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tv   Dateline  MSNBC  January 1, 2022 2:00am-3:00am PST

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(swords clashing) -had enough? -no... arthritis. here. aspercreme arthritis. full prescription-strength? reduces inflammation? thank the gods. don't thank them too soon. kick pain in the aspercreme. i'm craig melvin. >> and i'm natalie morales. >> and this is "dateline." all after sudden i realized, what's going on? why are they late? something definitely was wrong. he said, your family was in an accident. and my whole world just dropped out from underneath me. >> the scene told the story. >> what did you find? >> something i don't want to see again. >> a deadly crash on a dark road. two gone, one barely alive. a tragic accident. but look closer. in all of the broken glass and
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twisted metal, was there a clue to a crime? >> the last thing i wanted was to have to take a double fatality and now treat it as a homicide. >> murder. an accusation no one saw coming. >> i couldn't deal with it. >> two families in torment. >> we were both just, ugh. >> a small-town trial with big emotions. >> you took him. you did it. >> and a verdict -- >> we the jury -- >> -- that would shake them all. hello and welcome to "dateline." a dangerous highway in big sky country. that was the setting for a deadly crash that would seem to unite two families in shock and heartbreak except they were about to find out the truth what happened on that fateful night might be darker than anyone knew. here is keith morrison.
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>> march 19, 2009. night fell heavy in montana's flathead valley. something off that night. something wrong. at mary and randy winters' house, anxiety spiked. where was she? >> it just felt like something was not right. >> it's hard to explain that there's something not normal. >> you could set your clock by their daughter justine. that reliable. but a new driver, too, just 16, due home at 8:00 from her boyfriend's house. and though she wasn't very late, the feelings seeped in like a poison. something wrong. >> i called her starting about 5 after 8:00 and no answer. called the house where she was at, and they said she had left 15 minutes before that. >> i was thinking she went off the road between their house and us. >> not far away, another family,
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the other half of our story, was on the road, too. erin thompson was driving her son caden home from a school concert. he played the drums. >> i had always attended all of caden's concerts, and this is the first one i didn't attend because i had car trouble. >> this is caden's stepfather, jason thompson. >> my car was in the shop and finally fixed so erin dropped me off and that's why i wasn't with them. >> and soon the poison, the anxiety, seeped under jason's door, through his windows, onto his nerve endings. >> just all of a sudden i realized, what's going on? why are they late? it just struck me that something definitely was wrong. >> at justine winters' house, the fear was deep now. justine's dad randy was a national guardsman, a volunteer firefighter. he was trained to keep his head, knew what he had to do. randy got in his truck, drove out of town to the road he knew she'd take coming home from her boyfriend's house.
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and then he saw it. in a construction zone on a highway 93 overpass. what did you find? >> something i don't want to see again. you could say a fireman's worst nightmare. >> someone tried to hold him back. he kept on. >> and then i saw her over at the side. >> his perfect daughter, his justine, obscenely broken but amazingly still alive. how did she look? >> i didn't really see a lot of her on the gurney there, but i got to see her at the hospital. >> she was pretty bad. >> you know, you don't want to ever see your kid in the hospital. >> every bit of her was damaged, horribly, broken bones, brain damage, ruptured organs. the chance she'd survive slim, said the doctors.
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oh, but the winters' news could have been worse. and a few miles away, where the phone rang at jason thompson's house, the news was worse. much worse. the call was from the county coroner. >> he said, jason, your family was in an accident. he said, i'm sorry to have to tell you this on the phone, but they were just killed. and my whole world just dropped out from underneath me. >> jason's wife, 35-year-old erin thompson, was four months pregnant. her son caden, the boy who just played the drums at his school concert, was just 13. and just like that, they were gone. the crash was head-on. and in school counselor jason thompson's life, the lights went out. >> that night, that realization i'll never forget, that news.
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>> nor, of course, will erin's mother diana. >> we were both just bonkers, just -- >> or his sister amber who with her husband david missed erin so much they planned to move to montana to be close. not possible now. >> that was the hardest piece of news we could fathom. >> and to lose both of them and the baby, it just didn't even seem like it could be real. >> and here in the little house he shared with the love of his life, where he had been waiting with such excitement for their baby to arrive, jason like job of old, was overcome by the heaviest sorrow of a whole life of sorrows. >> it was like i'm 9 years old, you know, in '79 when my sister dies and then i'm 19 years old in '89 when my mother dies with cancer.
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now i'm 39 in '09 and i lose my family. >> by missing that concert, you lived. how has that been to wrap your head around? >> i've always been embracing of life, right? but i definitely didn't fear death anymore. there's times when i would have welcomed it. >> but the dreadful truth of it is that accidents just like the one here happen all around america every day, every night. still, just as the permanence of loss began to sink in, before anyone had given a thought to a now-diminished future, there was another piece of news. this time on this road. the fatal accident might not have been an accident at all. coming up --
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>> the last thing i wanted was to have to treat it as a homicide. >> a prosecutor's stunning decision when "dateline" continues.
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for decades montanans have almost morbidly intoned the words "pray for me, i drive highway 93."
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they say it because of nights like march 19, 2009. except everybody soon would know this crash on this night may have been no accident. a revelation which, in jason thompson's devastated mind, would register later. just now his whole life was a bomb crater, a ruin. >> erin was like my heart. she was my soul mate, you know. i'd waited all these years looking, but i had the ideal. i was searching and searching for her. >> and she, as she told everybody, had been looking for him. erin was a single mom when jason met her brilliant smile. she was a hairdresser who loved to dance. and she was a seeker in all matters spiritual. her mother diana. >> when she was single and a young mother and she was wondering what she was going to do with her life, she answered her own question and just said, well, as long as i'm about the business of spreading love, it
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doesn't matter. >> erin married jason in the summer of 2006 in the glorious montana sunshine. and young caden seemed as pleased as she was. caden, who shared his mother and new stepfather's craving for outdoor adventures. >> backpacking on the coast and the mountains, river rafting, it was all about sharing that time together. >> yes, and there was that plan erin hatched with her sister amber. >> we always had a dream of growing up and living right next door to each other and, you know, raising up our families. >> and soon the plan expanded beautifully when erin and jason announced they were expecting a child of their own. >> every day i would praise my life, praise my wife and my little baby that i was finally going to have, and it all made sense. >> and then came march 19, 2009.
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but, as the news and the grief spread, there was still hope, remember, for one of the victims in the crash. justine winter was alive, though barely with a broken neck and broken leg and major internal injuries. doctors told the family they didn't think she'd live through the airlift to a hospital in seattle. what did they tell you? >> they said she wouldn't live. >> i said, well, she's flying in that airplane, and don't even give me any grief. >> and she did survive the flight to seattle and the emergency operations to stitch together the broken pieces of her body. she was unconscious when she arrived. the doctors kept her that way, induced a coma so she could avoid the pain or recognition of her desperate condition while her body slowly, slowly began to knit itself back together. until, more than a month later --
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>> and her eyes just went, poof! that was just like the most incredible feeling of, she's there, she's in there, and your heart's just beating. >> it was days later before justine could understand what was going on around her, but the news had to be faced eventually. and so, when she seemed ready, they told her. >> when you told her what happened in the accident and how those other people had died, how did she react to that? >> it was very emotional for her. it was very devastating. >> and then what was discovered was, well, quite frankly unimaginable. for, in the middle of that river of tears, relief on the one side, abject grief on the other, there was an undertow, a twist nobody saw coming. for, while justine spent 45 days in the hospital recuperating and months more here at home in montana healing, it didn't take investigators very long at all,
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matter of hours really, to solve the mystery of who and what caused this crash. in fact, the highway patrol officers who raced to this scene in the construction zone believed that justine winter's car was the one that crossed the center line and smashed into erin thompson's car. but the worst of it, the inconceivable part was, at least as investigators told flathead county attorney ed corrigan, this was not an accident at all. what was your first reaction? what did you think? >> nuts. this is the last thing i wanted, was to have to take a double fatality and have to now treat it as a homicide. >> homicide? yes. right there in justine's car officers found what amounted to a minute-by-minute narrative of the events leading up to the
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collision in text messages. and in those messages the prosecutor said was the evidence he believed required him to press criminal charges against that girl doctors had quite miraculously saved, justine winter. charges of murder. the prosecutor lays out his case while jason gets yet another shock. coming up -- >> he's suing you. >> for her pain and suffering. >> when "dateline" continues.
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investigators are convinced that justine winter intentionally crashed her car into erin thompson's, killing the pregnant mom and her 13-year-old son, caden. their evidence -- threatening text messages sent by justine just minutes before the fatal collision. here again is keith morrison. the sorrow ran deep in flathead county in that sum earp of 2009. deep and wide the whole valley, in fact the country, heard about the crash that killed caden and erin and her unborn child and the strange and disturbing story that 16-year-old justine winter
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took deadly aim at erin's on coming car, crossed the center line, and plowed right into them on purpose. shocking? oh, yes. as was the alleged reason. justine, said the police, was trying to commit suicide. how did they know? they found the evidence on justine's phone, they said, text messages which she wrote herself and which once county attorney ed corrigan saw them gave him no choice, he said. he charged her with deliberate homicide, montana's equivalent of murder. >> justine purposely went into the wrong lane of traffic and smashed head-on into another car. by doing so, she should have known her actions could have killed somebody, and under those circumstances i think deliberate homicide was the only charge we could file. >> you decide to charge her as an adult. why? she was 16. >> she was.
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the taking of two lives is not, in my opinion, a delinquent act. it is a crime, needs to be prosecuted as a crime, and if convicted needs to be on her record for the rest of her life. >> perhaps because of her own massive injuries, her continuing operations, her age, justine after pleading not guilty was released to house arrest, fitted with an ankle bracelet to await trial. shechls allowed to attend school. at home, her parents fumed. whatever the text messages said, the idea justine would cause that crash on purpose, just crazy. are you angry at all of this? >> it builds up inside, and it gets to a point where you can't take it anymore. >> turned out -- and it was frankly hardly surprising in a town the size of kalispell -- the two families actually knew each other. justine's mother and erin's mother had worked at the same school. erin's family made it perfectly clear what they wanted from justine is a heartfelt apology and that she
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took responsibility for the act with which she was charged. they saw that as a way to work forgiveness. most people around town thought that was a fine idea. but from justine and her family? just an awkward silence. and then early one morning in the fall of 2010, an entirely unexpected knock at the door took emotions to a whole new level. >> this private investigator just hands me these papers like he's serving me papers. you know, it says they're suing erin's estate. >> they're suing you? >> suing me. for her pain and suffering. >> it was true. in a legal preemptive strike, justine winter's attorneys had filed a lawsuit on her behalf against erin's estate as well as three companies in charge of the construction zone where the crash occurred. the lawsuit claimed erin had negligently operated her car resulting in the collision and
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also that the companies had failed to adequately construct and maintain the vicinity causing hazardous and confusing conditions for the traveling public. >> i can't even begin to guess what they were thinking about when they decided to file that lawsuit. >> it inflamed the whole town. >> the whole town. this wasn't justine's decision. that was a decision made by her attorneys. >> ah, yes, the attorneys. their names? maxwell battle and david stoft. according to the winters, the attorneys assured them the lawsuit, assuming justine was found not guilty, would give them a better shot at an insurance company reimbursement later. >> there was no intent of going for the estate, making that family endure more than they've already endured. >> but the optics were awful. >> oh, the timing could have been -- who knows -- better. >> you pick up the newspaper, you look at the blogs, you hear the radio and what you got was, those awful people, those disgusting, terrible people. what are they thinking, trying to sue the victims of this
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crime? >> that's what was portrayed. but the actual intent was not that. at all. >> all rise. district court is now in session. >> misunderstood or not, by the time justine winter's trial for deliberate homicide started in january 2011, the tide of public opinion had turned as bitter as a montana winter. the hearts of erin thompson's family, too, had toughened. and justine, who showed up in an almost childlike polka dot hair band certainly didn't look like the part of an accused killer facing 200 years behind bars. but there she was. with the two families just a few feet away, she watched investigators testify to a certainty that it was justine's pontiac grand am that crossed the center line. >> here you can see all the debris from the initial impact of the crash. >> slamming into erin's subaru so hard it was driven backward into the highway barrier. and crash reconstructionists
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agreed. >> justine winter's car encroached into the northbound lane striking mrs. thompson's vehicle. >> but what evidence was there that justine had done it, as the law says, purposefully? investigators pulled the so-called black box out of justine's pontiac, analyzed the data, and found another sign that pointed to suicide. she had taken off her seat belt. the black box also recorded speed, acceleration, and braking and found that justine was accelerating, flooring it so to speak, in the five seconds before the crash, speeding up from 81 to 86 miles an hour before hitting the brakes at the last second. >> she did not swerve. and she drove head-on into that other vehicle. >> to back it up, prosecutors pulled the speedometer from
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justine's car, there right above the mark indicating 85 miles an hour found an orange mark. it's known as a slap mark, made, the experts testified, when the needle smashes against the console at high speed. and, finally, prosecutors revealed the reason, they said, behind it all. justine, like many 16-year-old girls, had a boyfriend. hers was named ryan. it was quite hot, this relationship. he was her world. but that day in march there had been a tiff. it had words. and so that night she drove ryan home, asked him to get out of the car, he said they were through. then justine drove north to clear her head. she was on her way home when, detectives testified, she began texting ryan. apparently while behind the wheel. the first text, half an hour before the crash. >> good-bye, ryan. just live your life knowing you did change me. my last words. i love you, ryan.
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>> then her texts became somehow threatening. >> if i won, i would have you and i wouldn't crash my car. >> and ryan answered. >> you kill yourself, i kill myself. so come on, don't be selfish. >> that's the only thing i want to live for, you ryan. you keep me living. >> stop. you hurt yourself, i'll know and i'll do the same. >> that's why i'm going to wreck my car, because all i can do is [ bleep ] up. so you would rather me die because i want to kill myself. good-bye, ryan. i love you. >> then the final message from ryan. >> you killing yourself is just another way for you to run away. >> just five or six minutes later, prosecutors say, justine winter drove her car into erin thompson's lane of traffic to commit suicide but instead killed mother, child, unborn baby. the prosecution had made its case for murder.
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now the question was, what could justine winter's attorneys possibly say to make a jury believe otherwise? coming up, the defense takes on the heart of the case, those texts when "dateline" continues.
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i'm cori coffin. here's what's happening. the world rang in 2022 with low key celebrations as covid cases surge, but times square still held an event with 15,000 people while places like athens and berlin canceled their fireworks altogether. and tributes are pouring in for betty white who died weeks before her 100th birthday. she spent seven decades in the spotlight and joked to "people" magazine the secret to a long life is avoiding anything green. now back to "dateline."
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welcome back to "dateline." i'm craig melvin. the prosecution had made their case, now it was the defense's turn. could they convince the jury to see justine winter's text messages in a different light? once again, keith morrison. every day in this montana courtroom the family of now 17-year-old justine winter dutifully shuffled to the front row seats directly behind the defense table. their faces, by their attorneys' decree, they say, an intentional blank, emotionless. their apparent demeanor a spur in the hide of an already angry town. but almost no one knew what was really going on. justine's mother, mary, who had been struggling with alcohol, caved in to the stress. tell me how it's changed your life. >> i ran away for a while.
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i couldn't deal with it. i just left the house. i didn't come back. >> justine's brother kyle dropped out of college to help keep things together at home and get justine to her medical appointments. and randy, her father, the strong and tall as a montana spruce firefighter and national guardsman, turndz turned angry and bitter at the continuing prosecution of his little girl. >> i could be sitting in the living room watching tv and all of a sudden i hear something, i just completely lose it, start crying. >> the whole world, said justine's dad, seemed intent on misunderstanding, demonizing his little girl. yet, he said, she had always been so good, kind, thoughtful and responsible, was getting almost straight as in high school, but mostly wouldn't harm a bug, literally, and cared about people. would never, never want to hurt that sweet woman or her son or her baby.
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>> always that smile, always wanted to help. it's who she was. >> what kind of little girl was this? >> she was just a good girl. >> but it might interest you to know that, as the winters spoke to us here, they were doing so against the expressed advice of their attorneys. and, when it was time for justine's defense team to make its case in court, attorneys maxwell battle and david stoft told the jury that everything the prosecution told them, everything they knew about the case so far, was wrong. >> what happened out there was an accident. >> including where the crash occurred. remember the prosecution's experts testified there was no doubt justine crossed the center line and veered into erin thompson's lane, causing the crash. but a forensic engineer hired by the defense said his research turned that finding on its head. he claimed it was erin who drove
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out of her lane in that construction lane and struck justine. and the defense went further, claiming the slap mark on the 85-mile-an-hour mark on justine's car was planted there by investigators, that the black box that measured speed and braking was plain wrong, that justine always wore her seat belt. and, finally, a psychologist said, what actually a lot of experts said, that a spat with a boy wasn't enough to lead to a suicide attempt. and those texts? they should not be considered a suicide note at all. >> it was a way of exercising power and control in the relationship, to make that kind of threat, that it was always clear that it was never meant. >> what would justine winter say about what happened here that night about those texts? the jury would never know. she did not testify on the advice of attorneys, said her family. and, of course, that was her perfect right.
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but there was another reason, too. justine suffered a brain injury in that crash so her recollection of the last few days leading up to the crash and that night itself here she doesn't remember. she is charged with a crime about which her memory is a complete blank. so, then, how could the jury know that justine knowingly crossed the center line, having decided to commit suicide by hitting the other car? a question we put to the prosecutor. in order to draw that conclusion, you have to read her mind essentially. you've been a prosecutor for years. you know that car accidents happen in the most bizarre ways, that people do crazy things on the road. but you clearly said this was a situation in which i know what somebody was thinking when they drove across that lane of traffic and into that other car. >> no. >> i just don't know how you can know what she's thinking. >> i can't know what she was thinking. nobody knows what she was thinking at the time. she doesn't know what she was thinking at the time. >> precisely. >> all i can do is base my
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decision on what the evidence shows. >> did the evidence clearly show that justine winter had made up her mind to commit suicide by driving into an oncoming car? up to the jury now. coming up -- >> everyone just cried about it. >> a verdict comes quickly, but the pain and one final question remained, when "dateline" continues.
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as a montana jury prepared to decide the fate of 17-year-old justine winter, the members of erin and caden's family struggled to hang on to the frayed remnants of their former good will. they had tried so hard not to be angry at justine. that is, until they were served with that lawsuit, blaming the crash on erin, and then watched defense attorneys battle and stoft twist, what they thought anyway, twist what they believed were the facts of the case. these are unusual victims because of this willingness to forgive justine. >> it's the adults in her life who are steering her in this direction. it's not her decisions. you know, it's these adults. so i've had plenty of anger towards them. >> but for justine's family, too, there was considerable strain.
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so much that justine's father, randy, buckled under the fresh be you're and was rushed to the hospital and not present in the courtroom. >> i will ask the clerk to file the verdict and to read it. >> -- when, just after four hours of deliberation, the jury came back. >> we, the jury, enter the following unanimous verdict to the charge of deliberate homicide for the death of erin thompson, guilty. for the death of caden o'dell, guilty. >> it was a horrible, numbing experience, my head fell to my knees. >> it was like the whole courtroom -- i felt like everyone just cried about it. >> how did she look, mary, when she was led off to jail? your little girl. >> she looked very stunned. she didn't look back. >> just a week after that verdict, justine winter marked her 18th birthday in a jail cell.
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and then came sentencing day. and everyone wondered, would justine finally tell erin's husband, her family, what they desperately wanted to hear? in your ideal world, what would you like to hear from justine? >> to be sorry for what she took from us because it was huge. >> just before sentencing, the family received this, a statement written by justine. and it wasn't even close to what they were looking for. in it she called herself a miracle who was wrongly convicted of a horrific crime. she wrote that she would never, ever in a million years take her own life or anyone else's, that this was an accident that had been blown out of proportion, that she didn't need time behind bars, just a chance to turn a horrific situation into a positive one. and so, with this statement in
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mind, the family of erin and caden took the stand to have their own say. >> i want for you to make something positive of your life through this, but you still have yet to grasp the truth. >> caden's father, the same message. more anger. >> you took him. you did it. and you need to own it. you killed my boy. you need to own it. >> and finally caden's stepfather jason, the elementary school counselor, first displaying compassion, then a rare stream of venom aimed at justine's defense team, attorneys battle and stoft. >> i've chosen not to believe that you, in crashing your car that night, wanted to harm or would ever think about harming them, but it has been very, very, very difficult to hold on to that thought given that you've been led by these two men and influenced by them
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to not do what is most important in all of this to show and demonstrate to us that you are sorry for having taken them. >> then, finally, the moment, as justine winter herself took the stand to speak for the first time. >> i've wanted to speak with you for two years now. i've wanted to let you guys know that my heart goes out to you. and as every single one of you came up here today, my heart was breaking. but i just hope that you guys will be able to forgive that i will never be able to say that i intentionally crossed the center line wanting to take three lives from all of you. >> but before the judge allowed justine to leave the witness stand, the prosecutor stepped to
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the podium and asked a question on behalf of the victims' family, a question that froze the courtroom. >> what they wanted to hear from you for a long, long time also is "i'm sorry." can you tell them that? >> i'm sorry for your loss, but i cannot -- i don't know what you're meaning by you want me to say that i'm sorry. >> and so the hammer came down. >> by order of the court the defendant is committed for a period of 30 years with 15 years suspended. >> justine was sentenced to 15 years in prison, and her father, back on his feet and in court for sentencing day, began his own prison term, the one deep inside his own soul. >> the system betrayed me. you serve your country and then
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feel betrayed by it? >> you feel betrayed by the country you fought for? >> uh-huh. by the judicial part of the system. >> they took her, this once promising college bound honor student, to a cell in the women's prison where she instantly became the youngest inmate in the place. and two months later those attorneys, stoft and battle, who declined our requests for interviews, were off the case. that civil lawsuit was dropped. and that's when justine winter decided to tell us her side of the whole sad story. coming up -- an exclusive interview with justine. >> you say you probably caused that accident. are you able to say, i take responsibility for that? >> when "dateline" continues.
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kalispell, montana, she landed here, more than 450 miles east across the state at the women's prison in billings. she sat down with us, quite well aware of of how all this time she'd been the target of so much curiosity and anger. i'm curious to know what your thought process was as you went about deciding, yeah, i think i'll talk now. >> i don't know. i guess it was probably that i was being shown in a different light than what i wanted to be shown in. >> when you read accounts of your case and when you see the comments people write, what's that like? >> they are really hard to read. i heard one that said that i need to hang from a noose on a tree. >> what does it feel like inside, when you saw that comment, for example? >> i'm really weird. with my brain injury i feel it in the second, but it's hard to, like, recall it afterwards. >> that brain injury is the reason she says she sometimes
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smiles when she doesn't mean to, why everything came out wrong, she says, when she took the stand and spoke at sentencing, and why she says -- and even the prosecutor says he believes this -- that she recalls nothing about the crash. >> i don't remember the night of the accident, but i remember events that i know had to have happened right before the accident happened. >> what events would those be? >> i remember doing stuff to get ready for prom because prom was supposed to be two days after when the accident happened. but, other than that, i don't really remember a whole lot about march. >> what do you remember was the last time you saw your boyfriend? >> i have no idea. i remember we spent oodles of time together. >> you were inseparable basically. >> yeah. >> in love? >> kid love. >> well, it's pretty strong love, that kid love, isn't it?
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>> yeah. i remember if i wasn't with him, i was texting him all the time. >> but as for those texts following the argument with ryan before the crash, justine says, despite what any believe, she would never, ever have tried to commit suicide, knowing as she does that her grandmother, randy's mother, killed herself when her dad was just a boy. in fact, she says, the most likely explanation is she was just playing a game of sorts with ryan. >> he liked controlling everything having to do with like my life, and he'd threatened suicide twice. that's what i think was happening, that i was playing his own card back at him. >> oh, i'm going to kill myself then. >> yeah. i don't think that they were text messages that were to be taken seriously. >> well, if you look at them through justine's eyes, they
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don't look like serious texts. >> yeah. >> but the jury didn't look at it through your eyes. >> no. >> despite her conviction and all that evidence and the fact she has no memory of that night, justine still claims she must have been wearing her seat belt and cannot imagine driving her car at 85 miles an hour. just not the sort of thing she ever did, she says. >> something happened. you swerved across and hit that other car. does that sound about right? >> yeah. >> it was probably you that caused the accident. is that fair to say? >> mm-hmm. >> and if you say it's probably you who caused that accident, are you able to say, yeah, you know, if i did it -- and i probably did cause it -- i just feel horrible about that? >> mm-hmm. >> and i take responsibility for that. >> yeah. >> is it possible for you to say that? >> yeah. i mean, if i knew, then i would take responsibility for it. you know, if it was me, i take complete, utter responsibility for it. and i do. >> and now, finally, having said the words almost that erin and
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caden's family longed to hear, justine says she is finally through with what she called a pity party she held for herself. >> all i would change about the accident is that they lived. and if it had to so be that they lived and i didn't, i'd be okay with that. because i don't -- i don't like seeing anyone else in pain. i know my family was put in a lot of pain because of the accident, but they've got to see me grow up. >> and the other family can't see that. >> yep. and i don't want to put them in any more pain than they've already had to be put through. and i want to make everything
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okay for them. after serving a little more than four years in prison, justine was granted parole. for erin's widower jason, the dream is gone. only an empty chair, an empty ache remain as he and so many in the family, as if climbing those montana mountains, try to keep putting one foot in front of the other. >> it's a dance between the grief of their loss to the joy and the blessing of having experienced them. >> it's like seeing a meteor. you wouldn't curse your luck that you saw this meteor. you'd just be thankful that you were blessed to see it. so we just have to cling to that, that wow, how amazing that we got to spend a good part of our life with two of the most precious people on the planet.
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>> that's all for this edition of "dateline." i'm craig melvin. thank you for watching. you for g ♪♪ welcome to the nbc news now special "good-bye 2021," a year to remember and a year to forget. i'm joe fryer. >> and i'm stephanie sellers. >> the year started with a lot of hope for new beginnings as covid vaccines became widely available, but 12 months later, covid continues to impact us. we're going to get an extra take. >> and there's certainly no shortage of news to talk about from the january 6th rio


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