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tv   Dateline  MSNBC  April 2, 2022 2:00am-3:00am PDT

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your mom would be -- >> oh, god. >> -- if she's looking down, that you two are together. >> i can't-- i can't even imagine. she would be just doing some sort of weird dance that "i told you so." and you know, i'm sure she's thrilled. we got married on her birthday, so that would have made her ecstatic. . >> i'm craig melvin. >> and i'm natalie morales. >> and this is "dateline." ashley was a wild and funny texan who everyone seemed to love. >> caring, loving, compassionate. >> so why did she have this strange premonition? >> she always felt like she was going to die young. >> the call came on black friday. >> she said she's heart broke. >> when i pulled up, my heart
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broke. >> this fire was no accident. >> they went back to the place where ashley worked? >> yes, sir. >> we're going after tens of thousands of dollars. >> was money the only motive or was there something else? >> there were a lot of motives going around that ended up being true. >> i couldn't believe someone could do something like that to her. just pure evil. >> hello, welcome to "dateline." . ashley harris has no shortage of admirers, family, coworkers and her ex gave her praises. when she was dead after a fire consumed her apartment, police were baffled. this was no accident. were the clues that killed ashley up in smoke? it would take a determined detective and the discovery of a stolen key to unlock this mystery. here's keith morrisson with "black friday."
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>> the lone figure knew where to go, knew where the store kept the cash and grabbed $18,000 and was gone but it was only money and no one got hurt. no that time, anyway. the story begins here in ft. worth, texas. it turned out to be the perfect growing up place for a rough and tumbled free spirit ashley harris. >> i was around 10 when she was born and so perfect age to pretend she was my baby. >> reporter: melissa hill is ashley hill's sister. >> she marched to the beat of a different drum. she would wear just things that did not match. her hair didn't seem combed, you know. >> she was never the little
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princess type? >> no no. >> there were three girls in the family, ashley was the baby. their mom, monica remembereds how ashley loved sports and music and art and bingo. >> it was our mother/daughter bonding time. she'd get all giddy and excited. >> by the time she got to high school, ashley had lots of friends, even a boyfriend and she was devoted to her two dads. her father tommy and stepfather chuck. both retired police officers. didn't she talk at one point about getting into your line of work? >> she was interested in policing. i think she was interested. >> after high school, she ended up working for a short time at blockbuster video. and that's where she met a examiner laura love. >> i walked around.
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>> she wanted to meet the girl, they became friends and then something more. >> we hung out for months. >> by that she and ashley fell in love. >> it was a lot of growing up. she had to work through her feelings. being gay wasn't easy 14, 15 years ago. >> oh, no, it wasn't. >> was there a coming out period? >> i believe it is, 2004. she come over the house and says, moma, i got something to tell you and chuck i just want you to know that i was gay and i said, well, ashley, i already knew that you need to give me some space. i need some time. >> so monica took some time
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prayed about it, came to this conclusion. >> i can't imagine god giving me this child and living with her and raising her that he would want me to stop loving her. >> it wouldn't make any sense at all. for a long while, she wasn't comfortable with her new relationship. laura said she and ashley were good together. >> she was just always very giving and very what else can i do for you to make you happy? >> the romance lasted a few years and then it was over. they remained friends. she remembers how happy ashley was when she started working at american eagle outfit, at the mall in ft. worth. >> she loved it. >> she was an assistant manager and good at it says her boss. >> just her personality, caring, loving, compassionate. she just loved life.
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>> hmm, yum. >> reporter: she loved taking videos of her life. lots of them at work. >> i'm extremely tired and this right here is not even helping. look at my eyes. horrible. >> she had this laugh, it was so infectious. >> they weren't all like that. another assistant manager carter was very different from ashley. >> she taught me how to love myself to a point. carter just taught me work-related things. >> not a jokes ter? >> right. >> ashley polar opposite and popular. >> this is what cold looks like in the hood. >> so work was going well, her love life not so much. then one night, ashley went out with friend and april moffett was there. >> and i was who she trusted. she had a bad night. i was trying to pull her out of
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her shell. she wasn't having it. so i just, fine. >> april gave up on her grumpy customers until months later they connected on social media, they met for a dog walk. ashley brought her dog nala, april brought couper and everyone clicked. >> what was it like when you first started going out with her in. >> she has a magnetic like force to her. like it's hard to not instantly love her. >> so by the summer of 2014, life is good for ashley. her social life. her job. though she did hit a bump or sorts in august when someone stole 18 grand from the store safe. it was ashley that realized the theft did occur and reported it to you? >> correct. >> she even helped i.d. the suspect, with her interest in police work, ashley thought she
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might have a calling. >> she wanted to go on to loss prevention in our home office in american eagle. >> she was 31. she had all kind of plans. but on the morning after thanksgiving, black friday, the biggest shopping day of the year, chris' phone rang at home. >> it was our assistant manager saying, chris, ashley's apartment is on fire. we can't get her on the phone. i threw clothes on as fast as i could get, started driving to ft. worth and all of the smoke trail and sirens. >> coming up -- no one would have guessed where that trail would eventually lead. >> we were asking like to ashley, where she was at. she's unavailable right now. >> when "dateline" continues. skip the rinse...
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. it was the morning after thanksgiving, black friday. laura love had one thing on her mind. >> black friday was my favorite day of the year. i love to shop. >> laura's black friday was about to turn very dark, indeed. >> i got a cule from the best friend of ours. she says's ashley's apartment is on fire. >>er are friends arrived to something like chaos.
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>> there was multiple police cars. . >> a woman's lifes will body was laying face down on the floor. >> she was identified by some of the tattoos. >> then they knew, the victim had her name that today on her rib cage ashley harris. outside, her friends were totally in the dark. >> we were asking if we could talk to ashley, where she's at. they were told she was unavailable right now. >> they were trying to get
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answers. >> for a couple hours, we assumed that she was being taken care of. >> for a couple hours, we just . >> assumed that she was being taken care of. >> reporter: and while they waited for information, investigators were realizing this was no accident. >> it was obvious that she had been beaten due to the amount of blood that we found. and then we observed that her arms were bound behind her back, and her ankles were also bound. >> reporter: it looked, said the detectives, like ashlea had been fighting back against a truly vicious attack. >> she had been beaten and possibly tortured. we later discovered that her neck had been slit. >> reporter: not only that, the fire looked suspicious, so veteran arson investigator, wallace hood, was called to the scene. >> i noticed that there was fire damage on the bed, and i also noticed that there was some fire damage to the victim. and i also saw what looked like a bottle of alcohol. >> fire damage actually on the victim. so, like, somebody set fire to her? >> there was some -- it looked like there was some burn marks on her. >> what did you ultimately determine about the fire and how
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it got started? >> there were several points of origin, and that's an indicator of an intentionally set fire. >> sure. so somebody took that rubbing alcohol, poured it here, poured it over there, poured it here? >> yes, sir. >> reporter: chris cravey, standing in the crowd outside watched his worst fears roll up in front of ashlea's apartment. >> i think it hit me like a sack a bricks once i saw them start taping it off for a crime scene. and when the coroner pulled up, my heart broke. i lost it. >> reporter: and then the detectives, looking very stern, came outside to ask some pointed questions. did someone know something, see something? >> at that point they start -- the police start shuffling us into the office. >> and they tell us that even if we try to leave we could be arrested. >> i mean, that told you something very bad happened in there? >> yeah. >> reporter: one person not in the crowd that morning was ashlea's girlfriend, april moffit. about 1:00 p.m. april got a text
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from one of ashlea's neighbors. >> "hey, have you checked on your girl? there was a fire in her apartment." and immediately i thought nala, ashlea's dog. >> reporter: april assumed ashlea wasn't at home. >> and i was like, holy crap. >> reporter: and then she got a message from another friend saying simply, call me. >> and i called her and i said, "where is ash -- like where is ashlea? where is nala? >> and she was like, "nala's fine." and i was like, well, where is ashlea," and she was like, "ashlea's gone." and it didn't register. >> yeah. like gone, what do you mean gone? >> yeah. and then i said, "well, is ashlea okay?" and she said, "no, april. she's dead." and i was sitting on my bed and
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i -- i threw my phone on the ground like that's not real. >> reporter: when reality settled in, april and all of ashlea's family and friends. even the police had to wonder who would do such a thing to such a good, sweet, person? ashlea harris had no enemies, did she? >> was someone stalking ashlea harris? coming up -- >> saw a vehicle parked there that i'd never seen before. >> but someone had seen it before. >> i said, "i know whose car y'all are asking about." >> when "dateline" continues. okay, snacks and popcorn are gonna be expensive. let's just accept that. going to the movies can be a lot for young homeowners turning into their parents. bathrooms -- even if you don't have to go, you should try. we all know where the bathroom is and how to us it, okay?
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♪♪ >> reporter: ashlea's mother and stepfather were out of town when the news began arriving in awful, jagged bits. first they heard about the fire, and monica prayed ashlea wasn't hurt. then ashlea's father, tommy harris, called. >> i saw chuck gettin' off the phone. and i saw him wipin' his tears. and i knew that my prayer wasn't answered. >> reporter: chuck couldn't reach ashlea's sister, so he left a message. >> and not two minutes later, my husband called me. and he said, "where are you? i need to come to you." and i said, "what is wrong with my mom? what happened to my mom?" and he said, "it's not your mom. it's ashley."
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and, i mean, it just comes like a blow. >> reporter: back in ft. worth, police were still rounding up people gathered outside ashlea's apartment. not among them was april. april, in fact, hadn't seen ashlea for a few days. their romance had hit a bit of a bump. >> that night we -- we talked briefly about me coming over after i got off work. but then i went home. >> reporter: but someone else was there. her name was alexis torres. >> alexis torres was the last person to see ashlea alive, and was the actual last person to leave her apartment. >> reporter: that is certainly somebody you'd wanna talk to. >> obviously. yes, sir. >> reporter: alexis said she and ashlea had gone to an early thanksgiving dinner with friends in ashlea's complex. so you had thanksgiving dinner, and that was -- >> i think it was from 12? >> reporter: sure. and then hung around for the afternoon? >> yes. >> reporter: but ashlea had to work that night.
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>> ashlea's shift was supposed to be from 7:00 p.m. until 3:00 a.m. and alexis agreed to come over during the time she was working to basically take care of ashlea's dog. >> reporter: then alexis told the police and later us that she went back one more time after ashlea got home from work. >> how long did you stay? >> i stayed for an hour. >> reporter: that would make it 4:00 a.m. if alexis was telling the truth, the police had the beginning of a timeline. but before they could check her story or anyone else's for that matter, a neighbor gave them even more to work with. an ex-cop named steve lee had noticed something about 6:30 that morning. so you're out here on -- on the deck having a cigarette. what did you see? >> saw a vehicle parked there that i'd never seen before. >> reporter: what was that vehicle? >> it was a black, older infiniti sedan. >> reporter: to the observant ex-cop that seemed worth noting. did it stay there for a long time? >> it was there when i left for work at about 7:40. >> reporter: detectives also
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talked to a neighbor who lived directly below ashlea. he had heard noises, heavy breathing coming from ashlea's apartment just before 8:00 a.m. >> a few minutes later the fire alarm started goin' off. water started comin' down into his apartment. >> reporter: and that's when the neighbor saw a black infiniti g-35 driving away. armed with this new information, cedillo went back to alexis torres. >> i asked her if she knew anyone or if ashlea knew anyone that drove a infiniti g-35. i never gave her a color. i simply asked her about a g-35. alexis said, "no." >> after he was done asking the questions, i walked outside and sat down on the brick. and i believe it was chris that was there. >> reporter: that would be chris cravey, ashlea's boss at american eagle. alexis told him that police were asking about an infiniti sedan. and chris made a beeline for detective cedillo.
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>> i approached him. and i said, "i know whose car y'all are asking about." >> and he says, "i just wanna make you aware that i have a former employee that did drive a infiniti g35. >> reporter: her name, he said, was carter. carter cervantez, that businesslike assistant manager who worked with ashlea -- >> so then i ask him, "you know, what color is the g35 that she drove?" and he mentions that it's a black one. >> reporter: what was that like, to hear that? >> well, it beats hearing the color red or white. >> reporter: and, by the way, chris told detective cedillo, carter left american eagle because she was fired. cedillo filed that away and sorted through the crime scene and talked to witnesses. and a day that began at 8:30 that morning didn't end until 1:00 am. did you get any sleep? >> no, sir, i didn't. >> reporter: the story about carter cervantez and her black infiniti was just bugging him. >> well, i'm thinkin' about the
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case and i'm thinking, "where do i go from here?" >> reporter: might have tossed and turned all night thinking about that. but something inside him said, "nope." >> i'm not gonna be able to get any sleep. i might as well go back out there and see what i can find. >> reporter: wouldn't be his first wild goose chase. he had carter's address. so, wee hours of saturday morning, he drove over there and what do you know? >> i saw a black infiniti backed in, right in front of their apartment. >> reporter: but he didn't knock on her door. >> i was going to go ahead and basically sit here and watch the vehicle to see if it moved. >> reporter: for more than four hours, he sat in his car, cold but patient. then about 8:00 a.m. saturday morning, he saw the lights of the infiniti flash as if someone was unlocking it remotely. >> i see the male enter the driver's seat of the vehicle. i then see a female enter the passenger side of the black infiniti. >> reporter: they drove off. the detective followed. and after a few minutes the infiniti pulled into, of all places, the hulen mall.
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there they are. they're going back to the place where ashlea worked, where the american eagle was. >> yes, sir. >> reporter: but what would they be doing there? >> well, that was the -- that was the million dollar question. >> coming up -- >> i ask him, "what are you doing here at the mall?" he said that he had dropped his girlfriend off to pick up some papers. >> a routine errand or something else when "dateline" continues. afib not caused by a heart valve problem. so if there's a better treatment than warfarin i'll go after that. eliquis. eliquis reduces stroke risk better than warfarin and has less major bleeding than warfarin. eliquis has both. don't stop taking eliquis without talking to your doctor as this may increase your risk of stroke. eliquis can cause serious and in rare cases fatal bleeding. don't take eliquis if you have an artificial heart valve or abnormal bleeding. while taking, you may bruise more easily or take longer for bleeding to stop. get help right away for unexpected bleeding, or unusual bruising.
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well, i'm darragh brown, here's what's happening. in mariupol an estimated 100,000 civilians remain trapped. the effort by the red cross was stalled after russian forces did not guarantee safe pass annual. the team is expected to try again today. the house bill passed a bill on friday that would decriminalize marijuana at the federal level moving it from the
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controlled substance list. the bill faces an uphill battle in the senate. now back to "dateline." ♪♪ after celebrating thanksgiving with friends, ashlea harris headed back to mall. to prepare for black friday. but nothing could prepare forefor the horrors when she returned home, brutally murdered and apartment set on fire. neighbor told police he noticed a car around the time of the killing, a black infinity. the same model an ex-employee drove. coincidence? keith morrison was about to find out. here's "black friday." >> reporter: on the saturday morning after black friday, 2014, homicide detective jerry cedillo followed a black infiniti into the parking lot of the hulen mall. he watched as the passenger, a
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woman dressed in darkish clothes, headed inside. she fit the description he'd been given of 25-year-old carter cervantez, a former co-worker of ashlea harris. the male driver stayed in the car. cedillo called his partner, ernie pate -- asked him to check up on the guy. >> when i approached the car, then the person identified themself as david mallory. >> reporter: david mallory was carter's live-in boyfriend. he too was a former employee of american eagle. >> i asked him, "what are you doing here at the mall?" he said that he had dropped his girlfriend off to pick up some papers at aeropostale where she was a manager. >> reporter: so perhaps it was just that. david giving carter a ride to pick up some paperwork at her new job at aeropostale. cedillo decided to go inside. the mall was open but the stores were still closed. >> and i happened to go up to aeropostale and there is a manager that's actually in there working. and i was able to confirm that
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carter cervantez did not work for him and he doesn't even know who she is. >> well, so much for that story. >> yes, sir. >> reporter: cedillo turned his attention to finding carter cervantez. no luck. you didn't see her at all in there? >> no, sir. >> reporter: did anybody see her? >> no, sir. >> reporter: so, cedillo had a disgruntled employee coming back to the mall where she'd been fired. her boyfriend was telling lies about a job she didn't have, and a car that looked like hers had been spotted at the scene of a murder. detective pate still had david mallory out in the parking lot and was looking for a reason to hold him. >> he said that he had a driver's license. but he didn't have his driver's license with him. >> reporter: reason enough. he arrested mallory and brought him in for questioning. but carter? seemed to have vanished. wasn't anywhere in the mall. but then police went to her apartment complex, and there she was. >> where was she in the apartment complex? >> well, she initially was in the -- in the laundry room.
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>> reporter: calm as you please, she agreed to answer questions without a lawyer down at the station. >> do you go by carter or carol? >> carter. >> reporter: somehow she'd switched her dark clothes for bright pink scrubs. >> so how did you end up in ft. worth? >> i had a job opportunity with american eagle outfitters. >> reporter: ah, yes, carter's american eagle connection, detective cedillo had already heard a thing or two about that. carter had worked in the ft, worth store for about four months and was businesslike. but, unlike ashlea, she wasn't a very friendly assistant manager. she did, however, make an impression on some younger clerks check like liza schoenthal. >> carter was very smart. very deep. she was good at reading people and knowing how to converse with them. you could tell that she was well educated. just had a lot more to her than most sales/retail managers do. >> reporter: but detective
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cedillo knew something else about carter and david mallory. something very important. >> reporter: remember that burglary at american eagle three months earlier? carter and david mallory were the primary suspects. and ashlea harris was the one who discovered the money missing. >> and when ashlea came in to open the store, she found the safe open. >> reporter: ashlea knew that it was carter who closed the night before. and when she showed her boss the security video view of the burglary. >> she pointed at the monitor and she said, "that's david mallory." and i said, "who's david mallory?" and they said, "it's carter's boyfriend." >> reporter: the math was easy, ashlea figured carter set up the burglary and david carried it out. carter got fired. david sort of disappeared. and both heard that it was ashlea who identified them. they hadn't been charged. not yet but -- >> the case was basically actively being investigated when this happened.
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>> reporter: and now three months later, here was carter talking to the police who were growing suspicious that she and her boyfriend were connected to ashlea's murder. >> why am i here? >> reporter: cedillo started off easy. >> so were you raised in amarillo or just -- >> no. i'm originally from lubbock. >> is your family still here? >> yes. >> mom and dad, brothers and sisters? >> i don't have any brothers but i do have two sisters. and they all still live in lubbock. >> have you seen mom and dad in a while? >> no. i talk to them every day on text message and snapchat, but i haven't been home. >> reporter: more friendly questions. >> where did you go to school? >> west texas a&m university. >> reporter: cedillo asked about thanksgiving. small talk. >> what'd you make? >> i made turkey, and there was stuffing and mashed potatoes. and green bean casserole and this cabbage bacon salad that my mom really likes but i don't think david liked it very much. >> reporter: except this wasn't really small talk. detective cedillo was paying close attention. >> alright. so let's start with this morning.
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>> okay. >> all right. >> this morning. >> okay, what time did you get up? >> about 7:30. 7:45. >> okay and then what happened then? >> and then we talked and i went back to sleep. when i woke up he wasn't there. >> okay. >> reporter: he'd heard enough. >> i know that's a lie. >> no, it's -- no, it's not. >> do you know why i know it's a lie? >> why do you know it's a lie? >> because i saw you come out of your apartment and get in the passenger seat of that car and i saw him drive out of there. that's why i know it's a lie. >> reporter: cedillo was tough. but carter cervantez wasn't giving an inch. >> coming up -- >> there's an actual human grave that's been dug. >> fresh grave. >> fresh grave. >> when "dateline" continues. cty month with heartgard plus, the #1 choice of dogs. digestive and neurological side effects have rarely been reported. ask your vet for heartgard plus.
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♪♪ >> reporter: it was late saturday morning, the day after black friday. 25-year-old carter cervantez was talking to detectives and lying though her teeth. >> i know what i did this morning. i know where i was. i know where i went. >> reporter: detective cedillo certainly knew where she went -- the hulen mall. but she kept insisting she'd been at home all morning. >> you're about to make the biggest mistake of your life. do you understand me? >> reporter: and she still wouldn't confess to it? >> she wouldn't budge. >> i got up, i went and put the laundry in, and i went and checked my e-mail. that's all. you found me in my apartment complex. >> reporter: then when the detectives stepped out of the room, she did something
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interesting -- maybe incriminating. >> she took a drink, puts the bottle down. she picks it up again and before she can take the second drink, she stops mid-air, spills water on herself. puts the bottle down and just stares at it for about 10 to 15 seconds. she then reaches over and grabs a tissue from the table and starts wipin' down the bottle and then wipes down the mouthpiece. >> reporter: what did that say to you? >> well, that she was afraid that we were gonna obtain her dna from the bottle. >> reporter: after that police let her go. david mallory, too. but detectives had a theory cooking -- that carter and david killed ashlea, out of revenge for being fired for the burglary. but they also wanted ashlea's keys to the american eagle. because they were planning to rob the store again. those keys were the only thing missing from the murder scene. and when store manager chris cravey looked at his surveillance video from earlier that morning, he told police what they wanted to hear. >> reporter: describe what you saw on the videotape.
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>> somebody dressed in dark clothes with their face wrapped walk right up to the store and try to get in with keys. >> reporter: that, he said, was carter trying to pull off another, bigger burglary. police just knew -- one day after killing ashlea and taking her keys, carter was trying to break into american eagle where this time, tens of thousands of dollars -- the black friday profits -- were in the safe. but the key didn't fit, because after ashlea was murdered, chris cravey changed the locks. >> i wasn't gonna take any chance on whether it be a deposit or them harming somebody else in the store. we needed to lock them out. >> reporter: the detectives pulled the surveillance video, and look at this -- carter, slipping away from the mall, having already changed from her sweat clothes into pink scrubs. had to be trying to fool potential trackers, they thought. this was after she would have spotted police talking to david in the parking lot.
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then she walked all the way home. over the next few days, police got a warrant for carter and david's cell phones. that camera app, so useful. >> well, we learned that they had conducted surveillance at ashlea's apartment weeks before that. they had a picture of her apartment. her actual door to her apartment, and they had pictures of her vehicle, the white dodge ram pickup. >> reporter: in early december, 2014, carter cervantez and david mallory were arrested and charged with the murder of ashlea harris. cold comfort for ashlea's sister. >> it's just such a loss and it's so pointless. i just don't understand how people could do that. >> reporter: they were tried separately, but the cases against them were virtually identical. assistant d.a. kevin rousseau led the prosecution.
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>> on state's exhibit 1 -- >> reporter: ashlea deenor assisted. from the witness stand detective cedillo helped lay out the case. >> were you able to conduct a search of her apartment and her vehicle, things like that? >> yes, sir. >> and did you find a receipt that proved to be helpful? >> that's correct. >> reporter: a sales receipt showed some odd purchases on carter's credit card. >> she had purchased two shovels. she had purchased a tarp. she had purchased gloves. >> reporter: why was that significant? because of a discovery way out in the texas scrub. a discovery worthy of a horror movie. and the key to finding it was right there on carter and david's cell phones. >> they would text each other longitude and latitude coordinates, and it led us to a remote area near abilene. >> reporter: what was there? >> as soon as we got to where the spot says, "you're there," we look up and there's an actual human grave that's been dug.
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>> reporter: fresh grave? >> fresh grave. >> reporter: prosecutors believe the original plan was to kidnap ashlea, kill her, and put her body in that grave. she was killed in her apartment, the prosecutors thought, because she fought so hard. >> what is that? >> this is a glock 19 semiautomatic pistol. >> reporter: in fact, investigators believe ashlea harris was pistol whipped. so when this glock 19 was found in the black infiniti, prosecutor deener had it tested. the results were both sad and conclusive. >> it came back positive with ashlea's dna on the gun, so that was very significant. >> there was blood adjacent to her bed. and blood splattered on the bed. this was not an easy death. >> reporter: hearing all this was so hard on ashlea's mother monica and loved ones like april. >> i thought i could handle it. huh-uh, nope. so i went out and i went back
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into the room where monica was. and she was consoling me. and she shouldn't be consoling me. >> reporter: the brutality of the murder was never far from the prosecutors' minds. >> i think i just thought how painful and how awful the last few minutes of her life would've been on this earth -- >> reporter: how terrifying. >> and absolutely terrifying. absolutely terrifying. >> reporter: even that, they said -- even that appeared to be part of the plan. this wasn't just about robbery, or even revenge, said prosecutor rousseau. >> it was discussions that carter cervantez had had with people where she expressed certain -- i guess you would call them fantasies involving killing people. >> reporter: liza schoenthal remembers one such discussion at work. >> it was just us. and we were folding clothes, and she mentioned that she had thought about killing someone before and whether or not she could watch them die. >> reporter: as if the murder wasn't shocking enough,
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prosecutors were pretty sure ashlea's murder was a thrill kill planned by a sadistic young woman who thought she was smarter than everyone else. but tiny, meek, carter cervantez admitted none of that. she still had a plan, concocted all by herself, to explain why she, too, was a victim. coming up -- a vicious killer? >> reporter: you wanted to see the death penalty? >> death penalty was what i wanted. >> or a young woman forced into a life of crime? >> were you in pain? >> yes. i was screaming. >> when "dateline" continues. here, safe driving saves more than just your cargo. ♪ ♪ safe driving saves you 40% with drivewise. ♪ ♪
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♪♪ >> reporter: when people talk about the trial of carter cervantez, this is what they remember. >> state your name for the record, please. >> my name is carter carol cervantez. >> reporter: against the advice of her attorneys, carter cervantez took the stand. gone was that criminal master mind. here sat a helpless victim. >> she gets up on the stand, and it was insane. >> reporter: carter said it was all her boyfriend, david mallory, controlling every aspect of her life. >> i was very afraid of david. >> how afraid of him were you? >> um, i thought he was going to
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kill me. >> reporter: this is where carter's defense truly began. she told the jury she was a woman enslaved by her sadistic lover. >> he was tellin' me what to drink, what to eat, um, and he made me have sex with him in the movie theater. >> reporter: and he had that gun, the glock, she said. used it like a threat and it scared her. >> did not feel comfortable with that weapon. >> reporter: she told the jury she was asleep at home when ashlea was being murdered. she didn't know where david had gone but somehow he wound up with a set of american eagle keys. >> gave me some gloves, told me to put them on, and then handed me a pair -- a set of american eagle keys. and he said go in and open the gate and bring me that fat ass deposit. >> reporter: and then she said he pulled out the glock. >> and he just pointed it at me.
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>> pointed it at you? >> yes, across his body. i shook my head that i wasn't going to do it. um, and he said, "you don't understand. there's someone sitting outside your parents' house right now. if you don't go in, i'm gonna kill them and then i'm gonna kill you." >> reporter: so that's why she tried to rob the store, she said. it was that or be killed. just a couple of hours before she showed up on this security video, she said, david made it very clear to her just how far he would go to make sure, absolutely sure, she would do what he demanded. >> somebody pushed me down right when i got into the apartment. >> reporter: during the night, before the break-in attempt, she said, david brought strange men into their apartment. she heard an angry voice above her. >> he said, "i'll make her follow directions." >> reporter: and then her story
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got even more harrowing. >> they took off my sweat pants, pulled them down to my ankles, and then they raped me. >> reporter: raped twice, she said sobbing, by two different men. >> were you in pain? >> yes. i was screaming. >> reporter: prosecutors kevin rousseau and ashlea deener seemed as taken aback as the rest of the courtroom. >> i know what i think. this is not true. >> reporter: and they needed to regroup, fast. >> this is the biggest lie she's ever told. we know that. but you never know what the jury's thinking. >> reporter: carter had an explanation for just about everything. even that moment during her interrogation when she wiped the bottle. she wasn't wiping off her dna, no. she said the smell from the bottle reminded her of being raped. >> i was telling myself, it's just water. it's just water, it's not them. but i could still smell it.
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>> she said that she suddenly was overcome with the -- with the smell of semen in the -- in the air. and it had something to do with drinking out of this bottle of water. and i thought, "now that -- that took some work. that is one heck of a lie." >> and it was at that point that i put my pen down and said, "i am not writing this. i am not going to write this down." >> reporter: his voice dripping with sarcasm, prosecutor rousseau took her story apart. he showed the jury a picture. >> is that the gun that you're talking about that you were very uncomfortable with being in your apartment? >> yes. >> that's the one that's laying beside you while you're having your morning coffee? >> yes. >> reporter: and then he drilled down into the heart of carter's story. just who were those mysterious rapists? >> they all spoke -- the only way i would describe it is ghetto ebonics. >> okay, so in your mind these
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are black people, black men? >> no, sir, i did not say that. >> reporter: but, said the prosecutor, that's exactly what she was suggesting. >> if she was gonna try and play that card, i was gonna make her spell it out. >> is ebonics a term that is commonly associated with african-americans in this country? >> i don't know where ebonics is commonly associated with. i associate it with a certain type of speech that i would associate with the word "ghetto." >> reporter: but if she was hoping to play to some random juror's racial bias, she guessed wrong. the jury didn't believe it. not for a second. they found her guilty in less than two hours. as for david mallory, his attorneys argued he had nothing to do with the murder. he was involved with carter, yes, but not with any killing. the jury didn't buy that either rendering a guilty verdict in no time at all.
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the verdicts were some consolation for those who loved ashlea harris. >> i still miss her. she saw the best in everybody. even when you couldn't see it, she could see it. she had such a big heart. and this world is worse off, at least, mine is. >> reporter: both david mallory and carter cervantez received mandatory sentences of life in prison with no possibility of parole. it wasn't enough for ashlea's mom and stepdad. >> reporter: you wanted to see the death penalty? >> death penalty was what i wanted, is what monica wanted. and -- but it wasn't to be. >> reporter: now they cling to memories of their ashlea. >> reporter: tell me about the last time you saw your daughter, physically, in person.
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>> it was november. >> reporter: about a week before she died, ashlea had invited monica to play bingo. monica was busy, almost said no. but something told her to stop what she was doing and go. and, oh, is she glad she did. >> and i walk into the bingo hall and, oh, my god, there set that little girl of mine. and i smile at her and i walk over and i kiss the side of her neck and i tell her how much i love her. >> you remember every syllable, every moment of that day, don't you? >> yes. >> reporter: these days, monica is making new memories at the bingo parlor. remember how skittish she was around ashlea's girlfriends at first? no longer. now, they're family. >> have a good weekend. >> when monica and i go and get our nails done, they always say, "oh, your daughter is so pretty." she never corrects them.
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as far as she's concerned, she gained several daughters. >> reporter: and when they're all together, ashlea is there too. >> announcer: that's all for this edition of "dateline." i'm natalie morales, thanks for watching. welcome to the show tonight, i'm katie phang in for zerlina maxwell. it has been five weeks since russia invaded ukraine and if you want to get a sense of the horror inflicted on civilians look no farther than the southeastern port city of mariupol. the city has been under siege for weeks, with dwindling supplies of food and water for the tens of thousands of civilians that are still trapped there. on friday, some residents were able to leave mariupol

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