[This story originally aired on February 15, 2020. It was updated on January 29, 2022.]
A young Wisconsin woman told police a harrowing story of how her ex-boyfriend carved the word "boy" into her arm and then attacked her. Was she really a victim, or did she intend to kill ex-boyfriend Alex Woodworth?
On March 22, 2018, McCandless turned up on the doorstep at dairy farmer near Eau Claire. She was muddy, bloody, bruised and shoeless, asking for a doctor. She said she was a victim of an assault. Details of the attack recounted by McCandless were initially hazy, but eventually she said it was ex-boyfriend Woodworth who attacked her. The case turned when police found Woodworth's body on a desolate dirt road near the farmhouse. It was a brutal scene. He had been stabbed 16 times.
"I've been a prosecutor since 2001, and I've never seen anything this violent," Andrea Nodolf, district attorney for Dunn County, Wisc., tells CBS News correspondent, reporting for "48 Hours."
Charged with Woodworth's murder, McCandless was only 22 years old when she took the stand in her own defense. She appeared meek and timid and wore pink, and the small statured woman seemed an unlikely killer. No one quite knew what to expect from a woman described by friends as someone who sought attention.
RELATIONSHIPS AND LIES
Ezra McCandless was only 20 years old when she came to the attention of authorities.
DISPATCH: Dunn County 911
DON SIPPLE |FARMER: I have a young lady that just came to my house and somebody attacked her.
Wisconsin dairy farmer Don Sipple was sitting down to dinner when a seemingly desperate Ezra arrived on his doorstep begging for help.
Jamie Yuccas: What did you think was happening?
Don Sipple: I had – had no idea. She had kind of like dried blood or something around her mouth … No shoes on. … Mud up to her knees.
Sipple brought the bruised and battered young woman inside from the cold and offered her a blanket.
Don Sipple: She was cold, and I think, I'm sure in shock. And … then she said, "I was assaulted." … Then I went and got on the phone and called 911.
Ezra can be heard in police dash camera video recorded at the scene:
EZRA MCCANDLESS [police dash camera]: I'm so scared …
Dunn County District Attorney Andrea Nodolf would later lead the investigation.
Andrea Nodolf: She's borderline hyperventilating. … Someone who sounds very upset.
COP [police dash camera]: Where all are you hurting from right now?
EZRA MCCANDLESS: Everywhere.
COP: Everywhere? OK.
Badly shaken, Ezra kept asking for one person, Jason Mengel.
Jason Mengel: I was with her for eight months. … We were very invested in each other.
Mengel, a medic in the Army Reserve, says he was in love with Ezra from the moment they met in the summer of 2017, despite a wide age gap.
Jason Mengel: I was 33 at the time. She was 19, I believe. … She kept me energized and she kept me doing things and I was very spur of the moment too.
Mengel says Ezra was full of surprises — she even changed her own name. She was born Monica Kay to a mother who was just 14.
Jason Mengel: I just knew her as Ezra. … She just did not like being called Monica.
She changed her name to Ezra McCandless, dropped out of college and began a new life in the free-spirited city of Eau Claire.
Jason Mengel: Eau Claire's a big little town. … Everyone kinda knows everybody.
And a lot of them knew Ezra – who liked drawing attention to herself. An amateur artist, she even used her own.
Andrea Nodolf: It's a silver car with illustrations all over it. I think the top has some sort of bird riding a bicycle.
Jason Mengel: She was wild. … She'd always be, like, tryin' to, like, break into abandoned buildings and take photos.
The couple lived together and contemplated marriage.
Jason Mengel: I would call her wife and she would call me husband.
And they were often spotted together at Racy's coffee shop, a popular downtown hangout. There, they befriended Alex Woodworth. At the time, Alex was a 23-year-old barista and substitute teacher with aspirations of becoming a philosophy professor.
Jason Mengel: He was the nicest guy. Big nerd. … He was definitely one of those deep thinkers.
Jason Mengel: I've never seen someone so obsessed and completely devoted to philosophy … He would bring it to the bar. He would bring it home. He would be researching books on Amazon in his spare time.
As the oldest of four siblings, Alex loved playing the role of big brother, says his father John and grandfather Marv.
Marv Woodworth: Yeah. He loved his brothers and sisters.
Jamie Yuccas: You can tell. There's some of the pictures where they're hanging on one another.
Marv Woodworth: He was just a normal kid. … And he was active in church with us.
John Woodworth: …he loved the unlovely. He loved bugs. And he loved spiders. … His thing was to find stuff that people didn't care for, and make sure that they were taken care of.
Alex was deeply committed to helping others, they say, especially his new friend Ezra.
John Woodworth: He felt like she needed help, and that he could help her. … That was the way Alex was though.
Jason Mengel: She was going through emotional things. … You know, he was a really good friend. … I kind of pushed them together at one time, because I knew they both had similar viewpoints … he had some things in his life that I figured she could help him with, and I thought that he could help her with things in her life.
But Ezra and Alex became more than friends and began a secret romantic relationship and Mengel found out.
Jason Mengel: I confronted him about all this stuff … like, "You're my friend. You know, I love you. How could you do this?"
Andrea Nodolf: I think Jason has a very big heart. But I also think his big heart, you know, led him to be very manipulated.
Ezra eventually broke up with Jason and Alex. Around that time, she claimed she was sexually assaulted by one of Jason's friends.
Eau Claire Detective Ryan Prock investigated Ezra's allegations.
Detective Ryan Prock: First meeting with her was March 1, 2018. She came in for an interview.
EZRA MCCANDLESS [police interview]: He kept telling me to be quiet, like, "Shhh." He kept shushing me.
Detective Ryan Prock: She's sittin' — leaning against the wall, with her knees up … tellin' me the story of what took place.
EZRA MCCANDLESS [police interview]: I started getting really, really, really tipsy.
Detective Ryan Prock: That they consumed alcohol. … and that's when she said she blacked out.
Jamie Yuccas: And she was sexually assaulted at that point?
Detective Ryan Prock: That's what she believes, yes.
EZRA MCCANDLESS: It was really scary.
DETECTIVE RYAN PROCK: OK.
Jamie Yuccas: So, you believed she was a victim.
Detective Ryan Prock: Correct.
But then the detective reviewed suggestive text messages Ezra had sent to Jason's friend. Prock also interviewed Alex Woodworth and he did not support Ezra's versions of events.
Detective Ryan Prock: He said that Ezra told him that … It was consensual. She just regretted it.
Andrea Nodolf: This relationship wasn't even a love triangle — it was a love square … and — those relationships began and stopped with Ezra McCandless.
The sexual assault case was ultimately dropped thanks, in part, to Alex's statements and Ezra was upset.
Jason Mengel: Her world was crumbling around her … she had created Ezra. She had created this intricate network of lies, and they kept falling apart. And there was nothing left. There was nothing left behind it.
Ezra moved out of Eau Claire and back home with her family, but Mengel says she tried desperately to win him back.
Jason Mengel: She—wove these tales about--these manipulative, vindictive men who, "tried to take me away from you, Jason. … It's not me. It's them.
But Mengel, big hearted as he was, had had enough.
Jason Mengel: I spent eight months constantly being toyed with. … It was like, "I can't trust you anymore." … You think they're little white lies, but they build up and they build up and build up. And before you know it there's horrifying things happening.
Nodolf says, Ezra was furious.
Andrea Nodolf: There's fire in her eyes.
Andrea Nodolf: This is someone who's deeply troubled. … Someone whose life is outta control and she's desperately tryin' to get back some control.
It is March 22, 2018, hours before Alex Woodworth is murdered, and Ezra McCandless surprises her now ex-boyfriend Jason Mengel by unexpectedly turning up at Racy's coffee shop.
Andrea Nodolf: … it was weird because they messaged each other 600 times the night before. And she just randomly shows up in Eau Claire.
District Attorney Andrea Nodolf says Ezra tells Mengel she's back in town to show Alex some of her writings.
Andrea Nodolf: She said she was gonna share these journals with Alex. And she was gonna become Ezra McCandless again. She was taking back her life.
Nodolf believes Ezra's initial plan was to get Alex to admit their affair was a mistake.
Andrea Nodolf: … she was gonna do whatever it took to get back with Jason Mengel.
Ezra is visible on the coffee shop's security footage that morning and, to Mengel, she appears agitated. After she leaves Racy's to go Alex's house, Jason grows concerned.
Jason Mengel: I was like, "This is not right. Something is wrong." … Why is she at his house alone? What is going on? I thought — a million thoughts … are just spiraling through my head.
Following his intuition, Mengel bicycles over to Alex's.
Jason Mengel: These are two people, regardless of the circumstances, I care about them.
Mengel spots Ezra's car outside Alex's house and paces back and forth before finally going inside.
Jason Mengel: I got up there. Their faces were … like masks … something was happening, but they wanted everyone to believe everything was fine. … you could taste … the tension …
Jason Mengel: I voiced … my opinion that this is not right. Like, something is wrong here.
Mengel tells Alex and Ezra they should talk in a public place. They leave the house, but just then, two police cruisers roll up. A passerby had called police after spotting Jason pacing outside the house.
A police dash camera shows an officer speaking to Alex who is standing next to Ezra's car. Ezra, in the driver's seat, is not visible. Mengel, next to his bicycle, goes out of camera view, but is heard explaining to a second cop why he is concerned about Ezra.
JASON MENGEL [police dash camera]: She gave me a vibe today man … I don't know, it doesn't feel right, something feels wrong.
The officer sees nothing of concern:
MALE COP [to Jason Mengel on police dash camera]: OK, everything's good. They're OK.
MALE COP : OK, you have a good day.
The police officer gets back into his cruiser as Ezra closes her car door. Jason Mengel walks into view with his bicycle and talks for a few moments with Ezra and Alex. It's an eerie scene; it's the last time Jason sees Alex alive.
A little more than three hours later, Ezra turned up at Don Sipple's farm bloody, covered in mud and wailing about an attack.
While being treated at a local hospital, Ezra — in a recorded interview — tells investigators she remembers feeling afraid of Alex Woodworth but says that's all she can recall.
EZRA MCCANDLESS [police interview]: I'm trying so hard. I'm trying to get things to come to me but it's like it just keeps getting blocked out, blocked out …
At that time, Alex was nowhere to be found. Detectives had visited his house and called his cell phone to no avail. The police also touched base with Alex's family.
Marv Woodworth: … we got calls that Alex was missing …
John Woodworth: I thought maybe it was like an accident or something.
Marv Woodworth: … we thought maybe we could help find him. Why was he missing?
With nowhere else to go, the next day, police return to Don Sipple's farm.
Det. Ryan Prock: As we're drivin' down the road, we see the muddy road right here, and we stop, and, at that point, we're able to see footprints in the mud coming from the top of the hill down the road and we lose them right in this area.
Investigators follow those footprints and spot a car.
Det. Ryan Prock: From our our vantage point on top of the hill, we used binoculars, and we were able to see down there. And we could see a human body … hangin' out of the back seat, driver side.
Jamie Yuccas: Did you immediately think, "This is Alex"?
Det. Ryan Prock: We did. We thought it was Alex.
The police rush to help but nothing can be done. Alex Woodworth, 24, is dead. Eau Claire Police Detective Ryan Prock is now leading the homicide investigation along with investigators from the Dunn County Sheriff's Department.
Det. Ryan Prock: It's very, very violent attack on a person with a knife
Jamie Yuccas: How shocking was that to hear?
Marv Woodworth: Oh, terrible … you can't wrap your mind around it … we knew nothing about it really-- just that he got stabbed 16 times. And that's pretty graphic.
Armed now with specific details, Detective Prock returns to the hospital. He tells Ezra he's found the crime scene and, this time, her memory returns, beginning with a knife she says Alex found in the car:
EZRA MCCANDLESS: He started like carving something into my arm.
DET. RYAN PROCK: Can I see it, by chance?
What Prock sees is the word "boy" scratched into Ezra's left forearm. Ezra explains that in high school she had questioned her gender and says Alex picked up on that.
EZRA MCCANDLESS: He used to call me, like, "boy" a lot and stuff like that … and I was just kinda like "I don't really identify that way anymore."
The detective does not believe Ezra's story about the injury to her arm. At that point, Ezra says Alex was in the driver's seat.
Det. Ryan Prock [standing to the right of Yuccas at the crime scene]: It didn't make sense that Alex is right-handed, and he's sitting basically where you are and he reaches over and carves "boy" perfectly so she would see it.
Jamie Yuccas: I'd have to do that backwards.
Det. Ryan Prock: Correct. It's just not plausible.
DET. RYAN PROCK: He didn't do that to you, did he?
EZRA MCCANDLESS: No.
DET. RYAN PROCK: You carved "boy" into your own arm. Is that right?
EZRA MCCANDLESS: Mm-hmm.
Ezra continues her story, telling Prock the couple ended up in the car's back seat where, she says, Alex began attacking her:
EZRA MCCANDLESS: He started cutting my pants open and stuff and I didn't know what to do, and it was really scary …
EZRA MCCANDLESS [emotional]: He just kept trying to attack me and attack me, and I didn't know what to do.
DET. RYAN PROCK: OK.
EZRA MCCANDLESS: And I was so scared. It was the scariest thing I've ever experienced in my life …
Ezra says she grabbed the knife by its jagged blade — wrenched it away from Alex and began stabbing him:
DET. RYAN PROCK: You said you had the knife? Where were you cutting him?
EZRA MCCANDLESS: I just was going anywhere and everywhere I could …
DET. RYAN PROCK: OK.
Prock looks at Ezra's hands which have only superficial cuts.
Det. Ryan Prock: The wounds don't match … if you're grabbing a knife like she said she did … and you pull your hand across it, your hand is gonna be flayed open.
EZRA MCCANDLESS: He just kept grabbing me and grabbing me and grabbing me.
It's a harrowing story, but as the evidence is examined, authorities become more convinced than ever that Ezra McCandless is lying.
Andrea Nodolf: This was cold-blooded murder.
WHAT THE EVIDENCE SAYS ABOUT THE CRIME
Once the police discovered Alex Woodworth's body inside Ezra's distinctive car, District Attorney Andrea Nodolf says forensic investigators began processing and interpreting
Jamie Yuccas: Why is there not more blood in the car?
Remember, Ezra told Detective Prock that she started stabbing Alex in the back seat of the car.
EZRA MCCANDLESS [police interview]: He kept trying to grab me in the back of the car so I just started to defend myself as best as I could.
But Nodolf says the blood evidence shows Alex mostly was stabbed outside the car.
Andrea Nodolf [standing outside car]: … that's where there's more blood loss. And by the time he gets into … the vehicle, he's nearly dead.
Alex had virtually no defensive wounds. That's because Nodolf believes Ezra took him by surprise —
Andrea Nodolf: She comes behind him, and completely takes him out.
— stabbing him first in the back of the head.
Jamie Yuccas: Do you think Ezra just snapped?
Andrea Nodolf: Yes … I think she intended to do what it took to get back with Jason Mengel. And that meant Alexander Woodworth had to be outta the picture.
Two weeks after Alex Woodworth is found dead, Ezra McCandless — with no history of violence — is arrested and charged with first-degree intentional homicide.
Det. Ryan Prock: Her interviews, the knife … the crime scene, that's the case … everything else is white noise.
Ezra McCandless' murder trial begins 18 months later, and ex-boyfriend Jason Mengel is a witness for the prosecution.
Jason Mengel: … on the day I was testifying … I was kinda shocked when I walked in the room … she's givin' me these looks. Adjusting herself. Like, being overly, you know, attuned to me.
PETER HAHN | PROSECUTOR: Ezra McCandless, are you familiar with her?
JASON MENGEL: Yes.
PETER HAHN: Is the person you know as Ezra McCandless in the courtroom today?
JASON MENGEL: Yes.
PETER HAHN: Can you identify where she's located by describing an item of clothing, please?
JASON MENGEL: Pink blazer to my left.
Jason Mengel: At one point she removes her blazer and there's this green sweater that I had given her. Like, she's wearing it … it was just shocking … and it's, like, I don't understand what her tactic was, but I definitely felt uneasy.
PETER HAHN: On March 22, 2018, why did you go looking for the defendant?
JASON MENGEL: Something did not seem right.
Mengel tells prosecutor Peter Hahn how he saw Ezra on the morning of the murder and sensed something was off:
PETER HAHN: Did you notice anything about the defendant's demeanor that caused you concern?
JASON MENGEL: She was a little fired up.
JASON MENGEL: I wasn't sure for both parties involved that they should be alone.
When the defense presents its case, Ezra's attorney, Deja Vishny, takes the risky step of calling her client to the stand.
Julia Post: I thought it was really interesting when she was asked to spell her name how happy she got, how much she lit up. … She was kinda smiling like, "Yup, this is me, I get to talk about me now."
Ezra's childhood friend Julia Post says she's seen this version of Ezra before — a young woman who craved attention:
EZRA MCCANDLESS [testifying]: I tried on a few names, but I found ultimately that Ezra fit perfectly for who I am.
Andrea Nodolf: Herwas very relaxed. … She was much softer than any of the photographs that I had seen from her Instagram pages.
DEJA VISHNY | DEFENSE ATTORNEY: How much do you weigh?
EZRA MCCANDLESS [LAUGHS]: I roughly weigh between 115 and 120 pounds …
Andrea Nodolf: … she was in pink and, you know, trying to be very meek and timid.
Ezra describes how the first time she met Alex he was writing in one of his journals:
EZRA MCCANDLESS [testifying]: I approached him, and I said, "What are you writing about?"
On that day, she says, the subject was cannibalism:
EZRA MCCANDLESS [testifying]: He caught me right away because I thought it was quite a peculiar subject — cannibalism — and I was interested in what he meant.
Ezra explains that Alex was speaking of cannibalism in a philosophical sense, akin to the way new lovers consume each other:
EZRA MCCANDLESS [testifying]: Alex and I started slow. We held hands, we hugged, and we shared a few kisses and then eventually we became partners.
Ezra says their sex life was "normal." She even calls the sex "vanilla" — at least at the start:
EZRA MCCANDLESS [testifying]: I encouraged him to explore himself and things he might want, and we started – we started practicing and doing these new things that he wanted.
DEJA VISHNY: Was there ever a time, back in your relationship in January or February, where Alex used a knife when having sex with you?
EZRA MCCANDLESS: Yes. He had cut a pair of my pants
Ezra testifies that she and Alex began trying out activities associated with bondage and sadomasochism:
EZRA MCCANDLESS: He enjoyed to blind fold me. … I took the role of submissive. … It turned into a what could be considered a BDSM relationship.
Nodolf disputes that.
Andrea Nodolf: There was just absolutely no evidence that Alex was involved in BDSM whatsoever.
Alex's father John is upset at the way his oldest son is being portrayed.
John Woodworth: It's one thing to lose your child, it's another one to have his name drug through the mud like this.
DEJA VISHNY: As you were driving, were you paying much attention to where you were going?
EZRA MCCANDLESS: No, I was just driving
Defense lawyer Vishny then turns to the day Alex was killed:
DEJA VISHNY: What were you hoping to do when you saw Alex?
EZRA MCCANDLESS: I was hoping we could be friends still, after everything that happened between us.
But Ezra says everything changed after her car got stuck on that muddy road.
EZRA MCCANDLESS: I was breathing heavily. I was-—my anxiety was heightened at that time.
For the first time publicly, Ezra tells how the attack began, insisting it all started in the back seat of the car:
EZRA MCCANDLESS: Alex positioned himself above me. You could say "straddled."
She testifies that Alex began cutting away her clothing with a knife:
EZRA MCCANDLESS: I could feel the knife start to graze and cut into my skin.
DEJA VISHNY: What is going through your mind
EZRA MCCANDLESS: What was going through my mind is, he's gonna do what he wants, he's gonna take anything he wants … I'm afraid he's going to kill me.
In that hospital interview with Detective Prock, Ezra said she grabbed the blade of the knife with her hand:
EZRA MCCANDLESS [hospital interview] And I cut my hand, because I kept trying to grab him … And then I finally got free, and I finally got the knife away from him.
But at trial, her story changes:
EZRA MCCANDLESS: I decided then to knee him in the groin … and he drops the knife at that point … Instantly, I grab the knife … I started stabbing him anywhere and everywhere I could …
DEJA VISHNY: Are you trying to kill him?
EZRA MCCANDLESS: No.
DEJA VISHNY: What are you trying to do?
EZRA MCCANDLESS: I just want to get away. I need to get out of the car, I need to get away as fast as I could.
DEJA VISHNY: So why do you keep stabbing him when you're still in the car?
EZRA MCCANDLESS: Because he wouldn't let go, he wouldn't let me out — I was terrified.
After a struggle, Ezra says the two of them somehow wound up outside the car. By then, Alex had suffered wounds to his head, neck and groin, but Ezra says he was still able to grab hold of her:
EZRA MCCANDLESS: And he pulls me very close and tight to his body.
DEJA VISHNY: What are you thinking?
EZRA MCCANDLESS: He's going to kill me … I reached around and just quickly stabbed him in the side, hoping he would let go.
Ezra claims she barely remembers what happened next, but Nodolf says Ezra spent the next few hours rearranging the evidence to blame Alex for his own death.
Andrea Nodolf: And that's when she's … cutting her body, cutting her clothes, staging the crime scene.
WHAT REALLY HAPPENED AFTER THE MURDER
Ezra testifies that after killing Alex, everything went dark and she has to struggle to remember what happens next:
EZRA MCCANDLESS: I kept saying out loud, "what's happening, what's going on." … I couldn't get the feeling outside of my head … the visual of the horror of seeing Alex and seeing the blood.
EZRA MCCANDLESS: It felt like I was in a tunnel, like I could only see so much around me. … I feel dizzy and faint, like I can't catch my breath.
Andrea Nodolf: She, you know, conveniently forgets kind of everything that happens within that three-hour period.
District attorney Andrea Nodolf says Ezra knew exactly what she was doing during those hours from when she left Alex's house until arriving on Don Sipple's doorstep.
Andrea Nodolf: If you're actually attacked, you stab someone once or twice. And you run and get help.
EZRA MCCANDLESS [testifying]: I don't know how to process this …
But that's not what happened. Nodolf believes Ezra deliberately drove Alex to that remote area with the intent to kill him—using a knife she took from her father's house.
Andrea Nodolf: This was the knife that was found in the ditch outside of the farmer's house. … Ezra took this knife so she could get rid of Alex. … This is what she was gonna do to take back her life.
Nodolf says Ezra took all the time she needed to methodically stage that crime scene while Alex lay wounded.
Andrea Nodolf: She's tryin' to figure out what to do. … She's taking off her clothes and tryin' to cut them. She's trying to cut herself. … She was clearly someone who was trying … to stage an attack.
EZRA MCCANDLESS [chokes up while testifying]: I was panicking. I couldn't breathe.
But it was actually Alex who was desperately trying to survive, Nodolf says.
Jamie Yuccas: How does he end up back in the car?
Andrea Nodolf: I think he climbs in there to get away from the woman who's trying to kill him.
Alex was found hanging out of the back seat because, Nodolf says, Ezra tried – but failed – to drag him out so she could drive away.
Andrea Nodolf: I think she was trying to get Alex out of there. And then when that didn't work, she had to go with a different plan.
Alex was found with a scarf around his neck. Nodolf suspects he was trying to stop the bleeding.
Marv Woodworth | Alex's grandfather: That's my question going back in my mind now, is what he thought when he was being killed. … I look at Ezra and I do get angry, you know? Because he suffered. Suffered greatly.
Nodolf says there is nothing to indicate Ezra did anything to help Alex.
Andrea Nodolf: Not one of the wounds was lethal in and of itself. So, had he received, you know, medical intervention quickly, he possibly could have stayed alive.
But Ezra wasn't taking any chances. The prosecutor says she believes Ezra committed one final heartless act.
Andrea Nodolf: She took his phone. I mean, his only way of getting help, his only way of—people trying to find him. And then she deliberately, you know, smashed it into pieces so no one could find him.
Ezra didn't have a phone of her own and says she took Alex's to call for help:
EZRA MCCANDLESS [testifying]: I just remember stumbling down a road … I wanted to call the police, I wanted to get help, I wanted to do anything I could do.
Ezra claims she accidentally broke it when she fell:
EZRA MCCANDLESS: When I fell … I had hit my hand very hard.
But Ezra can't explain everything:
DEJA VISHNY: Everyone wants to know … why did you scratch boy into your arm?
EZRA MCCANDLESS: I've thought about it, and when I think about this, I don't know. It was just a reaction.
Ezra's lawyers insist she wasn't purposefully misleading investigators during those police interviews:
Instead, they say, she suffered trauma that had a severe impact on her memory.
DEJA VISHNY: Was there a point in the hospital where your memory began to return to you?
EZRA MCCANDLESS: When I finally was able to take a shower that night and … I could see my hand was cut and I could feel everything start to come back.
Defense expert, Harvard Psychologist James Hopper, says there is a good reason why Ezra's memory has suddenly returned.
DR. JAMES HOPPER: After a crime, a person can be really stressed … and that can make it hard for them to tell the police officer about things that are actually in their brain. … People's ability to retrieve information … can improve over time … if we become less stressed over time.
Andrea Nodolf: Trauma can certainly affect your memory—but it doesn't make you lie. … I think that was convenient.
Jamie Yuccas: Did you feel that she was truthful in her testimony?
Julia Post | Ezra's childhood friend: No. I think she had too many ideas of deception going on in her head, and she couldn't figure out which one to use. She couldn't keep a story straight.
Despite all the evidence against Ezra McCandless—the knife, the blood outside the car, the mysterious time gap before getting help—the defense insists Ezra acted in self-defense.
AARON NELSON | DEFENSE ATTORNEY: She wanted to live. She fought to survive. She's innocent.
Andrea Nodolf: Her Instagram … page says, "I am the fox, a tricky one." … I think she thinks she is a manipulator.
As the jury begins deliberations, Nodolf wonders if that "tricky fox" will slip away without a conviction.
Andrea Nodolf: I tried to keep in mind that this was a … young woman. … Could that be difficult for jurors to see that she was capable of really doing this?
Nearly two years after Alex Woodworth was found stabbed to death, jurors begin to deliberate the case against Ezra McCandless.
Jamie Yuccas: As the jury takes the case back, the doors are shut, and they start debating what they're gonna do, how are you feeling?
John Woodworth | Alex's father: Like I was, again, like I was waiting for the doctor to call back, you know, tell me if it was cancer or not. … It was no matter how strong the evidence is … there was always in the back of your head—who knows what the jury's gonna do?
The wildcard is Ezra herself. Will the jury see her as victim who bravely fought for survival or a calculating killer, playing a master con?
District Attorney Andrea Nodolf wonders if perhaps Ezra was a bit too composed when she testified about killing Alex.
EZRA MCCANDLESS [testifying]: He can't get out of the car and he's still grabbing for me and this is when I began to stab Alex.
Andrea Nodolf: There's no remorse there and this was supposed to be someone that you cared about and loved.
Jason Mengel: She just seemed at times to be enjoying it. … You couldn't tell that there was any fear in her eyes.
But the atmosphere in the courtroom turns very serious, very fast, when after only three hours, the jury announces it's reached a verdict.
Jamie Yuccas: What's going through your mind when it's that fast?
Andrea Nodolf: This could be really good, or it could be really bad.
JUDGE JAMES PETERSON: All right. Members of the jury have you reached your verdict?
JUROR: Yes, we have, your honor.
JUDGE JAMES PETERSON [reading verdict]: We the jury find the defendant Ezra J. McCandless guilty of first-degree murder, intentional homicide.
Jason Mengel: When she heard the verdict, I think she almost didn't believe it herself. … She looked like she was gonna faint, almost. … There was like, actual fear. …"No one believes me anymore and I'm caught."
Andrea Nodolf: I think she thought she was goin' home at the end of the day.
Jamie Yuccas: When you hear the word "guilty" … what goes through your mind?
Andrea Nodolf: Wow. I'm so grateful. … I wanted justice for Alex.
And so did this juror.
Jamie Yuccas: What ultimately convinced you that she is guilty of first-degree murder?
Juror: The stab wound to the head and that she said that, "That's where I stabbed him first." … That's an intentional act – to, to kill somebody.
And what does she think of Ezra taking the stand?
Juror: She didn't help herself much. … I would expect more—more emotion, more something.
Jamie Yuccas: Remorse?
Juror: Yeah. Yeah. Definitely remorse. There wasn't any of that.
But at Ezra's sentencing hearing on February 7, 2020, she did express remorse, and she also directly apologized to Alex Woodworth's family.
EZRA MCCANDLESS: I want to say how sorry I am that they have lost their son. But sorry doesn't cut it in my mind.. … I loved Alex very much. And I also feel a great loss. And I am so sorry.
Judge James Peterson made a point of saying he did not feel Ezra's courtroom apology was sincere. He then sentenced her to life in prison. She must serve a minimum of 50 years before she is eligible for parole.
John Woodworth: Guilty verdict does not bring Alex back.
Alex's father has lost his oldest child but retains his faith and says it's given him the strength to forgive Ezra.
John Woodworth: I've been forgiven, so I forgave her. It's just that simple. … Hate's like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.
Jamie Yuccas: How do you want Alex to be remembered?
John Woodworth: I want him to be remembered as someone who loved everyone. … Everyone loved Alex, you know, because he was always there to help. … Alex wanted everyone to smile.
Jason Mengel is still trying to understand his role in Alex's murder.
Jason Mengel: I feel like I could have been the motive for the murder. … And for her to take his life and put that—blood on my hands almost … is horrifying.
Nodolf says she also believes that Jason was Ezra's motive.
Andrea Nodolf: I feel confident in saying she was gonna do whatever it took to get back together with Jason Mengel.
Mengel can't help but think back to those last few moments when he spoke to Alex and Ezra together, and wishes he could go back in time.
Jason Mengel: Maybe I missed something. … It, like, slipped through my hands. … I still think about them both, though. … I think about them both so often. … It didn't have to end this way. … You didn't have to hurt all these people.
Produced by Jonathan Leach and Paul LaRosa. Emma Steele is the associate producer. Julie Kramer is the development producer. Mike Vele, Karen Brenner, Michelle Harris and Joan Adelman are the editors. Gail Zimmerman is the senior producer. Nancy Kramer is the executive story editor. Judy Tygard is the executive producer.
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