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The remarkable life and imprisonment of Stephen Nodine.
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But, without replaying a blow-by-blow of the earlier trial and of the cell phone records and video of Nodine’s subsequent stops at a convenience store and a Mexican restaurant, and without recounting my own interviews, site visits, or stopwatch use to create a timeline, here are all the things that must have happened if Nodine actually shot Downs:
First, in a tiny time window of between two minutes (best-case scenario from Nodine’s standpoint) and three minutes and 30 seconds (worst case), Nodine would have had to a) enter the house; b) be confronted by Downs, with her gun in hand; c) somehow get the gun from Downs’ possession; d) end up in Downs’ short front driveway, in clear light (it was about 12 minutes after sunset, but still fairly bright) and in clear sight of front windows of at least six and as many as a dozen other homes; e) not just fire a gun in a struggle, but shoot her execution-style, muzzle pressed hard against her temple, as if she were immobilized or entirely passive; f) realize he just shot his girlfriend without having planned to do so (remember, it was she who had the gun out), make split-second decisions to drop the gun near her right hand as if it were suicide (and place it perfectly for that purpose), but without wiping blood from the gun barrel; and g) bound over to his truck, jump in, and speed off.
He would have needed the presence of mind to make it look like suicide, perfect confidence in his luck that nobody saw the shooting in a fairly wide-open space, and the even greater luck that her blood would show up on her gun and the crook of her hand but that none of his fingerprints would be found on the gun (which was not tested for prints in a timely manner).
After all of this occurred in about 150 seconds, he then would have had to drive above the speed limit to a convenience store (leaving him no time at all to stop the truck for any self-examination or clean off any blood that might have ended up on him); stride into the store wearing the exact same clothes he had worn all day at the beach (as attested to by photos and by testimony of those present) and without the slightest apparent concern that blood or brain-matter or other awful indicia might be visible on him; buy a Diet Mountain Dew and, with breath still smelling of a boozy beach excursion, politely wish the clerk a good day.
Nodine later told police that he drove to the Timber Creek Golf Club to hit balls in preparation for a pro-am the next day, only to find the sometimeslighted range unlit; drove across from the golf community to a Ruby Tuesday’s where he changed in the back of the parking lot into fresher clothes, while throwing his beach attire into the back seat of his cab; approached the door only to decide it looked too crowded; and returned to his truck and drove two minutes to a Mexican restaurant, where video cameras recorded him sauntering in as if without a care in the world and taking a bar seat to drink coffee and watch a Yankees-Red Sox game. The timeline shows he actually did appear at the restaurant almost precisely when one would expect if he had taken that exact route with those exact stops.
In just a few minutes, the phone calls began: A newsman had heard on the radio that law enforcement was looking for him, but didn’t know why. Nodine professed bafflement. He called one lawyer, who knew nothing and told him to call another lawyer. He tracked down that lawyer, and…suddenly, dramatically, let out a loud, anguished exclamation.
Eventually the lawyer drove to meet Nodine at the restaurant, from which they went together to a nearby satellite sheriff’s facility. Nodine voluntarily spent hours answering officers’ questions without exception, with eyes red and occasional sobs, but (with a few small glitches) remarkable consistency about every occurrence that day and evening. Asked if he minded having his truck impounded, he said no problem and volunteered the keys.
In coming weeks, exhaustive forensic tests would be run on the truck, on everything in it, including on the beach clothes he left in a dry heap in the back seat. Not the merest trace of Downs’ blood was found. No gunpowder residue from her gun either. Streaks of material widely reported (based on early suggestions from prosecutors) to look “bloodlike” proved to be entirely innocent.
So-o-o… she had blood on her gun and on her right hand, and brain matter was all over the scene, but none of it showed up on Nodine, none on his clothes, none on his own hands that would have wiped off anywhere in or on the truck, not even any droplets on the door handle or the steering wheel. Nodine made no attempt to hide anything, gave no evidence of distress (on video cameras in two different places) until exactly the moment when Lawyer Number Two told him by phone that Downs was dead-and he made no attempt to cite the Fifth Amendment or deny law enforcement access to his person or possessions.
Back at Downs’ condo, investigators found no signs of struggle. Neighbors who clearly heard the gunshot report hearing no fighting or argument beforehand. Three of four forensic pathologists and psychologists concluded that Downs committed suicide, and the other one’s supposition otherwise relied in”defensive wounds” on her hands that, it was later discovered, actually were visible on photos taken that day at the beach, before the two returned to her condo.
Four years earlier, Angel Downs had called her sister, sounding distressed, immediately before attempting suicide via pill overdose. She barely survived. On May 9, 2010, Downs called her sister, sounding distressed, just before she died. Ambien, taken recently, was coursing through her veins. As has been well established medically, Ambien and alcohol can be a dangerous combination. Both are depressants, as is Xanax, which was also found at therapeutic levels in her blood. On the other hand, Adderall, also in her system, is an amphetamine, an upper. She had no prescription for it, nor should she have, as she had a heart condition since birth. But in conjunction with the three downers, the mind- and sudden-mood-altering potential is huge.
Angel Downs, by all accounts a woman of generous heart and abundant friendship, was suffering what she called “economic hardship” of declining income in real estate sales. Downs had just written a letter that week demanding that Nodine leave his wife for her and saying that their illicit relationship made her look bad. And she had way too many chemicals affecting her brain.
Yet Stephen Nodine was charged with her murder.
Is it technically conceivable he could have done it, and been simultaneously smart enough, poised enough, and incredibly lucky enough to have left behind not a shred of physical evidence while otherwise acting like an innocent man? Yes, maybe, just barely — if you squint at the evidence in just the right way and then willingly suspend every smidgen of disbelief.
And was Stephen Nodine’s personal life a mess — was he, in common parlance, a skank? Well, to pull no punches, yes. Skankiness in major measure, without a shadow of a doubt.
But skankiness is no crime. Not all violent deaths are murder. So Stephen Nodine sits in a friend’s dining room, showing photos of his remarkable life, a GPS monitor attached to his ankle — while vowing that he’ll clear his name just as surely as he once cleared a scenic, residential road from the stench of a flattened possum.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?