Ex-NFL player maintains innocence in '94 murder of multimillionaire
- Extra: Eric Naposki speaks out from prison
- Extra: Eric Naposki interrogation excerpts
- Extra: Eric Naposki tells detectives he had no motive for murder
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Bill McLaughlin, Nanette Johnston and Eric Naposki
Fifteen years after Bill McLaughlin was gunned down in his Balboa Coves home, Eric Naposki is facing trial for a murder he says he didn't commit.
"I've never been in that house. Never ever," he told Troy Roberts. "I don't see any DNA, I don't see any fingerprints. I don't see any big footprints from a size 14 boot. I don't see anything from that night. And If I was never in the house, ever how did I commit a crime?"
"There's no doubt in any of our minds that Eric Naposki pulled the trigger and murdered Bill McLaughlin," said prosecutor Matt Murphy.
Murphy is confident he can do what prosecutors before him didn't - prove that Naposki was the shooter and Nanette Johnston got him to pull the trigger.
"...her gift is the manipulation of men," Murphy said. "She...told Eric Naposki in the months beforehand that Bill McLaughlin was sexually assaulting her. ...there's no reason for her to tell him that lie unless her plan is to manipulate him into actually committing the murder."
Murphy's case revolves around star witness Suzanne Cogar. In 1994, she lived next door to Eric Naposki and says Eric confided in her.
"Eric Naposki came to her and ...said, 'Bill McLaughlin keeps coming into Nanette's room at night.' And he was furious about it. And [Cogar] said that he was really, really upset," said Murphy.
So upset, that he said he wanted to blow up Bill McLaughlin's plane. Naposki says he was just letting off steam.
"I did tell her that I wanted to blow up his plane," he said. "I didn't say I wanted to kill Bill or that I wanted to shoot Bill or I want Bill blown away. His plane didn't blow up did it?"
But there was a second conversation with Cogar -- just three weeks after the murder -- where Murphy says Naposki implicates himself even further.
"And she goes, 'Oh my God, Eric, I don't even wanna know if you had anything to do with it.' And he smiled and he said, 'Maybe I did, maybe I didn't,' and he said, 'Maybe I had somebody do it,'" according to Murphy.
"I said, 'I didn't,' first. And then when she kept badgering me about it,' Naposki told Roberts. "It was more of a laughing conversation at that point...to me it's just an off-the-cuff comment."
But there's more to what Naposki told Cogar.
"He said 'the killer...used the same gun that I used to have. So the police think I did it,'" Murphy said. "The only people on the planet earth that knew a 9mm was used in the murder were about a half dozen detectives at the Newport Beach Police Department and the killer."
Defense attorney John Pappalardo grew up with Eric Naposki in Westchester, New York.
"I believe him when he tells me he's not the shooter," Pappalardo said of the friend he first met in Little League.
He teams his most experienced attorney from New York, Angelo MacDonald, with well-respected Orange County defense attorney Gary Pohlson.
"Matt Murphy, as you know, has never lost a murder case. Does it worry you?" Roberts asked Pohlson.
"Yeah it worries me, but, he doesn't get to make up the evidence," he replied.
But just before Naposki's scheduled trial, new forensic tests tie the shell casings from the gun that killed Bill McLaughlin to the exact make and model of the gun Eric Naposki once owned - a 9mm Beretta.
If convicted, Eric Naposki and Nanette Johnson face life behind bars. Naposki stands trial first.
In court, Murphy immediately hones in on Naposki's history of lying to the police.
"Mr. Naposki lied about his relationship with Nanette," Murphy said in his opening statement.
"And, of course, we know he lied about his 9mm."
"You just don't do that if you're innocent," Murphy told "48 Hours.
In order to find him not guilty, the jury must believe Naposki's story that at 8:52 p.m. -- just minutes before Bill McLaughlin's murder -- he was about 12 miles away on a payphone at the Denny's restaurant.
"Ladies and gentlemen, the defense will prove that he possesses a solid, simple, logical, reasonable and compelling alibi," Angelo MacDonald told the court. "He simply could not have done it."
It will be hard to convince the jury, though, without evidence of Naposki's phone call. He says he no longer has copies of his bill and the phone company no longer has the records.
"If we had the phone record, it might be open-and-shut case, right?" said Naposki.
Murphy doubts the call even happened, but if it did, he says it's hardly an alibi.
"As opposed to being an alibi, the timing of that actually fits perfectly," he said.
Murphy sent his investigator, Larry Montgomery, to time the drive from the Denny's to Bill McLaughlin's home.
"I did at least 15 time trials," Montgomery explained. "All of our tests show that he should have been able to arrive at the location...in order to do the killing."
But Naposki's defense lawyers have timed the drive, too.
"I do not think it's physically possible he could've made it in the required time," said MacDonald.
Asked how critical a matter of minutes is to his defense, MacDonald told Roberts, "Seconds could decide this case."
Not unexpectedly, Angelo MacDonald, suggests to the jury a more likely killer.
"Nanette Johnston is an accomplished liar, cheat, thief, manipulator, con woman and selfish, promiscuous, gold digger," MacDonald told the court in his opening statement.
"There's more evidence here that Nanette Johnston did this murder than Eric Naposki... So, you know what...let's us play prosecutor," he told Roberts. "Let's put her on trial. Let's show the jury that she could have done this. ...she had the motive, she had the means. And...she's got the cold blooded heart, the sociopathic personality to do it."
Murphy has no problem letting the defense prosecute Nanette Johnston.
"I could not agree more," Murphy told the court. "If diabolical behavior was an Olympic sport, she'd be a gold medalist every year. ...She is a manipulator and an evil manipulator."
But he says Naposki was a willing participant; he and Nanette were thick as thieves.
"Several months before the murder they're shopping for million-dollar homes. ...Eric Naposki was in debt...and Nanette had no money," Murphy explained. "The only way they could ever afford that house that they were looking at is if Bill McLaughlin died."
"I've heard the reason that Mr. McLaughlin was murdered is so I can buy a house... it's ridiculous," Naposki told Roberts.
But maybe the hardest thing for the defense to explain is that Naposki had Bill McLaughlin's license plate number written down on a notebook found in his car right after the murder.
"That was a clue he forgot to get rid of," Murphy said. "That license plate number cannot be explained."
"That license plate has nothing to do with the murder," said Naposki.
He told "48 Hours" that he wrote down the license plate number months before the murder after he caught Nanette in a series of lies.
"So I called a buddy of mine...and I wanted her followed to see what she was doing," he said.
Naposki says his friend, Todd Calder, went by Nanette's house, told Eric there was a car there and gave him the plate number. Turns out the car belonged to McLaughlin. But Murphy says the story just isn't true.
"We interviewed Todd Calder," Murphy said. "He said, 'I have no idea what you're talking about. He never asked me to do that. I absolutely never did that.'"
Whatever happened, Naposki's attorneys say with no DNA or fingerprints - there's nothing to tie Eric to the murder scene.
"Please, as much as I've ever wanted anything in my life, I want you to find him not guilty because this man is not guilty. This is an innocent man," Pohlson told the court in his closing.
But the plea falls on deaf ears. After a month-long trial, it takes only 7 hours for the jury to find Eric Naposki guilty of Bill McLaughlin's murder.
Six months later, a very different looking Nanette Johnston - after spending a year-and-a-half in jail waiting for trial - is about to have her day in court.
"She is a killer," Matt Murphy tells the court. "...that woman is responsible for the murder of Bill McLaughlin."
Murphy argues at trial Nanette killed McLaughlin so he wouldn't discover her infidelity or her rampant stealing.
"She steals $48,200 in the month of October alone...$20,000 in November... $68,200 in seven weeks. Now, how is she gonna get away with that if Bill McLaughlin lives?" asked Murphy.
Nanette's attorney, Mick Hill, doesn't sugar coat it.
"She's not a nice person," he addressed the court. "...hate her as much as you want for being a thief, a liar, a cheat, a slut, whatever you want to call her."
"I knew the jury weren't going to like her," Hill told "48 Hours," "but that doesn't mean she's a murderer either."
"When you're motivated by money, when you're living with the golden goose, you're not going to get rid of him," Hill said in court.
In the end, Hill says, Nanette never would have left Bill McLaughlin for someone poor like Eric Naposki. Remember, McLaughlin had just won a $9 million settlement from his ex-business partner, Hal Fischel, and he was about to get millions of dollars richer. Naposki, Hill says, acted alone.
"Someone who is fully capable of getting jealous, someone who's fully capable of being violent, someone who's fully capable of killing his girlfriend's lover," Hill told the court.
It took the jury just three hours to find Nanette guilty of Bill McLaughlin's murder.
"We really miss him and we're so glad that justice has been served on his behalf," said Kim.
For Bill's daughters, Kim and Jenny, this painful journey would finally be over, except, that now, Eric Naposki says he'll reveal a secret he's kept for almost 20 years: The identity of the man who really killed their father
"You know that there are people who believe that this is a desperate ploy to gain release" Roberts commented to Naposki.
"Yeah," he replied. "What are they going to say - whoops we made a mistake?"
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