tv Dateline MSNBC August 31, 2019 12:00am-2:00am PDT
that is our broadcast for tonight brian will be back next week. thank you for being with us. and good night from new york. . i'm craig melvin. and i'm natalie morales. and this is "dateline." ♪ denita was a light in this dark world. that's what she was about. she was just a cup of love. i'm like, "who saw this coming?" >> a beautiful young student gunned down. >> things like that just didn't happen there. >> why? who? who would want to do this? >> i thought i had my man. >> her boyfriend was a police officer. >> if anyone knew how to do this and get away with it, wouldn't it be him? >> then someone told police what he saw. >> he told me he saw a female
that was about 5'10." she pulls off and takes off out of the complex. >> what did she know? >> she said, "i'm in fear of my life." the story starts to unravel. >> a secret tape. >> why are you whispering? >> you know why. because somebody's listening. >> a secret lover. >> he wanted her to come back to him. and she didn't. >> and a secret revealed. >> as we're getting ready to finish up the interview someone hands me a note. >> who killed denita? >> you've told me some things you'd only admit to your priest, and you can't tell me this last little piece of the puzzle. why? >> reporter: the darkroom is where a photographer's vision comes to life, allowing others
to see the world through their eyes. and with these shots, we can learn a little about the world this young photographer saw. and her sense of exactly when to snap the shutter. to capture the world in front of her. it's an impressive portfolio belonging to a young woman named denita smith. she began looking through a lens in childhood, and never stopped as her mother sharon remembers. >> she's always loved the camera. the camera was her friend. the camera was her way of expressing herself. >> reporter: denita was beginning to turn all that talent into a successful trade; working as photojournalist on the student newspaper at north carolina central university in durham. >> she would see things that probably the average person wouldn't see. >> reporter: but there was something denita didn't see coming. a blind spot in her seemingly perfect life.
something she never anticipated. never imagined. but maybe no one could. it was january 4, 2007. a crisp carolina morning. denita had a busy day ahead as classes were about to resume after christmas break. >> denita loved school. and she was planning to go back and get her doctorate. and get married and have a family. >> and somewhere along the line, rk in this business? >> exactly. >> reporter: in fact, denita had won a "new york times" fellowship. her close friend and classmate edythe kearns. >> denita just always knew what she wanted. she always had a vision and a goal. and she would make a plan and stick to it and take it step by step until she met that goal. >> reporter: denita lived in the campus crossings apartments, near the university. around 8am, a 9-1-1 call came in from another student at the same complex.
>> durham 911, where is your emergency? >> i think this girl just fell down the stairs. she's at the bottom of the stairs, head busted up and blood everywhere. >> okay, is she responding to you at all? >> she's not even moving. do you want me to get her id out of her pocket? >> if you can. >> her name is denita monique smith. >> okay. >> denita monique smith. denita! she ain't moving man. >> reporter: denita seemed to have perhaps lost her balance and fallen down the stairs. police and paramedics rushed to the complex. the college was quickly notified, as was denita's family. >> "miss smith, denita fell. she's unconscious, but they're trying to revive her." he said, "are you coming to durham?" and i'm still trying to wrap my head around, you fell, unconscious, revive. i said yes, i'm coming. >> reporter: sharon and her two other children lived in charlotte, almost a three-hour drive from durham. >> on my way there i did call
jermeir. >> reporter: that was jermeir stroud, denita's fiance, a police officer who worked in greensboro, much closer to durham. >> and i said, "jermeir, i need you to get to durham now. denita has fell. she's unconscious. they're trying to revive her." so he said okay. because i knew from greensboro to durham he would be there before i would. >> could you tell whether he had any idea of this? >> he didn't let on like he was aware. >> reporter: word spread fast that something had happened at the apartment complex. edythe called to check on denita. >> and she wasn't answering. which was you know, after i call your phone several times as a best friend, you know, somebody's going to call you back. so i was like, that's strange. so my instinct just said call jermeir really quick just to touch bases with him. >> reporter: by now jermeir stroud had left work and was racing to durham. >> i spoke to jermeir. and i'm like, "have you made contact with her?" but i felt like i didn't get a
definite answer. it seemed like there was a little bit of confusion. >> what do you mean? >> like when i said, "did you speak with her," and he didn't really give me a yes or a no. >> he just sound a little rushed like, "edythe, you know, just sit tight. stay calm. i'm sure, you know, we'll get to her." >> reporter: also rushing to get to denita was her mother, sharon smith, who was driving to durham from charlotte. >> you're thinking this is an accident. >> uh-huh. >> but she's going to be okay? >> uh-huh. i thought she was at the hospital. >> reporter: durham police arrived and taped off the scene. >> we found denita at the bottom of the steps, and we were basically there was a pretty large police presence at the time. >> reporter: detective shawn pate wasn't sure exactly what he was dealing with, but it was beginning to look a lot more serious than just an accident on the stairs. >> however, we weren't able to determine what the injuries were. we saw there was blood coming from her head, she had her purse, she had water bottle,
lipstick, keys, that kind of thing. all coming down the staircase. and first thing i'm wondering is, was there a struggle? >> was her wallet there? >> the wallet was there. >> and money in it? >> there must have been because at first we didn't think it was a robbery. >> reporter: edythe, who knew none of this, now rushed to denita's building, where she hoped to find her close friend but instead was greeted by several of the university's professors. >> i was like, "what are you all doing here?" and they were like, "you know, unfortunately she's not alive." everything in me, you know, just went into shock, of course. i kept saying, you know, i want to see her. i was like, are you sure? maybe it's mistaken identity. i'm like, she's not dead, this can't be. >> reporter: denita monique smith was just 25 years old and engaged to be married. now her fiancé, jermeir stroud, who had also arrived on scene, was given the awful news.
how'd jermeir look? >> like a blank expression. he was calm. and he was like "you know, it's going to be okay." he was like, "calm down." i was like, "my heart is breaking right now." i'm like, "and it's breaking for you, too." because i'm like, this is your future wife. i'm like, who saw this coming? >> reporter: but edythe didn't know the worst of it. her close friend denita hadn't died in a tragic accident. police discovered denita had been murdered, shot at almost point blank range. >> it's clearly intentional. >> reporter: and shot in the back of the head. >> dead center. >> reporter: this was an execution. >> exactly. >> reporter: meanwhile denita's mother sharon had arrived from charlotte, still unaware of what had happened. >> where's my baby? and is she all right? >> reporter: now police had to break the horrible news about
her oldest daughter. >> and so that's when they explained that denita was found and she had been shot. and she was dead. and at that point my life just changed completely. >> reporter: nothing prepares you for that, does it? >> uh-uh. because i'm wondering who, why, who would want to do this, it just doesn't make sense. >> reporter: police hear from a witness who saw something odd and suspicious. >> he says, let me call the police. and then she pulls off and takes off out of the complex. ♪ ♪ buckle up for some insurance themed fun ♪ ♪ at progressive park! children: yeah! announcer: ride the totally realistic traffic jam. ♪ beep, beep, beep, beep children: traffic jam!
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>> reporter: denita smith probably never saw it coming. one shot, a clean hit from behind. the killer was apparently lying in wait on the apartment's second floor landing as denita walked down the stairs from her third floor unit, said durham police detective shawn pate. >> there were four apartments on that landing. i think that someone was there pretending they were knocking on the door or fumbling for keys. >> reporter: so denita probably would have had to walk right past the shooter? >> probably good morning, how are you, then turn and go down the steps. >> reporter: bang. >> and that's it. >> reporter: denita murdered. executed in broad daylight. it made no sense. her bff edythe says denita simply didn't have any enemies. >> denita was a light in this dark world. she had a beautiful spirit. she was loving. she was kind. she was supportive.
she embodied everything that was positive and about supporting people. >> reporter: there was no one who didn't like her? >> right. she was well respected and well loved. >> reporter: especially by her fiancé, jermeir stroud, who appeared devastated by denita's death. >> jermeir didn't say anything. jermeir cried. we all cried. he didn't really say a whole lot. >> reporter: jermeir and denita had met back in college and became the "it" couple on campus. >> they had been dating for a few years. and you know, before i even met him denita spoke very highly of him. >> reporter: what'd she say? >> like he's a gentleman, he's intelligent. he's active, involved, well-rounded, he's kind, he respects me. he protects me. he's loving. >> reporter: the perfect guy? >> the perfect guy. the perfect guy. >> reporter: he was apparently even perfect enough for denita's cautious mother, sharon smith, who came to trust that jermeir
was the right guy for her precious daughter. >> i knew what he would be getting, but i didn't know what she would be getting. so i tried to find every reason to not like him. >> reporter: how'd you do? >> i failed, because he was very polite. he was very respectful. i would always tell jermeir, "you take care of my baby. this is precious cargo." and he promised me that he would, that he wouldn't let anything hurt her. so i said, okay. >> reporter: now police wanted to talk to jermeir stroud. >> greensboro police have confirmed smith was engaged to officer jermeir stroud. stroud has been an officer with the greensboro police department for four years. the mere fact that he was her fiancé immediately made stroud a person of interest. jermeir insisted he knew nothing about who killed denita. >> jermeir was at home asleep
because he had just worked a night shift the day before. >> reporter: so he was off duty? >> he was off duty. it's not unbelievable. it just makes it harder to rule him out. >> reporter: so there's no proof he was anywhere. >> except for the fact that his phone was at his house on his nightstand plugged in. >> reporter: but by all accounts, jermeir stroud loved denita dearly. it didn't make sense that he would kill the woman to whom he had just proposed. they were planning a big wedding. now after speaking with detectives, jermeir headed back home to greensboro, his life changed forever. and then, two hours after the murder, detectives got a lead. >> durham 911, where is your emergency? >> at campus crossings apartments. >> reporter: they discovered a second 911 call that had come in around the time denita was killed. >> i'm hearing gunshots coming from somewhere around here.
>> reporter: the caller was the apartment's maintenance supervisor, who'd been working near denita's unit. >> when he heard the shot, he'd looked up in that direction and he told me he saw a female that was about 5'10", hair in a ponytail, and had some kind of emblems on her clothing. >> the young lady that stays over here, she heard it too and she's like upset and shaking and stuff like that. >> she was covering her face and she went and got into her truck and started driving away. >> reporter: this woman looked frightened or -- >> he said like she was distraught. she had her hands over her face and moving quickly. >> reporter: like they're horrified by what they've seen. >> correct. >> reporter: so more witness than perpetrator maybe. >> that's exactly what he thought. >> reporter: then, according to the maintenance man, the woman got into a burgundy-colored ford explorer which he then followed in his truck. >> he pulls up beside her, so they're kind of looking directly
at each other, eyeball to eyeball, and she still has her hands over her face. and he says, "ma'am, did you hear a shot or something?" and she shakes her head up and down yes. and he says, "where'd it come from?" and she points her head in one direction and he says, "why are you nervous?" and she's like, "you heard the shot." and he says let me call the police. and then she pulls off and takes off out the complex. >> reporter: what do you make of that? >> that's kind of like make the hair on the back of our neck stand up. >> reporter: so now police called jermeir stroud, who was on his way back home to greensboro, and asked one simple question. >> do you know anyone that drives a burgundy ford suv?" and he said, "oh, my god. i'm turning around now." >> reporter: a secret affair. >> they start having a relationship that actually started kind of like friendly but then turned sexual. >> reporter: what, if anything, did it have to do with denita's murder? ♪
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had been spotted at the crime scene. did jermeir know her? yes, he said, he did. starting with her name. shannon crawley. and one more thing. like jermeir she also worked in law enforcement. >> he met shannon back in 2000 when he was in the police academy. shannon was a 911 communicator and she was one of the people that was in the training session. >> reporter: shannon was 21 then. tall, striking, and single, raising two kids. and this is her family. brother keith jr. and her parents anne and keith crawley. >> she was determined to give her kids a good life and a nice home. and a good education. very caring and loving mother. >> and if you ask her, she'd say, i'm just a mom. and that's how she put it, i'm just a mom. >> reporter: now at the durham
police department detectives wanted to know more about shannon's relationship with jermeir stroud, so they interviewed jermeir, who was cooperative, but guarded. >> he said, yeah, she caught my eye. i mean, she's 5'10", long pretty hair, thin. and we spoke for a short time. that was in 2000. around 2004 they bumped in again through work and he asked her for her number. >> reporter: and at this point he's involved with denita. >> involved with denita. and he actually said that he told shannon in 2000 that he was in involved with denita. well, in 2004 they start having a relationship that actually started kind of like friendly but then turned sexual toward the end of 2004. >> reporter: and shannon drives a burgundy suv. >> correct. >> reporter: first detectives had a murder. now a love triangle. detective pate pressed jermeir for more details about the two women in his life. >> i said, well, have they ever met? and he said, no, they've never
met, "but i used to have a picture of denita in my house on my television and when shannon would help me move in, she saw the picture." >> reporter: shannon knew about denita. >> shannon knew about denita, but denita had no clue. and everyone i spoke to about denita said if she even suspected she would have been out of that relationship, she had too much dignity for that. >> reporter: this was an affair jermeir was hiding. >> correct. >> reporter: remember, jermeir lived in greensboro near shannon, but 50 miles away from denita, the woman jermeir was officially involved with at the time. it was a tale of two cities and two women. jermeir and denita were dating, though not yet engaged. and he was also seeing shannon, and that seemed more serious than just a fling. >> reporter: did jermeir disclose to you that he had gotten shannon pregnant? >> he did. >> reporter: and that she had an abortion? >> correct.
>> reporter: shannon's mother ann says her daughter had the abortion because the pregnancy wasn't viable. but she claims that when jermeir found out -- >> he was very upset. he had contacted the doctor to find out if what she said was true about the pregnancy being viable. and the doctor refused to talk to him. and that made him angry. >> reporter: jermeir wanted to keep the baby and -- >> yeah, yeah. >> reporter: and raise the baby with shannon? >> with shannon, yeah. >> reporter: doesn't sound to me like their relationship was over. sounds to me like it was going pretty well. >> no. it was over. in fact, he had said to her that if you don't want the baby, you know, i'll take the baby. >> reporter: shannon went through with the abortion. but by this time, jermeir told detectives, his relationship with shannon had taken a big turn. >> there was no more sleeping together. going shopping together, that kind of thing. it was more just a voice on the phone. or see you in passing at work. >> reporter: so basically, they broke it off. >> they did. >> reporter: a year before denita was killed?
>> a year. >> reporter: now after the murder, word of jermeir's two-timing spread quickly. denita's mother, sharon. >> i'm angry. i'm mad. because it never should have happened. you were in a serious relationship. you know, why you felt you had to step out, don't understand. you don't hurt the ones you love. >> reporter: the divorce rate in this country would suggest that we hurt the ones we love all the time. >> that's true. but it's kind of bad when you going into the marriage being foul. not saying that it's okay once you're in it. but you would just like to think, you know, you're starting things off right. >> reporter: edythe kearns was barely beginning to process the loss of her close friend, and now had to cope with something else she had never imagined. >> i was just sad. and i was hurt. and i was in shock.
just disbelief. because i had nothing bad to say about him. >> reporter: this wasn't jermeir? >> yes, i mean, that's exactly more or less how i felt. it was just like a nightmare, like this wasn't reality. >> reporter: denita had trusted jermeir. the men investigating her death did not. now the man who'd once made denita so happy was in the cross-hairs of a murder investigation that was quickly ramping up. and though jermeir stroud seemed genuinely devastated by denita's death, openly crying throughout his interview with detectives, he wasn't getting much sympathy. >> when i first spoke with him, i thought i had my man. >> reporter: jermeir? >> jermeir. >> reporter: what does shannon know? and what is she hiding? >> as we're leaving, getting ready to finish up the interview with her, someone hands me a note. ready or not, here i come! eww!
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slug might provide a lead on who pulled the trigger. >> what kind of gun killed denita smith? >> all we could say is that the bullet itself was in the family of -- it had enough weight to be a .38-caliber round. >> reporter: by now denita's death was big news across durham. >> durham investigators say the shooting was not a random act. >> reporter: assistant district attorney david saacks was keeping a close eye on this now high-profile case. one that he might actually prosecute if a killer was ever caught. >> it was so obvious that it was not a robbery. and so if she was targeted for some reason, there was a very, very, very limited number of people who would target denita for something like this. and jermeir certainly could have been one of them. >> reporter: jermeir stroud, denita smith's fiance. on the day of the murder, stroud had revealed to police his romance with shannon crawley, the woman who owned an suv similar in model and color to
the one seen leaving the crime scene with a distraught woman behind the wheel. >> so if the maintenance guy doesn't see the burgundy suv, then you never ask jermeir about the burgundy suv. >> exactly. i've -- wouldn't have went to greensboro looking for a suspect when durham has plenty of people here. >> reporter: so the day after the murder, detective pate headed westbound on interstate 40, anxious to speak with shannon crawley, the other woman in jermeir stroud's life. by now, shannon's parents, her father keith and her mother anne, were shocked to hear their daughter was about to be interviewed by police. she was a responsible single mom who lived quietly, raising her children. >> being a young mother, you know, she worked six months straight, 12-hour shifts, to buy a house at 27 years old. that's quite an accomplishment for -- for a single mother. >> it sounds undeniable that all of you were really proud of her. >> oh, yes.
>> yeah. >> and thought her life was certainly headed in the right direction. >> absolutely. >> yes. >> reporter: shannon worked in greensboro as a 911 operator at the emergency call center where she was often in close contact with law enforcement and was by all accounts a model employee. >> her supervisors really liked her. she was dependable. she came to work. she did what she was supposed to do, did it in a professional manner. no complaints really. >> reporter: detective shawn pate also found shannon to be cordial and cooperative as they settled in to discuss where shannon was on the day denita died. >> pretty calm, easygoing, kind of like us sitting here. i'd ask a question. she would give me an answer. >> what'd you ask her? >> first i asked her about jermeir, whatever. and she admitted that she knew him. and about the relationship that they had. >> reporter: shannon wasn't shy about corroborating what jermeir had already admitted. they met through work.
it got physical. she got pregnant. she had an abortion. and the romantic part of their relationship ended a year before denita's murder. >> they both agreed that it ended in january of 2006. the relationship was over. they both gave the same date, the same incident and reason that it ended. >> reporter: shannon said she didn't think jermeir was capable of murder and insisted she didn't even know denita smith. then detective pate zeroed in on the last time shannon was in durham, the city where denita was murdered. >> she says she's never been to durham. i ask her about owning a gun. and she tells me that "i've never owned a gun. i can't stand guns. i'm scared of them." i said okay, i can understand that. a lot of people feel that way. >> reporter: and as for where she was on that chilly january morning? >> she told me she was at a doctor's appointment with one of her children. that was easy to check out. her supervisor was on scene.
and she did tell her supervisor that she was taking her child to >> reporter: shannon's story seemed to add up. maybe she wasn't the distraught woman the eyewitness saw leaving the scene of denita's murder, 50 miles away from where shannon lived and worked. detective pate was just about out of questions. and then -- >> an interesting thing happened. as we're leaving, getting ready to finish up the interview with her, someone hands me a note. and it's from a supervisor. and it says, "a gentleman, one of her co-workers would like to speak with you before you leave." >> reporter: and what that co-worker had to say would raise serious questions. not just for shannon crawley but also for her former lover, jermeir stroud. did someone want shannon dead as well? >> she says, you know, i'm kind of in fear of my life. ♪
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some things are too important to do yourself. ♪ get customized security with 24/7 monitoring from xfinity home. awarded the best professionally installed system by cnet. simple. easy. awesome. call, click or visit a store today. the denita smith murder investigation had now stretched from durham to greensboro, where detective shawn pate was now talking to shannon crawley's colleague at the 911 call center. he said shannon had been getting a lot of disturbing personal phone calls at work. >> he said jermeir stroud would call up here all the time and want to speak to her. >> reporter: this is going back
months now? >> months, months, months. and on one particular occasion she says, you know, i'm kind of in fear of my life. i'm scared. i don't know what he might do to me. he's shown up at my house. and he has a gun with him at all times. >> reporter: shannon's co-worker was concerned and wanted to help. >> it gets to the point that he offered to sell her a gun, which he did. he named the exact model, and tells me that he gave her bullets to accompany the gun and offered to teach her how to use it. >> reporter: what kind of gun? >> it was a .38-caliber revolver. >> reporter: the same type of gun detectives thought denita's killer might have used. >> you know, wait a minute. i just finished a interview with her five minutes ago and she told me, "i never owned a gun." and in that same interview, i asked her, do you think that jermeir is capable of murder? and she said, "no, not at all" just like that, "no, not at all."
but you're telling a co-worker that you're in fear for your life from jermeir. >> reporter: conflicting stories that cast suspicion on shannon and on jermeir. so that next day detective pate spoke with jermeir stroud once again. he denied ever harassing shannon at work and said there was no reason why she would be afraid of him. but jermeir's answer to one particular question got detective pate's attention. >> i asked him, "do you think that shannon is capable of killing someone?" and he said, "yes." >> reporter: as the investigation continued in durham, police showed shannon crawley's photo to that maintenance man who'd seen a woman driving away from the crime scene on the morning of the murder. and he could not identify shannon as the driver. then they showed him a picture of shannon's burgundy ford explorer. >> he was very positive about
the vehicle. he said, "yep, that's the vehicle that i saw." >> reporter: and that wasn't the only thing the witness noticed, says assistant d.a. david saacks. >> he remembers a patch or some kind of something, you know, on the shirt. >> reporter: a patch like on the uniform shannon wore as a 911 dispatcher. and there was more. investigators discovered shannon clocked in at about 10:00 a.m., some two hours after denita smith had been murdered. more than enough time for the 55-mile drive from durham to her job at the 911 center in greensboro. so police obtained a search warrant for shannon's house. >> and we do find greensboro communication 911 center uniforms. and they are exactly as described by the maintenance supervisor down to the color of the patch and the shape. >> reporter: you find a gun? >> no gun was found. no bullets were found. nothing incriminating other than that.
>> reporter: and then came this. shannon had told police she had never been to durham, but her cell phone records clearly showed she had been there. not on the day denita was killed. shannon or at least her phone had been there the day before. >> she was hitting a tower that placed her no less than 100 feet away from where denita would be found dead the next morning. >> reporter: and you think, what's going on there? >> i'm thinking it's recon. >> reporter: shannon showed up a day early to find out exactly which apartment denita lived in? >> you have to know when to be there and where to place yourself, where to stand, without looking suspicious because if you just linger there for hours someone's going to say you don't even live here, what are you doing? >> reporter: police also checked jermeir stroud's cell phone and police radio and found he was nowhere near durham that day before the killing. only shannon. so police impounded her suv.
>> we did gunshot residue tests on the car, the steering wheel, the gear shifter, and comes back there is gunshot residue. >> reporter: and if all that didn't look bad enough, now shannon's alibi now started to fall apart. she had told her supervisor and detectives she was taking her child to the doctor at the time of denita's murder. but the pediatrician told police shannon didn't show up that that day. >> the story starts to unravel. nothing is adding up. >> reporter: shannon was looking like a prime suspect, but one thing was missing -- motive. then detective pate remembered shannon's account of how she and jermeir had decided that she would have an abortion. and the way she told the story made an impression on pate. >> when shannon said, "jermeir, i'm pregnant, what are we going to do?" he said, "i don't want to have a baby with you." he told me that's how he said it. and she quoted it back to me
verbatim. and she said, "i remember those words." >> reporter: not just "i don't want to have a baby" or "i don't want to have a baby right now." >> "i don't want to have a baby with you." i imagine that sucked just a little bit of her soul out. >> reporter: is that your motivation right there? >> i think that's where the seed was planted. i really do. because that implies that there is someone else that you would like to have a child with. >> reporter: maybe someone like jermeir's fiance, denita smith. detective pate now thought shannon crawley had the means, the opportunity and the motive to commit murder. >> and it got to the point we thought, this is all we're going to get right now. and it's more than enough. >> reporter: well, was it enough? police had no dna, no fingerprints, no murder weapon and no forensics at the crime scene that linked shannon to denita's murder. but detective pate was also thinking about denita's family. >> the family is suffering.
let's go ahead and give them a little peace right now. >> reporter: five days after denita smith's murder, detective pate drove back to greensboro with a warrant to arrest shannon crawley. she and her children were staying at her sister's house when police arrived. >> shannon comes out. they cuff her, and she walks out the door as though she's going to check the mail. >> reporter: pate says shannon did not seem surprised to see him. >> there is no sad look or anything like that. she gets to the end of the driveway. she looks at her family and says, "raise them like they're your own." >> well those are the words of a woman who does not expect to be raising her own children. >> exactly. >> reporter: shannon's family watched their daughter be cuffed and taken away. >> it was more than upsetting. i was angry. i was afraid for her. and knowing in my heart that my daughter could never, ever have done that.
>> reporter: shannon was just 28. she'd never been in trouble with the law. now she was being charged with first degree murder and could face life in prison. when she arrived at the police station, shannon was again cool and calm and had little to say to say except this, to detective pate. >> i didn't do this. but you need to worry about where jermeir was when this happened. >> reporter: jermeir had said his affair with shannon was over. was it? >> he wanted her to come back to him? >> he wanted her to come back to him. and she didn't. ♪ the good news? our comfort lasts all day. the bad news? so does his energy. new depend® fit-flex underwear offers your best comfort and protection guaranteed. because, perfect or not, life's better when you're in it. be there with depend®. tthe bad news? ouyour patience might not.ay.
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world under the worst of circumstances. just a week earlier denita's mother, sharon, was starting to plan her daughter's wedding. now she was attending denita's funeral. >> no parent wants to see their child laying in -- in a casket. and denita's life was -- it was snatched from under her, stolen. >> reporter: it seemed the whole town turned out on that january day in 2007. denita's close friend, edythe kearns, spoke at the funeral. >> the home going was an emotional day. it was definitely some sadness. but we were trying to, you know, be happy and think about her spirit and life legacy and the way that she would want all of us to go on. but at that time, i think it was just too much and it was overwhelming. >> reporter: denita's fiancé, jermeir stroud, was there as well. >> jermeir was sad and he was crying. and he appeared -- clearly, he was devastated. and i think reality was starting to sink in and that it hit him that the love of his life was no longer with us.
>> reporter: it was of little comfort to denita's family and friends that the woman accused of killing her was sitting in the durham county jail. shannon crawley had been arrested the day before and charged with first-degree murder. now her family was mourning, too. >> it's devastating, the fear that you have at that point for your child. >> and no one can convince me that my child did that. i know her. >> reporter: shannon's dad, himself a former deputy sheriff, was convinced his daughter was a victim of a shoddy investigation by the durham police, perhaps deliberately so. >> i'm not saying that they framed her. i'm saying that they simply allowed themselves to be led in that direction. and if they had any suspicions that another police officer was involved, they decided not to follow that up. >> you were in law enforcement. you cover up crimes by other officers? >> no, i never did.
>> and what you're suggesting is that durham cops, who didn't even know jermeir, looked away from a murder committed by a guy who worked for another department in another city? they're risking prison time for this guy they don't even know? >> cops will protect other cops regardless of what department they're in. there are always that few, not many. >> reporter: to the contrary, assistant district attorney david saacks, who was assigned to prosecute, says he was extra careful in building his case against shannon precisely because jermeir was a police officer. >> i needed to make sure that everything was done by the book and we vetted everything as well as we could, and delved into everything as deep as we could because he was a cop. >> because if you clear him, you know you're going to get that criticism. >> absolutely. we ended up having to have several different interviews with jermeir. and each time we would get maybe a little something more. and so it took a little while sometimes to pull all that stuff out. >> reporter: investigators say he appeared devastated.
jermeir stroud insisted he had no idea that his secret romance might place denita in danger. but detective pate still thought jermeir was not entirely forthcoming. >> jermeir would tell me the truth, but you had to ask it. >> he wasn't volunteering anything? >> absolutely not. >> reporter: they interviewed jermeir both at the greensboro pd and over the phone. and each time a little bit more information would emerge, including what happened after he and shannon ended their romantic relationship. following their breakup, about a year before denita's murder, jermeir said he went on a church retreat. there his pastor encouraged him to apologize to anyone he had wronged. so jermeir called shannon. >> he said i apologize in great detail about everything that
he's sorry for. he said, "i was on the phone for 12 hours. my cell phone went dead. i charged it -- i mean, had it plugged in. and we talked until i fell asleep." 12 hours. >> apologizing. >> sorry for everything. >> interesting that he talked to shannon about it but not denita. >> of course not. she didn't know that there was something he needed to apologize for. >> reporter: but pate believes all that apologizing to shannon may have jump-started something else. >> that's where the relationship kind of picked up again. because there were a lot of feelings that were shared. >> so they start talking again. >> exactly. >> reporter: jermeir insisted he and shannon did not become romantic or sexual again. but clearly there was something. >> he was always there for shannon. if shannon was distraught or wanted to call in the middle of the night, you know, and knew that jermeir was working, she would call him and he would put up with it. >> maybe he didn't want to be the bad guy? >> maybe didn't want to be the bad guy. >> he doesn't see that he's
leaving the door open. as long as you keep doing all the things that a boyfriend would do, then in her mind she still has a chance. >> there's still a shot. >> exactly. i honestly thought hubris made him believe that he could control it. >> reporter: but police say jermeir wasn't able to control the situation with shannon. some three months before denita was murdered, shannon bought this house near where jermeir lived. and when police searched that new home shannon's, they were surprised by what they saw and what they didn't see. >> kids' rooms, beds, everything you expect to be in a nice children's room. mom had a mattress on the floor. there was little to no living room furniture, no dining room set, nothing in the kitchen. >> suggesting what? she was overspending so she could live near jermeir? >> just to be near jermeir. that's the only reason. there was a clear pattern of her
placing herself near him at every turn. it seemed kind of stalkerish. >> reporter: shannon's family is you're doing what's right, to protect your dog from fleas and ticks for a full month. and it's the only chew, fda approved to prevent infections that cause lyme disease. nexgard. what one little chew can do. ♪and i start to pray ♪till the tears run down from my eyes♪ ♪lord somebody, ooh somebody ♪can anybody find me somebody to love?♪ alexa, play queen on amazon music.
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>> he wanted her to come back to him? >> he wanted her to come back to him. and she didn't. he was so possessive. she just didn't want that type of relationship. >> reporter: police coaxed more details from jermeir, and he insisted shannon had been demanding more and more attention. the woman he really wanted to be with, he said, was denita. but shannon wouldn't go away. >> he complained on her, you know? her coming around the house and keep calling. "we had a relationship." "she keeps calling after we agreed not to do this." >> reporter: jermeir insisted shannon wouldn't take no for an answer, and it got to the point where he needed help. >> he had filed an internal affairs complaint against her. >> well, i don't know if it was actually official. he had a buddy that was in the internal affairs department. >> but he disclosed that to somebody? >> he did. he did say that, you know, "she -- she just keeps calling, man. and i told her we're over. she just won't let it go."
>> reporter: as far as detective pate could determine, it all came to a head on christmas eve. jermeir walked into his greensboro church with denita on his arm, and a diamond ring on her finger. he had proposed, and denita was over the moon. >> she walked into church proud as a peacock, feathers just completely on display, showing that hand to anyone who would look. and shannon was in the back of the church at the time and saw that. >> we heard that was the first time shannon realized that they were engaged. >> reporter: shannon's family says the d.a. and the detective heard wrong. >> the day that -- that you're referring to, the church, shannon wasn't there. we were there. >> reporter: less than two weeks later, denita smith would still be wearing that engagement ring, as she lay dead at the bottom of her apartment steps. now, just as assistant district
>> she is not a murderer. >> it's not in her nature, not in her character. >> if i thought that she was lying about it, no, i wouldn't be on camera saying -- i wouldn't be sitting here waving a flag for her if i thought she had anything to do with this. >> reporter: in may of 2007 shannon crawley was out on bail. she and her attorney walked into the durham police station. this wasn't just another interview. shannon was prepared to share
all new information with the potential to change the whole focus of the case. assistant d.a. david saacks. >> she just wanted to give her side. and we certainly wanted -- allowed her to do that. >> reporter: and her idea, or her attorney's idea was and then you'll drop the charges after you've heard this? >> i think that certainly was her idea. so if they don't say anything we're going to keep going on the path we're already on, which is she's already charged. >> before we ask any questions, you must understand your rights. >> reporter: tape rolled as shannon calmly began telling a new story surrounding the death of denita smith, and in this version shannon said she'd been framed. >> she did show some emotion. but not a whole lot. she was very matter-of-fact, and talked a lot. i think the interview went on for hours and hours and hours. >> reporter: shannon said the trouble began after she and jermeir broke up, that he was upset that she had aborted the pregnancy, and that jermeir began harassing and stalking
her. >> he would continuously call me on my cell phone at work. it would interrupt the radio. he would come into communications and stand in the hallway and stare at me. i decided then that it may be a good idea to have something to protect myself. >> reporter: in her first police interview in greensboro, shannon denied ever owning a gun. now detective pate challenged her on that changing story. >> do you still stand by the story that you've never owned a gun? >> the gun that i bought from ronnie i had for all of a day and a half. >> reporter: she felt compelled to buy a weapon from a co-worker because, she said, jermeir threatened not only her but her children. >> i'd protect them at any cost. he knew that. >> reporter: and she said jermeir used that fact against her when he forced her to drive with him to denita's apartment. >> and he said, "i'll make it real simple.
either your children die or you die for your children. >> reporter: shannon told detective pate that on january 3rd, the day before the murder, jermeir coerced her to drive with him to durham to case denita's apartment. then the next day, she said, jermeir forced her at gunpoint to drive back there again. >> when we left on the 4th, i never expected to come back home. >> reporter: shannon said after they pulled up to denita's apartment jermeir got out. she stayed in the suv. >> he went up the stairs. i sat there. a few more minutes passed, and i heard him arguing, him yelling at someone. i got out of the car, started up the sidewalk to the breezeway, and i heard a gunshot. >> reporter: moments later, said shannon, jermeir rushed past her and got in the driver's seat, which would explain how gunshot residue was found there. >> he got out of the driver's seat by sliding up over the back seat and got into the back seat and just told me to get in.
i got in the driver's seat and i started to leave. >> reporter: she says that's when she encountered the maintenance man who, according to shannon, didn't see jermeir hiding in the back seat. soon after they left the apartment complex and drove back to greensboro. >> i kept asking him what happened, what the problem was. what had happened. i was crying. he was yelling at me. >> she wasn't rehearsed. and she wouldn't rush to answer a question. it was i'd ask a question. she'd give it a moment. she'd respond. not too long to make me think she's making something up. >> and in the back of your mind, even though you may not want to admit it, we knew jermeir had did this. >> yes. >> reporter: wow. that's a story that sort of fits all the facts and exonerates her. >> it does. >> reporter: and in it, shannon is not guilty. >> exactly. >> so when she's telling this story, i'm thinking, wow, this actually sounds pretty decent so
far. but then i think, wait a minute. wait a minute. wait a minute. back up. >> reporter: pate raised an obvious question. if shannon had a story that proved her innocence, why had she waited so long to tell it? >> when i asked her, where was this story when i arrested you? her exact words were, "he had threatened my children in the past. i was scared for their safety. he knew how to get to my children." and i asked her, what's changed? he still knows where your children are. he still knows how to get to them. he could still hurt them. >> reporter: and her answer? >> she just looked at me. >> everything i've told you is the truth. >> but you lied the first time we talked. >> yes, i did. >> the second time we talked. >> the second time we talked i did not lie to you. after i was arrested, i did not lie to you. i told you i didn't do it. that wasn't a lie. i told you that he did. >> reporter: he was jermeir stroud. shannon's story made him the guilty party, but her story also badly needed to be checked out. >> that's just a fantastic kind of story. if i'm going to dismiss her case i need to make sure i'm filling
out the dismissal and i put the reasons why. i'm not going to do it just because she says she didn't do it. >> reporter: shannon and her attorney were emphatic that jermeir was the killer and also said that even now, months after the murder, he was making threatening phones calls to shannon, telling her to stay silent about his role. >> i told them that i'm more than willing to look at anything they have if they want to bring me something. but i can't just accept her word for it. that's the problem i'm having, i need some kind of proof to back her up. >> reporter: so the prosecutor challenged shannon, bring me proof. he could not have imagined what was coming next. sex. lies. and audiotape. and maybe shannon crawley's ticket to freedom. a killer conversation. >> i spent four months in jail because of you, because you lied. >> i told you to shut the [ bleep ] up. >> now says shannon's father there's no question his daughter is innocent.
shannon crawley had told her story, but the d.a. wanted her to prove it. prove that her former lover, jermeir stroud, had killed his own fiancée, denita smith. and that he used threats and intimidation to bring shannon along as an unwilling accomplice. shannon told investigators jermeir was still harassing her while she was out on bail. so with their blessing she bought a tape recorder and conducted a do-it-yourself sting operation. >> i spent four months in jail because of you. because you lied. >> man, i told you all you had to do was shut the [ bleep ] up, man. >> jermeir, just tell the truth,
please. don't do this to me. >> reporter: shannon's family members, who had always supported her, say they can corroborate many of the calls. >> i'd say 99% of the phone calls i was a witness to, i was on the other phone. >> reporter: you would also see shannon's reaction to these. >> yeah. >> reporter: phone calls. this was not somebody who was play acting. >> exactly. >> reporter: no question that was jermeir -- >> no. i know it was him. >> reporter: and they say it did not take long for jermeir to incriminate himself. >> you know i already got away with murder once. think i can't do it again? >> i'm sure you can. someone like you, i'm sure. >> trying to keep my ass out of jail. >> and what about me? i didn't do anything here. >> better you than me. and they ain't trying to put a cop in jail. >> reporter: was she afraid? >> oh, sure. >> reporter: you could tell watching her? >> yeah, she was afraid. >> reporter: all told, more than 30 minutes of conversations were put on tape. did you think this is the evidence that's going to --
>> oh, yeah. >> reporter: that's going to turn everything around? >> sure did. >> yeah. because that was the whole purpose of them -- >> reporter: that once police and prosecutors hear this, they're going to drop the charges? >> they're going to drop the charges. >> i got away with it once. i'll get away with it again. >> i think there's one part of a conversation where he said, "i killed her. and i'll kill you, too." how much more proof do you need? >> reporter: to her family and to shannon, this was an audio smoking gun that should convince the d.a. to exonerate her and prosecute him. >> you know god is all-seeing and all-knowing. remember that. how many times did i pray with you? >> every day. >> you remember that. >> shannon? >> yes. >> i'm sorry. >> bye. >> reporter: the d.a.'s office would now listen carefully to
those phone tapes to see if they were the conclusive evidence shannon said they were. while that was happening, investigators were looking at one other phone call. this one especially intriguing because it happened on the day denita was murdered. shannon had arrived at the 911 call center for her shift, when a personal call came in for her, from a man who did not identify himself. >> he asked to speak to shannon. when they said hold on, shannon said "hello," and the phone went click. i asked jermeir. i said, "did you make that call?" and jermeir said, "yes, i did." "why did you make that call?" "i wanted to know where she was." >> reporter: so he suspected? >> so he told me that he did think she was capable of doing it. he tells me that he did make that call to make sure she was at work. this is before we said anything about a burgundy suv. but there was nothing in the past where she ever indicated that she would do harm to denita. that doesn't add up. >> reporter: why would jermeir need to know shannon's whereabouts just after he found out denita was killed? investigators considered a variety of scenarios. but whatever it was, jermeir wasn't volunteering much. >> sometimes when you tell people, you know, a lie of omission, that's still a lie, some people, you have to ask the correct question to get the answer you're looking for. if you don't ask it, you're not getting it. >> reporter: investigators had two wildly different stories. he said, she said.
who was telling the truth and who wasn't? >> it was clear we were down to two people. it was one of these two people. and they both had the same allegations about the other one. >> reporter: there was only one way to sort it out and make sure that denita smith received the justice she deserved. >> if we can ever prove who was stalking whom, i think we have our case solved. >> reporter: and soon something would provide that very answer. >> all of a sudden then the rape allegation happens. >> she came crawling into my bedroom, hysterical. >> reporter: shannon reports a crime, and this time she says was the victim. >> who did she say had raped her?
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june 2007. it had been six months since denita smith's murder. and sitting on the desk of assistant d.a. david saacks was a series of phone recordings that shannon crawley and her family insisted were jermeir stroud copping to the crime and trying to cover it up. >> i got away with it once. i'll get away with it again. just keep your [ bleep ] mouth shut. >> this is wrong. i didn't do anything. >> you know i'll find you. >> reporter: police were not present when shannon recorded the calls, but they were able to trace where they originated from, a payphone, so there was no way to confirm jermeir had made them. assistant d.a. david saacks listened carefully to the tapes and soon came to his own conclusion. is there any way that could be jermeir's voice on the tape? >> not that i can see. he would have to clearly be disguising his voice to make it sound that way.
it just did not sound like him at all. >> why are you whispering? >> you know why. because somebody's listening. >> no. >> betting on it. >> reporter: if he's calling to intimidate her, what's the point in disguising his voice? >> correct. it was just no way in my mind that that was jermeir. because when i heard these tapes i knew i had the right person. >> reporter: the crawley family was infuriated. they were certain the calls cleared their daughter and revealed jermeir as denita's killer. they also insist jermeir was lurking in the charlotte neighborhood where shannon was staying. >> what we went through in charlotte with him stalking her because he was, to me, he was stalking me as well. honestly, i believe that he was -- his intention was to kill both of them. i do. i think they both rejected him and he was going to kill both of them. >> reporter: then something happened that seemed to bear out their worst fears.
shannon was out on bail and living with family in charlotte some 100 miles from greensboro, where jermeir stroud still lived and worked for the police department. one night in july 2007, around 2:00 a.m., shannon says she took her dog for a walk in the backyard. >> she came crawling into my bedroom, hysterical. and i'm asking, "what's wrong? what's wrong?" >> reporter: shannon told her mother she had been raped. who did she say had raped her? >> she said it was him. >> reporter: jermeir? >> jermeir, yeah. >> reporter: charlotte police were alerted and rushed to the scene. shannon was bleeding and appeared traumatized. she was taken to a hospital for treatment and given a rape kit exam. no witnesses? >> no. >> reporter: none of your neighbors? >> no. i think there were maybe four
people that lived in the neighborhood at that time. >> reporter: word of shannon's reported rape traveled quickly to durham, where detective shawn pate and assistant d.a. saacks were now preparing for her trial. they wondered if shannon was certain the attacker was jermeir. >> i asked her, "well, how did he know you were going to be walking a dog at 3:00 in the morning?" and i guess he just stalked the house and saw his opportunity. so for four hours he raped her. so if it was 3:00, then when does the sun start to come up? four hours. you know, you're looking at 7:00. >> reporter: it would have been daylight then. >> yes. dog doesn't bark, anything like that. >> reporter: shannon said she was sure and then added one more horrifying detail. jermeir had used a knife to rape her. it would take ten days for the rape kit results to come back. so in the meantime police, of course, questioned jermeir stroud.
he insisted he was in greensboro that morning, nowhere near charlotte. when you go to jermeir and say shannon says she was raped by you, what's his answer? >> he says, "no, that's preposterous. you can check my phone, you can check my work logs, you can see where i was. i'll do whatever you need me to do." >> reporter: but shannon told police all the evidence they needed just might be sitting in jermeir's garbage can, which was where she suggested he stashed the knife. >> and sure enough, jermeir's going out to put his garbage in his can and sees the knife in there. he immediately calls his police department and that's when they find the neighbors who said, yeah, they saw the night before some other car come up and heard a thump and somebody saw somebody throwing something in his can and leave. it wasn't shannon. no identification was made about that. >> reporter: just a dark figure in a hoodie. >> that's correct. >> reporter: was the knife planted? there's no proof either way, but it was tested, and there was nothing that connected it to jermeir. as for his whereabouts at the
time of the alleged rape? >> he actually was on the phone and didn't get off the phone until like 6:00 in the morning. we knew he was in greensboro at the time that that call was placed. so to be involved in the rape it just seemed a physical impossibility. >> reporter: then came the results of the rape kit. >> there was no semen on the vaginal swabs and the rectal swabs. nothing that would be conclusive proof that the rape had occurred. >> reporter: and it wasn't there. >> it just wasn't there. and they tested her clothes, everything they could. all the medical personnel confirmed they did not see that kind of injury to her that would have occurred. >> reporter: there were knife cuts on her body, but -- >> they were superficial. >> reporter: the crawley family was outraged all over again that once again shannon's version of events was dismissed while the charges against her stood. the police basically accused shannon of making you the rape. >> yeah, yeah, yeah. >> and i believe they did that after they talked to the prosecutors. >> the prosecutor. yeah, yeah, he called down there.
>> the nurse changed her story. >> everything changed. everything changed. >> reporter: this is what? one big conspiracy? >> i hate to make it sound like that. >> it sounds like it. it sounds like it. >> reporter: assistant d.a. david saacks says the rape was properly investigated and seemed to be nothing more than a hoax. which also, for him, finally answered that lingering question of who was stalking whom. >> everything was pointing to her and the only thing that was pointing to jermeir was that he was in this affair with shannon. i do not believe he was involved in the murder. i do not think he was involved in the planning or the execution of this murder at all. >> reporter: and even if jermeir wanted denita out of his life, what could possibly be his motive to kill her? >> and this is exactly what i thought. why? all he had to do is call denita up and say, "it's over." >> reporter: there's no property. >> no property. >> reporter: there's no alimony. >> and it doesn't make sense. >> reporter: he seems genuinely crushed by what happened. >> absolutely. >> reporter: as the trial
approached, the d.a. facing a circumstantial case with a seemingly credible defendant, offered shannon crawley a deal. plead guilty to denita smith's murder and be sentenced to a maximum of 12 years in prison. denita's mother, sharon, was not happy. what'd you say? >> no. >> reporter: don't let her off? >> uh-uh. no. my words were "my daughter didn't get to plead for her life that morning, so no." no plea. >> reporter: she needn't have worried. shannon crawley was not going to take a deal. she insisted she wanted to clear her name and would now take her chances in court. shannon on the stand. >> for one he's told me since
that he did. >> versus the man she says is jermeir on tape. >> you're going to kill me too? >> keep talking. >> whom would the jury believe? you wouldn't accept an incomplete job from any one else. why accept it from your allergy pills? flonase relieves your worst symptoms including nasal congestion, which most pills don't. flonase helps block 6 key inflammatory substances. most pills only block one. flonase.
you need to relax tom. oww! tom, you need a little tom time. a little tt. stop living with at&t. xfinity delivers gig speeds to more homes than anyone. men have always been better at starting relationships than ending them. we don't like to break up, to be the bad guy. and when confronted with a woman's tears, we sometimes yield to the urge to tell her what she most wants to hear, whether it's true or not. is that what jermeir stroud did? and did he unknowingly bring shannon crawley and denita smith together that dreadful day in 2007 when denita was murdered?
now three years later two families filed into the durham county courthouse. one family hoping for a conviction, the other an acquittal. reporter john mccann covered the trial for "the durham herald-sun." >> the tone was definitely, you know, somber. shannon's family here. you got denita's people on the other side. tense is a good word for it. >> reporter: especially tense for denita's mother, sharon, who for the first time made eye contact with the woman accused of murdering her daughter. >> shannon would look at me with this little smirky look on her face. she's very cocky, like she knew she was going to get off. no remorse. she didn't feel she had done anything. >> they had only been engaged for two months. >> reporter: assistant d.a.
david saacks, an experienced, savvy prosecutor, would now square off against a younger court-appointed defense attorney named scott holmes. >> it's important, i think, to try to see the world, try to see the world from the eyes of shannon on the days that led up to and the day that this happened. >> the whole trial was basically us saying that shannon crawley committed this murder and the defense saying jermeir stroud did this murder. that was basically the trial. >> reporter: detective shawn pate worried shannon crawley could walk. after all, the case against her was largely circumstantial. her dna was not at the crime scene. there was no murder weapon. and she hardly looked like a killer. >> i thought she might be able to sell the story. i figured she'd be dressed real conservative, probably come in looking like she just landed off the mayflower, and that somebody would be sympathetic. >> reporter: from the beginning the prosecution portrayed shannon as a woman scorned, who couldn't have jermeir stroud to
herself, so she made sure denita smith wouldn't either. shannon, suggested prosecutor saacks, was either carrying a torch for jermeir or trying to burn down his whole world by killing his fiancee and pinning it on him. >> for whatever reason, she couldn't handle the situation between jermeir and denita. and to resort to this, just to me, speaks of desperation. >> reporter: the prosecution's star witness? jermeir stroud, whose courtroom testimony was broadcast on local tv. >> i kind of thought selfishly. >> reporter: jermeir confessing under oath the shameful sin he'd kept hidden for so long, his office affair with shannon crawley. he even revealed that when he heard something had happened to denita he immediately suspected shannon. >> and one of the things that popped in my head based on my recent interactions with shannon was that maybe she had done something. >> he told everything on the stand.
>> reporter: but he didn't hold back? >> no, he really didn't hold back. the story is out. so you have to go ahead and tell the truth because if you don't you look like a liar now. >> reporter: so in that sense, jermeir did do the right thing? >> he did. >> reporter: the defense argued shannon was being framed for a murder jermeir alone committed. >> shannon crawley's lawyer was trying to paint jermeir as a crooked cop, you know, everything kind of elevates shannon crawley as she couldn't do anything like this. it has to be this bad cop over here. >> i didn't know what he had done, and i didn't know what he was going to do to me. >> reporter: it's often considered risky for a murder defendant to take the stand. but shannon crawley insisted on telling her story that she was a victim and not a killer. >> how do you know now that jermeir did it? >> well, for one he's told me since that he did. >> and you're trying to tell the jury that then you had no idea what might have just happened there?
>> i didn't see anyone. >> just to hear how she presented the information, her poise and her demeanor and all that kind of stuff, she's a credible witness. i mean, she tells a credible story. >> reporter: and the defense did have those phone conversations shannon recorded in which she insists jermeir threatened her and incriminated himself. >> you know i already got away with murder once. you think i can't do it again? >> i'm sure you can. >> reporter: but shannon's defense attorney ultimately chose not to play them. instead they were presented by the prosecution as proof that shannon's story was all one big lie. >> you going to kill me, too? >> you keep talking, you know i will. >> reporter: the jury had already heard jermeir testify with his deep, gravely voice. >> it's possible, but i don't recall how many times i called. >> reporter: now they listened to the tapes.
was this the same guy? >> if they find out i shot her, man, that's life right there. >> you heard jermeir testify and you heard the tapes. does anybody really believe that's jermeir talking on these tapes? >> i know, but you got a better shot than me. >> to me that sounded like michael jackson. he had this high-pitched voice. it just clearly was not jermeir's voice. and it clearly was not something jermeir would say, or how he would say it. it just was obvious to me that it was fake. >> the jury laughed. that's the first trial i've ever been on where i heard jury members snicker. >> reporter: but the crawleys, who were in court when those tapes were played, were not laughing. they say they'd heard many of those calls firsthand and believed they were the real thing. the jury had heard jermeir testify. he has a deep voice. and the person on the tapes doesn't have a deep voice. >> doesn't have, exactly. he disguised his voice. >> reporter: you think he can disguise his voice that well? >> yeah.
>> apparently, he can. >> well, he did it. he did it. >> reporter: you're convinced that was jermeir. >> oh, it was jermeir. >> reporter: so whose voice would ultimately ring true? a three-year investigation was now in the hands of 12 people. two families now waited anxiously inside the durham county courthouse. as did assistant d.a. david saacks. >> i'm never confident when a case goes to the jury. >> reporter: you've been slapped in the face by juries before. >> too many times. that's the lesson here, you never know. >> reporter: then, after just one day, the jury reached a decision. shannon's family was encouraged. >> i didn't feel that the d.a. proved his case. there were some damaging things, yes, but there was no preponderance of evidence, and i thought that she was going to be acquitted. >> reporter: for shannon crawley it all came down to this decision. would it be a life of freedom or life in prison? denita's mother braced herself
as she stared at the woman accused of killing her daughter. >> i really think all the way to the end that shannon thought she was going to walk away. >> we the jury return the unanimous verdict as follows, guilty of first-degree murder. >> she didn't think she would hear what she heard, guilty. >> reporter: how'd she look when that verdict came in? >> like all the life just drained out of her, like she'd seen a ghost. >> reporter: across the aisle shannon's family was also stunned, and then furious. >> and now my daughter, who is the perfect victim for someone like jermeir stroud, has now been convicted of a murder that he committed. >> of course, miss smith's family is still in pain, too, i'm sure. and we prayed for them constantly. they've lost a child, but so have we. >> reporter: and now, nearly five years after that verdict -- >> have a seat. >> reporter: shannon herself has
a lot more to say about jermeir stroud and about what happened the day denita died. >> her very first interview. >> i don't know jermeir but the voice on the tapes does not sound to me like him. >> it's him. that's all i can tell you. it's him. >> and believe it or not, denita's mother has an apology for shannon. >> i know that was wrong, and i never should have said it. with advil liqui-gels, you'll ask... what stiff joints? what bad back? advil is... relief that's fast. strength that lasts. you'll ask... what pain? with advil liqui-gels.
>> you went through a lot of trouble. >> reporter: but as our cameras rolled, shannon began to tell the story of her relationship with jermeir stroud. >> he was charming. he was very nice. we got along. we had a lot in common. >> reporter: were you in love with jermeir? >> no. >> reporter: shannon insists she had no idea that her boyfriend jermeir was also seeing denita smith. >> i never knew that he had a girlfriend. had i known, i never would have given him my phone number. it wouldn't have ever escalated to anything else. >> reporter: she admits it did escalate. >> it started off fairly normal. but he would call nonstop. he would show up unannounced. he would want to know where i was, who i was with. he would leave messages, 30 or 40 phone calls. >> reporter: why'd you keep seeing a guy like that?
>> i guess initially i didn't really take it that seriously. i didn't really think that he was dangerous. he would mask it as concern. >> reporter: eventually shannon became pregnant, but says she and jermeir ended the romance before she had the abortion. but now her story is slightly different from what she first told detectives. >> we talked about it. there were some complications, which is why i decided to terminate. >> reporter: the story is that he said to you "i don't want to have a baby with you." and the "with you" part hit you very hard. >> no. >> reporter: that conversation never happened? >> no. >> one of the things that popped in my head, based on my recent interactions with shannon, was that maybe she had done something. >> reporter: shannon and jermeir's differing stories are most in conflict when it comes to the day denita smith was murdered. shannon insists he forced her at gunpoint to take him to denita's
apartment. >> he told me that i was going with him, and if i didn't, his exact words to me were "either you die for your kids or your kids die for you. what's your choice?" and i knew he had his gun. >> reporter: after arriving at the complex, shannon sticks by her story that jermeir went up the denita's apartment, leaving her behind in the suv. >> i got to the sidewalk and i heard a shot. >> reporter: you think jermeir killed denita? >> i absolutely believe that he did. >> reporter: what would possibly be his motive for that? >> i don't know. >> reporter: i mean, if he didn't want to be with her anymore, they weren't married, they had no property or kids together, he could have just broken up with her. >> i don't know. i don't know. i don't think he had a plan at all. i think he just acted in the spur of the moment. but i don't believe that he set out to deliberately go there and shoot her. i believe that he was after me.
that was how he made me feel. when we left my house that day, i never expected to come back home. i honestly believed that he was going to kill me. >> reporter: shannon says the investigation doesn't support her conviction. >> i don't feel that there is any evidence that can conclusively say that i shot and killed anyone. my dna is nowhere at the scene. i have no fingerprints at the scene. i admit that i was there, but i was not there by myself, and i certainly didn't shoot anyone. >> reporter: and shannon insists all those phone calls are real and they prove what she's saying. >> you know i already got away with murder once. think i can't do it again? >> i'm sure you can. someone like you, i'm sure. >> trying to keep my ass out of jail. >> reporter: why doesn't it sound like jermeir on those tapes? >> i don't know. i recognize his voice. i know him. >> reporter: the jury certainly didn't seem to believe that. >> jermeir testified for a few minutes during the trial. by the time the recordings were played, he had already testified. i don't know whether or not they
could remember his voice from then when he testified to later on. >> reporter: look, i -- >> but it's him. >> reporter: i don't know jermeir, but the voice on the tapes does not sound to me like him. >> it's him. that's all i can tell you. it's him. i don't know who else would be calling me nonstop, threatening to kill me, threatening to kill my children. >> reporter: well, the allegation is that nobody did and you faked all of that. >> how could i fake a phone call? >> reporter: you get some friend of yours to call you from another phone. >> and put my family through all of that? this wasn't just me. it was my children, my mother. >> reporter: as for shannon's story about the sexual assault outside her mother's house, she insists the police investigation wasn't done properly and that the rape really happened. why wouldn't jermeir's dna be found? >> he's a police officer. he made sure that his dna would not be found. >> reporter: his cell phone records put him on the phone at the time you say that this assault was going on. >> and i don't believe that he was ever talking to anyone on the phone. i know where he was that night.
>> reporter: prosecutor david saacks says the rape allegation was thoroughly investigated and jermeir was cleared. saacks also says shannon could have taken a plea deal that might have gotten her out of prison as soon as the year 2020. her sentence now is life without parole. she has exhausted her appeals. her family still believes shannon is innocent and hopes to find an independent expert who will confirm it was jermeir's voice on those tapes. but the odds are that shannon will die in prison after years, maybe decades, to ponder what happened on that chilly morning when denita smith was murdered. >> could i have done things differently? absolutely. i made the decision to go with him at the risk of him hurting my family. i don't regret that decision at all because it may have saved my children's lives. and i just wish that he would tell the truth.
that's it. he created this situation, and it's completely his fault. but i didn't kill her. i didn't. and i've lost my life, too. >> reporter: at shannon's sentencing in 2010 denita's mom, sharon, was allowed to speak, and all that rage, sorrow and pain just came pouring out. >> i hope you rot in hell because you took something from me. >> the one thing that i said and i have since regretted and i never should have said it is that "i hope you rot in hell." >> reporter: i don't think there's a person who's going to watch this who doesn't think that's completely understandable. >> being the god-fearing woman that i am, i know that was wrong. and if i ever get the opportunity to talk to her, i will apologize to her for that.
>> reporter: in fact, sharon had something even more remarkable to say to shannon. >> i do forgive her. >> reporter: how do you do that? >> i have to forgive her, because i want god to forgive me for whatever sins that i may do. >> reporter: jermeir stroud was never charged in the case. but the trial judge did say it was jermeir's behavior that created a perfect storm of events, bringing victim and killer together. jermeir declined our request for an interview, but in a statement he denied any involvement in denita's murder and all the allegations that shannon crawley has made against him. investigators say jermeir fully cooperated and was completely exonerated. >> he didn't ask, pay, coerce anyone to do this. he didn't pull any trigger. >> reporter: and he didn't know it was going to happen.
>> he didn't know it was going to happen. at the end, it comes down to the person who pulls that trigger. >> reporter: on the campus of north carolina central university they still remember denita smith. in the journalism department where she made such an impact, the school newspaper office has been named in her honor. >> she's touched so many lives, from people who used to go to school with her. and they say, "you know, i still think about denita." or "i owe that to denita." that was part of her legacy. that's the essence of her. >> reporter: who knows what denita smith would have become? the dream she would have fulfilled. the career and family she would have had. her mother, sharon, is slowly making peace with all of that. >> denita wouldn't want me to be bitter or sad. denita's with me spiritually. i don't have to worry about shannon. i don't have to worry about jermeir. because when i lay down at night
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