Produced by Christopher Gidez
On Aug. 28, 2017, police in upstate Corning, New York, were called to the home of Michele Neurauter. Police found the 46-year-old mother of three hanging from a rope -- an apparent suicide. But Police Chief Jeff Spaulding had doubts, calling a rope mark found on Michele's chin "unsettling."
Michele's mother Jeanne Laundy thought she was murdered, and pointed fingers at Neurauter's ex-husband, even though he was more than 2,500 miles away on a job interview in California when Michele was found dead.
"I'm thinking it's more than likely Lloyd killed her," Jeanne Laundy told "48 Hours" correspondent Erin Moriarty.
Lloyd Neurauter was Michele's ex-husband. For five years, the couple had been embroiled in bitter custody battles. Michele accused Lloyd of turning their daughters against her.
On the day police found Michele, the couple's 19-year-old middle daughter, Karrie, at college in Rochester, told investigators that over the weekend, her father helped her move into her college apartment and that he had spent all night at a hotel.
But when police checked the hotel video, they actually see Lloyd getting into Karrie's car with Karrie -- who had visited him at the hotel. In the video, Lloyd doesn't return until the next morning.
Police soon began listening in on phone calls between father and daughter -- and that's when the investigation turned in a way no one saw coming.
"We just don't have cases like this, where this level of pervasive evil trickles through an entire life and then ends in such a horrific event," said Steuben County, N.Y. District Attorney Brooks Baker.
A BROKEN FAMILY
On a cold January day in 2018, 45-year-old Lloyd Neurauter was surrounded by local and state police five months after Michele's death.
POLICE RADIO: We're out with a male suspect on the top floor of the Spring Street garage.
D.A. Brooks Baker | Steuben County, N.Y.: He's on a ledge on the fifth story of a parking garage in Princeton, New Jersey, threatening to jump.
It wasn't supposed to end this way. Almost 30 years earlier in 1989, 16-year-old Lloyd had fallen for an older classmate, Michele Laundy.
Jeanne Laundy: They were going to the same high school. And she was graduating, and we told her she could invite friends, and … she invited Lloyd.
Michele's mother Jeanne Laundy remembers how quickly the relationship developed.
Erin Moriarty: How did she feel about him?
Jeanne Laundy: Oh, she was falling in love.
Two years later, in 1991, Michele and Lloyd tied the knot.
The newlyweds headed off to college.
Michele gave birth to a daughter, and two years later, a second child, Karrie.
The family settled in the upstate New York community of Corning.
D.A. Brooks Baker: It's the kind of place where a lot of folks still don't lock their doors.
Corning is a quaint, family place best known as the headquarters of Fortune 500 company Corning Glass. Lloyd worked there as an engineer. Michele gave birth to a third daughter and she homeschooled the kids.
Later she would teach at a local college.
Mina Raj: She was an English professor when I met her, so she was big on reading and writing … and … she would always really encourage her girls to be well spoken and educated.
Mina Raj met the Neurauter's middle daughter Karrie in ballet class.
The two quickly bonded.
Mina Raj: All of our dance families were very close.
Her mother Cynthia would become one of Michele's closest friends
Erin Moriarty: When's the very first time you met Michele?
Cynthia Raj: I met Lloyd first, because he would bring the children to class, dance classes … he would do their hair … and the mothers were rather smitten with him.
Mina Raj: I thought he was a really amazing person. He's very charismatic, shows a lot of care.
But as Mina spent more time with Karrie, she became concerned about Lloyd's overbearing parenting style.
Mina Raj: There were times when I'd call my mom and tell her that I was worried about how strict of a disciplinarian he was, for really, really small things. It was sort of like you never knew when he would snap. … and if he decided he was mad at one of them, he would call them over, yell "front and center." …have them drop to their knees in front of everyone.
Cynthia Raj: The first time I witnessed that … Karrie was very close to me, and I could see, physically see her body shaking
Mina Raj: I've seen him slap them.
Erin Moriarty: Slap? Across the face?
Mina Raj: On the face, yes.
Erin Moriarty: Would he do things to Michele?
Jeanne Laundy: He would put her down … with a smile on his face.
And then around Thanksgiving 2007, Michele suddenly cut ties with her parents. Her mother believed Lloyd was behind the rift.
Erin Moriarty: What do you think happened?
Jeanne Laundy: I think that he threatened her, either to harm the children … or to harm her.
Cynthia Raj: She said, "Cynthia … It was Lloyd that made me cut off contact with them." He didn't want her to have a place to go if she wanted to leave.
But it turned out to be Lloyd who left the following year. In 2008, he took a new job in New Jersey, leaving Michele and the kids behind in Corning.
Cynthia Raj: Once he was gone Michele seemed like a different person.
Erin Moriarty: Better?
Cynthia Raj: Better, she seemed much more relaxed.
Susan Betzjitomir was Michele's attorney.
Susan Betzjitomir: Her husband had filed for divorce. Michele was surprised that he filed for divorce, she was a stay at home mom, she had done everything she thought she could do to make him and the family happy.
And in 2013, after the couple had divorced, Michele moved into a new house with the girls. And that's when the real trouble began. Lloyd wanted sole custody of the kids.
Susan Betzjitomir: Lloyd was relentless in using the legal system to harass Michele. … It just never ended.
Susan Betzjitomir: There were 26 separate sets of filings post-divorce.
Erin Moriarty: And how unusual is that?
Susan Betzjitomir: That is super unusual. If you have two or three, it's a lot. To have 26 is astounding.
Erin Moriarty: And what was he suing for? What were these filings for?
Susan Betzjitomir: He continually filed things making false claims against Michele … Lloyd was trying to get out of child support.
And Michele accused Lloyd of trying to turn the kids against her. The oldest daughter was already living with Lloyd and Karrie had gone off to college.
Susan Betzjitomir: Karrie was … at RIT, she was set to graduate in another year.
But Lloyd continued to fight for custody of their youngest child, then 14 years old. "48 Hours" we agreed not to show recent pictures of her.
D.A. Brooks Baker: I think anybody who worked in a courthouse had heard about the Neurauter case, this husband and wife were going at it nonstop. … So, this is one of those cases that everybody sort of heard about, talked about over the water cooler or at a bar and the name came up. It was one of those cases that just didn't go away.
But in late August 2017, Lloyd did something unusual. Betzjitomir got a text from Michele:
Susan Betzjitomir [reading text to Moriarty]: He says, "I'm in shock, Lloyd did not show up for the appearance for his petition for sole custody … He did not withdraw, he did not ask for an adjournment. He did not answer the courts phone calls, emails, nothing …
Erin Moriarty: How unusual is that for him, knowing how many of these filings he's made
Susan Betzjitomir: It was very unusual. It was very unusual. It was unthinkable, really.
Because of Lloyd's no-show, the case was dismissed. Michele seemed relieved and happy.
Susan Betzjitomir: It was summer, and she had a mutual friend of ours and the children sliding on big blocks of ice down a hill of grass.
Two days later, on Monday, Aug. 28, 2017, a family friend came to pick up the Neurauter's 14-year-old for swim practice. Instantly, he knew something was very wrong:
911 OPERATOR: 911 Center.
CALLER: Got something strange happening … at our friend's house. … I thought I saw the mother standing in the stairway, but she's motionless.
Corning Police Sergeant Jon McDivitt was the first to respond to Michele's house that afternoon.
Erin Moriarty: Alright. So, tell me what you did.
Sgt. Jon McDivitt [outside Michele's house]: So, I walked up to the front door here. And through these three panes of glass I could see inside. … And I could see a female laying at the bottom of the stairs. … Opened the door. A dog came running out. I came running in. … And as I got closer I could see … There was a rope around her neck. … there was no pulse. She was cold and stiff to the touch.
He found 46-year-old Michele Neurauter dead.
Erin Moriarty: So, your first thought when you saw her was what?
Sgt. Jon McDivitt: It appears to be a suicide by hanging.
But, Corning Police Chief Jeff Spaulding wasn't so sure.
Erin Moriarty: Because you couldn't figure out how she got a mark here [gestures a U shape around her chin].
Chief Jeff Spaulding: No, I didn't like that, that was unsettling. it appeared as though – somebody … had gone behind and thrown a rope over the neck and pulled back and down and caused that.
What's more, Michele's youngest child – the 14-year-old at the heart of the custody battle, and who was supposed to be picked up for swim practice -- was nowhere to be found.
D.A. Brooks Baker: Obviously the number of possible outcomes there that are bad is tremendous.
A FRANTIC SEARCH
Lt. Jeff Heverly | Corning Police Dept.: I said … "have we checked, you know, basements? Have we checked attics? Have we checked garages?"
In the hours after police arrived at Michele Neurauter's home, a frantic search was on.
Lieutenant Jeff Heverly couldn't find her 14-year-old daughter anywhere
Lt. Jeff Heverly: She should have been around. I knew that she resided with mom.
Later that day, he got a phone call:
LT. JEFF HEVERLY: This is Lieutenant Heverly. Can I help you?
KARRIE NEURAUTER: Hi. My name is Karrie.
It was 19-year-old Karrie Neurauter, Michele's middle child:
KARRIE NEURAUTER: My friends called me earlier today and told me about my mom and that she – [sobbing]-- I'm sorry.
LT. JEFF HEVERLY: That's OK. Take your time.
KARRIE NEURAUTER: They called and told me that my mom hung herself [sobbing].
Karrie told the officer that her younger sister was safe:
LT. JEFF HEVERLY: and … is still with you now?
KARRIE NEURAUTER: Yeah, she's in my apartment.
She was nearly 100 miles away with Karrie in Rochester, New York.
Karrie then told Heverly how it happened. She had driven back to Corning late Saturday night to spend one last night in her bedroom at home:
KARRIE NEURAUTER: … when I got there, my mom started freaking out. She would freak out a lot.
Karrie said her mother raged at her, accusing her of taking her father's side in their family court battles:
KARRIE NEURAUTER: And so, she started freaking out and screaming. … And she woke … my little sister up.
Karrie says she decided to leave, taking her younger sister with her.
Lt. Jeff Heverly: She claimed that … she was concerned for her younger sister, so she had taken her … outside, put her in the car … and then had driven her to Rochester.
While police were relieved that Michele's youngest was safe, Karrie's story didn't really make sense. Why would Michele be so upset on the same day she had been celebrating her court victory? Those who knew Michele best couldn't believe she'd take her own life.
Susan Betzjitomir: I never believed it … She was determined to have a successful life and she did.
Cynthia Raj: She had a great job … and it was not the place in her life where she would have committed suicide after all of the really difficult years she had been through.
While it appeared Michele had hanged herself, there was that odd ligature mark on her chin. As police awaited the results of the autopsy …
Chief Jeff Spaulding: I thought we would get some definite results. They would say, "Yeah 100 percent this is a homicide." Or, "Yeah, 100 percent. This is a suicide."
But the Medical Examiner's conclusion surprised them.
D.A. Brooks Baker: And they tell us, "Undecided. Undetermined causation."
Michele's mother didn't need an autopsy to tell her what happened.
Jeanne Laundy: I did not believe she killed herself.
She immediately thought murder -- and one name came to mind.
Jeanne Laundy: I'm thinking it's more than likely Lloyd killed her, but I couldn't figure out how because he had an alibi.
Lloyd Neurauter was, in fact, more than 2,500 miles away in California for a job interview when police discovered Michele's body:
LT. JEFF HEVERLY: How long has he been in California?
KARRIE NEURAUTER: Since yesterday.
Karrie told investigators all about it:
LT. JEFF HEVERLY: Was he in Corning at all yesterday?
KARRIE NEURAUTER: No. He helped move me in to my apartment on Saturday.
LT. JEFF HEVERLY: OK.
KARRIE NEURAUTER: But he wasn't in Corning.
Even if Lloyd wasn't in Corning, he'd been close -- about 100 miles away.
D.A. Brooks Baker: So, all of a sudden … he's only an hour and change away up in Rochester.
Karrie says that after her father helped her move in to her Rochester apartment on Saturday, he spent the night in a hotel and he flew out to California the next day. He was still there when family notified him of Michele's death. He flew back east and, within 36 hours, showed up at the Steuben County Family Court.
D.A. Brooks Baker: He came … to turn off his child support and maintenance payments.
Erin Moriarty: That's the first place he went when he heard his ex-wife had committed suicide?
D.A. Brooks Baker: That's correct.
Police caught up with him outside the courthouse:
LLOYD NEURAUTER [walking up to Volpe's car]: Hi, Investigator Volpe?
INVESTIGATOR JAMES VOLPE: Hey, how are you?
LLOYD NEURAUTER: Good. Just cautious about how I approach a car. Don't want to startle anybody.
INVESTIGATOR VOLPE: No problem.
D.A. Brooks Baker: They sit down in the investigators' car and they do a videotaped interview and have a long conversation.
INVESTIGATOR VOLPE: When did you guys divorce?
LLOYD NEURAUTER: We divorced in August 2012.
Lloyd calmly echoes Karrie's story. In the hours before Michele's death, he was in Rochester helping Karrie move into her college apartment:
LLOYD NEURAUTER: I go to check in at the Microtel.
Lloyd says he checked into that hotel Saturday. Hotel security cameras back him up. Karrie came over for a while. Dark parking lot video then shows both he and Karrie heading to her car:
LLOYD NEURAUTER: I walked her out to the car.
INVESTIGATOR VOLPE: Then what? You go back to the hotel?
LLOYD NEURAUTER [Nods to affim]: Yeah. … I invited her to breakfast the next morning.
And at 7:00 a.m. the next morning, cameras show Karrie arriving for breakfast, now with her 14-year-old sister in tow.
Erin Moriarty: And you also then checked his phone. Where was this phone during that time?
Chief Jeff Spaulding: Checked his phone. …it kind of corroborated what Karrie had told us. That dad stayed at the hotel.
But the hotel video tells a different story. When Lloyd walked Karrie to her car that night, he can be seen getting in the car with her and then driving off. And the video doesn't show him coming back that night. So, while Lloyd's phone was in the hotel room all night, where was Lloyd? Investigators had to wonder -- especially when they looked at the hotel video from the next morning.
Chief Jeff Spaulding: We don't see Lloyd all night long … and here it is 6:30 in the morning … and here he comes onto the camera, he's walking across the parking lot and he's walking to his vehicle. … He still appears to be wearing the same clothes that he had on the night before. … Lloyd's story was that he stayed at the hotel room all night, the video evidence is saying no he didn't.
Police were now certain. Lloyd was lying to them. They dug deeper – looking for a motive.
D.A. Brooks Baker: He was not in a good financial place. Lloyd … had … over $100,000 in credit card debt … and he was paying his ex-wife almost $6,000 a month.
Baker says after Michele's death, Lloyd tried to collect on Michele's life insurance, for a payout of $260,000. They suspected Lloyd killed Michele and Karrie might be covering for him.
D.A. Brooks Baker: So, we … decide to go up on a wiretap on Lloyd's phone and Karrie's phone.
KARRIE NEURAUTER: I'm freaking out.
LLOYD NEURAUTER: Me too.
KARRIE NEURAUTER: Oh, I don't know what to do. I don't know what to do. I don't know what to do.
AN UNFATHOMABLE ULTIMATUM
In fall 2017, a little over two months after Michele Neurauter's death, Corning Police began listening in on Lloyd and Karrie Neurauter's phone calls:
KARRIE NEURAUTER: Hello?
LLOYD NEURAUTER: Hi, sweetie how's your drive so far?
KARRIE NEURAUTER: Oh, it's fine.
LLOYD NEURAUTER: Very good.
Chief Jeff Spalding: We didn't go up on the wire until mid-November. This had happened at the end of August, beginning of September. So, it'd been two months, and there wasn't a lot that was being said. So, in order to kind of refresh things, we did what was called "tickle the wire."
Tickle the wire. It's a ruse familiar to cops working drug cases. An investigator calls Karrie saying they have more questions. Corning Police Chief Jeff Spaulding played the recording for "48 Hours:"
INVESTIGATOR VOLPE: Hi, Is this Karrie Neurauter?
KARRIE NEURAUTER: Yes, this is she.
INVESTIGATOR VOLPE: OK, this is Investigator Volpe with Corning P.D. … Um, well, the reason I was calling … I didn't know if you were going to be around if you had time to meet up with me. … Or what time you might -- stop in to see me?
KARRIE NEURAUTER: Yeah … I should be able to meet with you Monday if you're available?
INVESTIGATOR VOLPE: OK.
After hanging up with police, Karrie quickly calls her father:
D.A. Brooks Baker: Just like we hoped, the next phone call is to Lloyd, saying, "What do I do?"
LLOYD NEURAUTER: What exactly did you tell him?
KARRIE NEURAUTER: I don't know.
D.A. Brooks Baker: And Lloyd says, "Oh, it's probably just form, don't worry about it." But then he says, and this is where he sort of puts our doubts aside, he says … "I don't think I want you talking to them."
LLOYD NEURAUTER: Tell them, "I'm sorry, I, I got a … counselling appointment back in New Jersey tonight" … And tell them this has been really hard on you.
KARRIE NEURAUTER: Yes.
LLOYD NEURAUTER [laughing]: Could you cry?
KARRIE NEURAUTER: I might.
LLOYD NEURAUTER: God, it would be nice if then it was just over.
KARRIE NEURAUTER: That would be the dream.
Erin Moriarty: Why lie?
D.A. Brooks Baker Exactly. Why not go sit down with the investigator, spend 20 minutes and tell the same story you already have.
KARRIE NEURAUTER: Well, if it was anything more serious I guess he'd have people coming after me anyways, right?
LLOYD NEURAUTER [laughing]: Yeah, he wouldn't ask you to come walking in the front door. He'd say, "I have a warrant."
KARRIE NEURAUTER: Yeah.
LLOYD NEURAUTER: So, it can't be that.
Police are clearly suspicious. But with that undetermined official autopsy holding the case back, the D.A. asked a private forensic pathologist to take a new look and confirm finally whether Michele was murdered.
D.A. Brooks Baker: We take all the pictures from the autopsy … we take all the findings, the documentation of evidence, and we go and we sit down with him.
There was no body for him to examine, because Lloyd had Michele's remains cremated. But the pathologist saw that rope mark on Michele's chin and petechial hemorrhaging in her eyes.
D.A. Brooks Baker: Then he leafs through a few more things, kind of the way doctors do in silence, and says, "This is a homicide."
Michele Neurauter was strangled to death. Police headed out to confront Lloyd and Karrie.
Erin Moriarty: I mean, at that point you're thinking Lloyd's the ring leader.
D.A. Brooks Baker: No question.
Erin Moriarty: Did you think that, if in fact Karrie Neurauter was involved, she was going to be the weak link?
Chief Jeff Spaulding: I thought that she would be the weak link … You put her in an interview room without dad, without her cell phone, and you do a hard interview with her, I thought she would be the first to give.
On Jan. 24, 2018, five months after Michele's death, two investigators showed up at Lloyd's office in New Jersey. At the same time, a pair of State Police troopers find Karrie at her college internship in Syracuse, New York.
Erin Moriarty: Was this your Hail Mary pass? Was this it?
Chief Jeff Spaulding: Yeah. That's what we considered game day
Investigators break the news to Lloyd.
D.A. Brooks Baker: And they say, "Lloyd, look … we gotta tell you something … the medical examiner has ruled this a homicide."
INVESTIGATOR: Were you down there that night?
LLOYD NEURAUTER: No. Rochester.
INVESTIGATOR: And so that night you were in your hotel room all night?
LLOYD NEURAUTER: [nods to affirm]
Chief Jeff Spaulding: And they suggested that "geez, Lloyd, maybe you want to take a lie detector test."
Chief Jeff Spaulding: And to my surprise, he said, "Sure." So, they gave them directions to a police station down in New Jersey … where we had a polygraph operator that was already on call.
Lloyd appeared confident in his innocence. Two-hundred miles away in Syracuse, Karrie was anything but.
Erin Moriarty: Karrie cracks.
D.A. Brooks Baker: Karrie cracks
KARRIE NEURAUTER [whispers]: My dad came down with me Saturday night.
There it was. In barely a whisper, on a police audio recording, Karrie admits her father went to her mother's house with her that night. And she helped him get in undetected:
INVESTIGATOR MARK PROCOPIO: … you walk in the front door of the house. You -- will you tell me at this point? Where was mom?
KARRIE NEURAUTER: She was at the top of the stairs, so she saw my dad come in and then they started arguing, so he went upstairs. And they were arguing in her room.
Karrie said her mother stopped yelling and it suddenly got very quiet. At first, she tells New York State Police she didn't know why. But then she admits:
KARRIE NEURAUTER [sobbing]: I saw my mom.
INVESTIGATOR MARK PROCOPIO: You saw your mom?
INVESTIGATOR ALLISON REGAN: Yeah. We know you did, honey
INVESTIGATOR MARK PROCOPIO: We know you did.
INVESTIGATOR ALLISON REGAN: We know you did, honey.
KARRIE NEURAUTER [sobbing]: I saw her.
INVESTIGATOR ALLISON REGAN: It's OK. It's alright, sweetie. We know.
KARRIE NEURAUTER: I just left her there.
INVESTIGATOR MARK PROCOPIO: OK. When you saw her, was she still alive?
KARRIE NEURAUTER: No.
Chief Jeff Spaulding: it was one of those holy cow moments. It was like, "wow."
Investigators then took Karrie to a police station. They wanted the whole story on video. She says her father came to her a week before the murder.
D.A. Brooks Baker: She says that dad came to her … and says … I can't afford to pay your mother. There's no way out. … I have to kill myself. I'm sorry, you guys have to go on without me, or, I got plan B here!
KARRIE NEURAUTER: … which was, killing my Mom. … and … I had to choose!
INVESTIGATOR MARK PROCOPIO: He made you choose?
KARRIE NEURAUTER: Yeah.
Lloyd gave Karrie an unfathomable ultimatum:
KARRIE NEURAUTER [to investigators]: And, so, basically he was gonna kill himself, um, or there was this way to … make it so he wouldn't kill himself …
She says Lloyd laid out his plan. They would make it look like a suicide:
KARRIE NEURAUTER [to investigators, sobbing]: He was gonna put a towel in her mouth, so she'd be quiet, um, and then put the rope around her neck and strangle her.
Karrie says she stayed downstairs, watching over her younger sister asleep in the living room:
KARRIE NEURAUTER [to investigators]: And my dad went upstairs into my mom's room and she was like, "What are you doing? What," like, "Why are you here?" And so, she was yelling. And she was like, "Why? why?" [cries].
The commotion woke up Karrie's sister:
KARRIE NEURAUTER [to investigators]: Yeah, she woke up, so I had to take her out of there. … I was freaking out. I didn't know what was going on … and I'm like, "Oh my God." … and then I put her in my car.
When Lloyd was finished, he sneaked out the back of the house, around the side, and climbed into the open rear hatch of Karrie's car. According to Karrie, her 14-year-old sister never knew her father was there.
KARRIE NEURAUTER [to investigators]: And I was like, "OK let's go." And then we went and closed the hatch. And we're on our way to Rochester.
Police were now ready to arrest Lloyd. The only problem -- he never showed up for that polygraph test. He had disappeared.
Erin Moriarty: They lost him.
Chief Jeff Spaulding: They did lose him, but Lloyd still had his phone and we were still up on the wire on Lloyd's phone … We knew that his phone was in downtown Princeton somewhere.
They managed to trace it to a municipal parking structure. And there on the roof was Lloyd Neurauter.
Chief Jeff Spaulding: When the officers moved in to confront Lloyd and to pick him up, he bolted and hopped up on the rail and threatened to jump off the five-story parking garage to commit suicide.
WAS KARRIE BRAINWASHED?
For two hours, Lloyd Neurauter kept police at bay. When he turned his back, they made their move.
Chief Jeff Spaulding: This New Jersey state trooper who played football somewhere, he makes a 10-yard sprint and just flattens him, tackles him.
POLICE AUDIO: Delta 22… 9-9-3… We got one in custody. One in custody.
Lloyd was arrested and charged with first-degree murder of his ex-wife Michele Neurauter. Their daughter, Karrie -- who police believed had been manipulated by Lloyd – faced second-degree murder charges for helping her father get into the house that night.
Erin Moriarty: What was your reaction when you heard that?
Jeanne Laundy: Not, Karrie. … not Karrie.
In February 2018, District Attorney Brooks Baker began preparations to face off in a courtroom.
D.A. Brooks Baker [in war room]: This became essentially our nerve center, our war room for the trial.
Erin Moriarty: This is not typical for the cases you usually try here.
D.A. Brooks Baker: No. Even a murder case, usually we can survive in a box or two, but to go four or five boxes … is demonstrative how much material there was here.
Erin Moriarty [pointing to a photo of Michele on the wall]: There's a reason why you have that up there, don't you?
D.A. Brooks Baker: Yeah. … This is Michele's -- the final day of Michele's life.
Erin Moriarty: It is?
D.A. Brooks Baker: It is. … This is the Saturday she was murdered … This is a good day for them they went icing. And … they got … You can't really see it, but they're on great, big ice blocks. This reminds us why we're doing it. Because this lady's not here to have another day like this.
Baker knows his odds of convicting Lloyd will greatly increase if he can convince Karrie to testify against her father.
D.A. Brooks Baker: And she is looking at 15 years-to-life if she cooperates with the understanding that if she does not cooperate and is not truthful at trial she'll face 25 years-to-life.
It takes Karrie, sitting in a jail cell, a couple of weeks to decide. She agrees to testify against her father and plead guilty. But then, during an interview with investigators, she surprises everyone, with a new detail:
KARRIE NEURAUTER [to investigators]: He opened the door and … My mom was laying on the floor. And he said he needed my help lifting her.
Admitting for the first time she had an even bigger role helping her father cover up the murder:
KARRIE NEURAUTER [to investigators]: We dragged her around the corner, and he tied the rope to the one prong of the bannister, and lifted her up and put, threw [sobbing] her over the side -- sorry.
INVESTIGATOR: That's OK.
Chief Jeff Spaulding: She laid her hands on her mother and felt her mother's cold dead body. … That's pretty hard-core. This is the woman that gave you life, and you maybe didn't directly take her life, but you helped the individual that did.
It was so hard to understand. How could a child do this to her mother? Could Lloyd really have manipulated Karrie into this?
D.A. Brooks Baker: And I had that same problem. … and even as we were preparing for trial … I said, "Karrie, you're going to be asked that question. … There was a moment when your father says to you, "It's either I have to kill mom or I kill myself and you have to help me… And those are the only two choices. And why?"
Erin Moriarty: She's a smart girl … She could've said no.
D.A. Brooks Baker: Well, and you know, all those folks in Jonestown could have said, "We're not going to drink the Kool-Aid."
Erin Moriarty: You think she was brainwashed?
D.A. Brooks Baker: I really think she was brainwashed. We found out that there is a definition for what he was doing.
Erin Moriarty: And are you talking about parental alienation?
D.A. Brooks Baker: Yes, I am.
Parental alienation. It's when one parent consistently bad mouths the other in front of their children. And it's something Michele worried about. In fact, in court documents filed in the years preceding her death, Michele actually accuses Lloyd of turning Karrie against her. The district attorney thinks that's exactly what happened.
Erin Moriarty: But I could understand how you could cause your children to dislike the other parent, but to kill … that other parent? That seems like a step too far.
D.A. Brooks Baker: I don't think it's causing dislike, that's not what this parental alienation -- it causes them to absolutely devalue them as people.
Case in point: two years before her death, Michele was backing out of her driveway while Karrie bickered with her and tried to block her car from leaving. Friends say, Lloyd then convinced Karrie that Michele tried to run her over. Karrie even called police on her mother. And while charges didn't stick --
Susan Betzjitomir: If you can brainwash your daughter into thinking that her inching out of the driveway … was your mother trying to run you over, then, "Well, she tried to kill you, so it's OK for you to help try and kill her."
And when Lloyd later gave Karrie that ultimatum:
KARRIE NEURAUTER [to investigators]: So basically, he was gonna kill himself, um, or there was this way to … so he wouldn't kill himself, umm which was killing my mom.
The D.A. says Karrie felt she had no choice but to choose her father over her mother. But would the jury believe it? As Lloyd's trial approached, the D.A. was determined to paint a picture of Karrie as Lloyd's pawn. But Lloyd had his own plans.
Erin Moriarty: Is his defense gonna be that she did it?
D.A. Brooks Baker: It has to be.
LLOYD SURPRISES EVERYONE
Erin Moriarty: How much were you looking forward to trying Lloyd Neurauter for murder?
D.A. Brooks Baker: You never look forward to a trial because it means 90 hours of work every week … This one I wanted to try. I wanted everybody to see who Lloyd was, and for Michele's sake, to see what he had done to her
The evidence against Lloyd Neurauter was circumstantial. All the district attorney had was Karrie's word, and the jury might not believe her story. What he needed was physical evidence linking Lloyd to the murder of his ex-wife Michele.
D.A. Brooks Baker: We took Michele's clothes, we had them re-examined by the state police, looking for touch DNA … When we got done, what we found was Lloyd's DNA … had contact with Michele's clothing -- the pajamas she was wearing the night she was murdered.
Prosecutors gave Lloyd the damning news and a final opportunity to come clean.
D.A. Brooks Baker: We made to him an offer I sort of expected he would never, ever accept. He had to plead guilty as charged to first-degree murder … he would face a sentence of … 25 years-to-life with the possibility the judge can sentence him to life without parole.
Just two weeks before trial …
Erin Moriarty: So, what did Lloyd decide to do?
D.A. Brooks Baker: He decided to plead guilty.
As part of his plea deal, Lloyd had to recount his role in the murder. But when it came time to take personal responsibility …
D.A. Brooks Baker: I thought we were gonna go bad from minute one, 'cause he starts off blaming Michele.
There were no cameras in the courtroom. But Lloyd tells the judge he killed Michele because he believed she might hurt their children.
Jeanne Laundy: That would be Lloyd, blame everybody else, blame the victim.
D.A. Brooks Baker: But then, he sort of said, "But that doesn't matter. I have no excuse. Murder is wrong." And, and he went through and allocuted line by line of what he did.
In the end, Lloyd fulfilled his end of the plea deal, admitting he planned and carried out the homicide and that he manipulated Karrie into helping him.
Erin Moriarty: So what should happen to him?
Jeanne Laundy: I want him to have life in prison. I don't want him to ever get out, and never hurt my grandchildren again. He has an evil mind.
Michele's mother, Jeanne Laundy, spent days writing a statement she hopes will persuade the judge to give Lloyd a stiff sentence. She read it to "48 Hours:"
Jeanne Laundy [reading]: Lloyd Neurauter abused and tortured my daughter for 25 years. … He coerced his own daughter into helping him kill her mother … Karrie is now in jail … facing the possibility of years in prison … Lloyd Neurauter should never be given the opportunity to harm anyone again. Please, Your Honor, give him life without parole.
And that's exactly what the judge would do.
REPORTER: What do you think about what happened today? The outcome?
JEANNE LAUNDY: I'm so overjoyed, so happy. Life without parole. … And Michele got justice.
But there was still the matter of Karrie, and what price should she pay for her mother's death.
Erin Moriarty: That's a harder one isn't it?
Jeanne Laundy: That's a hard one. I don't believe she should go to prison. … I think that she needs psychiatric help. I think she needs a lot of therapy,
District Attorney Brooks Baker would agree. Karrie needed therapy, but he didn't think that would be enough.
D.A. Brooks Baker: She has to pay a price. She has to serve a sanction. I think for her own sanity, she needs to serve some penance.
Remember, Karrie initially pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, a charge that could put her in prison for 15 years. But the D.A. supported a decision allowing her to now plead guilty to a lesser charge, second-degree manslaughter. Laundy again wrote to the judge:
Jeanne Laundy [reading letter]: I always ask myself, "What would Michele want me to do?" I do not believe my daughter, Michele, would want a long prison sentence for her daughter. … She would want her to eventually lead a happy life.
And the judge would be lenient -- very lenient. Karrie Neurauter was sentenced one to three years in a state prison. It's a huge relief to Laundy. With time served, Karrie may not be locked up for very long. And when Karrie's released, Laundy plans to tell her and her two sisters all about Michele and just how much she loved them.
Jeanne Laundy: She knew that she had lost them … the two oldest. And she wanted them to be happy, and she hoped that someday they would realize what was done and come back to her and see how hard she fought … for them to have a good life. … She wanted to live a beautiful life, to have a beautiful life, and for them to be happy.
Shortly after her sentencing in December 2018, Karrie Neurauter went before the parole board. Her parole application was denied.
She will be eligible to apply again in February 2020.