tv Dateline Extra MSNBC December 29, 2019 8:00pm-9:00pm PST
ly canha sre this holiday season, their story. hour and a half or so and then give the gift of discovery, with an ancestrydna kit. she leaves. >> reporter: all of this the night before michelle le disappeared. what was giselle doing? and then ritchie learned, from questioning witnesses, that on ♪ give the gift of discovery, the morning after michelle disappeared esteban went, with a lot of folks ask me why their dishwasher doesn't get everything clean. her daughter in tow, to an apple i tell them, it may be your detergent... store. and sure enough, there she was on the store's security camera. that's her there at the top left of your screen, having one of that's why more dishwasher brands the employees unlock an iphone. >> she told the apple employee that her daughter had put a code recommend cascade platinum... into the phone and locked it. ...with the soaking, scrubbing and rinsing built right in. once he unlocked it, the phone started binging and ringing. >> reporter: and just at that very moment, as cell phone records showed, michelle le's for sparkling-clean dishes, the first time. iphone began pinging on a cell phone tower not far from the cascade platinum. apple store. now it was a matter of following the signal. which led to this chuck e. cheese restaurant a few miles away where the phone turned up again. >> giselle was seen on a video, showing a white iphone. remember, this is the day after michelle's disappearance, when
her friends and family were frantically calling and texting her. and look at this surveillance footage. looks like giselle is sending out text messages. and at that moment, as records show, michelle's iphone was welcome back. on a tip from police, michelle's pinging off a nearby cell tower. to ritchie it seemed quite clear. giselle esteban was the one using michelle's phone to send family and friends were combing those creepy text messages to worried friends and family and through a rugged canyon east of to him. and giselle did all this while on a shopping trip with her san francisco still hopeful they daughter. would find her. >> and she's on that phone roughly the same time that she's but officials were investigating too and they had declired the getting text messages from the case a homicide. now they were willing it show us classmates and family members. the bloody crime scene and share and things like that. and then i sent her a second a crucial clue. this case was about to heat up. text message at -- roughly at 3:15 in the afternoon saying, here's keith morrison with more. "this is not a joke. this is the police department. you need to contact me right now." that was the last contact. >> reporter: on the afternoon of that's when her phone went off. july 15th, 49 days after michelle le disappeared, we >> reporter: the evidence was stumbled over a human bone in the same area where michelle's mounting. so ritchie stepped up his cell phone had briefly pinged off a nearby tower. >> there are shorts here. surveillance of giselle. >> we placed a tracker on her car. >> reporter: but as the >> why? >> to see if she would take us to a location that michelle searchers scoured the immediate area, they understood it
would possibly be. couldn't be her. the bits of clothing weren't >> reporter: but that didn't right. happen. and the bone was bleached by the not to say, though, her behavior sun, must have been there a long wasn't suspicious. remember the vigil the le family time. and, when they looked closer. held a week after michelle's disappearance, the one attended >> that's a six-foot something by giselle's ex-boyfriend, it's not a 5'5" female. scott? it turns out giselle was there too -- sort of. >> reporter: appalling, some the tracking device showed other poor soul wound up here. giselle circling the block as michelle's family pleaded for help. but relief, too. it wasn't michelle. and later it showed her driving past scott's house. so the search and the mystery wore on for days and then for weeks and by the middle of why? ritchie was all but sure now. august it all looked to be losing steam. giselle had something to do with michelle's disappearance. the question now was did she on a typical san francisco have some help? summer afternoon as the fog >> it was something that we had rolled in krystine and michael brought us up to date on their efforts to find michelle. to look at. >> and if so, who? >> yeah, dive into her life, >> reporter: how long has it who's her friends, and who can been now? >> twenty-seven -- it's been we talk to that knows giselle? over two months. it's been about 72 days. >> reporter: how are you doing, >> reporter: ritchie consulted an alameda county assistant the two of you, with all of d.a., a guy named "butch," butch
this? i mean, how are you holding up? >> it's just weird. ford. just trying to stay active and >> some of my colleagues, their just trying to keep the word response was, "well, who helped her do it," because she's a out. i'm trying to stay positive. >> reporter: right. woman, she's pregnant. >> it's just really-- trying to in order to do this, she had to have help. stay positive is the hardest >> reporter: prosecutors had a part. the hardest times for me are at hard time believing esteban was night. physically capable of killing getting in bed and thinking, michelle le all by herself. like, "gosh, i wish michelle was in-- i hope michelle's a bed." >> we encouraged them to make >> yeah. sure they eliminated any >> reporter: i mean, you clearly possible suspects, such as the father of giselle's child. have decided-- you've decided >> reporter: that would be scott the ex-boyfriend, butch is she's still alive. >> uh-huh. referring to. it's not over, and it's not and so everybody's antennae went going to be over until we get her home. up in late july, 63 days after michelle's disappearance, as the >> reporter: and so that very evening, they hosted a fund raising event at a nearby le family searched the hills for restaurant and a few days later on august 20tth, the 85th day of michelle le's disappearance, the her. san diego family again piled detective ritchie got a very into their cars just after midnight and made the long drive up the coast to launch their eighth search. time had faded the posters taped to their cars. the creek bed to be searched strange phone call from scott, seemed desperately far away from who sounded out of breath. any place where a body might be dumped, or a woman might >> saying that he believed that reasonably be held captive. he had found michelle's phone. i asked him, "where did you find michelle's phone?" still -- in the back seat of his car. >> her cell phone last pinged >> police wondered was he telling the truth.
there, so you know, they tracked >> had we missed something? where her cell phone ended up after she disappeared and it's is he the other part of this? all around rural east bay and it's such a huge area. >> reporter: or could he be giselle's next victim? >> reporter: it was 100 degrees in the waning days of summer, and it seemed to have impacted >> did you have concern about turnout. scott's safety? as the number of volunteers dwindled. suddenly the search leader >> yes, and we advised hum that. called in a discovery, some you have to be concerned for female clothing partially buried your safety as well. in the sand. >> when "vanished" continues. hes (music) >> connie, i'm down by the creek. there's women's underwear by the tree. almost like light pink white. >> reporter: it is, it turns out, another false lead. so they pack up another fruitless day in a case gone cold, or so it seemed to michael and krystine. if you have moderate to severe psoriasis but oh, what they did not know. or psoriatic arthritis, little things can be a big deal. that during all those weeks and months in which the family had been searching for a living that's why there's otezla. woman, a police murder investigation had been very otezla is not an injection or a cream. active indeed. and now, in the last days of august, inspector fraser ritchie it's a pill that treats differently. for psoriasis, 75% clearer skin is achievable, was in fact closing in on a very
with reduced redness, thickness, hot target. and scaliness of plaques. but to understand how he got for psoriatic arthritis, otezla is proven to reduce joint swelling, tenderness, and pain. and the otezla prescribing information has no requirement for routine lab monitoring. there we need to go back almost to the beginning. don't use if you're allergic to otezla. it was minutes before midnight it may cause severe diarrhea, nausea, or vomiting. may 28th, 29 hours after otezla is associated with an increased risk of depression. tell your doctor if you have a history of depression michelle le disappeared. or suicidal thoughts or if these feelings develop. ritchie had gone to pay a some people taking otezla reported weight loss. midnight visit to michelle's old your doctor should monitor your weight and may stop treatment. upper respiratory tract infection and headache may occur. high school friend, giselle tell your doctor about your medicines and if you're pregnant or planning to be. esteban. ready to treat differently with a pill? otezla. show more of you. >> how long has she been missing? >> since yesterday.
>> and have you guys tried calling her? >> mm-hmm. >> i have no idea how to help you at that point -- i've actually been trying to look for her. >> since when? >> for almost a week now. to tell her to stay away from my daughter. >> reporter: so clearly there was some animosity between giselle esteban and michelle le. and so inspector ritchie and his partner brought giselle downtown to the police station for a more in-depth conversation. >> i understand at one point, you and michelle were close friends. is that right? >> i considered her my sister. >> and then what happened? >> she made a mistake. scott made a mistake. >> and that -- was that when you were with scott or had you guys broken up, or -- >> no.
we were still together. they made the mistake twice. >> reporter: and then giselle told a strange little story. she was pregnant, remember, with her second child and said she went to the hayward kaiser hospital for a pre-natal check up just hours before michelle disappeared. she said she spotted her old friend at a distance. >> were you surprised to see michelle there? >> yes. >> how did it make you feel when you saw her? >> at first surprised and then annoyed, and then i thought, okay. keep your blood pressure down. otherwise, you're going to lose this baby. >> reporter: strong feelings. but giselle esteban herself was not so strong. tiny and pregnant. hardly seemed physically capable of overpowering and murdering the larger michelle le, let alone finding a way of disposing her body. so they sent her home and later that afternoon finally got a look inside michelle's car, as we did much later when the detective showed it to us. nothing had changed. three people are dead nothing was touched. here the morbid sense we were somehow violating a sad and very including the gunman after a personal space. this is what inspector ritchie mass shooting inside a church. found -- a crime scene. police say parishioners shot back after the gunman opened >> once we get the car opened, fire. and civil rights icon john lewis you can see there's blood wiped has been diagnosed with across here in the plastic, a pancreatic cancer. little bit on the floor mats. lewis says i have been in some and then you can see there's more droplets or blood dropping kind of fight for freedom, equalitity for nearly my whole down going in a straight down life. pattern. >> reporter: police also found i have never faced something some blood smeared on the floor liquite like this. of the garage where michelle's back to "dateline." car had been parked.
welcome back. were you able to make a judgment it was a remarkable discovery or about what would have happened was it? when she got to her car? in a breathless call to police, gisele's ex-boyfriend said he found michelle's iphone in the >> she was attacked most likely backseat of his car. here. police were convinced gisele was because from the looks of it, it looks like she ended up being involved in the disappearance, placed in the back seat. but did she act alone? there was a bloody confrontation here and then there's more blood back there. that you can see here it's been moved around a bit. it's a little bit smeared up. and there's more than one location. detectives were about to bring >> reporter: clearly a very violent and physical assault. scott in for questioning. but even they did not expect the who could have done this? a fresh look at the surveillance tapes may offer a clue. bomb shell he was about to watch what michelle does as she share. walks to her car, parked to the far right-hand side of the lot. here's keith morrison. michelle makes a wide sweeping turn to the left, away from the >> reporter: it's hard to tell car, then walks back to the from this video, but the prime suspect in michelle le's right. disappearance, giselle esteban, a few seconds later it appears she stopped. is tiny, barely 5'2." what happened? and at the time she was questioned by police she was did she see somebody she knew? three months pregnant with her second child, which made detectives wonder. >> is there somebody else involved with her? >> reporter: it was a question or somebody she didn't want to often repeated at the alameda county d.a.'s office. >> we have an able-bodied young lady who disappears from a public place. see?
ritchie felt he may have answered that question when he found on the passenger seat of so automatically, our minds went michelle's car. a little piece to, "were there more -- was that would end up fitting into a very large puzzle. there more than one person >> we found a identification card from the samuel merritt nursing school, that michelle involved?" was attending. but it was not michelle's. >> reporter: and so when ritchie there was no reason for that to be there. got a call from giselle's >> reporter: the name and face were plainly visible on the card ex-boyfriend claiming to have partially wedged into the seat found michelle's iphone, he was cushion. as if somebody had left it there worried. by mistake. so ritchie called the school. >> i was very concerned that -- and was told -- had we missed something? is he the other part of this? >> oh, that's our new instructor then it's why is he telling us that's starting in a week. this? and then i could hear in the back of the phone -- if he is another part of this, why is he finding this and "her i.d. card's gone. telling us about evidence? it's missing from my desk." >> reporter: and that was the key question. >> reporter: the card had been why would scott admit to having stolen, but by whom? here's the thing about these incriminating evidence? identity cards. was he trying to outsmart the they are actually key cards. cops by pretending to be helpful to have found michelle's iphone when he had it all along? this is mine at nbc here. and whenever i'm in the or was he afraid? headquarters building at 30 rockefeller plaza i use them to afraid somebody was trying to set him up. swipe the key card on that little box there. it makes an electronic recording which might have been the reason why scott shared this document of the use of the card at that with detectives. moment in time and at this this is a temporary restraining place. and then of course i'm being watched by a security camera at order. against giselle esteban. the same time. in signed declarations both in fact, you can't go anywhere in this building without being scott and his mother told how seen by security cameras. the security team at the nursing their family was awakened early
school did the same thing. they just looked for the one morning by scott's car alarm. computer record of the key card being used and they pulled up scott went to investigate. >> and while he's out front he the security video from that hears his mother screaming. he goes inside. giselle is inside of his house. she's inside his room tampering moment and that place, and with his computer. >> reporter: sound familiar? it was the same thing esteban voila, there was their thief. was doing at the nursing school. >> and when was this vis-a-vis >> so i had him -- had them send the murder? >> four days before, on the tuesday. me the still photographs. >> reporter: but there was something else. and when i looked at it, i a piece of evidence you have to hear to believe. immediately identified that it scott told the detectives that was giselle esteban. four months before michelle's >> reporter: the picture was dated may 26th, one day before michelle le disappeared. so what else did she do that disappearance giselle harangued day? and threatened him. verbal attacks so alarming, he ritchie got a subpoena for all the school's security camera footage from may 26th. recorded some on his iphone just in case something bad ever happened. what he saw on those videos was this one in scott's car, their small daughter sitting in the both strange and disturbing. back seat listening. you listen closely. you're about to hear the real and moved giselle esteban to the giselle esteban. >> i asked you can we just be top of the list of persons of interest. honest about michelle because she's the one issue that i really, really am having a hard >> coming up -- the strange time dealing with. >> that's not what you said. video trail of giselle esteban >> yes. >> we didn't talk for days. the day michelle disappeared? >> okay. starting from now, we are going to be honest about michelle. >> it shows her walking around do you understand me? whether you sleep with her,
with the lab coat. whether you share food with her, whether you talk to her, you will be honest with me. >> what was she up to? look at me! you will be honest with me when "vanished" continues. e up ? when "vanished" continues. acid before it starts regarding her! otherwise, i will take your life and hers. for all-day all-night protection. and you can take that to the grave with you. can you imagine 24-hours without heartburn? >> why? >> why? because you lied about her so many times that it's hard to at chwe're a festive family. believe that you didn't sleep we're a four-legged family. with her and knock her up. you deserve to die for your we're a get-up-and-go family. lies, as does she. we're a ski family. we're all part of the chevy family. and you will. if you do it again. and as we kick off the new year, this is your last and final we'd like you to be a part of ours. warning. >> why? because our chevy employee discount >> do you understand me? is still available to everyone. the chevy price you pay is what we pay. it's your last and final warning. not a cent more. so happy new year, and welcome to the family. >> reporter: inspector ritchie listened to giselle's tone careen from aggrieved to furious the chevy family! to threatening, all in less than the chevy employee discount for everyone ends soon. a minute. this was far from the subdued woman he'd met back in may. >> it was apparent that she was fred would do anything for his daughter! a violent person. >> did you ever have any concern about scott's safety? get in fred! >> yes. even if it means being the back half of a unicorn. and we advised scott that. if it is giselle, you have to be concerned for your safety as fear not fred! the front half washed well. >> reporter: that he might well be a target? >> yeah. his shirt with gain detergent.
>> reporter: esteban, it was clear in the recording, had that's the scent that puts the giddy in giddy up! become fixated on her old for a scent with even more giddy up, friend, was convinced michelle try gain scent blast in detergent, had somehow broken up her fabric softener and scent beads. relationship with scott. and yet, as ritchie took pains to discover -- [fa♪mers bell] >> michelle and scott were nothing more than just friends. she had a boyfriend. scott was just -- just one of the many friends that she had. (burke) a "rock and wreck." but the only person in this seen it. covered it. world that seemed to think that at farmers insurance, we know a thing or two there was more to it was giselle. because we've seen a thing or two. ♪ we are farmers. bum-pa-dum, bum-bum-bum-bum ♪ >> reporter: prosecutor butch ford heard the audio too and read the 1,500 pages of texts and emails scott gave police. >> for the better part of six years, she had an obsession with we don't see who you're against, through or for,rs, michelle. her text messages were filled with hatred towards michelle at whether tomorrow will be light or dark, every step of the way. and then towards the -- the last all we see in you, is a spark four months or so, they were filled with hatred towards we see your spark in each nod, each smile, scott, wishing him -- wishing his death. >> wow. >> they were just filled with we see sparks in every aisle. hate towards the two of them, with blame towards michelle for ruining her relationship and we see you find a hidden gem, and buying diapers at 3am. essentially breaking her family. >> do you think there's any
truth to that at all? we see your kindness and humanity. the strength of each community. >> only from the standpoint that giselle believed it was we've seen more sparks than we can say. michelle's fault. about 20 million just yesterday. so if, in terms of responding to the more we look the more we find, that question, the answer has to be, "yes, there's truth to it." >> from her perspective -- >> but from giselle's perspective, because she had to blame somebody. the sparks that make america shine. >> this is a very disturbed individual. >> yes. there's no question about that. from my perspective, when we're dealing with in particular murders, my position is that they're all sort of screwed up. >> yeah. >> because the normal person doesn't react that way. i mean, we have to believe that, right? >> right. >> the normal person does not react that way. so at some level anytime somebody -- one person commits a murder, there's something that's -- that's loose in their head. there has to be. >> reporter: butch ford may know more than most about the parameters of human nature. he helped raise eight younger
siblings while growing up in south central l.a., worked his own way though law school. and now as a prosecutor seeks out sound advice from someone who has seen it all -- his own grandmother. >> i have dinner every wednesday at my grandmother's house. >> reporter: the first female african-american judge appointed in alameda county. >> i've never had a case that i haven't spoken to her about, and run ideas by her in terms of trial presentation, closing arguments, things like that. i always run it by her. >> reporter: but this case was special. ford's grandmother was struck by the les' devotion to michelle, by their determination to find answers. but it was clear there were still too many questions to take this case to court. >> the theory was that giselle had done something to bring about her demise. it was just was a question of -- >> what. >> yes. of what and how we'd prove it. >> reporter: in fact, without a >> reporter: what you're watching is far better than any body, how could they prove there eyewitness. was a murder at all? what you're seeing is an exact record of a strange moment in time. this is giselle esteban at coming up -- in a strange michele le's nursing school the twist of fate, the mother of amber dubois joins another day before michelle vanished. search for michelle along with
her new dog. why she was here was a mystery. >> she jumps up on me and takes off. i followed her and noticed rope but what she did? sticking out of the ground. that inspector ritchie pieced >> a dramatic discovery, when together from giselle's electronic trail, which picked her up in the morning at the "event vanished" continues. spray, nursing school posing as a prospective student. while there, she stole an instructor's key card, then you can fight wrinkles anywhere. spray smooth appeared to test whether it would work by entering this and you're fresh and ready to go wherever you are. break room. >> and then at 5:30 in the new bounce rapid touch up spray. evening when the -- the campus bounce out wrinkles anywhere. is closed she gains access through the back door using that electronic key card. >> same swipe card? >> yes. throughout the campus there are -- in the classrooms and in the hallways there's -- there's cameras. and it shows giselle walking around with a lab coat on, her glasses up. and she's going around turning on computers. >> reporter: weird. >> yeah. >> reporter: giselle can also be seen with a class roster stolen from an instructor's office. >> and you can see the class
roster because it has all the students' photographs on there. so it's not just -- just typed, it's photographs. so you can see that it's a class roster. we need a solution.ut their phones down. and it looks like she's walking introducing... smartdogs. around, as if she's pret the first dogs trained to train humans. stopping drivers from: liking. selfie-ing. and whatever this is. available to the public... never. smartdogs are not the answer. but geico has a simple tip. turn on "do not disturb while driving" mode. brought to you by geico.
hi. maria ramirez! mom! maria! maria ramirez... mcdonald's is committing 150 million dollars in tuition assistance, education, and career advising programs... prof: maria ramirez mom and dad: maria ramirez!!! to help more employees achieve their dreams. welcome back to "dateline extra." investigators believe giselest ban had murdered her former friend michelle and her
ex-boyfriend could be her next target. scott turned over more than a thousand pages of alarming texts and e-mails from gisele. he even shared a secret recording made as she threatened both his life and michelle's. but without a body, prosecutors knew they needed more proof. here again is keith morrison. >> reporter: all saints catholic church in hayward, california. hardly the sort of place a detective would expect to get a hot tip in a murder case. but that's exactly what happened. it was the priest who called the police, wound up talking to inspector ritchie, and told him a story about an odd encounter with a young woman who came to see him seeking solace of some kind. >> it was actually outside of an office in a patio area. he asked her several times, do you want to go into a confessional? she said no.
that's why he was able to talk to us about it. and he said she was wearing a medical type scrubs, same physical build, characteristics of giselle, and she was asking for forgiveness for something that she had not yet done. >> wait a minute. she asked for forgiveness for a sin -- >> that's what the -- >> -- she hadn't committed? >> that's the interpretation the priest had got. that was roughly at 3:00 in the afternoon the day that michelle went missing. >> ritchie was convinced giselle esteban killed michelle le. so was prosecutor butch ford. but they didn't know how she did it or when she did it or where she did it. or more important, what she did with the body. >> if you don't have a body, it makes the case more difficult. >> reporter: and so ritchie and the other investigators with the hayward p.d. continued the tedious work of building a murder case without a body.
they ran fingerprints. they sent dna out for testing. they interviewed witnesses. all quietly, out of sight of the family and press. they tested a strand of hair found in michelle's car. turned out to be giselle's. some of her touch dna on the turn signal too. but since the two knew each other, that wasn't enough evidence to make an arrest. so they checked giselle's cell phone records, found that her phone, like michelle's, left a trail in the hours after michelle vanished. and what do you know? >> the locations that michelle's phone went giselle's phone also went. >> as if they're traveling together. >> yes. >> reporter: the eavesdropping electronics was closing in. here was surveillance video showing giselle trying to access the nursing school's computer the night before michelle's disappearance. and here the scene of the apple store the day after michelle vanished.
esteban getting michelle's iphone unlocked. and later using it at the chuck e. cheese. but still, it wasn't enough. until the lab results finally came back from evidence seized that very first night in giselle esteban's apartment. specifically from her shoes. those tests uncovered a trace amount of blood. blood that belonged to michelle. only one explanation for that. and so on september 7th, 104 days after michelle le's disappearance, inspector fraser ritchie went to giselle esteban's house for a final visit. >> we showed up on that september morning, waited for her to come out of her house. i pulled up in front with two other investigators. we got out of the car. she looked at me very nonchalantly, dismissive. "what now?" you're under arrest. not -- for what? anything, it was just like a matter of fact, she was waiting for it. it wasn't -- there was no sign of guilt. there was no sign of remorse. there was nothing. she was just -- okay. >> reporter: and when the news was announced, michelle's family knew giselle, knew her as one of michelle's closest friends. and they were stunned. >> i never suspected her until
we knew for sure. >> i didn't think it was her. when giselle was having problems, michelle had counseling sessions with her always because she felt giselle would always be her friend. that was her last text to giselle, no matter what you'll always be my friend. >> reporter: and now with giselle esteban's arrest the le family found themselves in a strange paradox, glad someone would finally be held accountable for michelle's disappearance yet refusing to accept she was dead. to them the fact that no body had been found meant there was still hope, however slim, that they might find her alive. >> i was still hoping, you know, without finding my sister's remains i was still holding out hope. until it was definitive. we were going to fight for her. >> reporter: and so on september 17th, 113 days after michelle disappeared, ten days after the arrest, the family mounted yet another search. this time they were joined by carrie mcgonigle, whose daughter
amber dubois had been kidnapped and murdered in san diego two years earlier. and like marc klaas before her, carrie formed an organization to help find the missing. she brought her new search dog with her. a search dog in training. >> and she was acteding weird, she was jumping all over the place, she was barking, wanted to get away from me. and as i buckled her up, she took off from me and ran. so i started running after her. and she comes back and she jumps up on me and takes off again. and i followed her and she was just standing still. i reached down to put her leash on, and i noticed some twine, rope sticking out of the ground. and then some bones next to it. >> reporter: it was the skeletal remains of a young woman, unidentified. michelle's cousin krystine was back at the command center. >> i remember brad dennis took a break and he looked at me, said babe, i'll be right back. he never leaves the search center. so he left.
i thought something happened, they must have found something. but he said i'm going out and looking at some random evidence they found. >> reporter: but then her phone rang. a reporter with a tip from someone in the search party. >> and he told me, i heard they found michelle's body. can you comment on that? and i -- i just started shaking. i told him, we haven't found her. but i knew that they did. when i got that call from the reporter, i knew. >> reporter: but there wasn't confirmation. not yet. the medical examiner still had to match up dental records. and that the family was told could take a few days. >> it might sound really dumb now, but i still -- i was still really stubborn about it. i just didn't -- there was
nothing that could tell me michelle was dead. but we all stayed in the hotel room. we were just hiding. no one knew where we were. just in a hotel room for the next few days. and then i think about four days later the hayward police came to our hotel and they told us that she had been confirmed to be found through her dental records. >> reporter: at that point you couldn't pretend anymore. >> yeah. >> reporter: after four months the family's long and determined search to find michelle was over. but their goal, no matter how remote, was always to bring her home alive. that she was found dead was a blow that took them to their knees. >> that was one of the very few
times i think i really let myself cry. part of me was relieved that it's over, that we had found her and we had brought her home. and then a majority of me was very angry. and it was just -- it just felt -- it just felt hollow. >> reporter: now there was one thing left to do. make sure michelle got justice. but that, it turned out, was not going to be so easy. >>s and, giselle on trial. and her defense strategy surprises everyone. >> i think if you're going to defend against the indefensible, you have to find a better way of doing it than to vilify the victim. >> would it work? >> you look at the jury, what are they thinking? are they buying this? are they believing this nonsense that the defense is offering up. >> when "vanished" continues. >>s
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welcome back. for months michelle's family stubbornly clung to the belief they would bring her home alife. those hopes were dashed when a search dog discovered skeletal remains and just like that michelle had been found. now gisele was heading to trial accused of murdering her former best friend. and the defense team was about to do something quite surprising. here again is keith morrison. >> reporter: in october of 2012, when giselle esteban went on trial for the murder of michelle le, prosecutor butch ford expected he'd have his hands full. >> i thought she would fight tooth and nail that she didn't do it because she doesn't want her family and, more importantly, probably her kids to know that she's responsible for that. >> reporter: so in his opening statement, ford laid out a devastating case all pointing to premeditated, first-degree
murder. motive? tons of it. esteban's life was in shambles, said ford. she'd lost custody of a daughter. her boyfend left her. she blamed it all on her successful, too beautiful friend, michelle. and set about methodically to kill one of the few people left in the world who still tried to be her friend. why'd she sneak into the school? to find michelle's new address, maybe kill her there, said ford. why'd she send those texts from the apple store and the chuck e. cheese? to cover up her crime. but she couldn't hide from the cameras, said the prosecutor, the phone pings, her own electronic trail. and the dna in the car confirmed it. the evidence was overwhelming. just no refuting it, said ford. and so the defense didn't even try. instead, they did something wholly unexpected. a big surprise. giselle admitted she did it. >> so you're putting all of these building blocks together to show that she had to be responsible for this. >> yes. >> and then she goes and admits
it? >> yes. i could not believe she would allow her defense to be "i did it." >> reporter: but there was a reason, said the defense -- giselle had been provoked. she killed michelle in the heat of passion. michelle, she claimed, was a lying schemer who had been busy stealing what little giselle had left in life -- her family. marc klaas watched from the back of the courtroom and was disgusted. >> i don't think character assassination is a defense. i think that if you're going to defend against the indefensible, you have to find a better way of doing it than to vilify the victim. >> reporter: but ford was worried the defense just might work. >> if i come in as a defense lawyer and i say, "we're going to tell you that my client did it, even though the district attorney has the burden of proof. but we're going to tell you why it happens because that's the most important thing." >> reporter: that's something the d.a. can't tell you.
>> exactly. and it has an air of credibility. >> reporter: and thus it's not first-degree murder. >> yes. a voluntary manslaughter. and then you get out in nine years. >> reporter: so that was the big fight? >> yes. >> reporter: and there was another problem. even as ford methodically laid out the evidence for the jury, what he couldn't do -- and this turned out to be a big hole in his case -- was to tell the jury how the murder took place. michelle's remains were so decomposed the coroner couldn't determine the cause of death. >> the pathologist report indicated that they not only visually examined michelle's remains, but also examined it using an x-ray, to look for any sort of trauma to her skull, her bones, anything of that nature. and they couldn't locate any. >> reporter: and while security cameras seemed to have recorded just about everything before and after the murder, they didn't capture the crime itself. >> it's my position that the evidence of the crime is most supported by an assault with a sharp object, a stabbing object, truthfully, i believe that she snuck up behind her, grabbed her
by her hair, and assaulted her with a sharp object. >> reporter: which would explain why that small woman could do that kind of damage. >> yes. it immediately incapacitates you. you can't yell out, you can't scream. the forensic evidence, the blood evidence, all of that seems to indicate that type of assault. the only person who knows for sure is giselle. >> reporter: but she wasn't talking. choosing instead to sit passively throughout the trial. >> we would constantly look at the jury, like, "what are they thinking? are they buying this? are they believing all this nonsense that the defense is offering up? you know, that this is heat of passion, that this wasn't planned? >> reporter: michael was in court every day, as was krystine and the aunts and uncles and parents and cousins. all of them took time off work to be united for michelle. >> oftentimes in homicide cases nobody shows up for the victim. or maybe it's a mother or a father or a sibling.
in this case every day there were between i would say 12 and 20 family members. and knowing that the vast majority of them had traveled from san diego to be present, to show everybody that michelle was missed, it was really touching to me and inspiring in that again, it -- it made me want to work even harder to ensure that i had done everything i could to bring about what was a just result. and i had mentioned it was the only thing i -- i promised to the family was that i would work as hard as i could to make sure that the right result came. >> do you encounter families like that very often? >> on that level, no. >> reporter: when the case went to the jury, everything was up in the air. prosecutor ford didn't worry particularly when the jury stayed out a full day, and then two days. after three days, ford began to wonder if he'd done enough to
debunk giselle's "heat of passion" defense. after four, everybody wondered. >> the longest deliberation that i'd ever had was four days. this was now getting to 4 1/2 days. so i started to have concern. coming up -- day five and the spence was over. the jury sends word of a verdict. >> we're just all holding hands in the front row. >> will there be justice for michelle? i'm still going for my, even though i live with a higher risk of strokey, due to afib not caused by a heart valve problem. so if there's a better treatment than warfarin, i'll go for that. eliquis. eliquis is proven to reduce stroke risk better than warfarin. plus has significantly less major bleeding than warfarin. eliquis is fda-approved and has both. what's next? sharing my roots. don't stop taking eliquis unless your doctor tells you to, as stopping increases your risk of having a stroke. eliquis can cause serious and in rare cases fatal bleeding.
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jury believe? with the conclusion of our story, here's keith morrison. >> reporter: giselle esteban readily admitted she killed her friend michelle le. but she claimed it was in the heat of the moment. she was angry, provoked by michelle. a defense which in a way blamed michelle for her own death. to friends and family sitting in the courtroom the strategy seemed outrageous. but yet after the jury had been out four long days they all worried that it worked. >> i was wondering if the jury sat in the same trial that i sat in. >> we were going crazy. we were really afraid that either they felt sympathy for the defendant because she is a woman or that she has children or -- you never know. >> by the fifth day we were thinking what if -- what if they let her off easy? >> reporter: then finally on the fifth day the jury announced they were ready. there could be no acquittal. their choices were first-degree murder or voluntary
manslaughter, a verdict that could have esteban back on the street before she's 40. >> i remember hearts are just pounding. everyone being lined up. and we sat down and we saw the jury walk in. and a couple of them like -- you can just tell on their faces that they were exhausted. they looked exhausted. and we were just all holding hands in the front row. we were all shaking. and you could see butch, and he was just up there, like his hands on his head and all of us were just praying. and then we heard guilty of murder, first. i burst right into tears. that feeling was just so indescribable. how much relief was there. >> reporter: giselle esteban was
sentenced to . after 17 months, michelle le went missing, after endless searches, a relentless investigation, an intense trial, finally an end. the search for michelle and for justice was over. >> one of the things i was so angry about was that nothing made sense. nothing made sense. why did it have to happen to michelle? and so i think the verdict brought reason. like a sense of someone committed murder, they will pay for the crime. >> it's just as awful as it was and the loss is just as great, but the world is back on its axis or something like that. >> in some way, yeah. >> how was it to get that verdict? what was it like? >> in one word, relief. >> what did your grandmother say? >> she asked how is michelle's family doing? because i had talked to her about what a great family they were. i have nothing but respect for that family. and they had faith in the process. and more than anything, i appreciated that they had faith in me. >> reporter: the le family's
uncommon grace and dignity and determined togetherness affected many of the families that stood with them during those dark months. >> they were able to do what a lot of other families have never been able to do, and that's rally around each other in a time of great need, to prop each other up. >> reporter: michael and krystine volunteer with marc klaas's organization. they help to coordinate searches in the case of a teenager kidnapped in san jose. their way to honor michelle. michelle, who still refuses somehow to leave them. >> she mainly comes in dreams. and it's so real that it feels like her. and she won't say a thing. she'll just give me a hug. or something.
i would flip out, be like, michelle, where the heck have you been? we had this huge thing. we thought you were gone, you know. and she laughed and she said, "i'm fine." >> michael, when he and michelle were little, they begged their mother to tell them the old vietnamese folk tale about the woman in the moon who protects and watches over them. the tale is very real now for michael le. >> i feel like -- i feel like she's always watching me. and at the very least i like to believe that my sister's with my mom finally and that they're together. it's not my time yet, but i can't wait to see them again. >> that's all for this edition of "dateline." i'm craig melvin. thank you for watching.
♪ they said we need you to get in the car with us. they zip tied my arms and zip tied my legs. duct taped my hair. there's no words. i'm sitting there just hysterical. it's terrifying. >> she thought he was mr. right. confident, handsome surgeon until the good doctor seemed to turn sinister. >> he had put his hands over my