tv Dateline MSNBC April 11, 2021 11:00pm-1:00am PDT
accomplishment at that. >> i feel that maybe she can rest in peace. she died such a horrific death, that she deserved to rest in peace. >> that's all for this edition of "dateline." i'm craig melvin. thank you for watching. found prey to the two issues, sex and money. >> fun place, a comic book store, but not that night. >> they said we can't go through, somebody was killed. >> she was a young wife and mother minding the store for her husband. was it robbery, revenge, or something else? >> we might want to look at his relationship with his employee named renee. >> check it out? >> yes. >> years passed without an arrest. but for one prosecutor, this cold case was personal. >> that was the case that was
unsolved for my dad. >> the clues, that lover's triangle, cash, and a bearded lady. >> they said it looked like a woman with a beard, a thin guy. >> it's a mystery with so many head-snapping turns, it took two trials. >> you wait 18 years for justice only to have the carpet pulled out from under you. >> to uncover the truth. >> but was it the truth? >> an adulter is a person who's done evil things, but that does not make him a murderer. ♪♪ >> he said, hey, let's go down to the comic book store. i knew immediately all the crime scene tape was there, and they said you can't go through, we're investigating a homicide, we're investigating the comic book store.
>> the comic book store was a mom and pop shop in a strip mall outside detroit. out front by the register, bins of the big guys, spiedy, hulk, x-man. the woman was on the floor with the life draining out of her. customers had found her. it was july of 1990, a friday the 13th when tom and le in of course ora stopped by the comic book shop by going out to dinner. they liked buying from the woman there, barb. >> she knew our name when we walked in, she would light up with a smile. many times would come around the counter to greet us. >> but not on this summer evening. it was just after 6:00. tom and lenora picked out a comic but no one was behind the counter to take their money, not barb or her husband michael. >> it wasn't uncommon someone
wouldn't be at the cash register, but this was a longer than normal time. so we thought we would stick around because we liked her. >> some teenage customers were in the shop browsing, they, too, were itching to pay and go. they were the first ones to peek into the back room and see barb scrawled. >> cried out there's somebody back here. at that time tom and i rushed to the back storage area and found barb on the floor. >> we thought she perhaps had fallen backwards and hit her head. >> i noticed that she was blue around her mouth. her pupils were dilated and big. and, um, i could not find a pulse. >> lenora, the customer, happened to be a nurse and took charge. she noticed only a small amount of blood and concluded that barb had suffered heart attack or seizure and she told her husband to call 911 while she began administering cpr. >> i had never done cpr on someone that i knew and loved and i thought please, god, let
this be okay. she's a mother. >> as the ambulance rushed barb to the hospital, lenora ward felt she'd done her prornl best, but she wasn't at all sure her prayers would be answered. >> i knew she was medically in dire straits. >> the woman rushed into the emergency room was barbara george. she doctors were working to get a pulse. thumping the woman's chest in rapid burst. one e.r. nurse was kris kehoe. >> if you give 100 compressions a minute, the better the chance of reviving the heart. >> but after 15 minutes it was all over. a doctor pronounced barb george, the mother of two dead. it fell to nurse kehoe to clean up the body for the family to view. that's when she saw it. >> when we were straightening up
her hair we noticed blood on the top of her head. i noticed there was a small hole. my first thought as a nurse was that it had to be a bullet hole there. >> imagine that, barbara george, the nice lady behind the counter shot to death. >> shot in the head and it didn't seem like it could happen to such a good person. >> back at the comic bookshop, friends and family continued to arrive for what was supposed to be a surprise birthday party that night for michael george, barb's husband. what a pleasant night it should've done, with toasts, the singing of "happy birthday," and all of the superheroes from his beloved marvel and action comics looking on. all those guests now stunned to find the party turned into a crime scene. and barb, the hostess, was dead. coming up, what could be clues to solving the mystery. >> we both thought to ourselves and then said it to each other, boy, that car's going too fast. >> and a man waiting outside the
comic book shop. >> he had on kind of a dark outfit for that time of a year, a group fisherman's cap is how i would describe it. >> when "dateline" continues. and a time for a fresh trim. it's where new projects begin. and curb appeal takes on new meaning. come celebrate lowe's first annual springfest - a festival of fun and savings for your garden and total home. home to any budget. home to any possibility. i'll be observing your safe-driving abilities. play your cards right, and you could be in for a tasty discount. [ clicks pen] let's roll. hey, check it out. one time i tripped on the sidewalk over here. [ heavy-metal music playing ] -[ snoring ] -and a high of 89 degrees. [ electronic music playing ] ooh! ooh! who just gives away wood? the snapshot app from progressive rewards you for driving safe and driving less.
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superheroes adventures way more than he liked selling insurance. so with the help from barb's parents, they took the jump and opened their little shop in a clinton township, michigan strip mall in the winter of 1988. joe kowynia is barb's brother. he earns a living by removing dents and dings from cars. but back in 1990, he was the kid brother who looked up to his sister, admired her on the softball field where she was a standout. >> i used to go to her games. i remember going to the tournaments with the family. and she was the typical sister. >> he had been brought up in a traditional polish catholic family. when she found herman, marriage became the organizing principle of her life. >> was she a happy bride? >> very happy. she couldn't wait. >> and when children came along, two girl, barbara george seemed complete. >> her kids were her pride and joy, and i think that was everything to her.
>> the night of friday the 13th brother joe and his then girlfriend now mary shamo drove over to the comic shop for what was to be a celebration. barb's surprise birthday party in the store for michael. he was turning 30. michael's mother was going to keep the two kids at her house for the weekend while barb and michael took off after the party for a cozy couple of days at a lodge. >> so that would have been a friday night and it was going to be a romantic weekend? >> right. >> a weekend not meant to be because by the time joe and mary got to the comic bookstore just before 9:00 there was confusion, cop cars. >> we pulled up and joe rolled down the window and the police stopped us and they said you can't go through. we're investigating a homicide. somebody was killed. >> i immediately thought mike because i thought no one hated my sister. absolutely nobody. >> but the victim wasn't mike. it was joe's sister and it was up to detective sergeant donald steckman to make sense of the senseless. he'd been the investigator on duty when the hospital called that they'd had a woman come in with a single gunshot to the
head. >> now we had a full-blown homicide. >> you know it's going to be a long night. >> yes. >> as the detective's team scoured the strip mall dumpsters for maybe a tossed weapon, clothing, something, he turned over the few facts he had so far. a woman with children gunned down execution style in the back of the little comic book store. police interviewed merchants and customers at the mall, had anyone seen anything out of the ordinary? it turned out tom and lenora ward did, the couple who had given barb first aid, and picked up on something when they arrived, a speeding car in front of the comic bookshop. and we both thought to ourselves, that car is going too fast. >> later, they wondered if that was the getaway car, but another observation tugged at them, who was the guy lurking outside the comic bookshop? >> he had on kind of a dark outfit for that time of the year, a greek fisherman's cap is
how i would describe it. >> another man would say he saw a different suspicious character, someone wearing what appeared to be a fake beard, possibly a bearded lady. the shop was small, deeper than it was wide. aisles of bins filled with comic books out front by the register and a door to the back storage room. barbara george had been found just inside the back room. on the far wall was a locked door that led to the alley in the rear. >> now we're inside the comics' corner. crime scene techs began videotaping the crime scene. >> the cash register. there was $750 still in the cash register, untouched. in a glass case just behind the till, a wall of collectible vintage comics, the good stuff, they hadn't been ransacked. in the storage area, some bins had been toppled over, but the emts might've done that as they ran to assist barb george as she
lay on the floor. george as $400 was in her pocket and the good jewelry wasn't taken. later the medical examiner would determine it the shop owner had been shot from above, the bullet shot from the top of the skull, indicating she'd been crouching. another bullet had been fired first, police believed. it missed and went through a swimsuit calendar on the wall and into the empty shop on the other side of the sheet rock. if it was a robbery at the comic bookstore, it was an unusual one. just after 8:00, detective steckman was told that the husband of the victim had just arrived. >> he identified himself and he said what's going on? we said well, there's been an incident here and we're sorry to tell you, but your wife has been injured. >> injured, not dead. >> we never told him what happened to her. >> he doesn't know what happened to his wife. >> to our knowledge we had no idea what was going on. i said you need to go over to the hospital because your wife is seriously injured. >> at the hospital, michael george was informed that his
wife had died of a gun shot wound to the head. a few minutes later, mary and his brother-in-law joe came rushing in. the girlfriend was undone by the awful news. >> i'm blown away, i'm shocked. i wasn't even related to her, and i was devastated and i was crying and i was upset. >> but there was someone that didn't seem as upset as mary was, the new widower, michael george. why was she so suspicious of the comic book man? coming up. >> there wasn't one tear in his eyes. there was no swelling going on in his eyes. he just, he had nothing going on, it was all an act. >> an untroubled husband with a very troubled marriage. >> they didn't see us pull up. they were really close and they were giggling and their arms were crossed. you wouldn't think he had any care in the world. >> we started receiving phone calls we might want to look at his relationship with his employee named renee. >> a little cozy, check it out? >> yes. >> when "dateline" continues.
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♪♪ barbara george had been shot to death in the storage room of the comic book shop she owned with her husband michael. six hours after her murder michael george had returned from the hospital to show the chief detective sergeant steckman around what was now a crime scene. the back room where barbara was shot was also where michael said a robbery must've happened. he noticed two important white boxes were gone. >> as soon as he walked into the back room he said there were two
cardboard boxes full of very expensive comic books missing. >> so he's saying i had expensive stuff. >> two boxes of comic books and they're gone. >> michael george made a written list of stolen comics and estimated their value at $12,600. and he later filed claims for missing spider-man, green lantern, and ironman. to name just a few. >> he's talking about his robbery. >> his whole scenario was it had to be robbery. >> michael george told the detective he had no idea what happened to his wife. he'd last seen her a little after 4:00 when she'd relieved him behind the counter. he said he took their two kids over to his mom's and remained there napping on her couch until 8:00 when he returned to the comic bookstore. detective steckman asked him questions the cop would when a wife was murdered. >> were there any girlfriends? no. were you having any affairs? no. any problems with your marriage? no. everything was fine. at the funeral days later mary
shamo, the girlfriend of barb's brother couldn't make out what he was feeling because his eyes were concealed behind dark, dark sunglasses. >> like something that a blind person would wear, something you'd see stevie wonder wear. >> and mary sensed that michael was acting strange, only increased after a visit to the trailer park home where michael george and barbara had lived. she and joe, barb's brother had gone over to give michael some support during tough days. >> he comes in and her vacuum is sitting there and he grabs the vacuum and embraces the vacuum like he showed more emotion with this vacuum than he did the whole time. >> what's he saying to the vacuum? >> he's just saying, oh, this was barb's vacuum, and she's never going to use this vacuum again. and he would go to a blender and be, like, she's never going to be in the kitchen again. >> are you thinking what's up with this guy? >> i am looking at him like a screw ball.
here you are grieving over the vacuum and these appliances, there was no tears in his eyes and nothing going on. it was all an act. >> the police, meanwhile, were chasing down bank records, insurance policies looking for leads on the speeding car, the man in the greek fisherman's cap, the so-called bearded lady and whether this could have been a botched robbery after all. they were also getting a crash course on the value of vintage comics. unhappily for them, the case detectives hadn't found the gun and hoped for forensics like a bloody print just weren't there. but the investigators were getting calls on the q.t. about michael george maybe having a girlfriend. >> when did you learn about a shop assistant named renee? >> that was two days later. we started receiving phone calls from people advising us that we might want to look at his relationship with his employee named renee. >> a little cozy. check it out. >> yes. >> it was barb george who had met and befriended renee at their children's school and
brought her to work at the comic book store. renee had five children and needed the money. her floundering marriage had ended in divorce just three weeks before barb's murder. not long after they buried barbara, mary shamo remembers dropping in unexpectedly at the comic bookshop along with her boyfriend joe and the pair got a shockeroo. they saw michael and renee, the shop assistant, canoodling. >> their arms were crossed over to each other and when you lose someone in your life and you look around at the world like what's going on? why does the world keep moving when i just lost someone so important? and here this man is, and he's as happy as a clam. you wouldn't think that he had any care in the world the way he was carrying on with her. >> michael and renee would set up a new home together with the help of $130,000 life insurance payout on barb that he received as beneficiary. >> is he becoming what cops call a person of interest? >> yes. at that point he was.
at that point he had to be. >> he talked to the police casually at the store that night and then in a more formal interview with the police station six days later, but there would be no follow-ups. according to detective steckman, michael george said he would hire an attorney. lawyer up. >> he'd stop talking. >> exactly. >> this is a big, unsolved case? >> yes. yes. how much frustration is building within the family? >> what can you do? can't take -- you can take the law into your own hands, but what's going to happen with that? >> did you ever talk about it? >> i felt it. there was times i felt, you know, that i should do something, but, you know, i'm a catholic. i couldn't live with it. >> in the comics, superheroes are ageless, but the comic book shop in the clinton strip mall wasn't.
it closed its doors in 1992. michael george, the shop owner and his new wife renee had moved from town. they settled some 375 miles southeast of detroit in windberg, pa, population 4,000. an old coal mining town. on the main drag there, the georges had opened their new shop, comics world. >> with his two kids and renee's five being raised together in their spacious new home they found friends among the other parents involved in their kids sports teams. >> michael coached the pastor's daughter in basketball. he never missed a game. >> tremendous family man. respected business person in the community. >> jeff lively had the electrical supply shop three blocks down from comics world. >> his life were the kids and i would have to say his life was for renee. he treated her like gold. >> the georges endeared themselves to a town where families went back generations by raising money for the make-a-wish charity and giving comics to the public library. besides his good works, they say he was just plain fun. >> the guy always had a smile on his face and also always joking and everybody enjoyed being
around him. >> michael george had all but severed ties with his murdered wife's family. uncles and aunts rarely saw barbara's two girls. come the year 2000, was michael george even aware that the longtime chief of police in his former town had passed away. chief robert smith had died without solving the nagging case of the comic book murder. >> everyone in this town was aware of that crime, and probably myself more so because my dad was the chief of police at that time. >> chief smith's son, eric smith. >> i had driven by that store a thousand times with my old man just about every time we drove by there, there was something he said. >> still gnawing at him. >> there was no question about it. >> four years after his father's death eric smith was elected chief prosecutor in macomb county, michigan. he became responsible for all of the criminal cases in clinton township and beyond. >> i can't tell you how many people came up to me and said
that a family member of theirs had been murdered or killed and nothing had been done, and you could see the desperation on their face. they really thought the system had passed them by. if i'm going to be the chief law enforcement officer of this county, i can't let people out there think that we don't care. so we started a cold case unit very soon after i came in. >> one of prosecutor's smith's first acts in office was to send out a letter to all of the police departments in his county asking police chiefs and detectives to look at their old unsolveds with fresh eyes. >> i did it with michael george in mind. there was no question in my mind that at the time i was hoping that we'd get a lot of cases i was hoping that clinton township would pick this case up. >> and maybe resolve one for the old man? >> that's it. that was the case that was unsolved for my old man, for my dad. >> just as he'd hoped, the clinton township p.d. re-opened the dusty comic book murder case and what a surprise the detectives found there. someone did have a vital piece
of information about the night of the murder. but his story had slipped through the cracks. how could police have missed it all those years? coming up, a phone call to the comic book shop that seemed to come at a very bad time. >> he sounded like he was in a busy and in a hurry to get off the phone. it was at the at the funnel effect. it narrowed down just like a funnel. >> when "dateline" continues. "ds by working tirelessly to design 3-d virtual tours that are so realistic it actually feels like you're there. but that's all thanks to ted, a man who possesses an innate understanding of dimension. uh...ted... (ted) sorry, i was in the zone. also, my name is brian.
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accommodate medical and religious exemptions. over a dozen universities have announced similar requirements. now back to "dateline." ts now back to "dateline. ♪♪ the comic book murder files came out of the archives, and the lead detective blowing off the dust was lieutenant craig keith. he'd been on the clinton township force long enough to remember the killing at the strip mall. he took it personally that someone out there had gotten away with murder. the lieutenant had identified with the victim. >> i was approximately the same age and had children the same age and maybe that was something that just stuck with me. >> this is a tough one to pick up the stack. >> yeah. i knew that going in, but i always operate under the theory you don't shoot, you don't score. and i owed it to myself, because it was something i had told myself, but i owed it to barb, too. >> the detective needed help, good, old-fashioned shoe leather
cops to make the calls, knock on doors. so he recruited veteran detectives jimmy hall and lenny rico. the three of them went into the old boxes, reading and re-reading yellowing police reports. but there's a reason crimes go into the cold case file and stay unsolved, a lack of evidence. the three wondered if they had one of those here. >> is this even doable and finally when we came to the conclusion that it's doable, we need to notify the family and that's when the family contacted them. >> the cold case detectives were painfully aware of giving barb george's family false hopes after 17 years, but in early 2007 the detectives laid out what they find warts and all for barbara's brother joe and other family members. >> we were honest with them, we don't know how successful we're going to be here. >> still, after that meeting with the detectives, barb's family and friends allowed themselves to be optimistic. >> i told my sister when we walked out of that police
station, i said something will come out of this. >> joe and mary, his girlfriend back then, had broken up after barbara's murder, but they remained close over the years. >> my dad was in the hospital at the time and he was dying of cancer and i told my dad what was going on, and he could barely even talk and he lit right up and he said, good. good. god's going to get him. >> the detectives started their investigation as though it were july 13, 1990. the 911 call had just come in. all three of them knew this wasn't going to be an episode of "csi" forensic science saving the day. >> no weapon, no blood smears -- no hair, fibers, none of that. >> in terms of what people are used to seeing nowadays with dna, we didn't have it. we just had to do detective work which means get out there and interview people. >> they say without pre-conceived theories they chased down the old leads again, the speeding car, the man in the greek fisherman's cap and the
bearded lady and re-examined the old motive. was it possible that barbara had been shot to death over a pricey, collectible comic book? >> thank you, sir. >> the cold case detectives interviewed over a hundred people. and of all those fresh 2007 interviews, the one they did with this man turned out to be the game changer. his name is mike renault a girl's softball coach, now confined to a wheelchair after 2003. in 1990, he was a college senior and a spiderman fanatic. on july 13, the night of the murder, detectives learned he had placed a call to the comics world store. he thought it had been around 5:30 or so about 30 minutes before the murder. the avid collector wanted to know why one of his comic books had zoomed in value. a voice he knew very well answered the phone, it was michael george, the shop owner. >> he sounded like he was busy and in a hurry to get off the phone. >> did he say i'm busy, there
are people in the shop, i have to go. >> no, just short. >> just something you could hear in his voice. >> he would b.s. a little bit and there was no time for b.s. >> the cold case cop had struck gold. mike's story was the missing puzzle piece the detectives had been looking for for years. if renaud's account is true, it does nothing less than demolish michael george's alibi that he was napping at his mother's house when barb was murdered around 6:00. renaud's call meant george was lying and he was certain he talked to the comic store owner at the shop and that that brief conversation must had taken place a few minutes before barb was killed. >> the embarrassing thing about this nugget of a clue was that mike renaud was that mike had told the very same story to the police in 1990, the day after the murder. what looked like a case breaker in 2007 had simply slipped through the cracks back then.
they'd had it in the case file all along. in clear handwriting, there it was. a record of renaud's july 14th phone call to the police. mr. renaud stated he called comic world around 5:30 and talked with the owner michael george. >> that's the one piece that was missing. >> even so, it was a piece that still had flaws as evidence. there were no existing phone logs to corroborate renaud's story or to pin down the exact time he said he placed the call. to this day, former detective donald steckman doesn't know how that note from renaud went a stray, but he said he was unaware of the comic book collector's story about talking to the husband in the shop minutes before the murder. >> how did you not see it? well, i never saw it. if we had seen it we would not be sitting here today. >> you would have been for an arrest and indictment in 1991. >> no doubt about it. >> and now the investigative leads pointed just one way, toward the husband. >> it just kept coming back to mike and it was a funnel effect.
we started off looking at a lot of things and a lot of people and it just narrowed down just like a funnel. >> it was time for the cold case detectives to take a road trip to pennsylvania. a trip across miles in time. they were going to make a surprise visit to michael george at comics world. was the one-time husband finally collectible? coming up. [ inaudible ] up. [ inaudible >> this was a vendetta, and barbara took the bullet? >> exactly. and that was something entirely different from what he told the police back in 1990. >> after 17 years, a conversation a suspected killer never expected. when "dateline" continues.
♪♪ two of the cold case detectives rico and hall punched up a mapquest address for comics world in windberg, pennsylvania and motored southeast. it was 2007, 17 years after the murder, and like commandos synchronizing their watches the detectives had decided to execute simultaneous surprise interviews on michael george's turf. >> we had teams of detectives go to all three locations at exactly the same time. >> michael at the store, his wife renee at the house and michael's mother at her home back in hazel park, michigan. >> unannounced. >> unannounced.
>> when they found comics world the two detectives waited for some customers to leave, checked their watches, then sauntered in. >> we were about a minute behind the other detectives and he was talking to renee, his wife and he says no, there's nobody here and he had his back to us as he walked to the door. and he turned around and he said they're here, and he got off the phone and he just looked pretty sick at that point. >> detective hall switched on the tape recorder he'd concealed in his jacket. >> introduced ourselves. mike was pretty much unemotional. and he said hey, come on in. have a seat and started talking to him. >> this is some of that conversation. >> we have a few questions for you. want to talk to you about it. what did the police tell you?
>> they had leads. they never told me what the leads were. >> he didn't say much at the beginning. >> did he say this is great news? i've wondered for 17 years. and you've solved it. >> didn't get the typical response, like you found somebody, or that's good. >> what do you have? >> nothing. he just started staring. >> 17 years on, michael george claimed a flickering memory for events. >> i don't remember. >> is he getting sweaty, twitchy? >> he was very pale. didn't make eye contact. most of the interview his head was looking down towards the table. >> in 1990 his late-night conversation with the lead detective at the store after the murder, michael george had speculated that barb was killed in a botched robbery, someone after valuable vintage comic books. >> what was taken? >> very old books.
>> he couldn't remember exactly how many comics were taken or the amount. >> although he was sketchy on those details, he had no problem coming up with a totally new answer when the cops asked why barbara of all people had been murdered. listen as michael's theory switches from robbery to revenge. >> i think barb was at the wrong place at the wrong time. i think somebody wanted to get back at me. i don't know who it was. but i should've been there. >> this was a vendetta in that, what, barbara took the bullet that was meant for him? >> exactly. that was different from what he told the police back in 1990. >> is that as interesting as anything else you heard? >> absolutely.
he'd come up with a new motive. >> meanwhile, the prosecutor in michigan, the son of the one-time police chief was deeply curious about the swoopdown interview was going. >> were you surprised to hear that he talked to them and that he hadn't lawyered up or said i'm getting on the phone to my attorney right now? >> very surprised. i think he was so shocked by the fact that we're still looking at him. so shocked that he didn't know what to do and that's why we didn't call him. that's why we didn't give him a head's up. >> as the interview continued, michael george as he hadn't in 1990 now owned up to his philandering. >> late in the 90-minute interview the conversation circled back to the earlier theme, robbery, the supposed theft of valuable comics. the detectives asked if anyone knew that he kept the good stuff in the back storage room. that's when things got testy and listen as george's previously passive tone becomes more direct and confrontational.
the detectives asked if anyone knew that he kept the good stuff in the back storage room. that's when things got testy and listen as george's previously passive tone becomes more direct and confrontational. >> i'm just trying to find out how that individual, the suspect, would've known they were there, that's all. unless it was an inside job. or insurance fraud. >> so you're saying i'm lying? >> i'm saying that's a possibility. you have to look at all options. >> so now you're saying i lied about the books being gone? so now what you're saying is i better get a lawyer? >> we didn't say that. >> yeah, you did. you just said one of the possibilities. >> that is a possibility. >> okay. if you're going to show up tomorrow, let me know, i'm get a lawyer.
because this is [ bleep ] now. >> the next day, in fact, he would need a lawyer. a criminal defense lawyer. the michigan detectives and the pennsylvania state police arrested him at his workplace, the comic book store. as he was led away after a later court appearance, he loudly proclaimed that police had nabbed the wrong man. >> there's no way. i was with my daughters and my mom. they know i didn't do this. >> the cold case had turned red hot. michael george was returning to michigan and would stand trial for the first-degree murder of his wife. a case prosecutors knew would be hard to prove in the age of csi and show-me forensic evidence, that's because there was none. so it would come down to a single witness and his recollection of a solitary phone call he said he made on a friday the 13th, 1990. coming up, a twist in court few would've predicted. >> did you expect it was possible he was going to come out and say this case is
dismissed or you're released, we don't have a case here? >> initially, never crossed my mind. after five hours you start to work. >> that's probably the toughest moment i ever had as a lawyer. >> when "dateline" continues. nus alice loves the scent of gain so much, she wished there was a way to make it last longer. say hello to your fairy godmother alice. and long-lasting gain scent beads. part of the irresistible scent collection from gain!
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first-degree murder of his then wife barbara. >> he was the husband from hell. >> in early 2008 the man who intended to put george away was steve kaplan, then the trial prosecutor for the county's cold case unit. >> it's true we didn't have forensic evidence supporting our case. >> he knew getting the comic book man with nothing, but circumstantial evidence, no weapon, no witness, no dna this was a tough one to win, something he never let on to the jury, of course. >> we will prove to you that it was a murder, and if it's a murder there's only one person in this world who had a reason to kill this wonderful person and that's michael george. >> for kaplan, proving it all boiled down to a case of who do you trust? would the jury believe janet george, michael's mother? she said her son was sleeping on her couch at the time of the murder. or would the jury accept the word of the colic book collector mike renaud? he said the defendant was in the store around that time answering his phone call. >> who answered the phone? >> michael george. >> how long did you talk to the defendant at that time? >> less than five minutes.
>> what time did you call the defendant? >> anywhere between 5:15 and 5:45. >> do you remember how he seemed to you? >> he seemed like he was in a hurry. >> how important is he to your case? >> without michael renaud we cannot win this case because without michael renaud we cannot place the defendant physically in that store close to the time of barbara's shooting. ♪♪ >> and then came a routine moment that we've all seen in courtroom dramas on tv. the prosecutor in this case, steve kaplan, rose and told the judge. >> your honor, the people rest. >> and the defense response in this michigan courtroom just as predictably was to try to get the case thrown out. not enough evidence. the state hadn't met its burden argued defense attorney carl marlinga, and asked for the judge for what's called a directed verdict.
>> when you just don't know you have to -- you have to pull the plug. you have to say that's it. >> and then it got really strange. and you say, your honor, the state has not proved its case. we ask that you dismiss it right now, that it not go to the jury? >> right. >> it happens all the time. and almost always you're rebuffed. >> that's right. and almost always you're rebuffed within about 10 to 15 seconds. >> that didn't happen here. >> no. >> this time the judge listened intently for 20 minutes as michael george's defense lawyer argued that there was no way the prosecution had proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was in the comic defendant was in the comic book shop with a gun in his hand. >> the trial judge is obligated to make a call to say whether or not there was sufficient evidence to justify this. >> prosecutor kaplan knew that by law the judge has to regard all evidence in a light most favorable to the prosecution. he took just 30 seconds and queried with a brief citation of case law arguing why the case should go to the jury.
>> the evidence presented to this court begs the question of fact to the jury whether michael george is the murderer and the motion should be denied. >> and then the judge retired to his chambers to ponder this motion to dismiss. and ponder he did, staying out for hours. eric smith was the county's chief prosecutor. >> what was going on? >> well, i -- i can tell you what was going on in the prosecution's end. we were fit to be tied. we've all tried hundreds of cases, and these motions for directed verdicts are dismissed almost immediately. >> did you expect it was possible he was going to come out and say this case is dismissed, jurors, you're dismissed, we don't have a case here? >> well, initially, it never crossed my mind. after a couple of hours it never crossed my mind. after five hours you start to worry. >> for the defense, carl marlinga was feeling better by the hour. >> i remember walking outside with my client and saying this
is obviously good news. i cannot lie to you. judges don't take this long to decide these motions. >> after hours of watching the clock go round, the defendant, out on $1 million bond praying with his circle of friends and family in the hallway, the judge at last returned to the bench. >> the court has been reviewing this matter for approximately five hours, i think an extraordinary length of time to review any motion for directed verdict. >> he started, was there a case to be made for the defense's position. >> albeit, it could be argued that this evidence is marginal. then he seemed to point out the merits of the prosecution. >> this is in many ways the classic murder case. if the evidence is believed by the jury then the jury could reach a finding of guilt. >> on the one hand, and the other. where was the judge going?
so the court, at this point, cannot substitute its judgment for that of the jury. >> he decided for the prosecution. there was enough evidence to go forward. >> the directed verdict was denied. the defense had lost a five-hour long high-stakes game and apparently by the closest of margins. >> that's probably the toughest moment i ever had as a lawyer. >> you thought you might have had it. >> i thought i might've delivered this guy from this horrible, horrible experience of not only having lost his wife but then being falsely blamed for it after all of these years. i thought the ordeal was almost over. >> the jurors filed back in for the defense case unaware how close they'd come to being thanked and sent home without hearing more evidence. fired up by the knowledge that the judge had almost tossed out the case, the defense set out to counter the crucial phone call that seemed to place the defendant at the scene.
>> michael could not have been at the story committing this murder. >> he said it was impossible to be in two places at once. he called the alibi witness to say he arrived at her house after 5:00 p.m. on that friday the 13th. >> he said he was tired. i told him he should lay down and take a nap for a while. >> when you got back, did you observe michael at all? >> yeah. >> where was he? >> on the couch sleeping. >> now it would be up to the jurors to decide if they believe his mother or the witness that said michael george answered his phone call. addition day, march 17th, 2008. march 17th, 2008. michael george prayed quietly to himself. his freedom, his family, the life he'd enjoyed in pennsylvania were at risk forever. a murder conviction meant mandatory life, no possibility of parole. >> all rise for the jury, please. with cascade p
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michael george was on trial for gunning down his wife in the back of their comic book shop. >> count number one, first-degree murder. we find the defendant guilty. >> guilty of first-degree murder. michael george slumped and sobbed in his attorney's arms. please be seated. barb's sister and two brothers seemed to share a gasp of relief. >> he took away my oldest sister. she didn't get to see me get married. she didn't get to see my son being born. she'll never get to see him do anything. i mean, he took a part of me away. >> across the room the convicted man's younger daughter, one of barb's two children, collapsed into her stepmother, renee.
michael george would go on weeping for a full two minutes. >> i didn't do this! >> but lieutenant craig keith, the cold case detective who rediscovered the crucial evidence was unmoved by george's tears. >> mike showed no emotion back in 1990 and now he cries and my impression of that is mike is crying for himself. >> it was devastating. it was just devastating. >> barely able to stand, george was helped to the podium to face the judge. the same judge who had apparently been a heartbeat away from dismissing the case altogether. >> the jury has found you guilty of all charges. at this time i'm remanding you to the custody of the macomb county sheriff's department. >> the comic book man was now a convict. >> okay. >> put your hands behind your back. >> george! >> i didn't do this.
his hands were cuffed and deputies led him away. >> i had no doubt that the verdict that we came to was the correct one. >> the jurors returned to their deliberation room. they said they could hear george sobbing, but that didn't shake their confidence in their verdict. they said it had come down to the testimony of the man who said he called about a spider-man comic. >> i think i hear you all saying he was tripped up by answering that phone call from michael renaud. >> yes. he should not have been there when mike renaud called. >> the cold case unit started by prosecutor eric smith with this case in mind had won a conviction. >> i really thought he was finally going to face the just punishment he deserves. >> and smith had notched one up for his dad, the late police chief or so he believed. >> my next thought went right to my old man. i wish he was here to share this with, but i know he's smiling. >> the losing defense lawyer voiced the kinds of comments you'd expect to hear.
>> i think the jury got it wrong. i believe we have a strong shot with this judge to get either not right reversal or a new trial. >> but that wasn't brave bluster. in this case, michael george's defense attorney was being prophetic. six months later the defense tried again. a motion for a new trial before the same judge. one of the grounds for the appeal was prosecutorial misconduct. >> this is not a robbery. not a robbery. it's a murder. >> what happened was in his closing argument the prosecutor had a display for the jury. >> his timetable is -- and out of the judge's eye shot began assembling pieces of a photo like a jigsaw puzzle. the punchline when you put the picture together, jurors, there's your killer. maybe clever or maybe cornball, but either way the prosecutor may have overstepped his bounds. the image of the finished puzzle was a mug shot of michael george that was never introduced into
evidence and according to defense lawyers showed him in a bad light. prejudicial error the defense argued, strike one. strike two was newly discovered evidence in the police case files possibly favorable to the defense. judge biernat had had enough. >> a judge ruled michael george should get a new trial in the 1990 comic bookstore murder case. >> biernat threw out the murder verdict and is now giving michael george another chance to win his freedom. >> it was just elation. it was, like, okay. the greatest injustice that i had ever been associated with as a lawyer has just been corrected. we are going get a new trial. >> carl marlinga and joe always believed in their client's innocence and now they won another chance to prove it. >> michael was devastated by the verdict. >> i didn't do this. >> suddenly he's got new life. suddenly he has faith again in
the system. >> i think he had two things working. he had new evidence and unfairness in the closing argument on top of this real heartfelt feeling by judge biernat that an innocent man had been convicted. >> the county prosecutor eric smith wasn't buying any of it. >> the judge seemed to have directed that there be a new trial because of prosecutorial misconduct. trial because of prol things and that was one of them. misconduct since the case began it appearet he was not comfortable with this case and what he did was set aside a murder conviction whicha was unheard of. >> smith was beside himself even though the judge's controversial decision was eventually backed by michigan's highest courts. >> you wait 18 years for justice, and you finally get justice, only to have it -- the carpet pulled out from under you. >> after the 2008 guilty verdict, barb's brother had gone to her grave site to share the good news. >> we finally got him, you know? he didn't get away with it, and, you know, you can rest now. >> but now there was the judge's
blockbuster decision. t >> it tore a hole in our hearts. it's something that here we thought it was over. >> barb's family would have to go through the painful ordeal all over again and with even more uncertainties this time he around.er though the jury had found michael george y guilty, the jue clearly had serious doubts. a new jury could go either way.c especially since the defense now had new evidence, more possible alternate killers and just dug up dirt on the prosecution's star witness. but two completely new prosecutors were revved up for the coming courtroom battle.s steve fox.ng and bill cataldo teaming up to make michael george face the music one more time.at the trial of the comic book of murder volume 2 was now at hand. coming up, a different jury, different prosecutors. >> michael george fell prey to the two issues most known to es
wheelchair as his second trial got under way before a new judge, mary chinowski. but if the defendant's disability made him appear feeble and more sympathetic to you are jurors, the new prosecution team would work hard to demonize him. >> michael george fell prey to the two issues most known to common man, sex and money. >> so, bill, what was your theory for the jury? >> i think motive is important, and it was easy. $130,000 in insurance proceeds, and the fact that he really didn't want to be married. he didn't like his wife. he found her completely unattractive. >> he wanted a new life. >> in his opening argument, prosecutor steve fox told jurors that in 1990 michael george was having a torrid affair with renee, now his second wife.
>> he wanted to get rid of his overweight wife and move on to someone better. >> before the murder the husband wasn't bothering to hide his disdain for his wife barbara according to this prosecution witness. >> theresa testified that she and her son went to comic world the saturday before the murder. >> they were in the store when theresa walked in. >> i had remarked how beautiful his girls were. >> what did he say? >> if it wasn't for his daughters that he would not be with his wife and that he found her unattractive and heavy and if it was up to him he would take the girls and move to florida. >> what was your reaction to that response? >> i couldn't believe he had said something like that to me while she was right there in the store. >> and that same customer was shocked again days later when michael made what she thought was a pass at her during his own wife's viewing at the funeral home. >> he gave me a very inappropriate hug. it would have been a hug that i
would only have given my husband. it's a very intimate hug. >> a little creepy, but the following saturday as was their custom teresa and her son stopped by comics world. michael slipped her a note. >> would you read that note for the jury? >> you look very, very, very pretty today. thanks for coming in. sincerely, michael. >> publicly scornful of his wife, hitting on other women and now a longtime friend of barbara's was testifying that her friends and family were all well aware with of capital t, trouble, in the marriage. caddy got a call from barb weeks before the murder. >> she was crying, very upset. mike wanted a divorce. >> and did she convey to you whether she would agree to that? >> oh, she did not want a divorce. >> prosecutor fox then asked the witness about seeing the defendant at barb's funeral. >> i overheard mike saying to his mother yelling out, mom, did you call the insurance company?
it just didn't sound good because of the phone conversation i had with barb and then now her death. >> michael george, a one-time insurance salesman himself received $130,000 tax-free from his wife's life insurance policies, not bad money in 1990. a witness who worked with michael in the insurance business was asked about the money. >> what does the document say? >> this is a claim statement for payment of the proceeds. >> who signed the claim? >> michael george, looks like. >> on what day? >> 7/18 of '90. >> july 18, 1990. >> yes, sir. >> are you aware that barbara george had been buried on july 17th of 1990? >> yes. >> womanizer, scoundrel. the prosecution dissected his character and referred to him as the only possible killer. >> our concentration was to show that he was the only guy, that he was the one who had to have
done it because no one else on earth would have. >> speak loudly. your first name is kim? >> yes. >> prosecutors called this witness who worked at a nail salon in the same strip mall as comics world. >> i would say that i witnessed about 30 to 35 arguments. >> she testified shield hear many arguments between michael and barbara that summer, but the one she heard that day, friday the 13th sounded even uglier. >> it was much louder. he was much angrier and seemed much more violent. >> than the ones in the past? >> yes. >> less than four hours later, barbara george would be discovered by customers on the floor in the back of comics world. yet in this public place of a strip mall, customers coming and going, cars, no witness remembered hearing gunshots, though two had been fired. no one remembered seeing anyone leave the store and no witness saw michael george at the store from the time he left after 4:00 until he drove up at 8:00 for
what was to be his birthday party. by then police were all over the scene. >> he told us who he was, identified himself and wanted to know what happened in the store. >> lead detective donald steckman, then of clinton township p.d., testified that michael said his wife was working at comics world. >> i advised him there had been an incident at the store and his wife had been injured. >> did he ask you about her condition? >> no. >> did he ask you about how it happened? >> no. >> steckman told the husband that then lieutenant donald brook would be driving him to the hospital where he could find out about his wife. >> the former lieutenant testified that michael started chatting without prompting. >> he made a statement that i thought was noteworthy. >> what was that statement? >> something must have fell or dropped on her in the back room. >> why is that statement interesting to you? >> because i never told him that mrs. george was in the back room of the store. >> he knows things --
>> he knows evidence that only the shooter would know not realizing how unique that information is. >> later that night according to police, michael george told investigators the two white boxes of expensive comics were missing and that poor barbara must have stumbled into a robbery gone bad. >> a theory police and prosecutors subsequently rejected. >> this is why it was not a robbery. the diamond ring was on her hand and we know it was worth at least $2500. there was $720 cash in the register. they were untouched. expensive comics behind the glass were untouched. the safe, untouched. >> the safe was in the back storage room where michael claimed the missing boxes of comics had been. >> what's unique about that is these two white boxes were unmarked, they didn't say, expensive comic books here. >> missing comics were never found, but prosecutors believe they were never stolen, either, even though michael recovered a $12,600 insurance claim for them.
>> there were a hundred unmarked white boxes in that room, the only way to know which ones to grab would be if it was an inside job. >> but the only inside job, according to the prosecutors, was the murder itself. >> the reason it's an inside job is because of the accessibility to that door. >> that door was central to the prosecutor's theory of the murder. michael george, they said, sneaked in the back door and concealed himself until his wife was alone in the store. when she came into the back room, their belief was, he fired two shots, the first one hitting a swimsuit calendar in the wall and the second striking barb in the top of her head as she was ducking away. >> the murder took place. and where he went from there, our theory was he was out the back door and gone. >> slipping into the alley, sight unseen, but not before doing only what he could do. >> he left through the back door. locking that lock.
double locked. >> indeed, the door was locked from the outside when police arrived. something prosecutors claimed only michael george could do. >> you'd have to have those keys. >> no one but the defendant had keys to the back door, prosecutors maintained, and they added any supposed robber would have fled through the busy front door and would have been spotted. >> there were too many witnesses that started walking in a minute to two minutes of that gunshot. no one saw anyone leaving with boxes of comic books. no one saw anyone running out the front door. >> what about people spotted by witnesses minutes before and after the murder? the guy in the greek fisherman's cap, the suspicious character who seemed to be wearing a fake beard. the so-called bearded lady. police made a sketch of the bearded lady, but prosecutors say none of the would-be suspects ever amounted to anything except in the case of
the bearded lady. prosecutors theorize that this person may have been michael george's accomplice. now the prosecutors would offer up their star witness, the sole person who could say the husband was indeed in the store as the minutes were counting down to murder. comic collector mike renaud. but this time the defense was ready with new evidence to challenge not only renaud's credibility, but also his memory. coming up. in 1990 you used marijuana and you drank alcohol on the weekends, did you not? >> so the strategy is go nuclear on mike renaud? >> i wouldn't say nuclear, no. we just brought out the facts. >> when "dateline" continues.
that the main factor in george floyd's death was law enforcement restraint. and duke university announced new and returning students will be required to receive a covid-19 vaccine before entering for the fall semester. now back to "dateline." once again, michael george's guilt or innocence would likely come down to the man who said he made an innocent phone call about a spider-man comic book. >> we would call mike renaud. >> in the first trial, the jurors had bought mike renaud's account of speaking to the shop owner over the phone apparently just minutes before the murder. the judge, however, had seemed skeptical. but now 12 new people would be deciding the case. so prosecution and defense lawyers had to start afresh with the all-important star witness. the stakes couldn't be higher. >> michael renaud, without him would you have a case? >> no. he's the only one that puts the defendant at the scene. he's the only one that alone can destroy the defendant's alibi.
>> without him we don't even issue a warrant. >> the defense lawyers knew their client's freedom depended both on their challenging renaud's story and reinforcing the defendant's alibi. >> it's a win-win for the prosecution's side. >> what we hoped to direct the jury to focus on was specifically that alibi. >> the defendant's 1990 story was that he'd left his clinton township shop some time after 4:00 p.m. to go to his mother's house. she lived in hazel park about a half hour away. it's michael george's alibi that he was at his mother's house from about 4:30 to 7:30. a little after he arrived, his mother said he took her grandchildren to the park and he was sleeping on the couch some they got back some time after 6:00. barb was murdered a little after 6:00. if michael george's account is true, he was at his mother's at that time and therefore could not be the killer. but according to prosecutors michael george wasn't napping on the couch at all.
they contended he'd returned to comics world and sneaked into the storage room with a gun when barb left to order pizza for his birthday party. and about what time was that? >> between 5:00 and 5:30. >> that's the timeframe when this woman, a friend of barb's came to the store. it was locked and she had to wait for barb to return from the pizza place. >> if she's not in the store at 5:30, she couldn't possibly have answered the phone at 5:30, correct? >> correct. >> so if someone answered the phone at 5:30, it would have to be someone other than her? >> correct. >> prosecutors questioned the one witness who could identify who answered the phone. >> michael renaud. >> yes, sir. >> mike renaud. in 1990 a decade before his disabling accident renaud was married and had a young daughter and was holding down two jobs. >> were you also attending school? >> yes. i was going to wayne state.
>> how well did you do at wayne state? >> i graduated cum laude. the prosecution wanted to regard renaud as knowledgeable and a comic book collector. >> before july 13, 1990 how frequently would you go to the store? >> at least once a week. >> the day of the murder he testified he actually stopped by comics book world before work. but renaud's critical story with the jury had to do with the phone call he made later in the day to the shop. he had a collector's question about a spider-man comic he owned. >> he called because he was excited that some book had jumped from $8 to $40. >> did you contact anyone to discuss the reasons for it going up in value? >> yeah, i called mike. >> he knew the voice. he knew the time that he would be there and that's the whole case. >> tell me about the demeanor of michael george in that phone call. >> the answers were very short, and he seemed to be in a hurry to get off the phone. >> you might wonder as many people did if michael george was lying in wait to murder his wife in just moments, why would he be so dumb as to pick up a ringing phone in the store?
>> he picks it up for one of two reasons, either as a businessman, it's a call and he doesn't want to lose business or number two, it's his accomplice from the outside letting him know what's going on. >> couldn't investigators simply pull the phone logs and verify renaud's story by seeing what time the records showed the call coming in? not in 1990. the phone company didn't keep those kinds of logs on local calls. but, remember, renaud's story had fallen through the investigative cracks all together until a cold case cop craig keith came upon it in 2007. and in that re-discovered file was a statement saying that a guy named renaud had called the police department the day after the murder. he wanted the detectives to know that he'd spoken with michael george in the comic shop at 6:00 p.m. on the fateful day. after you hung up the phone with
the department, did you think about it further? >> yes. >> why? >> i did not want to get mike in trouble. if i was wrong on my time. >> and according to those newly discovered police records, renaud had called the police back almost immediately to amend the time he'd spoken to michael george. >> what did you advise police this time when you called back? >> it was closer to 5:30 instead of 6:00. >> there were multiple calls to police. we actually saw that as a strength rather than a weakness. >> he's trying to help michael george and he's trying to tell the police don't get him in trouble because of me. it's establishing that he's not in this because he has some ill will against the defendant or he's making it up for 15 minutes of fame. >> that's not how the defense team saw renaud. they thought he was basking in the limelight of the big murder trial. >> we think he's just kind of exaggerating his own importance in his mind. he saw a way to become important in a homicide investigation. >> when the defense had its crack at renaud on cross-examination, it wanted the jury to question his motives, memory and credibility. >> first of all, this guy mike renaud makes himself sound like
he's a really good buddy of michael george. he talks to him all the time. michael george doesn't remember him at all. >> renaud's multiple calls to the police changing his times indicated that this witness didn't have a good handle on his recollections and was therefore, unreliable. >> he called back several times, being uncertain of the time when he was making the call. >> if the call to michael george happened at all and the defense disputes that it did, defense attorney marlinga believed it must have been placed before the shop owner left for his mother's house. that was more than an hour before the murder. >> so you're saying renaud is not just mistaken with his times, that he is -- >> he seems a little bit motivated. he seems a person of mischief. >> we think he wanted to -- to become a hero. >> in fact, since the last trial renaud had tried to bolster his story by adding new facts according to the defense. renaud revealed for the first time that he went to the clinton township police department days after the murder to make a report in person. marlinga's tough cross-examination brought out
that renaud's memory of that police interview was at best, hazy. >> the person that you met with in the face-to-face conversation, do you know the name of that person? >> i do not. >> how about the gender? male or female? >> it was a male. >> old or young? >> i cannot say. >> was this person in a uniform or in a suit or sport coat or in a shirt? >> i cannot say. >> do you remember seeing a badge? >> i cannot say. >> did you ever see a police report that was generated as a result of that interview? >> no, sir. >> there is, in fact, no police report of that interview. was it another example in the defense's theme of inept police work or a figment of renaud's imagination? >> either the police department lost a very important police report or the lack of police notes is a fact because the interview never happened. >> isn't it true, sir, that you invented, that is, you made up this conversation? >> i did not do that. >> but now the defense was moving on, telling the jury there may be a reason why
renaud's memory is so hazy. back in those days, the lawyers asserted, he was often in a haze of pot smoke. >> can you even remember the times that you were high? >> objection. relevance, argumentive. >> so the strategy is to go nuclear on mike renaud? >> i wouldn't say nuclear. we regard it just bring out the facts. >> in 1990 you used marijuana and you drank alcohol on the weekends, did you not? >> i was in college and that would not surprise me. >> the homicide that we're talking about occurred on friday friday july 13th, your two initial calls into the clinton township police occurred on saturday, july 14th of 1990. we are agreed that friday and saturday are weekend days, correct? >> correct. >> when questioned whether he got high on the only weekend that mattered, july 13th and 14th, 1990, renaud had to admit
he just didn't remember. >> you could have used it, or you could not have used it. you don't remember? >> correct. >> the goal was to raise reasonable doubt about renaud's recall and credibility. >> marijuana can cause a time distortion so we're talking to a person who might not have the best handle on time. >> now that the defense believed it had shredded renaud's story, it was ready to tell the jury who really murdered barbara george. coming up, another impossible suspect in an impossibly strange disguise. >> you said it looked like a woman in a weird, a thin guy or a womanly guy? >> when "dateline" continues. ins aleve is proven stronger and longer on pain than tylenol.
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♪♪ michael george had been married to his second wife renee for almost 20 years. through thick and thin, they still seemed very much in love. >> this case will show you -- >> but at his 2011 trial the defense acknowledged right up front that during his first marriage michael would never have won an award for husband of the year. >> this is not a matter of suspicion, innuendo, discussed with the person for having affairs. this is a matter of evidence. >> so lead defense attorney carl marlinga reminded jurors the
defendant was on trial for murder. >> an adulterer is a person who's done evil things, but that does not necessarily make him a murderer. >> the victim's shoe could be seen. >> as for any hard evidence that michael george killed his wife in cold blood, the defense maintained it just didn't exist. >> and you have no weapon, no witnesses. >> no. >> no forensics. >> nothing. >> nothing. nada, nothing that ties him to the crime. >> the jury, your honor, the people rest. >> just as in the first trial came that moment when the prosecution rested and the defense filed a motion saying, your honor, they haven't proved their case. >> there is no physical evidence which links michael george to the crime. >> but this time there was no five-hour retreat to chambers for the judge to think about it. her ruling came in seconds. >> the court is finding that the prosecution has presented substantial evidence. the defendant teared up. there was enough evidence, the judge declared, to go forward.
>> the conclusion, gentlemen, is that the motion is denied. so with that setback, not unexpected, the defense began its three-pronged line of attack. that the original police work was inept, that there was evidence, some of it new, that someone else committed the murder, and, thirdly, that michael george had a strong alibi. >> we decided that our strongest evidence was the alibi, and that would normally be sufficient to win, but knowing that we are dealing with michael's history and the affairs that could make him an unlikable character, joe and i realized that we really almost had to prove innocence. >> michael george told police that he'd left the store with his daughters a little after 4:00 p.m. that friday. they went to his mother janet's house about 30 minutes away. he said he was asleep on his mother's couch when, tragically, his wife was shot. janet george, the mother had testified in the first trial and
backed up her son's asleep on the couch story. >> on the couch. >> defense attorneys altered their strategy for trial number two. >> ma'am, do you swear that you will read word for word everything that's in that transcript? >> mom didn't testify in person this time around. the defense had a stand-in read janet george's 2008 testimony into the record, an account in which michael arrived after 5:00 p.m. that day. she said he was tired while she took her granddaughters to a nearby playground. >> when you got back, did you observe michael at all? >> yeah. >> where was he? >> he was on the couch sleeping. >> if the jurors believed the story being recited to them, michael george couldn't possibly have been at his shop at 5:30 answering the phone. that's when the star prosecution witness mike renaud said he talked to him. >> janet george was the alibi. why didn't you put her on the stand? >> tough call. we agonized about it.
the problem with janet george is that she loves her son, but she's a wild card. her -- her memory is fading. >> the lawyers were confident about their decision not to call the mother because they had a strong witness to substantiate parts of her story. >> okay, have a seat right up here. peggy was janet george's next-door neighbor. on that friday the 13th, like most days, peggy said she got home from her job between 5:45 and 6:00. >> as you got close to your house did you see anybody? >> i actually saw janet and the two girls in the school playground at the end of our street. >> when you saw them there, what, if anything, did they do? >> we just waved. >> as you pulled into your house what, if anything, did you see in front of janet's house? >> there was a van parked in front of the house. >> okay. did you recognize whose van it was? >> i assumed it was one of michael's vans, yes.
>> in the prosecution's theory of the time line, there was a missing link of logistics. how did michael get from his mother's place and back to the store in time to kill barbara? >> the neighbor's sighting of his van outside his mom's could plant the seed of reasonable doubt. >> she has no dog in the fight. she's not a close, close bosom buddy or lifelong personal friend of janet and michael's. she's a neighbor. why wouldn't you believe her? >> when you take the combined testimony of janet george and peggy, you have solid evidence that he was at someplace else. >> and that neighbor was a person the defense team had found on its own. the police had never knocked on doors to corroborate michael's alibi of being at his mother's, evidence in itself, the defense argued of shoddy police work. even the former police lieutenant admitted on cross-examination that aspect of the investigation could have been better. >> if you were the officer in
charge of this case, would you have conducted a canvass of his mother's neighborhood to see if people could have placed him there at or about the time of the homicide? >> yes, sir. >> inept police work was a defense theme. for instance, the police never tested michael george for gunshot residue the night of the murder. >> in the rear entry door. >> and also failed to dust the prosecution's critical back door for fingerprints. >> if the bad guy reached for the handle to try to get out that way, he would have left some prints. but we'll never know that because the police didn't dust that. >> there were some plastic storage bins. >> and police photos inside the comic storeroom where barbara was found was clutter blocking the back door. how could michael george have gotten in or out past all of that? >> does that look like the room. >> the former detective did not know how to read that junk apparently in the way. >> was that leaning up against the door?
>> i really can't tell the perspective here. it's hard to tell. >> the defense felt it had already raised enough reasonable doubt to secure a not guilty verdict. and even though they in no way had to, the lawyers wanted to offer the jury other possible murder suspects considered in a scenario of a robbery gone bad. >> the defense calls mr. thomas clinton. >> the defense put on a witness who told a story about being with two friends outside a comic bookshop in flint, michigan, some 50 miles away from michael george's shop. a sinister-looking guy was peddling what appeared to be hot comics. >> a man approached us in the parking lot and asked us to take a look at old comics that he wanted to sell. >> this new defense witness said he came forward after watching the first comic bookcase on "dateline." he testified that the then teenagers didn't trust the seller and bought nothing from him. >> the vibe the gentleman was giving us told us no way. >> the witness said that encounter took place july 14,
1990, significantly, the day after barbara george's murder, but his friends, called by the prosecution contradicted him and said it actually happened weeks earlier. >> we were walking towards the building. >> but the defense wasn't out of alternative suspects. one of the store customers who had initially come upon barbara george, thomas ward recounted seeing a suspicious man lurking about when he got to comics world a little after 6:00 p.m. >> it appeared that this individual was looking, trying to gaze into the store quite focused, in a quite focused fashion. >> ward said he remembered the man because of his distinctive hat. he had a greek fisherman's cap, black cap. >> a cap like this. >> let me show you defense exhibit 105. >> yeah. >> and still another new witness testified that in 1990 she briefly dated a guy who wore a short-brimmed hat like that. a guy who carried a gun and was up to no good and was up to no good with the comic book stores.
>> i realized that he was stealing these comic books. >> these were all possible suspects the defense claimed, but on the top of its list of curiosities was someone who had become known as the bearded lady. witness joe gray, a friend of the georges came to the store before 6:00 to drop off supplies for michael's birthday party. gray was with a friend who had gotten a gander of something strange. >> he said it looked like a woman in a fake beard, a really thin guy with womanly hips or something. >> gray and his friend were so concerned about this weird bearded lady out front they even warned barbara george to be on the lookout. it didn't feel right. >> why would somebody wearing a fake beard? maybe someone would come to the party as a joke or maybe they were trying to rob the place. it was joe gray's friend who helped police make the sketch of the so-called bearded lady. >> i believe the person with the fake beard and mustache is the killer. >> that's your solution of this? >> it's a fake beard and
mustache on a july day with no no theater productions or halloween parties and this is just too suspicious in these circumstances, that person is the killer. >> what would 12 fresh jurors believe this time? the comic book murder case volume 2 had one final chapter left. coming up. >> all right, gentlemen, we have a verdict. >> all rise for the jury. >> when "dateline" continues. age before beauty? why not both?
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the comic book murder was a grueling case in search of an ending. barbara george had been shot to death in 1990. her husband was arrested in 2007. his first trial ended in a guilty verdict that was later overturned. and now after a six-week retrial in 2011, a second jury was behind closed doors deliberating. 21 years in all, and once again, michael george hadn't testified as was his right. his lawyers had put him through a mock cross-examination that sprang leaks. they said his memory was faulty after all that time. >> i put together a pattern of cross-examination questions where he had to say i don't remember about 20 times in a row and we have two solid alibi witnesses. it's almost malpractice to put him on the stand. >> but the prosecutors believe his reluctance to testify was more about him not being able to
stand up to the grilling he would have faced in a real cross-examination. >> my wife was murdered, that's the most important day of my life and i forgot what happened that day? it's because maybe i talked myself out of wanting to remember. >> i wanted to hear what he had to say. >> these jurors said the entire panel was disappointed that it didn't hear the story from michael george's own mouth. >> i think you can see a lot about a person when they talk about themselves. >> "dateline" talked to 10 of the 12 jurors and they told us their first vote revealed a split, seven guilties, five not. >> and your not guilties, what? needed to be persuaded? >> it was the robbery. >> the clarification. >> it was clarification and a couple had an idea that maybe the robbery did happen. >> the central question for each juror was which story to believe, the comic book collector who said he talked on the phone to michael george in the shop just before the murder or the defendant's mother, his alibi witness that he was napping on her couch across town at the same hour.
>> to me, ultimately, it came down to michael renaud's testimony and the phone call that he made that placed michael george at the scene of the crime. >> so did the defense damage mike renaud's credibility by attacking him as a marijuana smoking, beer-guzzling college kid? not to this juror. >> i think they were trying to personally attack him to get us to believe that he couldn't remember anything because he was a drug abuser. >> and several jurors questioned the mother's recollection of events. >> i'm not saying she would lie for him, but, i mean, would you stick up for your kids? >> the jurors talked it through for three days and finally took a vote. >> all right, gentlemen. we have a verdict. their job was done. >> all rise for the jury. >> michael george cried quietly. his wife renee, remained stoic. on the benches across the court, barb's brother hoped for justice from a second jury. >> it's 12 people. you don't know what they're thinking. >> the foreperson read the verdicts.
first degree premeditated murder of barbara george guilty, first degree premeditated murder. guilty, murder in the first degree. and guilty on the other counts as well, felony firearm and insurance fraud. michael george didn't break down this time. he closed his eyes and seemed to talk to himself. behind him his wife renee buried her head. barb's brother contained his joy out of respect for his nieces who lost their mother and now their father. >> it's a little bit bittersweet. they still have to come to the realization that their father's a murderer. >> the prosecutors quietly congratulated each other on the conviction. >> it was a huge relief to know that finally the family was getting what they deserved, the justice they deserved. >> michael george was led out of the courtroom to begin the rest of his life in prison, no possibility of parole. a terrible injustice as his staunch defense attorney saw it. >> i've lived with this case for four years, and i just don't see
any evidence that he was there committing the crime. i prosecuted killers, defended killers, this man was not guilty. >> i don't know why god has put us through this. but i do know he loves us. >> six weeks after the verdict, michael george did finally speak out, but as a convicted murderer at his pro forma sentencing hearing. >> the catastrophe of putting people away that are innocent has not started with me and will not end with me. before this, i've never been accused of any crime, nor domestic violence. i have no police records, no problems with drinking or drugs. i can only hope and pray that the lives that are destroyed by people being overzealous in the police community will find mercy in god above. >> barb's brother joe expected nothing and said he got it. >> once again, no apology. he thinks he's better than everybody else, and he thought he was going to get away with it. >> and as barb's family saw it, since 1990 he did get away with murder, until county attorney
eric smith's cold case unit finally made him pay. >> do you still talk to barbara? >> yes. >> did you talk to her in the courtroom that day? >> yes. >> what did you say? >> that i love her. that we miss her and that we finally got him and hopefully move on. this sunday, america and the world. my exclusive interview with secretary of state tony blinken on fighting covid. >> we're going to be the world leader on helping to make sure the entire world gets vaccinated. >> on defending taiwan from china. >> it would be a serious mistake for anyone to try to change the existing status quo. >> on russia's ambitions in ukraine. >> if russia acts recklessly or aggressively, there will be costs and consequences. >> plus, a divided country on gun safety laws. >> this is an epidemic, for god's sake. it has to stop. >> it's not going to make us any safer.