Power and Passion

"48 Hours" probes case of Alabama politician Stephen Nodine -- accused in the 2010 shooting death of his mistress, Angel Downs

Produced by Allen Alter and Avi Cohen

[This story was originally broadcast on April 13, 2013. It was updated on April 12, 2014]

GULF SHORES, Ala. -- Angel Downs was hard to miss. Her friends joked about her startling good looks, calling her "Barbie." Her life revolved around the beach and it's what kept her close to home.

"We were best friends ... We did everything together," Susan Bloodworth, Angel's younger sister, told "48 Hours" correspondent Richard Schlesinger. "If you saw one of us, you saw both of us. We were just very tight, very close."

Angel was 45. She sold real estate in Gulf Shores and lived in one of those quiet subdivisions where nothing much ever happens. By all accounts, she was happy -- except when it came to affairs of the heart -- emotionally and physically. She was born with a life-threatening heart condition.

"Her heart was the size of a man 65 years old and she was 18 months old when we discovered that," said Thelma Hinckley, Angel's mother.

Because of her heart trouble, Angel could never have children.

"Her animals were, indeed, her babies," said Bloodworth, who now cares for Angel's cat, Winston. "He's all we have left of Angel."

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Stephen Nodine and Angel Downs

The emotional heartache in Angel Downs' life began on the beach. In 2004, she met Stephen Nodine on a weekend centered here around a storied local tradition called Mullet Toss.

"My God, you don't know what Mullet Toss is?" Nodine asked Schlesinger with a laugh.

"I -- I'm not from around here, sir. What is Mullet Toss?"

"Mullet Toss was a -- event," he explained. "We toss a dead mullet from -- one year it's from Alabama to Florida and the next year it's from Florida to Alabama.... it's a -- beach party ... a fundraiser for the Marine Corps."

"... one of my greatest assets was -- is that I was a celebrity mullet tosser," Nodine continued. "We were just down there havin' a good time. And -- we met through some friends. ... and hit it off right away."

Nodine had just been elected as a county commissioner for Mobile County, Alabama. He was also married, although he says his marriage was on the rocks. He began an affair with Angel Downs, who lived 50 miles away in Gulf Shores.

"We spent the weekends on the beach, you know down there playing Frisbee or you know just enjoying ourselves," said Nodine.

"You, you didn't really keep this secret," Schlesinger noted.

"No," said Nodine.

"You were seen in public with her all over the place? Schlesinger asked.

"True. In front of media," said Nodine.

Asked why he did that, Nodine replied, "Just because I was arrogant."

He was also powerful, with powerful connections and pictures with former President George W. Bush and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich to prove it. There are only three county commissioners in Mobile. They control the money. Nodine built roads and parks and bridges.

"Once you meet Steve, he's such a dynamic personality. I mean he just latches on to you, you know, and you don't forget him," said Jack Tillman, the retired sheriff for Mobile County.

"So if I came down here in, say, 2007, 2008, and I had mentioned the name Steve Nodine, what would people say?" Schlesinger asked.

"Oh, they thought he was a tremendous commissioner," Tillman replied. "But now as far as his personal life, I don't know. I -- I didn't -- I didn't run with him in that way. We were political friends."

When Nodine was running around with Angel Downs, her best friends, Emily Simmons and Kayla King Donald, saw them together frequently.

"He was very nice, very polite -- very loud, attention getter -- wanted attention. Life of the party -- 'Everybody look at me,'" said Simmons.

Asked if she liked him, Simmons told Schlesinger, "Yeah, I liked him. He was very nice."

"He just had that hold on her that I can't explain," said Donald.

"We wanted to spend the rest of our lives together. We loved each other very much," said Nodine.

They had their ups and downs and even broke up a few times. Angel didn't like the role of the other woman and she insisted - repeatedly -- that Nodine, who was not just married but was the father of a young son, get a divorce.

"... desperately, she wanted him to get a divorce. She was in love with him," said Bloodworth.

And Nodine promised he would.

"About six months to a year into the relationship, she started questioning why it was taking so long for the divorce to be final and then he probably, about a year into it, told her that he had never filed," Simmons explained.

"How did she feel about that?" Schlesinger asked.

"Not very good," said Simmons.

"Do you understand why you didn't get divorced?" Schlesinger asked Nodine

"Sure. I wanted everything. I wanted to have Angel. I wanted to have my family life to come back over here in Mobile. I wanted to escape to the beach when I could. Umm...to live two different lives," he replied.

It all worked pretty well for Nodine for six years, until May 9, 2010, Mother's Day.

"It was a beautiful day," he recalled.

"Were you getting along?" Schlesinger asked.

"Absolutely," Nodine replied.

Angel looked very happy in photos taken just hours before she died.

"We had a, you know, normal day. I mean, no fighting, no arguing," said Nodine.

Until Nodine dropped Angel off at her house and left to go home ... to his wife

"... when we dropped each other off, and again, the comment was made to me that, 'Oh, you're going back to your wife,'" Nodine said. "I assumed she was pissed off. I more than likely said, 'I love you B.' And -- then I left. Got up the road. Forgot my wallet."

Nodine turned around and went back to Angel Downs' place.

"When I came back to get my wallet -- I parked parallel to the -- to-- her house. My radio was going, my stereo, and my air conditioner was going," he told Schlesinger.

"Did you see her at all?"

"No," Nodine replied. "No. I -- when I came in to get my wallet I came in, I grabbed my wallet and left."


And that's when this quiet subdivision suddenly stopped being one of those places where nothing much ever happens:

Cop: Before the gunshot, have you seen the truck here?

Roger Whitehead: Oh yeah, the truck's been here.

Angel's neighbor, Roger Whitehead, will probably never forget that evening.

"I think there was a gunshot," he said. "Mr. Nodine was still here. And then he got in his truck and left."

"I did not shoot her ... I did not harm her ... She took her own life," Nodine said. "She's not here to accept that responsibility."

HOW DID ANGEL DOWNS DIE?

Even before police had a solid theory about how Angel Downs ended up shot dead with her own gun in her driveway, District Attorney Judy Newcomb was on the case.

"The sheriff called me about 11:30 and told me what -- had happened," said Newcomb.

Police in Gulf Shores wear body cameras and they recorded the scene that night.

"I think they were still examining the issues of whether it was a suicide or a homicide," said Newcomb.

"Why weren't they sure?" Schlesinger asked.

"It's someone who's shot in the head with their own gun, which -- statistically would be a suicide. And what everybody's first impression when they see it is, 'Oh, someone killed themselves,'" she said.

Angel's gun lay just inches away.

"Did it ever cross your mind that this could've been a suicide?" Schlesinger asked Angel's sister.

"Never. Not -- not one time," said Susan Bloodworth.

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Angel Downs

But Angel's closest friends and her family knew four years earlier she had tried suicide.

"Angel was goin' through a very difficult period. At -- at that time, I think she -- she realized Stephen was not leavin' his wife," Bloodworth explained.

In 2006, she took an overdose of pills.

"How did you find out that she had taken all those pills?" Schlesinger asked Bloodworth.

"Well, in 2006, she actually called me to tell me she was sorry -- for what she had done. She was so sorry for ever hurtin' me," she replied in tears.

"By continuing the relationship with Stephen Nodine," Schlesinger noted.

"Right."

And that suicide attempt is just one fact that makes this case so hard to figure out. It obviously became a huge red flag immediately in May 2010. But her sister says Angel died with plans for the future. She was expected at a dinner party that night and had just made appointments for the following week. It looked nothing like suicide to Susan Bloodworth.

"... if she was gonna do it, she would do it peacefully. Take pills, go to sleep. Not take a gun and shoot yourself," she explained. "I hate to say she was vain, but Angel was vain in the sense that ... she wouldn't want someone to see her that way. You know, to -- to find her that way ..."

Angel was found face up in a pool of blood in the middle of her driveway for all her neighbors to see.

"I had a neighbor come to my door. I live just around the corner... She told me someone had been shot and she knew I was a nurse," said Ann Myers, who came running. She knew right away what she was looking at.

"I knelt beside her and I did an assessment, like I normally do. I looked at the wound and pretty much figured out it was a fatal shot," she told Schlesinger.

Stephen Nodine was nowhere to be found. Remember, he says he drove off moments earlier, after getting his wallet from inside Angel's condo. And, he says when he pulled away from her driveway, he saw nothing and heard nothing.

"My radio was going, my air conditioner was going. Somebody, you know, one of the people said it sounded like a firecracker. I have horrible hearing to begin with," Nodine explained. "... if I would have heard it I would have known. If I would have seen her I would have stopped and did everything I could to help her."

A few hours later, Nodine got a call from a friend saying police wanted to talk to him. So he called his lawyer.

"I said, 'What the hell's going on?' And -- that's when he told me that there had been a shooting on Fort Morgan Road of a blonde haired young lady. I immediately knew, obviously," he said.

"You knew," said Schlesinger.

"I didn't know really, but I had a horrible sinking feeling in my gut," said Nodine, who went right to police.

Asked how long he was there, Nodine told Schlesinger "Hours. Four hours ...Offered to take any test."

"How did they treat you? I mean, did you feel like you were a suspect?" Schlesinger asked.

"No, absolutely not," Nodine replied.

But he was wrong. Authorities didn't believe his story about what really happened earlier at the condo and also questioned what really happened afterwards.

He told them after leaving Angel's, he first stopped at a convenience store where he's seen on surveillance tape. Then he went to a golf club, but it was closed. Next, he says he drove to one restaurant, changed clothes in his truck, but then decided that restaurant was too crowded and ended up again on tape at a restaurant nearby.

"And that's where you ate," Schlesinger noted.

"Didn't eat. Drank some coffee. Drank some water and watched the game," said Nodine.

"The next morning, I received further calls from law enforcement," said DA Judy Newcomb.

"What were some of the things that had concerned the police?" Schlesinger asked.


"Well, I think it -- the statement Mr. Nodine gave that night. I think the more they looked at the scene... what they knew about the day, just different issues were concerning them that it in fact could be a homicide.," she replied.

And then things started moving more quickly than anyone had seen before. Just two weeks after Angel's death, Stephen Nodine was indicted for murder and arrested. The timing raised some eyebrows because DA Judy Newcomb was up for re-election and Election Day was just days away.

"Nobody gets indicted on a murder charge two weeks after the murder," Dennis Knizley, Nodine's lawyer, said. "And you put it together with being eight days 'fore the election, it appeared to be not so much going after Steve, but an opportunity to have some high-profile prosecution immediately before the election."

"Did politics and your desire for re-election play any part in the way you handled this case?" Schlesinger asked Newcomb.

"No," she replied.

"Not at all?"

"Not at all," Newcomb said. "Most people know I'm probably the least political person in Baldwin County."

Nodine was pretty well known to the police and not just because he was a public figure. In 2009, before Angel's death, traces of marijuana were found in Nodine's county issued pick-up truck. He was forced to resign. Nodine admits he smoked pot to control hip pain and later became addicted to prescription pain killers.

"-- he got addicted to Lortabs and he was abusing them at the time of this arrest," said Knizley.

Nodine's problems were piling up. Shortly after he was indicted for murder, prosecutors in Alabama discovered he had guns. None of them had anything to do with Angel's death but he was still charged under a seldom used federal statute for being a drug user who owned guns.

"I believe it was collusion between the U.S. Attorney's Office and the Baldwin County DA," said Nodine.

It was first things first. The gun case would have to wait for the murder case. And it took seven months for that trial to begin.

" -- it had been probably the most publicized murder case in South Alabama in, you know, 50 or 100 years," said Knizley.

Prosecutor Judy Newcomb was in the spotlight and on the spot. Remember, she had no forensic evidence ... nothing to physically tie Nodine to Angel Downs' death. But she told "48 Hours" she was ready for trial.

"Other than some of the big cases people do on television, in a whole lot of cases that we do there's not a lot of forensic evidence," said Newcomb.

She'll get some help from Angel's friends and family who say Nodine could be not just controlling, but frightening. Her sister says he stalked Angel online and in person.

"... he would do drive-bys. He would come by her home, he would send her text messages and say, 'I see someone's at your house. Who is it?' He would leave notes on her car," said Susan Bloodworth.

"Did you stalk Angel?" Schlesinger asked Nodine.

"Absolutely not," he replied.

"Even during these periods where you were fighting and all, when you would break up. Did you do anything that could be interpreted as stalking?"

"No," Nodine replied. "Not in any sense, imaginary or likewise. I mean there's just no way."


But Emily Simmons and Kayla King Donald say Angel told them Nodine beat her and pushed her several times. Nodine denies it all and there were no police reports filed. But the friends say in the weeks before her death, Angel was getting more afraid of Nodine.

"She broke down in tears in her kitchen. And I said, 'Why are you crying?' And she said, 'He's not the same person I've known all these years, Emily. He's changed,'" Simmons recalled. "'Just always know that if you ever find me dead, he killed me.'"

"I'm sorry?" said Schlesinger.

"'If you ever find me dead, he killed me,'" Simmons repeated.

The DA knew she could count on some powerful and chilling testimony about the last few moments of Angel Downs' life.

"Angel was obviously scared for her to pull her gun and call me and ask where to shoot someone," said Bloodworth.

THE TRIAL OF STEPHEN NODINE

"I think of Angel Downs every day. I think of her when I walk on the beach," Stephen Nodine told Richard Schlesinger. "I think of her almost every chance I get. And that is something that -- I'll miss for the rest of my life."

Prosecutors have spent seven months preparing the case against Stephen Nodine for murdering Angel Downs. And the trial is about to begin.

"He told me that he was -- that he misses her every day. And seemed to be crying," Schlesinger told Angel's sister, Susan Bloodworth.

"Seemed to be," she laughed. I can't believe it."

"You don't believe it?"

"I don't believe it. I believe it's an act. He's a politician," she said. "Turn the water works on when you want to, you know, flip the switch."

Nodine, the one time county commissioner, was now a defendant in a murder case. His lawyer, Dennis Knizley, says that meant a big adjustment.

"It took a while for Steve to get out of the mentality and the mode of ... 'I'm a person in a position of authority,' into 'I'm a person charged with a crime, murder, and I'm fighting for my life.'"

"I'm used to being in control," Nodine said. "But certainly, I'm at a loss here of my destiny."

His destiny would be determined by others: a judge and jury.

"What made me nervous leadin' up to the trial is that there was no smokin' gun," said Bloodworth.

In December 2010, Prosecutor Judy Newcomb opened her murder case against Nodine and she says there's plenty of circumstantial evidence, starting with the position of Angel Downs' body.

"The biggest thing that struck everyone as extremely strange is that Angel's hair ... literally, her hair looked like it had been laid out, as opposed to someone falling back," said Newcomb.

Retired nurse Ann Myers, Angel's neighbor, thought so, too.

"Her hair was just a perfect -- like somebody had combed it out like a halo. Which I've never seen before, you know, in a trauma case," said Myers.

Newcomb's theory was if Angel had shot herself, she would've crumpled to the ground and her hair would never have ended up so neatly arranged. To the DA, it looked as if someone had staged the scene. She tried demonstrating by falling backwards onto the floor herself, right in the courtroom. It would have been a dramatic moment for the prosecutor if only it had worked.

"... her hair flayed out exactly like Ms. Downs' did, so showing it was not staged. It was just that's what happens when ladies with long hair fall back," Knizley told Schlesinger.

"You must've been quite pleased with the way that turned out," said Schlesinger.

"It was a positive time for the -- the defense there," he said with a smile.

"A positive time"

"Yeah."

To Newcomb, Schlesinger noted, "It didn't come out as clearly as maybe you would have hoped."

"That's - exac -- clearly is the good word. ...But I do not think it was the failure that it was reported to be," she said with a laugh.

Newcomb could still try to get the jury to focus on what happened just before and just after Angel's death.

"Well, that was that night. Angel called. It was Mothers' Day," Susan Bloodworth said in tears.

She got a call that evening from Angel, but she was busy and ignored it. And then, she got a second call.

"... all she said was, 'If someone's tryin' to break into your home, where do you shoot 'em?'" Bloodworth told Schlesinger. "And I told her the chest, the largest part of the body. And I said, 'Is it Stephen?' She said, 'No, it's not Stephen.'"

Bloodworth feared the worst. "And I said, 'If you can't tell me who it is over the phone, send me a text. In case somethin' happens, I know what's goin' on.'"

"Had she texted you?" Schlesinger asked.

"... when I looked at my phone, I actually had a text from Angel. It said, 'Stephen Nodine is here.' ... My heart sank," she replied.

"And six to seven minutes later, we have a 911 call and she's dead," said Newcomb.

"So what do you think happened that evening?" Schlesinger asked Angel's friends.

"I don't know," Kayla King Donald replied. "I've played it in all scenarios. But at the end of the day, I don't think she was the one that pulled the trigger."

"I don't know what happened. I don't know if she came out to threaten him with it and he turned it on her. There's only two people that know, and now only one," said Emily Simmons.

So exactly where was Nodine when the shot was fired? Roger Whitehead might well know. He is the neighbor and a firefighter who lived across the street and a few houses down from Angel. He heard the shot and as he told the police that night, he rushed outside.

"When the gunshot went off, I heard it. And I stepped outside and he was pulling off that way," Whitehead was recorded telling police.

It is a critical point in this case, because if Nodine's truck was still in front of Angel's house after the shot was fired, he would have been in a position to have killed her. And that's just where Whitehead told "48 Hours" he saw the truck making a U-turn.

"He would've been coming out of the turn at an angle that was nearly directly facing me, like this. And then proceeded to leave," Whitehead pointed out.

Nodine insists he left as he always did -- by first driving all the way around a traffic island and then passing in front of Whitehead's condo on the way out. And he says he heard and saw nothing since his radio was playing, the air conditioner was on and the windows were rolled up.

"So there's really two ways to get out of there. You could have pulled around that end of the cul-de-sac or you could have just made a U-turn," Schlesinger told Nodine.

"I know exactly what I did," Nodine replied. "I pulled around the cul-de-sac."

That would mean that when the shot was fired, Nodine was more likely hundreds of feet from Angel's driveway.

Nodine could be in trouble if the jury believes he was much closer to Angel's at the time of her death than he said. But, he got a boost for his case that Angel shot herself from the autopsy report, which listed a potent mix of drugs in her system at the time she died.

"When you have Ambien and you have Xanax and you have Adderall and you have alcohol and you've got health issues ... that just pushed her over the edge and she killed herself," said Knizley.

"No. You -- you don't call and ask where to shoot someone who's trying to break into your house and then you're gonna go and take pills and go shoot yourself in the driveway of your home? I mean, Angel was callin' because someone was trying to get into her home. That someone was Stephen Nodine," said Bloodworth.

In most cases, the medical examiner's opinion helps jurors decide the manner of death. But this case isn't anything like most cases.

HOMICIDE OR SUICIDE?

In December 2010, when Stephen Nodine went on trial for murdering Angel Downs, prosecutor Judy Newcomb knew this was a tough case. For starters, the state's own medical examiner could not settle on the circumstances of Angel Downs' death.

There is no doubt that the fatal shot came from Angel's own gun, but that's about all that's clear in this case.

Alabama Medical Examiner Eugene Hart came to the courtroom to testify for the prosecution. He's the one who performed the autopsy on Angel.

"When it came to court, he said from a forensic standpoint, from a forensic pathology standpoint, everything indicated it was suicide," said defense attorney Dennis Knizley.

"But he didn't call it suicide," Schlesinger pointed out.

"Didn't," Knizley affirmed.

"He called it what?"

"Inconclusive," said Knizley.

"Inconclusive, which could mean suicide, could mean homicide," noted Schlesinger.

Knizley says the prosecutor tried to "influence" Dr. Hart into not calling Angel's death a suicide.

"'Pressure' would not be the word," Knizley said. "May have influenced him."

"OK, influenced him to -"

"Well, 'pressure' would -- has a negative connotation -- of some maybe impropriety," said Knizley.

But Newcomb says she just asked Dr. Hart to review the evidence.

"I never tried to influence his decision about -- a suicide. What we did try to say is we'd like you to really examine this case, to see if you can reach a decision," the prosecutor said.

Hart would not call it murder. So Newcomb called in another medical examiner from another state: Georgia. He did not examine Angel's body, but three months after her death, he did review crime scene photos and other evidence. When he rendered his opinion, it matched Newcomb's.

"His opinion was that it was a homicide," said Newcomb.

"Homicide?" Schlesinger asked.

"Uh-huh," Newcomb affirmed.

So the jury heard two experts -- both working for the prosecution with two different opinions about how Angel Downs died. One said it was homicide, the other said he couldn't be sure, but it looked like suicide.

The jurors also had to sort through different theories about how the gun was held to Angel's head.

"Angel would've had to be kinda cocked back like this, the way the angle of the gun was, to commit suicide. And that's not natural to someone who's gonna commit suicide," said Bloodworth, holding a finger to her right temple as if it were a gun.

"This was pressed so hard again her head, there was a muzzle imprint," said Newcomb.

Defense attorney Dennis Knizley thinks the evidence about the gun helps his client.

"So the gun was against her head like this," Schlesinger asked, with his fist to his head.

"Right hand, gun, exactly as you would expect the gun to be, up and slightly back, if it was a self-inflicted wound. The gun was laying down beside her body. There was absolutely no signs of struggle on her or him," Knizley explained. "There was no blood on his truck. There was no blood in his truck. There was no blood on him. There was no blood on his hands. There was no blood on his clothing whatsoever."

But no tests were required nor done at that time for gun shot residue on either Nodine or Angel. And no fingerprints were found on Angel's gun.

"They had taken the gun and had tested the gun without testing it for fingerprints until they came back. The gun had already been handled by forensics and everything else and wiped down," Knizley said. "That's why they didn't have any fingerprints."

All of that, plus Angel's previous suicide attempt proves, says Knizley, that she shot herself. Still, DA Judy Newcomb thinks, given the strange stories Nodine told police and the allegations that he beat and stalked Angel, she's proved her case.

"I think the totality of all the circumstances, I mean, you know, unless you have a video of a crime, and, you know, in today's world sometimes people think we should [laughs] have a video of every crime, we have to apply our common sense and logic, and -- you know, I support the case that we built against him," said Newcomb.

Angel's neighbor, Roger Whitehead -- the man who comes closest to being an eyewitness -- is not so sure.

"If you were a juror, would you convict Stephen Nodine of murder?" Schlesinger asked.

"No, sir," Whitehead replied.

"Because?"

"We're supposed to be convicted beyond a reasonable doubt," he said. "But I have no idea what transpired here that night."

That was up to the jurors to decide. They wrestled with the evidence for six hours and came back deadlocked on the murder charge. The judge had no choice: he had to declare a mistrial.

"I was disappointed that-- they weren't given a longer time to deliberate," said Newcomb.

"We wanted him to be found guilty of murder.," said Bloodworth. "We believe - 100 percent it was murder. That he murdered her."

Stephen Nodine was a free man, but only for four months. He agreed to plead guilty to that old federal gun charge -- possessing a gun while using drugs. That put him away in prison for a year while Alabama prosecutors decided whether to retry him for murder.

That was now up to Hallie Dixon, the newly-elected district attorney who had defeated Judy Newcomb. And it was one tough call for her.

"The public had been completely convinced, completely convinced, that this was a murder," Dixon explained. "I had law enforcement and a chief of police and investigators ... telling me that it wasn't a homicide. And that's tough."

Dixon convened a new grand jury to examine the case. After hearing the evidence, there was a decision: Stephen Nodine would not be charged with murder again.

"Our grand jury returned an indictment for criminally negligent homicide," said Dixon.

In Alabama, that's not a felony; it's a misdemeanor that says Nodine was partially responsible for Angel Downs' death.

"...but for him that night, that night, that day, she would still be alive. And that was the question," Dixon said. "It's not a matter of proving suicide. It's a matter of proving whether or not there was a homicide. And when I have no evidence, physical evidence that is consistent with somebody else being the trigger person, then as a prosecutor, I don't bring a case on that."


Angel's family was furious that Dixon was not refiling a murder charge against Nodine.

"I think Hallie Dixon sabotaged the case. That's exactly what I think happened," said Bloodworth.

The family would not rest.

"And we were ready to go through another trial. No matter how hard, difficult. Angel's dead. Angel can't speak. We're the only people who can push for her," said Bloodworth.

So they went over Dixon's head. They appealed to the Alabama Attorney General and demanded a special prosecutor. They won. A special prosecutor was named, took the case away from Dixon and decided to retry Stephen Nodine for murder.

"And how did you feel then?" Schlesinger asked Bloodworth.

"We were elated. [Laughs] We were like, 'Thank God,'" she replied.

"Great," her mother, Thelma Hinckley added. "That we had a chance, you know -"

"Finally, maybe, we can get justice and you know get somebody whose going to take this case and move forward with it," said Bloodworth.

A PLEA DEAL

Once again, Stephen Nodine finds himself in a familiar place -- a courthouse. This time, he isn't just asking for help from his lawyer. A prayer circle was held outside of the courtroom.

Susan Bloodworth thinks his attention should be directed elsewhere.

"I say that Stephen Nodine is on track for a one-way ticket to hell. And that's honestly where I'd like to see him," she said.

But in this case, neither side's prayers were answered. Special Prosecutor David Whetstone was set to try Nodine again for murder, but they were all in court because there was a change in plans. There was a plea deal and a remarkable admission from the special prosecutor:

"Did we have proof beyond a reasonable doubt? No, and that was the basis of the plea," Whetstone told reporters.

After more than two years of trying to convict Stephen Nodine of killing Angel Downs, the state of Alabama dropped the murder charge and a stalking charge. In return, Nodine pleaded guilty to a much less serious charge of perjury for lying on a legal form. He also agreed to plea no contest to a charge he harassed Angel with emails and text messages.

"So you got what a lot of people might consider a pretty good deal. Do you think it's a good deal?" Schlesinger asked Nodine.

"No," he replied.

Asked why, Nodine said, "Because I was innocent of all the charges."

Nodine's sentence: 10 years, but only two of them in jail. Even then, he's just barely incarcerated. He spends nights and weekends in the county jail; he spends his days working for his lawyer. It's a far cry from his one-time high-flying, high-powered life.

"What do you do here? What's your job?" Schlesinger asked Nodine.

"Manage the office," he replied.

"It's a different life than you were used to," Schlesinger commented. "But do you like it?"

"No," Nodine replied.

Asked what he would rather be doing, Nodine said, "I'd rather be back in politics and workin' to help shape some of the future of South Alabama, like I was before."

That will have to wait. Nodine's only real responsibility now is to be sure he makes it across the street to the jail every evening and on time. Angel's family had been hoping for a lot more.

"He got off very lightly," said Bloodworth.

"Special treatment," said Hinckley.

"He got special treatment?" Schlesinger asked.

"It goes back to politics. - Stephen's a politician. He's very persuasive," said Bloodworth.

Asked what sentence should he have gotten, Bloodworth said, "There's no sentence good enough for him. There is nothing that will ever bring Angel back. She's gone. ... I think he should have been sentenced for murder ... We have to accept what happened and move on."

Angel's family will move on, but they will carry with them a grudge against DA Hallie Dixon, who declined to prosecute Nodine for murder.

"She's got a lotta similarities with -- Stephen Nodine. You know, the two would make a great couple," said Bloodworth.

"No family wants to believe that their loved one killed themselves. That family has the additional pressure of -- they're very strong in their faith. And -- and-- I think there are religious reasons for some folks that suicide is unacceptable," said Dixon.

"Show us the proof. Show us the documentation. We have a hard time acceptin' what Hallie Dixon did to this case," said Bloodworth.

"There's absolutely no way that Mr. Nodine could've -- shot, staged a crime scene and still been blood free and speeding off within the seconds that were ref-- talked about," said Dixon.

Dixon says a lot of people would get the answers they still seek had she been allowed to prosecute Nodine even for the misdemeanor: criminally negligent homicide.

"The way it went down, I think it has left people going, 'Well, what happened? What happened?' What happened ... and it was a little frustrating for me. 'Cause if it had gone to trial, the truth would be there," she said.

Almost everyone is frustrated with the way this case turned out, but perhaps no one is more dissatisfied than Angel Downs' family. They are still hoping for answers from Stephen Nodine.

"It's hard, the not knowin'," Bloodworth said. "...unless he tells what really happened that night. What really happened that night."

Stephen Nodine's wife divorced him in 2010.

He lost his work release privileges because he didn't follow the rules of the program.

Nodine's two-year jail term will end in October 2014. He'll be on supervised probation for the next three years.

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