48 Hours Mystery: Covering the Charlene Hill Case

Charlene Hill and her husband, Danny, seemed to have it all - a 25-year marriage, three kids, a multimillion-dollar business and a beautiful home near Houston, Texas. But on Nov.14, 2006, everything changed when Charlene shot and killed Danny. She says it was an act of self-defense after years of abuse. 48 Hours: Shootout at the Hills'
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(CBS) - Her tales of abuse were so horrific, it was hard to listen as Charlene Hill, charged with murdering her longtime husband Danny, took the stand in her own defense at not one but two trials. In excruciating detail, she tearfully described being punched and kicked, and even being tied to a chair, her husband dousing her with lighter fluid and threatening to set her on fire if she ever tried to leave him.

VIDEO: Go inside the replica bedroom built by"48 Hours"

As a journalist and producer, I had done my due diligence - reading up on "battered wife syndrome" and speaking to experts in the field - trying to understand why this woman who had enough intelligence to run a business couldn't bring herself to leave her abuser. But interestingly, as the case unfolded, Charlene Hill's attorneys were not presenting a classic battered woman's defense. For them, this history of abuse was the context for Charlene's actions the night she pumped three bullets into her husband. They wanted the jury to believe that Charlene, after years of abuse, had finally acted in self-defense that night - convinced that this time, it was kill or be killed.

The judge had even granted the defense's request to have the jury visit that bedroom, so they could see for themselves the dimensions of the room, and the locations of the exits. Charlene had claimed that even though she and her husband were on opposite ends of the room, separated by a king-size bed, she could not have backed out of the room with enough speed to escape him.

The prosecution insisted that not only could she have left the room -- their ballistics and other forensic evidence told them that Danny was not even lunging toward her when she fired. What happened during those critical moments in this showdown in the bedroom would be the heart of the case for both sides.

Since the new owners of the Hill house would not allow our cameras in, I was presented with a challenge: how could I bring our viewers into that room to be able to put themselves in Charlene Hill's place? After all, the defense had felt it was so critical to the adjudication of the case that they brought the jurors in, one by one. Besides, we at "48 Hours Mystery" pride ourselves in giving our viewers unique access to the criminal cases we cover. And our viewers expect nothing less.  

So if we couldn't go to the room, the room would come to us! We already had the schematics with accurate measurements from investigators in the case. So we approached the University of Houston's school of Theater and Dance and with the help of producer/editor David Spungen, they built a true-to-size mock-up of that bedroom, complete with precise cutouts for the windows and doorways. And last but not least, we brought in a king-sized bed and placed it in exactly the same spot where Danny and Charlene's bed had been 

VIDEO: Richard Schlesinger takes you behind the scenes of how "48 Hours Mystery" recreated the Hill bedroom

It was important to present both sides of the case - so we had Charlene's attorneys, with questioning by correspondent Richard Schlesinger, present their theory of what went down (and they were quite animated). They tried to show how Danny, a mere few feet away from Charlene, had started coming toward her. But then -- two of the CSI's on the case demonstrated that the angle of one of the bullets told them that Charlene shot Danny at close range, standing over him when he was already down and wounded. These were dramatic moments that I believe truly helped viewers understand that very few cases are slam-dunks. And it makes you appreciate the difficult but important job of serving on a jury.

Clare Friedland is a producer for 48 Hours Mystery