tv Dateline MSNBC August 25, 2019 2:00am-3:00am PDT
>> that's all for this edition of "dateline." . i'm craig melvin. and i'm natalie morales. and this is "dateline." >> and i'm natalie morales. >> and this is "dateline." horrible knowing the person that you love is dead. and then you're being looked at for it. >> imagine you're shaken in the dead of night >> my ears were ringing. i thought i was dreaming. >> in bed right next to you, your husband, murdered. >> hard to get that one out of your head, isn't it? >> yeah. >> and here's the twist -- you're the suspect. >> could she have been killer or was someone keeping a secret?
>> i said what did you do? what did you do? hello. welcome to "dateline." it's the stuff of nightmares. an intruder creeps neurobedroom in the milled of the night and opens fire. for melissa oxley, the bad dream was all too real. she told investigators she had been startled from her sleep to find her husband ben dead from a gunshot blast. it seems strange, they thought, that no one else in the house was hurt, including melissa, who was sleeping by his side. stranger still who the killer ultimately turned out to be. here is keith morrison with "while they were sleeping."
>> reporter: it was cold the night the full moon rose. february cold. in the desert valley that spilled down from reno, nevada. and in that moonlight all silver pale, the wind in the dead of night worried that gray ends of winter grass, whipped and cried up the driveway around the corner of the house, whistled past the unlocked door. something evil afoot, something here inside. when the moon peered through the window and into the master bedroom, a little after 3:00 in the morning. >> he's really dead. >> what's really dead? >> my husband. >> reporter: strange the things that happen to people under a full moon. good people, not so good people. under that moon that night, it was hard to tell which was which, who was who. >> this is a case built on lies
and deception, and cat and mouse. who knew what it was? but the story when it began back in 2005 was about love. or what certainly felt like it. in fact, fair to say it was two kinds of love. there was what happened to ben when he met melissa. >> as soon as he met melissa, he was something i never seen. just, you know, just for no reason, he would call and say i love you. >> reporter: he's a changed man? >> absolutely. he was happy. melissa really made the difference. >> reporter: and if anybody would know, his best friends would. cindy and scott graham. >> ben was family. i mean he was family. >> reporter: and then there was ben's other love, brightest thing in his life, the one good thing that came from his first marriage, alyssa. >> everybody said that he loved me more than anything. and i think it's true. >> reporter: quite true, of course.
so there was a little jockeying at first, two women, one man. even if one of the women was just 3. >> our first date, alyssa was there. we were eating. i was just trying to talk to ben and try to get to know him. she is like, "don't talk to my dad." >> i remember meeting her. i didn't really like her. she was talking to my dad. >> reporter: more than talking to him as it soon turned out, ben and melissa moved in together a month later. sort of thing a 3-year-old finds hard to understand. >> and she said i love you. and i said don't talk to my dad that way. >> reporter: but as we said, it was a love story. for both of them. jamie hart is the friend and future bridesmaid put it -- >> he was truly her best friend and he was the best dad. that's all he cared about was alyssa. that was his priority, was to take care of her. >> reporter: so it was melissa and ben, and alyssa.
the three of them. >> he was so involved in every aspect of her life. they were really like three peas in a pod. >> reporter: and one september day in 2006, as the sun was setting into the sierra, nevada mountains, ben and melissa got married. the ceremony at nearby lake tahoe. melissa was a glowing bride. alyssa, the little flower girl. >> it wasn't just melissa and ben getting married. it was melissa marrying alyssa, too. >> seriously. they made a particular ceremony of it. >> alyssa, will you promise to share in the love of this family? if so, will you please say i will? >> i will. >> i got her a little bracelet. i had it engraved, letting her know that i will always love her as my own. and gave it to her that day. >> and from that moment on, alyssa called melissa mom. how did that make you feel? >> happy. very happy.
>> what a happy couple they were. a happy family. >> for her to be my wife is a blessing. >> that's what you wait for all your life. >> reporter: what were your plans? >> to buy a house and to have babies and have a family. >> reporter: they eventually moved here, a three bedroom ranch in the carson valley looking up towards the sierra nevadas. alyssa spent half her time with ben and melissa. the other time with her birth mom, ben's ex-wife, dawn. but above all, what ben really wanted was to have his little girl permanently. >> he never thought that he could have his daughter. i was like yeah, you can. you could. >> reporter: and he did. he won custody. >> it was him and his daughter and that's what he always wanted. >> reporter: and then the little household grew. melissa's teenage brother craig moved in. and then winter came. and the wind. and on february 20th, 2008, the moon rose full over the carson
valley. after dinner, ben, melissa, her teenage brother craig and little alyssa settled in the den to watch a movie. melissa remembers falling asleep on the couch, waking up with a start. >> thinking i was late for work. it was like 2:30 in the morning. i was like oh, i'm not late. so i went and got into bed. >> reporter: crawled in with ben, she said. moonlight on the covers. warm inside. >> about an hour later is when i was woke up by the smell and then a loud noise. my ears were ringing. at first, i thought i was dreaming. >> reporter: a smell? >> yeah. it was a smell. >> reporter: gunpowder smell? >> yes. >> reporter: as she told it, she looked over to ben, saw by the light of the moon he appeared to slept through whatever it was. she nudged him. he didn't stir. >> i was like okay, i'll go check it out. i walked around our bed and got about halfway down the hallway and realized our front door was open. >> reporter: but you didn't see
anybody? >> nope. >> reporter: halfway down the hall she said, cold air rushing in. she knew something was very wrong. they ran back to the bedroom, turned on the light. >> i went to go wake him up and then i could see him. >> reporter: yeah. hard to get that one out of your head, isn't it? >> yeah. >> reporter: and thus her call to 911 and the detective who rushed over to find out what happened and discovered that he could not tell. >> you got the wife. you've got a small 6-year-old child and you got a 15-year-old boy in the house. and you've got everybody saying they don't know what happened. >> how did everyone else survive that night without a scratch? coming up. the investigation begins and melissa is at the very center.
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>> yeah. i tried to wake up my husband and is really, really dead. >> reporter: it certainly was. ben oxley had been shot point blank in the head. and yet, melissa, laying in bed right next to him was his wife unharmed. her daughter was 6 years old and completely unaware of what just happened, asked to see her father. >> i want to see my dad. i want to see my dad. i told her you can't. you can't go see your dad. >> reporter: ron elgus was the detective who got that call. do you remember getting that call? >> yeah. because i was sleeping. >> reporter: he woke up fast to a very big problem. a killing. just didn't make sense. >> appearing like a ghost has done this. no evidence, no weapon. everybody in the house says i don't know. >> reporter: a ghost? >> yeah. that's what it feels like because you have no idea. >> reporter: how was it possible
melissa hadn't seen the person who had shot ben? she'd been lying right next to him. why was she unharmed? >> that's kind of a testy little red flag started popping up. okay, this doesn't seem right. >> reporter: had craig, melissa's teenage brother, truly slept through the whole thing as he claimed? >> i opened my eyes and right in my face was a bunch of barrels from a machine gun. >> reporter: it was police guns he was looking at, police who already discovered shotgun shells on craig's bedroom dresser. >> here comes another red flag. is this a possibility? he is faking? >> reporter: melissa, craig, and little alyssa were taken to the sheriff's department at 4:00 a.m., an hour after the shooting. melissa's best friend jamie got a phone call. >> it was alyssa. and she was just hysterically crying. i'm at the police station. come down here. come down here. my daddy's been shot. >> reporter: by the time jamie
arrived, melissa was already being grilled by detectives. >> detective had questions. lots of them. so many things about this murder didn't make sense. >> reporter: maybe it was the man ben warned her about, she said, a rough customer who once dated ben's ex-wife dawn and apparently threatened to kill both dawn and any man she had been with. was the story true? just to be safe, the detective sent officers to dawn's house where they woke her up, sleeping but unharmed. and discovered that the man in question was hundreds of miles away when the murder happened. so again, the questions were for melissa. >> sometimes people know more than they want to tell the sheriff. >> i honestly don't know. i don't know. >> alyssa was 6 by this time. was the only person who remembered seeing anything unusual. she told the detective right away.
>> well, i was fast asleep. i woke up and i heard this creek. i saw someone walking in. and i just -- i went back in. >> do you know who they were? >> i don't know who it was. >> she saw a shadow in her doorway looking at her. and then the shadow left. she went back to sleep and then melissa came in and grabbed her and was talking to 911. >> the detective discovered the bullet that killed ben was a number eight bird shot. same ammunition they discovered in craig's room. and so the question for craig -- >> apologize for doing it. but i have to. did you kill ben? >> no, i did not. >> and sure enough when they tested him for gunshot residue or bloodd castoff, he was clean. could not have fired that gun. and so back to melissa.
>> reporter: because there was blood on melissa and gunshot residue -- >> i don't know what happened. >> just the truth is all i'm hoping to get. >> reporter: melissa's friend jamie was there when she came out of the interrogation room. >> i mean melissa just dropped to the floor when she saw me. and she had a little bit of blood on her. she just said i didn't do this. and i know you didn't do it. >> reporter: but jamie knew there were others, and not just the police, who were very suspicious of melissa. >> she's the kind of suspect, she's the wife. she was laying in bed with him.
doesn't make sense that she wasn't shot. >> did melissa do it? geez, i hope not. but i mean she could have. why wasn't she shot? >> i thought if she did commit the murder, she's going to make a mistake. you can only live that life so long. >> coming up -- a new clue. what police believe might be a reason for murder. >> $400,000 life insurance policy. she had the motivation to want this to happen. >> when "dateline" continues. family is all together and we switched to geico; saved money on our boat insurance. how could it get any better than this? dad, i just caught a goldfish! there's no goldfish in this lake. whoa! it's pure gold. we're gonna be rich... we're gonna be rich! it only gets better when you switch and save with geico.
>> reporter: melissa oxley was just 27 years old and already a widow. her 36-year-old husband, ben, shot dead while he slept in bed right next to her. as far as she could tell, said melissa, the shooter managed to break into the house, walk right into the master bedroom, shoot ben without harming her and leave not a trace of evidence behind. case blowingled detective ron elgus' mind. >> is this say murder for hire pay? what could this be? >> reporter: melissa's closest friend believed her when she insisted she had nothing to do with it, in fact, she lost the love of her life. and that now she and those around her were probably in terrible danger. >> because you don't know who did it. you don't know if they're going
to come back for melissa, if melissa was supposed to be in that. >> reporter: melissa meanwhile tried to be a source of comfort for her 6-year-old stepdaughter alyssa. the little girl's father had been her world, leaving her now in a world of chaos. and with her home and love nest now a crime scene, melissa and alyssa moved in with the woman who had been bridesmaid at the wedding, jamie hargus, and it was at night when the curtains were drawn that jamie watched melissa reading with pain. >> many nights of crying in the middle of the night i would hear her. i just kind of went and laid in bed with her. >> i didn't sleep. i couldn't sleep. >> reporter: just getting into a bed after that happened -- >> i didn't want to. >> reporter: so where would you sleep? >> on the floor. >> reporter: and if the pain and suffering of losing her husband wasn't hard enough, melissa was a lead suspect and not just in
the eyes of the police. >> because nobody including the public, including the family has had any idea why this would happen. they're all grasping at straws to trying out is this possible, is that possible? >> reporter: ben's sister was certain that melissa arranged ben's murder and wasn't afraid to make it known around town. >> she had a following of all these people. it's always the wife, you know? >> reporter: so did that mean little alyssa just 6 years old so vulnerable was living with a murderer? alyssa began to spend more time at her mother dawn's house and one day while she was there, ben's sister warned her about the stepmom she had come to love. >> she told me that she thought my stepmom killed my dad that night. >> reporter: must have been pretty weird to hear that> >> yeah. i didn't believe it. >> reporter: you didn't believe it at all?
[ shakes head ] >> reporter: but if alyssa didn't believe it, others did. and before long they had more ammunition because of something else the detective discovered. >> a $400,000 life insurance policy. it sounds a lot like she had the motivation to want this to happen. >> and once again, melissa found herself answering difficult questions. >> i didn't even know there was an insurance policy. i guess i was sort of naive to it. we were looking at it for retirement. >> reporter: while the investigation went on, the insurance company held back any payments. while the whispers went around. it was shocking really. ben had been dead just a few months. and melissa was dating already. >> it was soon, sort of. but it was like if any do it then, you almost would get stuck in this rut of never doing it. i would have just hung up the towel and been done. >> reporter: put on a black dress enbe a widow the rest of your life? >> yeah.
>> reporter: detective elgus was keeping track and trying not to be judgmental. >> she has to do what she needs to do to heal. it doesn't mean i wasn't paying attention to what was going on. >> reporter: but as months passed. he push aside the leaves, a certain clarity began to emerge. despite his own early suspicions and those of others, hard evidence against melissa just didn't materialize. n fact, he couldn't help thinking -- >> she probably didn't do it. she was so startled she went into a fight or flight response and just jumped out of bed. and then went to a normal reaction which is what's going on? >> reporter: that's when she discovered he had been shot? >> but there was another reason melissa dropped down the detective's list of suspects. and that reason was a certain someone else who, it became clear, did not like that love story we told you about. not one bit. >> i said what did you do? what did you do?
and she said what do you mean what did i do? you've known me all these years and you would think that i would do something like that? and i said, absolutely. coming up. a whole new theory of the crime with a whole new list of suspects eager to share secrets. >> i said, no, no, no! when "dateline" continues. when "dateline" continues.
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their injuries do not appear to be life-threatening. life-threa. welcome back to "dateline." i'm craig melvin. melissa oxley could now breathe a little easier, while still on their radar, detectives no longer considered her the primary suspect in her husband's ben's shooting death. they shifted their focus to another woman in ben's life, someone they believe held a grudge. investigators were about to bring her in for questioning and the story she would tell would send the case in a stunning new direction. here again is keith morrison with "while they were sleeping." >> if you knew ben, there's no way that you'd want him dead. i couldn't think of anybody that would want him dead, you know, besides dawn. >> reporter: dawn, dawn oxley, ben's ex-wife. alyssa's mother. even as more than a local few
gossiper's pointed fingers at melissa, ben's best friends told each other -- >> everything in me said that dawn had something to do with that. >> reporter: of course, just a few years back, that sort of thing would have been unimaginable to dawn and ben's best friends scott and cindy graham. not dawn. dawn the force of nature, the center of any room she was in. >> i don't know if it's manipulating or what, but everybody agreed with dawn. as long as dawn was happy, then we're all happy. >> reporter: but after five years of marriage, neither ben nor dawn was happy. and the marriage went up in flames. >> ben had cheated on dawn. i could see that. this probably wasn't going to be something she was ever going to get over. >> reporter: dawn changed after that said cindy, didn't seem to want to act like a parent anymore. >> she met a guy and she would stay the night at his house. i mean when her kids are calling
us up saying we don't have any food in the house, can you come and bring us food, there's a problem. >> reporter: and so when dawn and ben went to court to fight for custody of alyssa, cindy had to tell the truth. >> i told the judge that dawn wasn't taking care of her kids anymore. they weren't a priority. they weren't a prior or the. they weren't even number five. >> reporter: when ben won custody of alyssa and more than $200 a month in child support, dawn was devastated. this is her mother sherry rosten a retired deputy sheriff. >> she would sit in the garage and just bawl about not -- about not getting her day in court. >> reporter: this was eating her alive. >> yeah. it was really taking its toll on her. >> reporter: dawn started drinking heavily. her teenage son devin watched his mother fall apart. >> she started to lose jobs. it's like all hell broke loose in her head. >> reporter: but murder?
remember, the police went to see dawn a couple hours after ben was killed, found her fast asleep. >> what time did you think you went to sleep? >> oh, gosh, i watched a movie "the departed" and -- i don't know, about 4:00. >> in fact, she happened to be sharing her bedroom with a 21-year-old family friend named james matlean. >> we watched a movie and went to bed. >> yeah, that's our story. that's it. >> reporter: not exactly a convincing alibi. any more than the obvious fiction that james, a new man in her life, was just a friend. even less convincing when detective ron elgis learned about a trip to a 7-eleven store, middle of the night, an hour and a half before the murder. >> why are they hiding little piece that's seem insignificant to what is going on? then we started to do surveillance on them. now they're starting to get worry because they think we are
watching them. >> reporter: surveillance video show dawn with james and her two daughters, brandy, her 13-year-old daughter from a previous marriage and alyssa 7 by this time. that's right. a year into the investigation, little alyssa was back with her biological mom who had then the courts weaned her back there permanently. so there you are still trying to grieve the loss of ben, at the same time alyssa is being pulled back toward dawn? >> yeah. i lost both of them, truly. >> reporter: and, well, while the police were watching dawn, they were selling them that real suspect is melissa. she confidently told you it was melissa that committed this murder? >> yes. >> reporter: brandy was hearing that from her mother, dawn, you could see was drinking too much, getting duis, spending more than a few nights in jail. >> they started getting arrested, dawn and james both. we were finding reasons to take them to jail. >> reporter: and while they had james, they asked him point blank about the murder of ben oxley.
>> did i kill ben? no. do i know who kill ben? no. did dawn kill ben? no. do i know anything about the murder? no. >> were you and dawn involved in any way in the planning of the murder of ben? >> no! i'm looking new your eyes. i did not kill him! >> reporter: but that was it. lots of denials. no real evidence. a year and a half had gone by since the murder. it was the summer of 2009. on to our cold case territory. >> getting there. >> reporter: then one afternoon, as detective elgis was recovering from a night on the graveyard shift, his cell phone rang. it was dawn oxley. >> she said she couldn't take it anymore. she wanted to talk. >> reporter: what were you thinking on the way to see her? >> it's about time. >> reporter: the detective drove over to dawn's house. she was inebriateded. >> i didn't hurt him.
>> she had quite a story to tell about james. about how he offered to murder ben. >> the night ben died, he said now or never. and i said no. i said not today. don't do it. no. i said no. i said no. no. no. no. >> reporter: hours later, she said, james woke her up from a sound sleep and told her ben was dead. but that, she said, is all he told her. all she knew. >> so you're confident that james had something to do with it? >> i don't know. >> reporter: is that really all she knew? dawn had a 16-year-old son named devin who detectives learned was at home and listening in the hours before ben oxley was murdered. so if anyone could confirm dawn's version of events, surely it would be devin. but he wasn't talking. not yet anyway. >> coming up, the question haunting this whole case. >> what's our evidence?
>> was there any proof against anyone? prosecutors were about to make a deal to get the evidence they need. >> do you want to talk about this case? >> you know i do. >> when "dateline" continues. we take you to the g7 summit in france where president trump is meeting with japanese prime minister shinzo abe. let's listen in. >> one of the very biggest -- he came in third and he shot a 62 or a 63 in the final round which is not bad, right? not bad. so he is a great young man and he is a great golfer and, please, congratulations to him. >> mr. president, do you have a deal with japan? have you agreed on a trade deal? >> we are working on one very close and i don't know -- what is happening. he will give a status report.
>> we are very close to a merger and the ultimate result of this meeting will come to [ inaudible ]. >> very big deal. a major deal. if it gets done, we will possibly know by the end of this meeting. >> mr. president, did you sign off on a statement to iran? a message take iran that president macron is delivering on behalf of all the g7 countries? >> no, i haven't discussed that. >> do you support president macron's outrage to iran authorities? >> sure. i also support president abe because he is also speaking to iran. they have a very good relationship, from what i understand. but iran is no longer the same country as it was two and a half years ago we will do our own outreach but it can't stop people from talking. if they want to talk, they can talk. >> what are some of the issues you all talked about at dinner last night?
>> you tell me what we spoke about. >> i'm asking you, sir. >> a lot of inaccurate reporting. we had a good dinner last night and i had a fantastic lunch with the president of france yesterday. franklin [ inaudible ] an hour and a half and many of you saw it and it was the best hour and a half i ever spent with him, president macron. a perfect period of time and, yet, i picked up stories i read like it was the opposite. really was. it doesn't matter. you can write whatever you want to write but it was false reporting. we had a very, very good lunch and very good dinner last night and everybody was at the dinner and i think it was -- we discussed iran and we discussed trade and we discussed china and we discussed many thing but it was a very good meeting. >> mr. president, you had you discussed russia and you had it was a lively discussion. do you and in other member of the g7 would encourage russia to
join the way you are? >> i think it's a work in progress. we have a number of people would like to see russia back. i think it would be -- i think it would be advantageous to many things in the world. i think it would be a positive. other people agree it's something that we are discussing. i don't know that we will make a decision one way or another but we had a discussion about russia last night as to whether or not went to invite them back. i think it's advantageous. i think it's a positive. other people agree with me and some don't necessarily agree. >> how do you suspect to overcome those difference? >> maybe leave it the way it is. >> can you say who are some of those who agree with you on inviting russia back? >> i could but i don't think it's necessary. some of the people that i was surprised. i was surprised by a couple of them because i didn't think they had a good relationship and it
was good enough that they had, yes, but it's ongoing discussion. no decision. no decision has been made. we didn't do a vote or anything. just discussion. >> are you concerned about north korea conducting more tests? >> i'm not happy about it. but, again, he is not in violation of an agreement. we speak. i received a very nice letter from him last week. we -- he was upset that south korea was -- >> trump is having a meeting with japanese prime minister shinzo abe there. president trump kicked off the meeting by talking about sin hi abe's golf game.
they spent time golf and they have a great relationship there. we will turn to nbc kelly o'donnell who has been following the president during his trip at the g7. obviously there is a relationship with shinzo abe here and the president touched on it before getting into more sincere and difficult topics to discuss which were the trade issues with china and also topping on russia. kelly, tell us what is going on there. >> reporter: it's always important in these diplomatic settings before they get to some of the very serious and controversial issues to signal those tones of friendship and between shinzo abe and president trump, it is clearly golf. and to talk about that is not only a gesture toward his counterpart, the japanese prime minister, but to the japanese people and it is one of the things that we see play out. and it's really sort of the different frequencies of communication that happen between leaders. you see that in all of these
different pairings. it's one of the ways they try to set things at ease, they try to establish that there is a personal history before they talk about the issues of the moment where there may be disagreements. clearly, between the you and japan at the front burner right now is a long negotiated pact that is not quite ready for an announcement dealing with trade. it has to do with the u.s. beef and pork product that they want to have available for sale in japan, also american automobiles and dealing with tariffs and things like that. they don't have all of the fine print yet but clearly they are trying to signal there is some optimism there. that is an important piece, certainly for president trump and his overall academic package, as well as for the relationship with both countries. and then the more sensitive issues that go beyond that.
clearly with when you're talking with japan, any mention of china and north korea are critical issues because of the regional impact there. it is notable for president trump to say that he is not pleased that kim jong-un is continuing to test missiles and he was, again, careful to say it's not in violation of any agreement, but he is not happy that that continues to go on. of course, the president has been chasing an agreement with kim jong-un to have some kind of a nuclear relationship in a contained fashion or denuclearization, which has been talked about and has been elusive so far between the u.s. and north korea. that is certainly important. in the bigger picture, of course, this is the g7, the group of the seven most important major democratic economies and when you talk about russia, it was several years that russia was booted from this organization because of its illegal annexation of
crimea. president trump is often alone in this vuf hiewpoint has expre it's important to have russia back in this group. even though russia is not a democracy in the same way as the other members here. he is arguing there is a reason to bring russia back in although ed it has not yet been decided. it would be critical in part because the u.s. is the host of the g7 next year. it's a rotating presidency of the g, the group of seven nation. france is the host this year and why we are in southwestern france and biarritz is hosting the gathering this time. it's a question with president trump and the russia history in the first couple of years in the administration it takes on that as well. so these meetings go much beyond that. it's talking about trade, global
economy, international security, and president macron is also wanting to talk about inequality. he has invited some of the merging nation from africa to be a part of these talks, even though they are not members of the group of seven nations. it's an international conference of significance and one that is a feud of time together with these leader, getting a chance to spend time to talk and work on hard issues, but also some time to build personal relationships and that is one of the tests here. the president has been very careful to try to refute media reports that say he has been out of step with his counterparts and saying he is creating fake news, a lot of reporting say it's far more successful in terms of relationship that has been reported. the president is pushing back on that narrative. of course, there has been reporting that other leader who
are here have been concerned about the president's trade war with china and the differences these leaders have on important issues of the day. back to you. >> kelly o'donnell, thank you so much. she is traveling with the president in france and president trump is now in this bilateral meeting with shinzo abe from japan. the president's schedule on one meeting is not the only one. he'll be meeting with canada's justin trudeau followed by a working lunch and more meetings and a formal dinner. stay with us on msnbc. we will have more news at the top of the hour. right now, we return to our programming of "dateline." remembered seeing someone in her doorway. >> i just looked out and i saw somebody walking in. >> reporter: and then said james, he walked into the master bedroom, saw ben and melissa sleeping in the moonlight. >> and i raised the gun. that's where everything in my mind that should have happened three or four hours ago happened.
i started thinking why am i here? something i heard to my left -- >> reporter: a sudden noise? >> yeah. and as i turned and jerked to see what it was, i pulled the trigger. >> reporter: he ran then, he said, left the front door wide open. caught up with dawn in the truck. >> reporter: who drove? >> she did. i started yelling at her when we got in the truck. >> reporter: the truth, said james matlean, all of it. dawn knows the truth and i know the truth. and that's all that matters. i take full responsibility for what i did. dawn needs to take full responsibility for what she did. >> coming up, was ben the only one who was in danger that night? >> reporter: what was it like to hear that? >> unreal. >> reporter: one more revelation still to come.
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his sleep and must live with what he did for the rest of his days. >> i have to live with what i actually did. >> he told his story in court. it was after the d.a. took the death penalty off the table and james decided to plead guilty. that's when melissa, sitting in the courtroom, heard for the first time about something else. james was supposed to kill her too. >> i just automatically said yeah. >> there was a bullet there for you. what was it like to hear that? >> unreal. >> do you believe that she was in the house last night? >> i do. i have a harder time with dawn than james because if it wasn't for her, none of it would happen. >> that's where melissa and james attorney firmly agree. only half the measure of the justice since dawn is protected by that immunity agreement she signed with the d.a.
>> james is not the type of boy who is going to go out and commit a murder in the hopes that dawn will find had acceptable. he didn't do this as a surprise gift. >> dawn herself declined our request for an interview. her mom, the retired deputy sheriff, has remained in her corn corner. >> i know that a lot of people believe that. that it was a blatant conspiracy on her part. but i don't think dawn really wanted ben dead. i don't think dawn was there. >> hold it all together. >> all the way along and even now. >> you got to understand, ben was a good guy. they had their problems. everybody loved him.
he didn't deserve to die. >> for the time being, it's a he said/she said story. the d.a.'s deal with dawn to the dismay of james mat vi an's attorney means she may never face a murder charge >> prosecutor made a deal with the devil. now we need to show how far she is. >> deal with the devil? the d.a. said, without dawn's testimony at the preliminary hearing, the murder charge against james would never have stuck. but dawn wasn't totally off the hook because there was one possibility still. if the d.a. could find hard evidence that dawn lied when she was given that get out of jail free deal for implicating james. >> it's still an open book on dawn oxly for murder. if somebody comes in today with credible evidence that shows she did, in fact, go, we can prosecute her. >> she was sent to prison on another offense. she pleaded guilty to using her teenage daughter brandy to sell
prescription drugs. >> was she employing you in that business? >> i was driving, yes. >> dawn was released from prison in march of 2014. but not to be the mother of alyses a. the judge terminated her parental rights. both alyssa and brandy went to live with melissa who offered them a kind of family life that they didn't know with their biological mom. >> it was a family. that's what i need. >> one more thing to do. in 2011, after pleading guilty to murder. >> is there redemption for a person like you? >> i don't know. >> i don't expect anybody that i hurt to forgive me for what i've done. >> you're talking to them, right? >> basically talking to melissa.
>> sorry. >> in exchange for his guilty plea, the d.a. agreed to recommend that james could be eligible for parole after serving 24 years. final decision up to the judge. defense attorney stover made the argument. and then melissa took the stand. >> emotionally the damage you have caused me is almost unbearable. for alyssa, you crumbled her foundation and everything she knew to be right and true. and as hard as this is to do or believe, i also want you to know that i have found it in my heart to forgive you. >> then james got his sentence. >> the murder charge, you're sentence today life in prison. >> life without parole ever.
afterwards, the little girl in the middle of the family drama turned to melissa with a remarkable request. alyssa asked to meet with james and was ushered in to see him before he was whisked away. >> i told him that i decided to forgive him and that i wanted him to have hope. >> she wept then. tears of forgiveness. the lingering grief for her father. as for melissa, after the trial she told us she was ready to move on. >> where will you keep ben? >> always in my heart. never for gotten. but we do have to go on. we still have to be here and live day-to-day life. >> if he's looking down watching you, what would he think about his daughter? >> i think he still loves me. i'm much better than i was at my
other house. >> you miss him? >> i miss him a lot. >> you're a pretty strong kid, aren't you? >> yeah. >> that's all for this edition of "dateline." i'm craig melvin. thank you for watching. good morning. i'm jo ling kent at msnbc headquarters. >> i'm kendis gibson. 3:00 a.m. on the west. noon in france where the president is meeting with others and making an unusual admission. plus the one topic off the beaten path. president putin had a lively discussion but really a good one. it's certainly possible. it's certainly possible. we'll see. >> also on the march, protesters demanding action from world