48 Hours: Every picture tells a story
Alec McNaughton is either the smartest man in the courtroom... or the dumbest. The alleged killer is about to gamble his freedom on his way with words.
He can't get death, but he could get life as he takes the stand in his own defense.
"I hoped that Mr. McNaughton would take the stand," Prosecutor Kevin McMurry says. "He underestimates everyone else, overestimates his own abilities, and the result is he's easily trapped in his lies."
Defense Lawyer Michael Kam wastes no time getting to the heart of the matter.
Michael Kam: Alec, did you kill your wife, Cathy McNaughton?
Alec McNaughton: No.
It was Kam's only question.
Immediately, Prosecutor McMurry begins tearing apart McNaughton's story about where he was on the day his wife was murdered.
"He wasn't as smart as he thought he was," McMurry says.
McNaughton has always maintained that, at 2:30 p.m. that day, he was already at his mother's house an hour away in Sandy Springs, Ga., when he called home and left a message. But the cell phone records show he was actually within a few miles of his home.
Prosecutor Curry: You were not in Sandy Springs at 2:33 p.m. on February 15, 2009, isn't that true?
Alec McNaughton: It's not true. I was... I was at my mother's.
Prosecutor Curry: So those records are wrong.
Alec McNaughton: They are.
"That phone call was absolutely critical to this case from the very beginning, and it was Mr. McNaughton's fatal mistake," says Curry.
McNaughton talked to police early in the investigation. Detectives poked holes in his story almost immediately. And prosecutors say McNaughton should have known better, considering he's a lawyer.
"Had he not talked to the police initially, it would have been a very, very difficult case to prosecute," says Curry.
Why did he talk to police? "Because I wanted to find out who killed my wife," McNaughton tells Schlesinger. "And I would've done anything," he cries. "And so that need to find out who had killed my lovely wife overrode my legal judgment."
But Investigator Jason Fetter thinks McNaughton had another reason.
"He did his best to mislead that dumb, redneck investigator," he says.
"Who's that dumb, redneck investigator?" asks Schlesinger.
"I think that's me."
Prosecutor Curry: You told investigators that you had never hit Cathy McNaughton, but that wasn't true either.
Alec McNaughton: That is true.
Prosecutor Curry: That is untrue, isn't it?
Alec McNaughton: No, it's true.
Cathy's daughters, Michelle and Heather Mendenhall, watched McNaughton testify.
"He clearly lied about a lot of things on the stand," Michelle Mendenhall says. "I knew what the truth was."
"I can't believe my mom was married to someone like this," she continues. "Who is this person?"
Even his own lawyer can see the effect McNaughton is having on those in the courtroom
"I'm looking at the court personnel... and the expressions on their face changed," Kim says, showing they rolled their eyes.
"There are times during that cross-examination that what Mr. McNaughton said in the face of the evidence was so preposterous," says Curry.
Alec McNaughton: There was a robbery.
Prosecutor Curry: There was a robbery?
Alec McNaughton: Yes sir.
Prosecutor Curry: Was there a TV missing?
Alec McNaughton: No.
Prosecutor Curry: Was there a computer missing?
Alec McNaughton: No.
Prosecutor Curry: Was her watch taken?
Alec McNaughton: No.
"I think everyone, myself included, sought to not visibly display our disbelief," says Curry.
McNaughton denies everything his accusers say about him.
"She's lying...I did no such thing...that's not true..."
McNaughton has had his say. Now, the lawyers get their last chance to persuade the jury.
"For the first time in my career, we have a case where the victim has spoken from the dead. She recorded what has happened to her with that man," Curry addresses jurors. "And the evidence shows who killed Cathy McNaughton."
"There were no calluses on his hands, no cuts, no bruises, no blood. No DNA. The only, only verdict you can render is that Alec McNaughton is not guilty of any offense," Kim says in his closing.
The jurors begin to deliberate on what looks to most people like an open-and-shut case.
That first night, the jury goes home with no verdict. At the end of the second day, the jurors announce they've decided: Guilty of murder.
Alec McNaughton, the man Cathy once thought was her soul mate, is convicted of killing her -stabbing her more than 30 times in the home they shared.
McNaughton says he was "stunned" that he was convicted.
"I still believe that justice will prevail and my wife's killer will be found, tried, convicted and executed," he says crying.
"This is a question I ask a lot of people in your situation," Schlesinger says. "What does justice feel like?"
"It definitely doesn't do anything to fill the void that she's not here, that we'll never physically see her again," Heather replies, tearing up. "I'll never hug her again...it doesn't help those things."
It also doesn't answer one lingering question. How did a woman like Cathy - a strong woman with friends, family and money - end up a victim of domestic violence?
"I feel like if my mom had said, 'One time's enough,'' maybe she'd still be here today and I wouldn't be sitting her talking to you," she continues.
And even though it is Alec McNaughton who stands convicted, it is Heather and Michelle who are left feeling guilty.
"For a good year, that's all I felt - guilt and regret that I didn't say anything and I just kept it to myself," Michelle says. "I didn't speak out when I had the chance, and you know, you cant - it was too late."
Alec McNaughton was sentenced to life in prison.
He now is represented by a public defender and is trying to get a new trial.
Domestic Violence Resources:
National Domestic Violence Hotline: (800)799-SAFE (7233)
Partnership Against Domestic Violence (Metro Atlanta): (404) 873-1766
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