Jessie Bardwell case: Was Texas woman's death an accident or murder?

A father dreams his daughter has been killed, then she disappears -- what does her boyfriend know and could the dad's nightmare have been an omen?

Jessie Bardwell, 27, a beloved daughter and friend seemingly vanished from the Texas home she shared with her boyfriend, Jason Lowe. Fearing the worst, her father traveled from Mississippi to Texas to start the search for his daughter. Jessie's body was later found in a remote spot of farmland wrapped in a sheet.

Police suspected murder, but was it?

"This story is about a young girl," Richardson, Texas. Detective Eric Willadsen tells "48 Hours" correspondent Maureen Maher. "Thinks she finds love and it turns out he's pure evil."

Jessie was fun-loving and outgoing, say friends and family. She lived in Orange Beach, Ala., where she worked at a local hotspot.

Jessie Bardwell

Jessie Bardwell

Gary Bardwell

Then she fell for Lowe. To the surprise of her family, one day she moved to Texas. Turned out she was following Lowe, who had landed a job in Dallas. She suddenly disappeared in May 2016.

"I knew she was dead," Jessie's father, Gary Bardwell, tells Maher.

Bardwell said he had nightmare before his daughter disappeared.  "Something was terribly wrong. Jessie was … was killed. …And when I woke up, it was just a dream."

"And I felt it – she was not on this earth anymore," he says.

Gary Bardwell immediately filed a missing person's report. After multiple visits to Jason and Jessie's home, detectives had a sense something was wrong. There were things out of place and the unmistakable scent of death. Soon after, Lowe was arrested and charged with murder.

Lowe later claimed Bardwell's death was an accident. His attorney had a plan, and he put together a mock trial to test the defense theory. The result of the stand-in jury? Lowe was not guilty. Prosecutors, however, maintain it was murder and Lowe tried to hide her body.

"I think about what I think happened to her. And I couldn't protect her," Bardwell tells Maher. "It's just unimaginable. It's unthinkable. It's unforgivable." 

What happened to Jessie Bardwell?

A GUT FEELING

Gary Bardwell: Yesterday -- I went down to the river and just -- set there and watched the boats go by and took some deep breaths and said, I don't know how much of this I can take, you know, any longer.

There are days when it's hard for Gary Bardwell to get out of bed. But he always does, determined to get justice for Jessie, his 27-year old daughter who disappeared from her apartment in Richardson, Texas, in May 2016.

Gary Bardwell: I'm doin' it for Jessie, takin' one day at a time, one step at a time.

Bardwell knew something was wrong before he even knew Jessie had gone missing.

Gary Bardwell: Somethin' from my soul was gone. And I was afraid that it was her.

gary-jessie-bardwell.jpg

"I called her my beautiful daughter. And I still do. Beautiful Jessie," said her father, Gary Bardwell

Gary Bardwell

That connection, that bond deeper than words, formed the moment Jessie was born, says Bardwell.

Gary Bardwell: As soon as she was born I immediately started crying.  …It was just such a happy moment -- such a happy moment.

Jessie grew up alongside her older brother, Brandon.

Brandon Bardwell: Me and Jessie have been two peas in a pod since we were young.

Gary Bardwell, a now-retired firefighter with the Pascagoula, Mississippi, Fire Department, loved being a dad.

Gary Bardwell: She kinda didn't want me out of her sight … She just liked to know where I was.

[Holds Jessie's teddy bear] She slept with this every night.

Gary Bardwell: I just loved those days.

Gary Bardwell: Daddy's little girl, for sure.

When Jessie was 14, Gary and her mother, Carla, divorced.

Gary Bardwell: She loved her mother too.  …Very much so.

Jessie spent her high school years with her father and her new stepmother, Gina.

There were a few tries at college life.

Gary Bardwell: Somewhere along the line, she was having more fun than school.

That's when Jessie moved to Orange Beach and started working tables at Cobalt, a popular beachside restaurant.

Gary Bardwell: She just loved being around the water …. She would be in the water fighting the waves and having fun.

Gary Bardwell: We talked every day. She'd text me every day.

Jessie's good friend, restaurant manager Kimberly Asbury found out Gary Bardwell was an accomplished musician, and booked him at the restaurant.

Kimberly Asbury: Like he came and they went boating and they went fishing … She'd go to his gigs. I mean they were friends. They weren't just father and daughter.

Jessie had been living with a long-term boyfriend, but surprised everyone when she fell for a new guy, Jason Lowe.

Kimberly Asbury: It kind of came out of nowhere.

Jessie's friend Terri Ellis saw the romance start.

Terri Ellis: Jason seemed friendly. …He definitely -- was outgoing as well.

Jason Lowe

Jason Lowe

Facebook

He was handsome, had two college degrees and was ambitious.  For Jessie, not just a new love - but a ticket to a more exciting life. When Jason went to Dallas for a six-figure job in the tech industry, Jessie decided she would join him and pursue her own dream of cosmetology.

Terri Ellis: She thought of it as more of an adventure. Like," I'm trying something new."

But Jessie failed to mention that she was about to go to Dallas when she saw her family that Christmas.

Gary Bardwell: I had no clue of what was going on.

Gary Bardwell: She knew that she was fixing to leave for Texas and I would have done everything I could to try to talk her out of it.

Shortly after the holidays, Jessie left for Texas.  And suddenly the girl who always had her iPhone was now never on it.

Kimberly Asbury: You couldn't reach her.

Kimberly Asbury: It just went from hearing from her a lot and talking to her to nothing.

Terri Ellis: The moment that I really started to get worried was when her phone number was cut off and everything that we talked to her had to go through Jason.

The only way to get Jessie was to call Jason's phone or the house phone.  They would come to find out that Jason was monitoring all her calls. Eventually, every time Bardwell called Jessie, he only got Jason.

Gary Bardwell: I said, "Let me speak to Jessie." He said, "She said she'll call you later."

Two months later, Bardwell finally got his chance to meet Jason Lowe. Jason and Jessie came to Pascagoula for a visit. Bardwell tried to persuade Jessie not to go back to Texas.

Gary Bardwell: I remember Jessie was -- huggin' me more than normal … And I was goin', "Are you OK?" "Yeah, yeah. I -- I definitely wanna go to Texas. I just want you to be proud of me, you know?" …They left. I watched the car drive away.

Even though Jessie never let on that anything was wrong, Bardwell had a bad feeling. He went into his studio -- Jessie's childhood room -- and wrote the song, "Taken Away."

Gary Bardwell: That song, "Taken Away" was written the very last time I saw Jessie. …It was written about seein' them leave, me gettin' a gut feelin' of something was bad wrong.

In May, four months after Jessie moved to Texas, she stopped answering his calls all together. Bardwell called Jason, and insisted on knowing where Jessie was. He says Jason told him he didn't know.

Maureen Maher: What was he saying?

Gary Bardwell [mimicking Jason's voice]: "I don't know where in the hell she is. We don't live co-dependent … She can go … and come as she pleases."

But when she didn't call her mom and stepmom on Mother's Day, Bardwell had had enough.

 Gary Bardwell: I said, "We're leaving in the morning. Let's pack some bags. And we're going to Texas."

A FATHER'S MISSION

When Gary Bardwell got in his truck and headed to Texas, he was angry. Very angry.

Gary Bardwell: I get so angry that it scares me.

His little girl was missing and he believed Jason Lowe was behind it. 

Gary Bardwell: I text him on the way there. I said, "If Jessie's not there when I get there, you are in a tremendous amount of trouble."

But when he got to Jessie and Jason's apartment, she was nowhere to be found. Bardwell immediately filed a missing persons report with the Richardson Police Department. Over the next 24 hours, the police repeatedly visited the apartment and still she never showed up. That's when Detective Chiron Hale got assigned to the case.

He first made contact with Jason by phone.

Det. Chiron Hale: He stated … the last time he saw her was on May 8th, which was Mother's Day -- that morning at 10:00 a.m. and she left in her Acura.

AUDIO RECORDING:

Det. Chiron Hale: And is that car still gone?

Jason Lowe: Yes.

The next day, Detective Hale, the lead detective, made a house call and made another audio recording:

AUDIO RECORDING:

Det. Chiron Hale: Still haven't heard from Jessie, right?

Jason Lowe: I haven't.

By then Jessie had been reported missing for three days.

Det. Chiron Hale: As the father of three girls, I was very determined to get to the bottom of what had happened to Jessie Bardwell.

 It seemed everybody was desperate to find Jessie except the man who claimed to be in love with her.

AUDIO RECORDING:

Jason Lowe to Det. Chiron Hale: We just did our own thing, always. I didn't question her she didn't question me and it worked.

The detective looked around the apartment and saw no sign of a struggle. Jason stuck to his story that she left home in her Acura.

Jessie Bardwell

Jessie Bardwell posing with the Acura that police learned had been sold three weeks before her disappearance.

Gary Bardwell

There was just one problem with that story. The police learned that Jessie and Jason had sold that Acura three weeks before Jason claimed she drove off in it.  They found it in the new owner's driveway.

Det. Eric Willadsen: Jason's lies were not very smart. Who would lie about an Acura that had been sold? … it was pretty clear that there was definitely something -- going on other than just a missing person.

It became even clearer the following day. A team of detectives including Hale and his partner Eric Willadsen returned to the apartment. They saw what appeared to be a line of cocaine

AUDIO RECORDING:

DETECTIVE: You have coke on the countertop?  A line of it? Yes or no. 

JASON LOWE: Yes, sir.

But it was an odor coming from the garage that really got their attention. 

Det. Eric Willadsen: It's a smell that you never forget. Once you've smelt it, you know instantly when you smell it again.

It was the smell of death. And it was coming from the back of Jason Lowe's black Audi. Detective Hale opened the hatch door. There was no Jessie Bardwell, but a body had clearly been there.

Jason Lowe's Audi

When police searched the garage, they came across Jason's Audi. It was covered in mud and the bumper was ripped-off and stuffed inside the car. The thing that stuck out the most to the detectives was the odor emitting from the back hatch of the vehicle. It was the smell of death.

Collin County District Attorney's Office

Det. Chiron Hale: There was standing fluid in the back hatch. And it smelled like just decaying flesh. …It had front-end damage. It did not have the bumper. The bumper was inside the vehicle … it had a lot of mud on the inside and on the outside.

One explanation was that he had gotten stuck in the mud while searching for Jessie.

Det. Chiron Hale: He still held onto the fact that he did not know where Jessie was.

Interior of Jason Lowe's Audi

When the detectives sprayed the luminol-based chemical Bluestar in the Audi, the cargo compartment lit up -- indicating the presence of blood. 

Collin County District Attorney's Office

But when they sprayed the chemical Bluestar in the cargo compartment of the Audi, it lit up like crazy – indicating the presence of blood. 

Det. Chiron Hale: It pretty much turned into a homicide investigation at that point.

AUDIO RECORDING:

DET. CHIRON HALE: We're wondering if you wouldn't mind coming down to the station so we could talk?

JASON LOWE: Like right now?

DET. CHIRON HALE: Yeah. 

Jason Lowe was initially arrested on drug charges and thrown in jail. Detectives used the opportunity to further question him on Jesse's whereabouts.

Det. Eric Willadsen: We spent a long time speaking with him to try to relate to his emotions, his feelings.

DET. HALE TO LOWE: You see this picture? Look at the picture. Jason.

DET. WILLADSEN TO LOWE: The girl you were in love with. The girl that you wanted to marry.

Det. Eric Willadsen: and nothing seemed to work.

JASON LOWE: Don't f---ing patronize me.

Det. Eric Willadsen: He didn't seem to care … He seemed irritated and thought that -- we were trying to pin things on him that he hadn't done.

DET. WILLADSEN: Will you tell me where she's at.

JASON LOWE: I don't know any of that, man I'm wrapped up –like I'm good—I'm not going to be accused of stuff and I'm done talking.

Jason Lowe booking photo

Jason Lowe was charged with the murder of Jessie Bardwell

Richardson Police Department

Even without a body, Jason Lowe was charged with murder.

Det. Eric Willadsen: I had no doubt that he had killed her.

But they did have doubts -- grave doubts -- that they would ever find Jessie.

Det. Eric Willadsen: Texas is a huge state. We've got lots of rivers, lots of lakes, lots of ponds, fields. There are -- 100 million different places you could hide a body in Texas.

Back home in Pascagoula, the town rallied around the family.

Kitty Bardwell | Jessie's grandmother: They had a candlelight vigil at the beach … praying that she'd be found, maybe safe somewhere.

On May 19, almost three weeks after Jessie was last seen alive, they finally got an answer. The police had reason to believe Jessie was on a remote ranch in North Texas. Gary Bardwell says they wouldn't tell the family how they knew; only that it was a reliable source.  Chief Jimmy Spivey called the Bardwell family into the station.

Gary Bardwell: The chief said, "It's gonna be a bad day for y'all today because we do not expect to find your daughter alive."

A team of detectives, FBI investigators, and prosecutors made their way to that remote ranch in Farmersville, Texas.  They arrived late afternoon and started walking through the fields.

Det. Eric Willadsen: We saw where he had gotten stuck in the mud.

Maureen Maher:  You could still see the car parts on the ground?

Det. Chiron Hale: You could.

Det. Eric Willadsen: We found a piece of metal…looked like it was shielding something -- kind of a makeshift burial area, and at that point you could start to smell, you know, decaying flesh, so…

Det. Eric Willadsen: …we walked closer.  She was covered with a sheet, so you could tell -- but you could see the outline of the body under the sheet.

Jessie Bardwell had been crudely wrapped in a blue fitted sheet and covered with a pile of debris, including a red blanket and two red and gold towels.

Maureen Maher: What was the condition of this body?

Det. Eric Willadsen: It's one of the worst we've seen. 

It would take seven days to officially identify her body. The medical examiner ruled Jesse's death a homicide.  But her body was so badly decomposed officials could not say how she was murdered. 

Against his better judgment, Jessie's father read the autopsy report.

Gary Bardwell [overcome with emotion]: I felt it was my responsibility as Jessie's daddy to read the report. …she was brutally murdered. And she was thrown away like a piece of trash … wrapped up in a sheet barely looking like a person.

Gary Bardwell [overcome with emotion]: They sent the hearse to Texas to pick her up and my firemen buddies loaded her into the back of the hearse … This is my life now.

Over 900 people showed up at First United Methodist Church to mourn the death and celebrate the life of 27-year-old Jessie Bardwell.

Kitty Bardwell: If this town could be washed with all the tears that were shed over Jessie, it'd be real clean. We wouldn't even need for it to rain for the tears that were shed for Jessie.

While the Bardwells spent the next year grieving, a very different looking Jason Lowe was in a McKinney, Texas, jail cell preparing his defense.

Andy Farkas | Defense attorney: One of the key issues in this case is whether or not to have our client testify.

Jason's court appointed attorney, Andy Farkas, says he is sure that Jason did not murder Jessie.  He's not so sure Jason can convince a jury.  But he has a plan.

THE DEFENSE TESTS ITS THEORY

As the months passed after Jessie's death, her father, Gary, struggled through his grief and through his rage.

Gary Bardwell: I'd get a 12-pound sledgehammer and had a stump outside the house. And I would print out pictures of his face. And I'd set it on the stump and … beat the hell out of it until I couldn't swing anymore.

lowe-battered-pic.jpg

"I'd get a 12-pound sledgehammer and had a stump outside the house. And I would print out pictures of his face. And I'd set it on the stump and … beat the hell out of it until I couldn't swing anymore," Gary Bardwell said of Jason Lowe.

Gary Bardwell

There was only one thing that kept him going: waiting to see Jason Lowe face a judge and jury in a court of law and be convicted of the murder of his only daughter.

Gary Bardwell [overcome with emotion]: I think about what I think happened to her. And I couldn't protect her.

Gary Bardwell: It's just unimaginable. It's unthinkable. It's unforgivable.

Last August "48 Hours" went to the Collin County Jail with attorney Andy Farkas to meet his client, Jason Lowe at the detention facility where he's been held since May 2016.

Andy Farkas: I don't feel he's guilty of murder.

"48 Hours" met Jason Lowe, but he would not talk on camera. He said he's saving his story for the witness stand.   

Farkas believes that allowing Jason to tell his version of what happened to Jessie will help get him acquitted of murder. And to gauge how a jury will react, Farkas is doing something he's never done before. He and co-counsel Maria Tu are conducting a mock trial. It's essentially a simulated trial with pretend jurors who will pass judgment.  Maria Tu will act as the prosecutor and Farkas the defense.

Maria Tu to mock jurors: And we know that the defendant put her there.

Andy Farkas to mock jurors: The state can't tell you how, where, when or why this happened…

While the defense maps out its strategy in mock court, the real prosecutors, Wes Wynne and Cynthia Walker, are fitting together the pieces of what they admit is a mostly circumstantial case.  

Maureen Maher: Do you know how Jessie is murdered?

Prosecutors Walker and Wynne: No.

Maureen Maher: Do you know why Jessie was murdered?

Prosecutors Walker and Wynne: No.

Maureen Maher: And do you know where … Jessie was murdered?

Prosecutors Walker and Wynne: No.

Maureen Maher: So we don't know how. We don't know why. And we don't know exactly where.

Prosecutor Cynthia Walker: That's correct.

Maureen Maher: But you have the body and that's enough for you to create the picture?

Prosecutor Cynthia Walker: Yes.

They have no doubt that Jessie Bardwell was murdered by Jason Lowe -- a man whose dark side she didn't see, they believe, until it was too late.

Gary Bardwell: Jessie really thought she was in love with this guy and everything was good.

Jessie Bardwell and Jason Lowe

Jessie Bardwell and Jason Lowe

Gary Bardwell/Facebook

At first, Jessie told her father life in Texas was great. But then, only a month after moving, they had a big fight. Jason would later say it was because Jessie had a brief affair before moving to Texas, and got pregnant.  He was furious when he found out. Eventually, he says, Jessie had an abortion.

Gary Bardwell: She called me -- really upset. She was crying, said, "You were right. I should've never come out here. Jason kicked me out. I'm freezing."

Fortunately, a friend of a friend took her in for the night. Bardwell bought Jessie a plane ticket to Alabama for the next morning.

Gary Bardwell: One of her friends went to the airport the next night when she was supposed to be there and waited seven hours for her to get there. And she never came.

Jessie told her father that Jason felt bad about the fight and would try to trust her again. She was 27, a grown woman, so Bardwell reluctantly let it go -- a decision that haunts him to this day.

Gary Bardwell: My mind never stops. It never stops [cries] thinking, "why did you not go out there sooner."

If there were any more incidents, Jessie didn't let on to the folks back home. And she was even less forthcoming with her new Texas friends, Regina and Tommy Jordan.

Regina Jordan:  She was just real timid and quiet. Just seemed to be real shy. We could never pull anything out of her. She didn't really talk much.

Maureen Maher:  Did they seem like there were a happy, young couple?

Regina Jordan:  He made it seem like that.

The Jordans were so fond of the couple they asked them to house-sit their home and dog while they went out of town for a few days. They left on May 1.

Regina  Jordan: We took 'em in under our wing like one of our own children.

Maureen Maher: The last time you saw Jessie alive was here at your home?

Regina and Tommy Jordan: Yes.

When they returned, everything seemed normal. But then they heard the shocking news: Jason had been arrested for murdering Jessie.

Maureen Maher: Did you think he was capable of doing something like that?

Regina Jordan: Not at all. We all kinda thought he was innocent.

lowe-jorda-jailcall.jpg

Jason Lowe and Tommy Jordan's videotaped conversation would become a key piece of evidence in this case.

Collin County District Attorney's Office

Tommy Jordan went to the jail to talk to Jason – a videotaped conversation that would become a key piece of evidence in this case:

TOMMY JORDAN:  What's up, brother?

JASON LOWE: What's up, man?

TOMMY JORDAN: Back up from the monitor a little bit, dude.  It's scarin' me.

Tommy Jordan (to Maher]: And I go, "Man, I need to know. What happened."

JASON LOWE TO TOMMY JORDAN: I mean, like, I, I f---ed up and made a mistake, like it was an accident … and I know what I'm guilty of.  I'm guilty of criminal negligence. 

It was a stunning statement – Jason was now admitting he was there when Jessie died.

Back at the mock trial, acting prosecutor Maria Tu seizes on those words -- "criminal negligence" -- as evidence of his guilt.

Maria Tu to mock jurors: I hope everybody heard that. …He knows he's guilty. He's guilty of criminal negligence.

Andy Farkas knows that tape will be one of his biggest problems.  

Andy Farkas [to Maher]: That's the only piece of evidence they have that ties him to her death.

So Farkas road tests Jason story: it was all an accident.

Maureen Maher:  So the story that Jason is going to tell on the stand, does the prosecution have any idea? Have they heard this story at all?

Andy Farkas: No.

Maureen Maher: They have no idea?

Andy Farkas: No idea.

But Farkas tells Jason's entire story to the pretend jurors. He's eager to learn their verdict. The group deliberates over lunch:

MOCK JURORS DELIBERATING

-We don't have any evidence to show what actually happened.

-Neither does the state.

-I can't believe the D.A.  ever took this case, frankly.

And the mock jurors reach a verdict.

Maureen Maher: What was the verdict after they heard the whole story?

Andy Farkas: It was 15 to zero, acquittal.

Mock jurors: Not guilty ... of murder. [all raise their hands]

After hearing those two words -- not guilty -- Jason is confident he could walk out of jail a free man.

JUSTICE FOR JESSIE

The time had finally come Gary Bardwell said goodbye to his fireman buddies. And then the hardest goodbye of all, his mother.

Kitty Bardwell to Gary: You're gonna be alright in Texas.  You're gonna do a good job.  You're gonna do this for Jessie. Justice for Jessie. You remember that?  I love you, son. I love you. I love you.

For the first time in 30 years Bardwell got on an airplane… as he and his wife Gina headed to Texas for the trial of the man accused of murdering his daughter, Jessie. He had waited a year and four months for this day.

Gary Bardwell [outside court]: My stomach is in knots … My stomach is in knots.  I just don't know how I am going to react when I get into the courtroom.

Prosecutor Wes Wynne calls Gary as his first witness.

Gary Bardwell: I was shaking so bad that … I was afraid that people could see me shaking.

Prosecutor Wes Wynne [in court]: Is that a photo of Jessie?

Gary Bardwell: Yes it is. [breaks down on the stand]

Prosecutor Wes Wynne:  Sir I know this is difficult, just take your time.

The state portrays Jason Lowe as a man with a dark side. A man with a long history of drug abuse, a pathological liar who often told people he was a Navy SEAL but was never actually in the military -- a man who abused women.

Hayley McDaniel:  I think I would, most certainly, be killed by him, if I had continued dating him.

The state managed to find two of Jason's ex-girlfriends, Hayley McDaniel and Chrissie Chambers. Both say Jason drove a wedge between them and their families just like he did with Jessie.

Hayley McDaniel:  It was just all manipulation and control.

They say he would get furious, accusing them of cheating.

One night Chambers says he pushed her to the floor and sat on top of her.

Chrissie Chambers: He had one hand over my mouth and another … another hand over my nose and -- was just pushing, pushing, pushing, pushing on top of me and he wouldn't get off. …I'm thinking that he's gonna kill me [cries]. … 'cause he looked me in my eyes and he told me he was. He said, "I'm killing you right now."

Jason denies any of this happened.  But the jury won't get to hear Chrissie and Hayley's stories because, in the end, prosecutors decided it wasn't necessary and likely inadmissible.  They are confident Jason Lowe's sadistic side will come through. 

Prosecutor Cynthia Walker: He's about as cruel of an individual as I've dealt with and I've been doing this a long time.

It wasn't t just the act of murder, say the prosecutors, it's what he did and did not do after the murder to cover up his crime. While Jessie lay dead in the back of Jason's Audi decomposing, Jason was using her phone to send text messages pretending she was still alive.

Prosecutor Wes Wynne: That's what criminals do … they wanna find a way to … get away with it. And one of those ways is to pretend … that this other person is still alive.

Prosecutors think Jessie was killed on or about May 1, the last day she was seen alive by the Jordans.  They believe Jason kept her body in his car day after day after day – eight days in total -- before dumping it. And when Jessie's body was finally found on May 19, prosecutors say the way in which she was discarded, said it all.    

Prosecutor Wes Wynne: This wasn't some accident. It's not how you would leave someone that tragically died, someone that you love, someone that you care for. It told me that she was murdered.

jessie bardwell crime scene evidence

Jessie Bardwell's body was covered with a pile of debris, including a red blanket and two red and gold towels.

Collin County District Attorney's Office

The physical evidence at the scene  -- the red  blanket,  the red and gold  towels and the blue fitted sheet  Jessie's body was wrapped in --  all led back to the home where they had been house sitting.   Regina Jordan still has the matching top sheet to the blue one Jessie was wrapped in.

Maureen Maher: You kept it.

Regina Jordan: I kept it.  …I don't know why I kept it … it just, uh, gives me creeps just even thinkin' about it. [Throws sheet away.]

After the first week of trial, Bardwell talks to his mother via Facetime as he braces for the next phase:

Gary Bardwell: Our lawyers have a plan.  They know what they're doing.

Kitty Bardwell: You gotta remember that. You got to remember that … But I know it's exhausting … it's got to be exhausting.

Gary Bardwell: I have heard that Jason Lowe is actually gonna take the stand. …It's going to get harder this week. That's when it's going to get nasty.

Kitty Bardwell:  You've got enough prayers to hold you up and give you strength. You're going to have the strength that you need. Love you! [Love you, too.] Bye. [Bye.]

It was the moment Bardwell had been dreading and Jason had been waiting for: his chance to convince the real jury he is innocent of murder. The defense tries to humanize him.  Jason admits getting hooked on drugs at age 13:

Jason Lowe: Oxycontin, heroin and Xanax.

With his parents listening in court, he talks about growing up an only child in a well-off family, working on his Master's degree and meeting Jessie Bardwell:

Andy Farkas: Were you in love?

Jason Lowe: Yes sir.

He says they had plans to get married and buy a house

And then it all came crashing down. It was the evening of May 1. He and Jessie were house-sitting at the Jordans. He claims they had taken GHB, a sedative often called a date rape drug. They were getting intimate in the shower.   

Jason Lowe [standing]: While we're havin' sexI'm standing here, bracing myself. And I start to slip.

jason-lowe-testifies.jpg

During his trial, Jason Lowe stood in front of Jessie Bardwell's family and presented his side of the story.  He claimed that Jessie's death was an accident.

CBS News

First he slips, then Jessie. He says she falls and hits her head on the porcelain tub and then sits on the edge. 

Jason Lowe: She just kept saying, "I – I -- I feel hot." She was like, "I feel a little bit dizzy." And she … I would say, kinda buggin' out is what I thought.

Instead of getting medical help, they go to sleep. When Jason woke up in the morning, he says Jessie was lying on his chest.

Jason Lowe: I tried to kinda shake her …  the dog kept barking.

She didn't move. She was dead.  The defense would claim a possible brain injury.

Maureen Maher: What was it like for you … to watch him get up on the stand and tell his story?

Gary Bardwell: It was like somebody ripped my heart out and ripped my soul out, my soul.

Bardwell does not believe a word of it. But Jason continues. He says he heard a knock on the door:

Jason Lowe: I just panicked. And I opened the door.

It was Robert Guinn aka Cowboy. Jason says he's his drug dealer. And it was he, Jason claims, who took the sheet from the linen closet.

Jason Lowe: He wrapped her up.

And together, they put Jessie's dead body in the back of Jason's Audi. 

Wes Wynne wasn't buying it:

Prosecutor Wes Wynne [in court]: Now, you're just watching as the love of your life gets bagged up in a fitted sheet.  And then the two of you carry her outside. Right?

Jason Lowe: Yes, sir.

Prosecutor Wes Wynne: And you toss her in the back of your Audi.

Jason Lowe: Placed her.

Prosecutor Wes Wynne: Oh. Affectionately, I'm sure.

Prosecutors don't even bother to call Cowboy to the stand.

Maureen Maher: Do you believe that Robert Guinn, Cowboy, had anything to do with the murder of Jessie?

Prosecutors Cynthia Walker and Wes Wynne: No.

Maureen Maher Do you think he had anything to do with covering it up?

Prosecutor Wes Wynne: No.

After Jessie's body was loaded into the back of his car, Jason admits he parked it in the garage, left her there for days and began reaching out to other women -- by sexting.

Prosecutor Wes Wynne [reads sext aloud in court]: "Oh I'd love to have you bend over like that while I give you what you want."

Prosecutor Wes Wynne [reads sext aloud in court]: "I want to taste you so bad."

Prosecutor Wes Wynne [to Lowe]: You were sending photos of your penis to other women while the love of your life rotted in the trunk of your car.

Maureen Maher: What was that like for you to hear him talk about that?

Gary Bardwell: My first thought is -- I was -- I had to find a way to get to him and kill him with my bare hands.

MURDER OR ACCIDENT?

Prosecutor Wes Wynne is gunning for a guilty verdict and Jason Lowe is in his line of fire. He aims right for the bull's eye and hits his mark.

Prosecutor Wes Wynne: You never once said, "There's been an accident." … never once called the police. The love of your life sits rotting in your trunk and after all, it was just an accident.  …You didn't want anyone to know she was dead. You didn't want anyone to find her body.

After seven hours of tears [She was asleep], excuses [ I don't know what to say] and denials [No, I didn't willing and intentionally kill someone. Kill Jessie, the girl that I was in love with] -- the defense plays its last sympathy card:

Andy Farkas | Defense attorney: Who pointed out to the police where Jessie was buried?

Jason Lowe: I did.

Remember when the police wouldn't tell the Bardwells how they found Jessie's body? Well it was Jason Lowe who told them where to find her. His lawyer says Jason did it for the sake of Jessie's family. But the prosecution says the only reason is because he cut a deal. 

If convicted, instead of serving 99 years, the most Jason Lowe will serve is half that -- 50 years.

Maureen Maher: And why was that deal offered?

Prosecutor Cynthia Walker: it's important for the family, it was important to find her.

After five days of testimony, the lawyers sum up their cases.

Prosecutor Cynthia Walker: You can't trust a word that comes out of his mouth.  

For the state, it comes down to Jason Lowe's character.

Prosecutor Cynthia Walker:  Evil typically doesn't announce itself. …You rarely see it. …And that's what we had here.

But the defense argues the state did not prove murder over accident.  

Andy Farkas: Their case is built on he lied to the cops, he hid the body, therefore he's guilty. …That's not proof beyond all reasonable doubt.

It was now up to a jury to decide. After six hours of deliberations, the jury hands its verdict to Judge Scott Becker. 

Jason Lowe hears guilty verdict

Jason Lowe reacts after hearing the verdict.

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Judge Scott Becker: Please rise. We the jury find the defendant guilty of murder as charged in the indictment.

Gary Bardwell: It was so sweet to know that monster is gonna be put away for a long time.

Before sentencing, Bardwell finally got the chance to face the man who killed his daughter.

Gary Bardwell: I looked him straight in the eyes. And it frightened me for about five seconds. There was nothing in his eyes, nothing.

Gary Bardwell [addresses the court] : I'm very sad and angry.

gary Bardwell

"It was so sweet to know that monster is gonna be put away for a long time," Gary Bardwell told Maureen Maher.

CBS News

Standing beside Bardwell for support in court are Jason's ex-girlfriends. 

Chrissie Chambers: If I could if I could say anything to Jessie [sobs], I would say, "Run. Just save yourself."

That same day, Judge Becker sentenced Jessie's killer to the negotiated maximum:  50 years.

"48 Hours" took one last trip to Collin County Jail to see if Jason Lowe would finally own up to what he had now been convicted of.

Maureen Maher: Hey Jason.

Jason Lowe: Hello.

Maureen Maher: Thank you for doing this.

Jason Lowe: Yes, ma'am.

Maureen Maher: Have a seat please. Thank you. …did you have anything to do with the death of Jessie Bardwell?

Jason Lowe: No ma'am.

Maureen Maher: Did you murder Jessie Bardwell?

Jason Lowe: No ma'am.

Maureen Maher: Why are you sitting here for 50 years?

Jason Lowe: I'm reapin' what I sowed like I said. You know, I was lie -- I lied.  I was scared, and I thought I could fix this. I thought -- I thought about just myself. I didn't think about her family. I didn't think about her.

He'll have half a century in a Texas prison to think about all that pain he sowed.

Maureen Maher: If her parents were here right now, is there something you would want to say to them?

Jason Lowe: I'm sorry.

Maureen Maher: And what are you sorry for?

Jason Lowe: For bein' a piece a dirt.

Gary and Jessie bardwell

Gary and Jesslie Bardwell

Gary Bardwell

After the trial, Gary Bardwell and his family went back to Mississippi, where he used to spend long summer days on the water with his daughter, Jessie. Only now is he able to get back in a boat and go to some of the places they used to go -- a bittersweet reminder of the daughter he lost.

Gary Bardwell: Jason Lowe took away a beautiful soul, a beautiful heart, the life of the party, a smile that would light up this dark room. …I always called her my beautiful little girl, my beautiful daughter, Jessie.

Jason Lowe is appealing his murder conviction.

He will be eligible for parole in May of 2041. He will be 52 years old.

Gary Bardwell has set up a scholarship to help students achieve their dreams in Jessie's name.