friends and family about becoming a full-time minister. Being a two-time loser at marriage wasn’t going to do him any good. Scotty says Michelle started joking with him that, ‘If you want me as your bride, then you’re just going to have to outlive Thad.’

In the midst of their hot sheets mornings at local motels, the two began to e-mail each other about other ways to get around their problem with their “gnats.” That’s what they called their partners, gnats. Scott says he joked with Michelle that, for instance, she could slather extra butter on Thad’s food to induce a heart attack, or maybe they could have a spaghetti dinner for their spouses with two pots bubbling. In one, dinner for Thad and Paige, they would poison the sauce.

Mr. HARPER: Maybe it did put some things in my head.

MURPHY: Do you think it did?

Mr. HARPER: Maybe I was already thinking things. I can’t—I can’t really say.

MURPHY:  Wheels started turning. Scotty began toying around with Internet searches, and the lovers increasingly talked to each other about Portland.

Ms. REYNOLDS:  I had seen something about Portland, Oregon, and I said I would like to visit there. And we had said had we got married that we could move out there.

MURPHY:  Portland became their code word they’d drop into a conversations when the gnats were altogether at a gathering. ‘Portland’s nice this time of year,’ they’d say with a private smile.

MURPHY: Was that a fantasy or did you actually think it would happen?

Ms. REYNOLDS: A fantasy. I believe it was a fantasy.

MURPHY:  But they both realized they were now in deep. The spouses had to be told. It was agreed that Scotty would be the one to tell Thad.

MURPHY:  Are you insisting that he be the one to tell him?

Ms. REYNOLDS: Yes, sir. I was afraid that my husband might hit me, and I was just afraid that he would blow up.

MURPHY: It’s late June now, and Michelle starts telling her lover, Scotty, places where her husband, Thad, is going to be, saying the following day, suggesting to Scotty that those are locations where he can deliver the very unpleasant news that he and Michelle are on, and that his best friend, Thad, is odd man out in a lovers’ triangle. At least that’s what Michelle claims those messages were all about.

Another code word by then was “ugly,” meaning how things might get when Scotty finally confronted Thad. It first crept into their pillow talk during that Alabama weekend, how the two men had to talk and how the talk might get ugly.

Mr. HARPER: I took ugly to mean something, and when ugly meant something, talk all of a sudden took a different meaning as well.

MURPHY:  Scotty followed Michelle’s instructions on her husband’s whereabouts and haunted spots where Thad was expected to show up. He couldn’t work up the nerve to confront him, though, and sensed Michelle was growing frustrated.

MURPHY: You know, have you been on Scotty? ‘Have you talked to him yet? Have you done the thing you promised you were going to do?’

Ms. REYNOLDS: I just asked him when he was going to talk to him.

MURPHY:  On July 1st, a Thursday, Scotty had walked into this Kmart and bought a knife life the one he says Thad had blamed him for losing.

Was it a replacement or what? The next morning, Friday, he sat waiting for Thad to come out of this restaurant.

MURPHY: And what’d you do?

Mr. HARPER: Nothing.

MURPHY: Chicken out?


MURPHY:  That afternoon was a low point in the Scotty and Michelle affair. Michelle wanted him to meet her by the town’s levee at lunchtime, but this time she wanted to talk, not make out. Scotty could feel her pulling back, dousing cold water on their fling.

Mr. HARPER: I don’t remember the exact words, but I felt like she was to the point of, you know, the conversation’s not going to happen.

MURPHY: ‘You’re not man enough to do this thing you said you were going to do?’

Mr. HARPER: Basically.

MURPHY: ‘And forget about me, bud, because I’m going to be gone.’

Mr. HARPER: I don’t know that I really saw that she was doing that, but I

guess I saw that she was willing to do that.

MURPHY:  Michelle was aloof by the river that day. She says she was starting to have serious second thoughts about the relationship.

Ms. REYNOLDS: That was actually when I was trying to cut it off at that point, and he said, ‘No.’

MURPHY: But it kept going?

Ms. REYNOLDS: Yes, sir.

MURPHY:  But to make an even bad rendezvous worse, Michelle told Scotty that she and Thad were going out that night, the date she’d been going on and on about with Thad that she really needed to have. So they went out. But before dinner, Michelle says Thad’s date night began with an unexpected stop at a prayer group.

Ms. REYNOLDS: I was a little frustrated with that type of situation, and he said, ‘Y’all pray for me. I’m not a good husband to Michelle.’

MURPHY: At the church meeting?

Ms. REYNOLDS: Yes, sir.

MURPHY: In public, out loud, stand up and talk?

Ms. REYNOLDS: Yes, sir. He says, “I’m not being the husband that I should be to Michelle.” That’s exactly what he said. And...

MURPHY: So pick a word for how you feel listening to this?

Ms. REYNOLDS: I was disgusted. I was thinking, ‘Don’t go to these people. Come to me. Let’s talk about it.’ And I was disgusted, really, because I just felt like he was “woe is me,” you know, he’s the victim, I’m messed up.

MURPHY: So that probably wasn’t a great date.

Ms. REYNOLDS: No, sir.

MURPHY:  The Saturday of Fourth of July weekend, the two families and a few other couples were getting together for the usual festivities:

Scott, Paige, Thad, Michelle and the seven girls. Michelle says she was starting to get edgy about her affair with Scotty.

MURPHY: Was it starting to eat at you?

Ms. REYNOLDS: Just feeling convicted, yes, sir.

MURPHY:  But that night, whatever concerns there may have been, were pushed aside to watch the fireworks. Their little girls oohed and aahed at the fireworks spectacular. The next day, Sunday, a cookout and volleyball. Michelle says Scotty’s wife commented on her wearing attire too skimpy for an afternoon family picnic.

Ms. REYNOLDS: And we got together with some couples at the park and played some volleyball, and Paige even commented on my clothes there.

MURPHY: In a kind of snide way?

Ms. REYNOLDS: Yeah. ‘I can’t believe you’re wearing that tank top.’ So that was uncomfortable.

MURPHY:  Scotty had his own reasons for feeling uncomfortable at the afternoon cookout.

MURPHY: How strange is it the guy you’re cooking steaks with is the husband of your lover?

Mr. HARPER: Strange, like any affair, I guess.

MURPHY:  Later that afternoon Scotty received an e-mail from Michelle with information about where Thad was going to be the next morning, Monday. After the chilly talk at the levee, Scotty new full well that he might lose Michelle unless he confronted Thad soon, even if it turned out to be that lovers’ shorthand they had, “ugly.” And ugly it would be, after a bloody, predawn discovery.

Ms. REYNOLDS: They told me about it, and I just fell on the floor crying.

The Fourth of July weekend was over. Thad’s mom had babysat her granddaughters when Thad and Michelle had gone out on their date night that Friday.

Ms. WALKER: He went and come and picked up the girls, and he said, ‘Thanks, Mom, we needed that.’ And that’s really the last conversation I can remember having.

MURPHY:  Thad’s shift at the Frito-Lay warehouse often began before dawn. That’s where a co-worker found him. Thirty-six-year-old Thad Reynolds had been stabbed to death in a frenzy, 19 wounds. Sheriff Tim Burkhalter could barely believe what he was hearing, a well-liked local man brutally stabbed at his office.

Sheriff BURKHALTER:  We typically have maybe two murders a year.

Sheriff BURKHALTER: This kind of gruesome murder was, of course, very eye-opening for our community and very big news.

MURPHY:  It was a scene right out of the movie “Psycho.” Not one you would normally ever see in the quiet city of Rome, Georgia.

Ms. NATALEE STAATS: No one could make sense of it. It just seemed out of character for what is a nice, quiet place to live.

MURPHY:  Assistant District Attorney Natalee Staats and her boss, Leigh Patterson, got news of the murder that morning.

Ms. PATTERSON: When the first officer arrived, they called in for detectives to come in. They didn’t know at that point who to even focus on.

MURPHY:  The warehouse wasn’t a place to have cash lying around. Drivers picked up their snack orders there.

Ms. PATTERSON: They wondered if it was a stranger murder, where somebody had just walked by and saw the lights on, saw the cars outside and then came in.

MURPHY:  While detectives gathered evidence at the scene to try to make sense of the crime, the pastor from Hollywood Baptist went to break the news to Michelle that Thad was dead.

Ms. REYNOLDS: They came and knocked on the door, and had told me about it, and I just fell on the floor crying.

MURPHY:  Thad’s mom, Kitty, found out while at work.

Ms. WALKER: And I got the call from the pastor at Hollywood and he said, ‘You need to come home. You need to come home. Michelle needs you.’ And I guess it was just like automatically I knew it was Thad.

MURPHY:  Kitty raced to Michelle’s, where she was officially told her son Thad was dead.

Ms. WALKER: It’s a mother’s nightmare. Basically from there it’s like all a blur.

MURPHY:  Thad’s sister Beverly had arrived, too. Her mom told her.

Ms. OWENS: I just kind of lost it right then and there in the front yard.

Ms. WALKER: I remember her going to her knees.

Ms. OWENS: Yeah. They helped me get back up, and I walked in and went to Michelle. She was sitting on the couch. I hugged her.

MURPHY:  When she heard the news, Aunt Trish came to the house to comfort her niece.

Ms. BENEFIELD: She seemed like she was in shock because...

MURPHY: Obvious grief? Crying? Sobbing?

Ms. BENEFIELD: No. She was like almost like she was in a trance, because, like I say, almost in shock, because she said, ‘I keep waiting for him to walk in the door.’ You know, for Thad to walk in the front door.

MURPHY:  An emergency prayer request went out to the Hollywood Baptist community, and members of the congregation started arriving to comfort Michelle, the new widow.

MURPHY: Were you taking medications?

Ms. REYNOLDS: Yes, sir. I was—antidepressant and a sleeping pill, and actually one of the girls that I go to church with is a nurse, and she brought me some Xanax.

MURPHY: And some of the people helping you through your grief, there’s Paige.

Ms. REYNOLDS: It was only like a five minute that I remember her just hugging me, and that was pretty much it.

MURPHY:  Paige was joined at Michelle’s by her husband, Scotty.

The pastor had called him and told him the news at his office at the hospital.

Mr. HARPER: He told me that Thad was dead.

MURPHY:  Scotty showed up at Michelle’s house with a bandaged right hand, a weight-lifting accident at the gym, he explained.

Ms. OWENS: He’d sat there and played games with Thad’s kids and my daughter. I mean, they were all just sitting around, cutting up, playing games.

MURPHY:  Meanwhile, at the crime scene, the police were recovering what would turn out to be key evidence, great stuff, a homicide detective’s dream. Whoever the killer was, he had been a bungler. He’d dropped his prescription glasses on the ground. Nearby, they found a sheath for a knife, the apparent murder weapon, and a witness recalled seeing a burgundy minivan.

MURPHY: As a murder, how clumsy is this crime?

Ms. PATTERSON: Incredibly.

MURPHY:  The killing of a family man and church deacon in Rome was, of course, a big story. There was a man who had heard the news of the murder. He worked on the phone systems at the Floyd Medical Center. Later that night, he was sitting down with homicide detectives, and they were very interested in what he had to say. They would also be interested in certain e-mails.

Ms. PATTERSON: Things like, ‘I want to taste you.’ That’s a tame part of it.

MURPHY: So not Hallmark cards and kittens and clouds.


MURPHY:  Floyd Medical Center in Rome, Georgia, is the largest employer in the county. Keeping its vast phone system up to speed is a big job. There was a tech person who was helping the hospital change over to a new phone system. You might say he was a perfectly legal eavesdropper. And one day, as he was working to switch over the phone lines, he heard a fellow employee, someone he knew by name, having an intimate conversation with a woman who wasn’t his wife. The technician was discreet. He didn’t tell anyone that he’d caught Scotty Harper in an affair, cooing with a woman named Michelle something. Didn’t tell until the day of Thad Reynolds’ murder, when he happened to drive by the crime scene that morning, abuzz with police activity, and later heard this Crime Stopper tip: Be on the lookout for a burgundy van.

Ms. PATTERSON: He’s listened on these phone calls, and he knows that Scott Harper is having an affair with somebody that’s not, obviously, his wife. And he knows that Scott Harper drives a burgundy van. And he immediately calls the police, and so at that point the police began to focus their investigation on Scott Harper.

MURPHY:  With that tip, the detectives went to the hospital to get Scotty Harper’s computer with all his e-mails. What the cops find reads like steamy porn. A month’s worth of erotic messages between Scotty and Michelle, more than enough to persuade them that Michelle had lit the spark that started the affair.

Ms. PATTERSON: She put the full-court press on him to try to seduce him. And she used everything in her power to do that. She’s very good at it, obviously.

MURPHY:  They even referred to one of the messages as the “Wheel of Fortune” e-mail. It was Michelle to Scotty after she’d confided to him that she was having bad thoughts about him.

Ms. PATTERSON: Well, she sent him an e-mail that details what she wanted to do to him sexually, and it would be a series of phrases like, ‘I want to,’ and then there’d be several words or several blanks that you’d have to fill in the letters to form a word.

MURPHY: Just like on the TV game show?

Ms. PATTERSON: Just like on the game show.

MURPHY:  And when you bought a vowel and filled it in, what where the kind of things she was talking about?

Ms. PATTERSON:  They were pretty graphic. Things like, “I want to taste you.”

Ms. PATTERSON: That’s a tame part of it. “I want to make love with you,” but they were extremely more graphic. So...

MURPHY: So not Hallmark cards and kittens and clouds.

Ms. PATTERSON: No. He filled in the blanks, and that was when their relationship changed.

MURPHY:  Michelle and Scotty tried to keep their cool with their spouses as though nothing at home had changed. The custom of the two families getting together most weekends continued, and was a kind of cover for their infatuation.

Ms. STAATS: People who have affairs, often, when they think they’re being secretive and they’re hiding things, and they think they’re, you know, in this little bubble, will think that if you’re with a big group of people and the two of you are together and you can talk with the big group of people there, that no will think there’s anything about it.

MURPHY:  And they were finding their secret tingles, lovers’ code words, a discreetly brushed hand, all with her husband and his wife only a few feet away.

MURPHY: Is she the initiator here?

Ms. PATTERSON: Absolutely, absolutely. He would never have crossed the line. He would never have initiated this.

MURPHY: And he was willing to go along?

Ms. PATTERSON: He absolutely was.

MURPHY:  But the homicidal math was starting to add up: Thad, the deacon, stabbed to death; the family pastor in a sexual relationship with the murdered man’s wife; a dropped pair of prescription glasses spattered with blood; a burgundy van. On Tuesday night, the day after Thad’s murder, the detectives told Scotty they wanted him and his wife to come to the police station for an interview. The next morning he arrived there with his wife, Paige.

Ms. PATTERSON: They ask him, you know, ‘Where are your glasses? Have you had an affair with Michelle Reynolds?’

MURPHY: He knows they’re penning him in at that point, huh?

Ms. PATTERSON: He can’t explain, and he’s lying to them flat out when he says he’s not having an affair to them. And they already had the e-mails, and they already had knowledge at this point.

MURPHY: Does he give it up? Does he say, ‘You got me’?

Ms. PATTERSON: No. They ask consent to search his van, the burgundy van, and he agrees.

MURPHY:  The police go to the hospital to get Scotty’s van for processing. Paige is with him now, well aware from the police questioning where this is heading.

Ms. PATTERSON: He wants to go back into work to the hospital, and Paige says, ‘No, we’re going to your mom and dad’s right now.’

MURPHY:  Investigators believe Scotty was desperately trying to get back to his office to delete anything on his computer that would link Michelle to the building case.

Ms. PATTERSON: He’s trying to get rid of those e-mails because that’s going to hook Michelle, that he loves, into this.

MURPHY:  Surprising, of course, that a computer professional like himself would have kept the e-mails on his laptop in the first place.

MURPHY: What was he thinking? Why does he let this stuff reside on the computers?

Ms. PATTERSON: Well, of course he would save them so he could go back and reread and be excited all over again about this affair and its progression and all these things that they wrote to each other. He writes these long, flowery e-mails to her about how much he loves her and how much he cares for her and how much he wants to be with her. And when she writes back to him, that’s catnip to him. He’s not going to destroy that.

MURPHY:  Even an armchair detective would have started following the trail right to Scotty Harper’s door. The killer had used a knife like this to stab Thad Reynolds 19 times that Monday morning. The detectives knew that on the morning of the murder Scotty Harper had gone to the ER of the hospital where he worked to have a cut hand stitched up. Those explicit e-mails he failed to get rid of told them he was a month into an affair with the murdered man’s wife. Had Scotty Harper murdered his best friend, the husband of his lover?

Mr. HARPER: Every mirror I passed I mouth the words, ‘You just killed Thad. You killed Thad.’

MURPHY:  Scotty was confessing to the mirror, but not to anyone else.

Mr. HARPER: There was nothing I could say that could take it back, and there was nothing I could do to fix it.

MURPHY:  Even prosecutors who’d seen a lot were sickened by the

savagery committed on Thad Reynolds.

Ms. PATTERSON: With a gun, you can stand far away from somebody and shoot them, and you don’t have to touch them and you don’t have to smell the blood and you don’t have to put your hands on them. But a knife is pretty cold.

MURPHY:  And as unimaginable as it was, all signs were pointing to Thad’s close friend Scotty Harper as the killer. And the night before Scotty Harper had gone down to the police station for questioning by detectives, he called Michelle and confessed to her that he was, indeed, the killer.

Mr. HARPER: I told her I did it.

MURPHY: And her words as you recall them?

Mr. HARPER: She got quiet. I remember her saying, ‘Nightmare never ends.’ She ended up saying, she had—she said, ‘I got to go, I got to go.’

MURPHY:  After hanging up the phone, Scotty says they talked again, and Michelle pleaded with him that if he was going to confess to the crime, that he not do it until after Thad’s funeral, still two days away.

Mr. HARPER: We talked later. She said, ‘I don’t want my girls to ever know you did this. This is crazy.’ I said, ‘Well, that’s—they’re going to.’ And she said, ‘Can you at least give them the funeral?’

MURPHY: ‘Don’t talk to the police until after the funeral?’ That’s her message?

Mr. HARPER: Well, no. I mean, I was wanting to talk to her oldest daughter and Thad’s mom and her. I was wanting to be able to sit down with all three of them. That’s when she said she didn’t want her daughters to know—to ever know that I did this.

MURPHY:  And while he’d confessed to his lover, Scotty still hadn’t broken the news to his wife.

MURPHY: Had you told Paige?


MURPHY:  But the morning of the detectives’ questioning, Scotty says his wife had started to figure out that he had killed Thad Reynolds.

Mr. HARPER: We go to my mom and dad’s house, Paige and I. They call my sister over there, they called the pastor over there.

MURPHY: You say, ‘I did it.’

Mr. HARPER: Yes.

MURPHY: ‘I was the one that murdered Thad’?

Mr. HARPER: Yes.

MURPHY:  In the next 24 hours, Scotty met with a lawyer and then

checked himself overnight into a psychiatric hospital.

MURPHY: The lawyer suggested it?

Mr. HARPER: He said, ‘I think you really need to go there because’—and I probably did. And I’m not suggesting I was insane when it happened. I remember it happening.

MURPHY:  Scotty, out of sight overnight in a psych ward, was also buying Michelle the time she wanted to prepare for Thad’s funeral without the pall of Scotty’s involvement hanging over it. But no one in their circle suspected yet that Scotty Harper could be the killer. Friends were nonetheless privately buzzing about the new widow’s demeanor. Why did Michelle seem so calm? And why did she tell the ladies who asked if they could help her shop for a funeral dress that that wouldn’t be necessary? She had a new black dress in her closet with the price tag still on it. What was going on with the newly widowed Michelle? Thad’s mother and sister don’t remember Michelle shedding any tears at all.

Ms. OWENS: And there was like no emotion, no anything. You know, I thought maybe she was in shock.

Ms. WALKER: I remember Michelle coming outside and hugging me, but I saw no tears.

MURPHY:  Michelle had also requested that police not give her any details about her husband’s murder. The investigators saw it all as odd behavior.

Ms. PATTERSON: Everybody thought that she acted very strange. There weren’t really any tears. She wasn’t crying. And people at the church, again, were just devastated. And she wasn’t shedding a tear. In fact, she was making jokes to some of the people that came in, and would say inappropriate things.

MURPHY:  Friends at the house told investigators—though Michelle later say she was just joking—that she initially talked about getting a nose ring soon after Thad was killed.

Ms. PATTERSON: Michelle looked over and said, ‘Do you like so-and-so’s nose ring?’ And the lady said, ‘No, I don’t really—I don’t really like nose rings.’ And Michelle said, ‘Well, now that Thad’s dead, I think I’m going to get one.’ And everybody in the room just kind of went...

Ms. STAATS: And something like, ‘He—because he won’t be able to say anything about it.’

Ms. PATTERSON: Yeah, Thad didn’t like them. She’s cold. Ice cold.

MURPHY:  Michelle, Thad’s family says, is also talking about cremating Thad’s remains. If that was his wish, he’d never mentioned it to them.

Ms. OWENS: I was shocked, but I knew that there was, you know, nothing we could do because she was calling the shots.

MURPHY:  And it all started crashing down on Thursday morning when Thad’s mother went over to the house and was told that she couldn’t go in.

Ms. WALKER: One of the ladies from church kind of backed me up against the car and said, ‘You can’t go in. They’re searching the house. They’re seizing the computer.’ And that’s when she told me that Scotty and Michelle had had an affair.

MURPHY:  When the detectives read through all the e-mails that Scotty the computer expert had failed to delete, when they saw a message from Michelle about when and where Scotty would be able to find Thad the morning he was killed, and when they considered how coolly the new widow took the news of her husband’s death, arrest warrants were drawn up, not just for Scotty Harper, but, surprisingly, for Michelle as well. She would be charged as his co-killer.

Ms. PATTERSON: She is one of the most evil people that I’ve ever dealt with in all the years I’ve been a prosecutor.

MURPHY:  The two lovers—the deacon’s wife and the family pastor—were issued jailhouse jumpsuits and charged with murder. They would face the highest count.

MURPHY: You announce your intention to go for the death penalty on the both of them?


MURPHY: Her as well?


MURPHY: Even though she was clearly not at the scene?

Ms. PATTERSON: Even though she was clearly not at the scene. She is a party

to the crime. She aided, abetted, encouraged and helped plan this.

MURPHY:  But could the state prove that Michelle knew all along what Scotty was going to do? The prosecutor was confident she could.

Ms. PATTERSON: She’s the brains, and he’s the muscle.

MURPHY:  Coming up, astonishing phone calls between the jailed lovers. Would they give prosecutors the proof they need?

Ms. REYNOLDS: (Audiotape) I don’t believe that I’ve ever been loved as much by somebody as I have by you.

MURPHY:  Thad Reynolds was eulogized as a man of God, sent to his rest by his many friends at Hollywood Baptist Church where he’d been a beloved deacon. So poignant, those four little girls, stair-stepped in size, their father suddenly dead, and their mother charged with killing him.

Ms. WALKER: If you could hear them pray, Olivia prays just exactly like her daddy.  And the baby, she always says, when she prays, she says, you know, the usual stuff...

Ms. WALKER: ...‘Keep our family safe. Bless mama, bless papa, bless mama, bless daddy.’

MURPHY:  Mama, Michelle Reynolds, was not at the funeral, but in the county jail charged with planning Thad’s murder with her lover Scotty Harper. Both were denied bond as flight risks. If convicted, both could face the death penalty. But the two were still apparently so desperately in love that they convinced a recently released fellow inmate to set up three-way calling for them.

MURPHY:  The inmate turned out to be a jailhouse snitch.

Unidentified Woman #3: (Audiotape) Hey.

Ms. REYNOLDS: (Audiotape) Hey.

Woman #3: (Audiotape) He’s on the other line, OK?

MURPHY:  And while Michelle and Scotty talked, their conversations were being recorded.

(Photo of Michelle by photo of Scotty)

Ms. REYNOLDS: (Audiotape) It’s not even funny.

MURPHY:  Listen for yourself. Scotty and Michelle from behind bars, still hinting at ending up in Portland, their fantasy city where they’d start a new life together.

Ms. REYNOLDS: (Audiotape) I wonder how Portland is this time of year?

Mr. HARPER: (Audiotape) Oh, I know.

MURPHY:  Even though they faced the possibility of death row,

Scotty and Michelle’s conversations remained light, flirtatious, even racy.

Mr. HARPER: (Audiotape) What are you wearing?

Ms. REYNOLDS: (Audiotape) Orange.

MURPHY:  And they kept speaking of their devotion to each other as investigators listened in.

Ms. STAATS: It always amazed me. They were talking about how much they missed each other.

Ms. REYNOLDS: (Audiotape) I don’t believe that I’ve ever been loved as much by somebody as I have by you, and I mean that.

Mr. HARPER: (Audiotape) I’m with you.

Ms. PATTERSON: They’re stopping in the middle of the conversation and saying things like, ‘Oh, wait a minute. I love you. Did you know that I love you?’ And they’ll say it over and over and over.

Mr. HARPER: (Audiotape) I love you.

Ms. REYNOLDS: (Audiotape) No, you don’t.

Mr. HARPER: (Audiotape) Yes, I do.

Ms. REYNOLDS: (Audiotape) No, you don’t.

Mr. HARPER: (Audiotape) Yes, I do.

MURPHY:  And it’s what they weren’t hearing from Michelle—a lack

of outrage—that reinforced the prosecutors’ conviction that Michelle knew all along that murder was afoot and was actively planning it with Scotty.

(Photos of Scotty and Michelle over audiocassette recorder; Michelle; Scotty)

Ms. PATTERSON:  If you were arrested for the murder of your spouse and you got to have communication with the person who actually committed the murder...

Ms. PATTERSON: ...don’t you think you would say something like, ‘What have you done?’

MURPHY: ‘What did you get me into?’

Ms. PATTERSON: ‘Why did you do this?’

Ms. STAATS: There were several of these conversations, and in none of them are there denials of any of it.

MURPHY:  There were prison letters exchanged, too. In one, from Michelle to Scotty two weeks after the murder, she uses some verses from the Bible to pass on an only slightly encoded message to him. The letter page is headed, “Freedom for Me and My Children.” She quotes a verse from Genesis, and you see that she’s underline the word “all.” The next bit of Scripture is from Psalms. “Who have I in heaven but you?” The “I” is underlined. In all,

Michelle rights out 17 verses with certain words underlined. And when you read all those underlines together, it forms the thought, “All I knew was that you were going to speak to him about us. Help me, if a man would give for love.”

Ms. PATTERSON: And that’s her message to him. She’s still—she knows that he loves her, and she wants him to save her and take her away from this, take her out of it.

MURPHY: So that’s her campaign at this point.


Ms. STAATS: Mm-hmm.

MURPHY: She’s setting up her defense, which is, ‘I had no idea’?


MURPHY: ‘You were so much in love with me, I had no idea that you would go to that length’?


MURPHY:  And in the days following the arrests, the detectives to continued to build their case. They took note of an insurance policy on Thad that would have paid Michelle more than $250,000. Was money part of the motive? But what the detectives initially didn’t have was the murder weapon, the knife Scott Harper had used. But that changed when one of his co-workers at the hospital had an inkling of where a good hiding place would be.

Ms. PATTERSON: He and another guy who worked at the IT department started looking, and they went into the server room, and they took the suction cup device.

And they started pulling up the tiles one at a time, and I think he told us he got to the third one, and he pulled it up and there was the JCPenney’s bag.

MURPHY:  Inside this bag was Scotty’s bloody clothing, his shoes, the knife, and even this receipt for the knife from Kmart. It was virtually a murder conviction in a bag.

Ms. PATTERSON: I’ve never had a case where somebody gave me not only the receipt from them buying the murder weapon, but packaged it all up along with what they were wearing at the time they did it.

MURPHY:  Later they’d recover the security camera tape from Kmart. Scotty, seen here, goes into the store to buy the four-inch hunting knife.

MURPHY: So is he among the world’s stupidest guys?


MURPHY: You’ve got everything but a movie of him doing it.

Ms. PATTERSON: That’s true. Hers is definitely the harder case.

MURPHY:  Not in any of the recovered e-mails had Michelle written words to the effect, ‘We need to kill Thad.’ So instead the prosecutors focused on that Fourth of July weekend that began with that frosty rendezvous at the levee on Friday. By that day, Scotty had already failed on two occasions to confront Thad after he says Michelle had given him instructions as to where he would be. To Scotty she seemed upset that afternoon that he hadn’t been manly enough to tell Thad. He thought he’d lost her. Sunday she e-mails Scotty, letting him know where Thad will be early the next morning.

And the best nugget the prosecution had was this, an e-mail exchange late Sunday evening. He writes, “Stop me if you have any hesitations.” She replies, “I’m ready. Please be observant of your surroundings and be careful.

I can’t wait to be your bride.” Was it enough? Would a jury buy that as her knowing, deliberately giving her head-over-heels lover a green light for murder? Michelle had hired seasoned criminal defense lawyers Jimmy Berry and Vic Reynolds. They were very worried about trying a case in a town they believed was ready to convict their client with biblical fury.

Mr. VIC REYNOLDS: In this case there was absolutely a moral backlash against Michelle. I think there was a perception by the community that ...she had initiated this affair, had taken this man of God with her womanly ways...

Mr. V. REYNOLDS: ...sexual ways, had gotten him to do this heinous act. And I think the community was convinced that that’s what Michelle had done.

MURPHY:  But despite the defense attorneys’ fear a local jury would be willing to brand their client with a scarlet letter, they didn’t believe those e-mails between the lovers gave the prosecutors the smoking gun they needed to send Michelle to death row.

Mr. JIMMY BERRY: There’s a lot of ways to interpret what some of these e-mails may have indicated.

MURPHY:  The defense attorneys’ version of events would be that Scotty acted entirely on his own, just crazy in love with their client. “Talk to Thad,” he suggests, means that and only that, no coded language.

Mr. BERRY: She basically indicates to me that she never indicated to Scotty that she wanted him to kill her husband.

MURPHY:  So which was it? Two lovers who’d carried out a murder in order to get to their fantasy land of Portland together, or was she totally in the dark? Was it really about one crazed man killing the husband who stood in the way? And would the prosecutors be forced to cut Michelle loose from their case altogether? Was it time for prosecutors to play their least favorite game, “Let’s Make a Deal”?

MURPHY:  And how about, ‘Let’s piece together the evidence.’ Some wondered why Michelle seemed to have a brand-new funeral outfit ready to go.

Ms. REYNOLDS: Every woman needs a black dress.

MURPHY:  Michelle would write in an e-mail later that she could relate to the words of that old song, “Torn Between Two Lovers.”

Ms. REYNOLDS: I loved my husband. And I didn’t want him to be hurt.

MURPHY:  But the prosecutors had come to look at Michelle Reynolds in the worst possible light: a seducer who used her sexual powers to dupe a sap of a lover into killing her husband for her.

Ms. PATTERSON:  She’s been referred to as a puppet master. She was absolutely pulling his strings and pushing him and hinting and saying,

‘We’re never going to be together unless.’

MURPHY:  Unless, they argued, Scotty killed her husband.

MURPHY: Did you ever have a conversation, Michelle, where you said, ‘We’ve got to think about the worst possible thing. The only way we’re going to be together is to get rid of Thad’?

Ms. REYNOLDS: No, sir.

MURPHY:  Michelle denied that she’d sent her lover to kill her husband as she talked exclusively about her extramarital affair with DATELINE.

Ms. REYNOLDS: At one point we were both talking about it. You know, ‘We need to stop,’ and then he’d come back and he says, ‘I can’t. I can’t stop.’

MURPHY:  Guilty of adultery, she says, but not murder. And as you hear her tell her story, you’ll realize that for Michelle it was never endless love. She talks of Scotty indifferently, as though he’s an inconsequential old boyfriend she has to squint to remember.

Ms. REYNOLDS:  We met in the parking deck at his job.

Ms. REYNOLDS: And we just kissed.

MURPHY: Anything else happen that day?

Ms. REYNOLDS: No, sir.

MURPHY: And when did you go past kissing into actual having sex?

Ms. REYNOLDS: We actually didn’t have sex.

MURPHY: You never had sex?

MURPHY: No, sir. He couldn’t get an—he couldn’t get an erection.

MURPHY:  Scotty, Michelle was saying, was impotent, a startling revelation if true, given all the horror that had spilled out of the affair. She says the trysts at the motels, all heavy petting and making out without consummation. And ditto for him sneaking into her room during that weekend in Alabama.

Ms. REYNOLDS: Again, he couldn’t get an erection.

MURPHY: Kissing and hugging?

Ms. REYNOLDS: Yes, sir.

MURPHY: And then at dawn he’d leave?

Ms. REYNOLDS: Yes, sir.

MURPHY:  When Scotty was in the county jail months after the murder, authorities confiscated in his cell a 58-page letter he’d written Michelle, but she’d never received. Over and over he writes lines like these:

“I want to love you, spend the rest of my life devoted to you and making you the happiest woman alive.” But the letter is more than just another avowal of his endless love for her, it’s also a bullet point outline for how they need to keep their stories together for their upcoming trials.

MURPHY: In this phone book of a letter, Scotty also outlines for her how he plans to defend himself. He’s going to argue that he took a pill for erectile dysfunction, something which triggered a psychotic episode, during which he killed Thad. Not guilty by reason of temporary insanity. So this idea of impotency is floating around the case, but the prosecutor isn’t buying the argument. She says she has on the record Michelle boasting about her sexual dexterity.

Ms. PATTERSON: She bragged about that she had shown him positions that he’d never seen before.

MURPHY: And he loved it.

Ms. PATTERSON: Those were exactly her words. “And he loved it.”

MURPHY:  Whatever the truth, Michelle and Scotty were only a few weeks into their romantic relationship when they met at the levee, the day she didn’t want to cuddle. She wanted to talk about the dead end they were facing unless Scotty had a man-to-man confrontation with Thad as he promised.

MURPHY: Where you on him saying, ‘Have you talked to him yet? Has this happened?’

Ms. REYNOLDS: We had discussed it. Because there at that time, he said, ‘Oh, my gosh, I’m losing you’ because Thad has said we was going on a date. And so that even increased his wanting to move forward even more so.

MURPHY:  That was the Friday of Fourth of July weekend when a dejected Scotty felt he was losing Michelle. That weekend there was barbecue, volleyball, fireworks. And on Sunday, Michelle remembers Scotty telling her he was finally going to talk to her husband.

Ms. REYNOLDS: He said, ‘Send me your husband’s schedule so I’ll know where he’s at and I’ll, you know, hook up with him.’ And that’s what I did.

MURPHY: What did that mean to you, Michelle?

Ms. REYNOLDS: That he was going to go and confront him about us.

MURPHY: Did you get the feeling he was talking about a violent resolution to this thing?

Ms. REYNOLDS: No, sir, I really—Scotty was a nice outgoing guy. I would never imagine him hurting anyone.

MURPHY:  But what about those troubling e-mails the lovers exchanged on Sunday, the day before the murder?

MURPHY: Scotty sends you an e-mail that says, “I’m ready for tomorrow. Stop me if you have any hesitation.” Do you remember that?

Ms. REYNOLDS: Yes, sir.

MURPHY: What did you think that meant?

Ms. REYNOLDS: If I wanted him to go and tell Thad about us or not.

MURPHY: And you reply, “No hesitation, I’m ready. Please be observant of your surroundings, and be careful. I do want to spend time with you. I want to be your wife.”

Ms. REYNOLDS: Yes, sir.

MURPHY: Is there any way to read that, Michelle, other than to say, ‘Be careful in what we both know is going to happen, and look over your shoulder and do pull this thing off’?

Ms. REYNOLDS: I know that there’s people there because they come in and out. Being careful is like, don’t get in a fight.

MURPHY:  Remember, during that church trip in Alabama, Michelle and Scotty started using the words “talk” and “ugly” as a lovers’ code for Scotty’s upcoming confrontation with Thad.

MURPHY: You’d used a shorthand, the word ugly between you?

Ms. REYNOLDS: Yes, sir.

MURPHY: What did the word ugly mean to you?

Ms. REYNOLDS: Them getting in a fight.

MURPHY: So when you say in this e-mail, “be careful,” you’re thinking about,

‘Don’t do something dumb, don’t get in a fight.’

Ms. REYNOLDS: Right. Right.

MURPHY:  Michelle says she never told or even hinted to Scotty that he needed to kill Thad. There were no special looks, no nods, nothing.

MURPHY: Had you told Scotty explicitly or given him some sort of body language that, ‘We’ve got to kill Thad’?

Ms. REYNOLDS: No, sir.

MURPHY: ‘This is how we’re going to be together’?

Ms. REYNOLDS: No, sir.

MURPHY:  And when Scotty called her that morning, she says she still didn’t suspect that he had killed Thad.

Ms. REYNOLDS:  He had said that he met with him and told him.

Ms. REYNOLDS: But he didn’t bring up the fact that—what happened.

MURPHY: So what did you think had happened? I mean, you’re a bright woman. Here it was, the morning of the confrontation. He says that they did have the confrontation. And then Thad is found stabbed to death.

Ms. REYNOLDS: I didn’t want to believe that it was him.

MURPHY: Did you suspect it?

Ms. REYNOLDS: No, because that is just not his character. It’s not part of him. He’s just an all-time sweet guy, and no.

MURPHY: So at the very moment he’s supposed to have this confrontation, which is going to be unpleasant in the best of all worlds, it happens, and then out of the blue somebody else comes into the place of business and stabs your husband 19 times at dawn in a botched robbery? I mean, that doesn’t add up.

Ms. REYNOLDS: Yes, sir.

MURPHY:  Michelle also says there was no dark humor between her

and Scotty about killing Thad.

(Boiling water)

MURPHY:  You don’t remember joking with him about, ‘Well, we’ll make a poison batch of spaghetti and that’ll take care of it’?

Ms. REYNOLDS: No, sir.

MURPHY: ‘We’ll annihilate them’?

Ms. REYNOLDS: No, sir.

MURPHY:  As for the perception that she seemed unreasonably cool at the house in the days after the murder, Michelle says she was simply in shock.

Ms. REYNOLDS: In all honesty, I was blacked out for the most part because those people that said they came to my house and that they saw me, and I don’t ever recall.

MURPHY:  And the fact that she had what seemed to some a pre-need black funeral dress already hanging in the closet, Michelle says this has been taken entirely out of context.

Ms. REYNOLDS: Every woman needs a black dress, and along with that black dress they didn’t mention the fact that I had like a—two other dresses, a top and skirt still with the tags on them.

MURPHY:  To Michelle’s lawyers, none of it may have looked good, but it was still all very thin evidence for the prosecutors to build a capital murder case against their client.

(Berry at desk)

Mr. BERRY: They were all just bad innuendos.

MURPHY:  And even the prosecutor knew if they were going to get a conviction on Michelle, they’d need Scotty to testify against her. And four years after the murder, as the two lovers sat in separate cells in the county jail, prosecutors finally got just that...

Ms. PATTERSON: (Taped confession) You fully understand what’s going on here today?

Mr. HARPER: (Taped confession) Yes, I do.

MURPHY:  ...a sworn taped confession from Scotty Harper.

Ms. PATTERSON: (Taped confession) And are you freely, cooperatively giving us this statement?

Mr. HARPER: (Taped confession) Yes, I am.

Ms. PATTERSON: (Taped confession) All right.

MURPHY:  Scotty cut a deal with the district attorney. He taped this confession and would testify for the prosecution in Michelle’s upcoming trial provided the state drop the death penalty on not just him, but also on her.

Ms. PATTERSON: I had to hold my nose in a major way.

MURPHY: You don’t offer a “get out of death row free” card casually.

Ms. PATTERSON: No. He is going to have to give us her and her part in it and her complicity in it. Not, I’m—you know, ‘I love her and she had nothing to do with this.’ He’s got to tell...

MURPHY: He’s got to come off that line?

Ms. PATTERSON: Yeah. He’s got to tell the truth.

MURPHY:  But would they ever get the complete truth from a man who would do anything for the woman he loved?

MURPHY:  Coming up, Scotty recounts what happened when he called Michelle to tell her he’d finally confronted Thad.

MURPHY: Did she say words to the effect, Scott, ‘Is he dead? Did you kill him?’

Scotty Harper had fallen hard for the former homecoming queen at his high school. The enormously tangled dilemma was that Michelle Reynolds was also his best friend’s wife, the mother of four little girls.

For him, what had started out as e-mail flirtations turned into irresistible hot sex.

MURPHY: Was it exciting? Was it risky? Was it good?

Mr. HARPER: Exciting? Risky? I mean, I—it was—is something I wanted.

MURPHY: I think I hear you saying this is like a narcotic, that Michelle has become your drug, and you cannot get enough of it.

Mr. HARPER: I guess that’s fair to say. She was. Everything, yeah, everything I needed.

(Taped confession) She said, ‘You’re probably just going to have to live longer than him if you ever want to be with me.’

MURPHY:  As part of a plea deal with the state, Scotty Harper had

agreed to testify for the prosecution in exchange for taking the death penalty

off the table for both of them.

(Scotty confessing; lethal injection couch)

Mr. HARPER: (Taped confession) She said that if it—if we’re going to continue, we’re going to get caught. It’s not a matter of if, but when.

MURPHY:  In this sworn confession that was taped before Michelle’s pending trial, Scotty described the path he says they traveled down that ultimately led to murder. It all started in earnest, he says, at the weekend church trip in Alabama when he sneaked away to the private room he’d arranged for her.

Mr. HARPER: (Taped confession) She asked me, she said, ‘When you—when you—when you talk with Thad, what if it gets ugly?’ And I asked her, I said, ‘Well, what do you—let me ask you your perspective, what if this gets ugly?’

And she told me, she said—she said, ‘I love you.’ She said, ‘As long as I end up with you, I can deal with just about anything.’

Ms. PATTERSON: (Taped confession) You believe in Michelle’s mind talking meant a lot more than just saying words to somebody, it meant taking some action.

Mr. HARPER: (Taped confession) Correct.

Ms. PATTERSON: (Taped confession) Eliminating Thad?

Mr. HARPER: (Taped confession) Correct.

MURPHY:  Scotty also said he heard relief in Michelle’s voice when he spoke to her the morning of Thad’s death.

(House exterior)

Mr. HARPER: (Taped confession) I sensed relief.

Ms. PATTERSON: (Taped confession) And you’re talking about relief on the part of—on Michelle’s part?

Mr. HARPER: (Taped confession) Yeah.

MURPHY:  But when DATELINE talked exclusively to Scotty Harper, he backed away from that position he’d given the prosecution as part of his plea deal, that Michelle was relieved the morning Thad is found dead and that she even knew what “talk” and “ugly” were really all about. He seemed to once again want to protect her from any involvement in the murder.

MURPHY: So what’s the truth?

Mr. HARPER: There’s nothing to cover for. There’s nothing to protect her from. The truth is I did this. I see no guilt on her part. I really don’t.

MURPHY:  Scotty is now saying that he acted alone and says when he went to sleep that Sunday night, even he didn’t know how the confrontation with Thad was going to play out. He said he got up before 5 that Monday morning, but instead of his usual trip to the gym, he made the decision to drive to the Frito-Lay warehouse.

Mr. HARPER:  It’s hard to believe things got to where it was. I pulled in.

Mr. HARPER: I’m looking at myself in the rearview mirror for a minute before I go in.

MURPHY: Was that always going to be the outcome from that moment on, as you’re looking at yourself in the rearview?

Mr. HARPER: It’s like I was sitting outside looking in—and I’m not—and I’m not removing myself from the responsibility because that was me. But it’s hard to imagine myself with the thoughts that I was having.

MURPHY: See yourself walking in?

Mr. HARPER: Yeah.

MURPHY: Hear him saying, ‘Hey, Scotty Harper, what are you doing here?’


MURPHY: What do you say to him?

Mr. HARPER: ‘I want what you got.’

MURPHY: Michelle?

Mr. HARPER: Correct.

MURPHY:  Scotty says he then pulled the knife out of the sheath. Thad, he says, thought he’d simply come to return the hunting knife he’d lost on that family camping trip.

Mr. HARPER: It’s in my right hand. He sees it, and he looks down. He holds out his left hand.

MURPHY: As though you’re going to, what, hand the knife to him?

Mr. HARPER: I guess so. You know, and me saying, ‘I want what you got,’ he had a little confused look on his face. He didn’t know what I was talking about.

MURPHY: But he didn’t have much time to reflect because you’re on him with a knife right away, huh?

Mr. HARPER: Correct.

MURPHY: The worst minute of your life and a lot of other people’s lives.

Mr. HARPER: Yeah.

MURPHY:  Thad tried to fight back.


MURPHY:  Do you remember anything about it?


Mr. HARPER: Hm. Very much.

MURPHY: They would say later in the autopsy report that you stabbed him 19 times.

Mr. HARPER: I don’t remember 19 stabs, but I remember enough.

MURPHY: He went down and stayed down. Did you say, ‘I want what you have’ again?

Mr. HARPER: I said it more than once, yes.

MURPHY: Did you think, ‘Now I’ve got her’?

Mr. HARPER: No. I couldn’t believe what I’d done, couldn’t believe what I’d done.

MURPHY:  Scotty left Thad, his best friend, bleeding to death on his office floor. He knew he needed to get away quickly.

Mr. HARPER:  I had to wrap my fingers.

Mr. HARPER: I’d cut myself.

MURPHY: And there go your eyeglasses. You lost them.

It’s dark, and they’re gone. And you’ve lost the sheath to the knife.

Mr. HARPER:  No plan.

MURPHY: This is no plan, Scott.

Mr. HARPER: No plan.

MURPHY: What’s going on?

Mr. HARPER: No idea how it got there. Not a thing to do to take it back.

MURPHY: What are you going to do next? That’s what 6 AM is about. What’s 7 AM? What 8 AM? What’s—what are the next years of your life going to be about coming off of this moment?

Mr. HARPER: The after effects wasn’t planned. Not thinking about running, escaping, doing anything.

MURPHY: But also not going to the police?

Mr. HARPER: And also not going to the police.

MURPHY:  He drove to the hospital where he worked and entered through a side door.

Mr. HARPER: I had blood all over me. I changed clothes. There’s other people going to be coming in. I’m not just going to leave bloody clothes and a knife sitting out. I just put them under the floor. In there’s a raised floor, data center, where we had our servers, that you can pull the tiles up.

MURPHY:  So did you think, ‘Wow, this is going pretty good now’?

Mr. HARPER:  No. At no point during that time I felt like this is going pretty good, no.

MURPHY:  He then headed to the ER to get stitches for the knife wound on his hand. Later he drove to his gym to shower up.

Mr. HARPER: Every mirror I passed, I mouth the words, ‘You just killed Thad. You killed Thad.’ It just seemed surreal. It was like it didn’t happen. But I knew it did.

MURPHY: Your blood’s on him, his blood’s on you? Your good friend.

Mr. HARPER: Yeah.

MURPHY:  Scotty then calls Michelle.

Mr. HARPER: She asked me, she said, ‘Did you talk with him?’ And I said ‘Yes.’

MURPHY: Did you say it got ugly?

Mr. HARPER: Yes.

MURPHY: Did she say words to the effect, Scott, ‘Is he dead? Did you kill him? Is it over?’

Mr. HARPER: No, no.

MURPHY: You’re saying that her understanding was that you’ve had the talk with him, and it was nasty and it was ugly, and what, ‘I’ll talk to you later’?

Mr. HARPER: Yeah. I mean, she said she’s sure she’d hear it—hear all about it a little bit later.

MURPHY:  Soon after speaking to Michelle, Scotty got the official word from their pastor that Thad was dead. He headed over to Michelle’s, where he was immediately surrounded by Thad’s family, and these pictures were snapped of him holding the dead man’s youngest daughter.

Mr. HARPER: I see his daughters.

MURPHY: The children who don’t have a father.

Mr. HARPER: Yeah. I see his sister. I see his mom.

MURPHY: The mom of the man you’ve just murdered.

Mr. HARPER: Yes.

MURPHY: Now, how are you holding it together? Why don’t you just come undone at that point and say, ‘I throw myself at your mercy; this thing happened’?

Mr. HARPER: There was nothing I could say that could take it back. And there was nothing I could do that could fix it.

MURPHY: So you’re just going to muddle forward and see what happens?

Mr. HARPER: I didn’t know what to do.

MURPHY:  Scotty says he and Michelle had barely any time alone that day; too many friends were arriving to express their condolences. But when he called her late that night, he says it still hadn’t occurred to her that he was the killer.

Mr. HARPER: Before we hung up, she said, ‘Do you think this was a sign?’

MURPHY: A what?

Mr. HARPER: A sign. A sign...

MURPHY: A sign from where of what?

Mr. HARPER: A sign from God. And I asked her, ‘What are you talking about?’ And she said, ‘Of all days for you to go talk to him.’ I saw then she didn’t know.

MURPHY: She didn’t know that you were going to go kill him?

Mr. HARPER: No. No, she didn’t. When I went to bed that night, I can’t say I knew that I was going to kill him so I know she couldn’t have. Michelle had no idea.

MURPHY:  Scotty Harper’s story, from friendship to homicide, all for a one-time homecoming queen who now says their fling was just a big mistake.

MURPHY: Was he still the 15-year-old boy in high school fixated on the homecoming queen?

Ms. REYNOLDS:  I believe so, yes, sir.

MURPHY:  And now, after everything...

MURPHY: What would you say to Scotty?

MURPHY:  One woman, two men, seven children among them being raised in good, solid, middle-class homes.

Ms. PATTERSON: I don’t know how you explain it. If you try to wrap your mind around it, you can’t because we always come back to the question: Why not just get a divorce? But they didn’t.

MURPHY:  And the prosecutor believes it was Scotty Harper’s sexual obsession with Michelle that led him to murder.

Ms. PATTERSON: She taught him how to walk on the wild side, and he didn’t want to ever give that up.

MURPHY:  Even, apparently, if it meant going to prison for the rest of his life for it. There would be no trial. Scotty Harper pleaded guilty to stabbing to death his good friend Thad Reynolds.

Unidentified Judge: (In court) OK, Mr. Harper, you have previously entered a plea of guilty in the charges of murder of Mr. Thad Reynolds.

MURPHY:  He was given life in prison without the possibility of parole. Michelle Reynolds also ended up taking a deal from the prosecutor.

Judge: (In court) Do you understand that you are presumed innocent until proven guilty?

Ms. REYNOLDS: (In court) Yes, sir.

Judge: (In court) You understand that by entering a guilty plea you’re giving up these rights?

Ms. REYNOLDS: (In court) Yes, sir.

MURPHY:  Knowing that Scotty was planning to testify for the prosecution, Michelle agreed to a sentence of 10 years for voluntary manslaughter and 10 years for party to the crime of burglary, a charge related to Scotty entering the Frito-Lay warehouse.

Judge: (In court) And how do you plead to the charges, guilty or not guilty?

Ms. REYNOLDS: (In court) Guilty.

Mr. BERRY: It’s always hard to roll the dice when you’re talking about a

death penalty.

MURPHY:  Michelle’s lawyers were prepared to go to trial and argue that she had no idea that Scotty was going to kill her husband, but when they hadn’t managed to get a change of venue out of Rome, Georgia, and when the prosecution was offering to swap the death penalty for a much lesser charge, they advised Michelle to take the deal.

Mr. BERRY: It’s the Bible Belt. Nobody likes folks in the Bible Belt having affairs. Everybody pretty much had made up their mind that she was guilty, that she forced this boy, and—never been in any trouble, good boy, she forced him into killing her husband so that they could be together.

MURPHY:  Michelle accepted the 20-year prison term without a trial because a part of her does feel responsible for Thad’s death.

Ms. REYNOLDS: Morally because I had the affair, I feel responsible because, had I not had the affair, this wouldn’t have happened. And I’m deeply sorry that so many people were hurt, that I’ve hurt a lot of people.

MURPHY: So you agreed to do 20 years for an affair?

Ms. REYNOLDS: Yes, sir.

MURPHY: Is that what it comes down to?

Ms. REYNOLDS: Yes, sir.

MURPHY: But you didn’t ask your lover to kill your husband?

Ms. REYNOLDS: No, sir.

MURPHY:  Scotty, though, says he wished Michelle had fought the charges.

Mr. HARPER: I don’t understand why she plead.

MURPHY: Because if she lost her bet she might’ve ended up on death row. Mr. HARPER: If you’re innocent, why would you plead? I mean, I just—I don’t understand.

MURPHY:  Scotty told us he took the plea deal because he didn’t want his family to go through a death penalty trial, and he didn’t want Michelle to face that, either.

MURPHY: Was that as important as your deal, that they take death off the table for her?

Mr. HARPER: Correct.

MURPHY: So you’re still trying to do her some good.

Mr. HARPER: For what good it is. I mean, I can’t say that I’ve done good for anybody, but yeah.

MURPHY:  As part of her sentence, Michelle may have no contact with her four children until her term is served.

MURPHY: And what would you say to Scotty?

Ms. REYNOLDS: At this time I don’t have anything to say to him.

MURPHY: He’s just a memory, and not good ones?

Ms. REYNOLDS: Yes, sir.

Mr. HARPER: I was definitely crazy about her.

MURPHY: But now?

Mr. HARPER: Some things you have to suppress.

MURPHY: Suppress? It’s there, but you don’t want to touch it?

Mr. HARPER: You can’t, so you don’t.

MURPHY: The other thing that Michelle said which just really surprised me, when you think of everything that you guys gambled, she said that you never really completed a sexual relationship.

Mr. HARPER: I’ve heard that from people. I don’t know.

MURPHY: She said that basically you were impotent with her and never consummated the act.

Mr. HARPER: I’m not sure why she said it, but I’ll just leave it at that.

MURPHY: You loved her?

Mr. HARPER: Yeah.

MURPHY:  Michelle’s four girls are being raised by Thad’s family. His life insurance has gone to their care. Scotty’s wife, mother of his three, has remarried. He is left with only regrets.

Mr. HARPER: ‘I’m sorry’ doesn’t cut it. That’s all I have now. There’s nothing I can say to undo what I’ve done.

MURPHY: The prosecutor is not surprised by any of it—that Scotty still loves

Michelle from behind bars, and that Michelle seems not to care.

MURPHY: When last heard from, he was still hanging the moon and the stars for her.

Ms. STAATS: Yes.

Ms. PATTERSON: And probably will for the rest of his life.

MURPHY: As giddy as a teenager.

Ms. PATTERSON: He still loves her.

Ms. STAATS: She’s still all he has.

MURPHY: Well, what about her?

Ms. PATTERSON: She never loved him. She used him. She uses people as objects. If you’re useful to her, she’ll use you for a while and then she’s going to cast you aside.

Mr. T. REYNOLDS: (On stage) Sweetheart, wasn’t the service great today?

Ms. REYNOLDS: (On stage) It sure was, sweetheart.

MURPHY:  In the church play Michelle and Thad were featured in, they go to a cotton candy heaven as their reward.

(Church play)

Mr. T. REYNOLDS: (On stage) This is heaven! This is what we’ve lived for!

Isn’t it wonderful?

MURPHY:  A Sunday School dream. Nothing in that script about sexual obsession and a hunting knife, a man who wanted what the other had.

Related links
After being divorced five years, Michelle and Thad Reynolds reconciled and remarried on Aug 3, 1997--almost a decade after their first exchange of wedding vows. The same day they were remarried at Hollywood Baptist Church, the Rome News-Tribune ran a feature about their journey back to one another. Click to read more from the Rome News-Tribune.

Faith, Fatherhood, Friendship: Thad Reynolds Remembered.
This past January--at the conclusion of the criminal cases of Scott Harper and Michelle Reynolds--the Rome News-Tribune published a tribute to Thad Reynolds and the impact he had on his family and the Rome, GA community.  Also included, is a slideshow of images.
Click here to read more from the Rome News-Tribune.