Nicole Pietz murder: A mother's relentless search for justice

A heartbroken mother launches a one-woman psychological warfare campaign to taunt her daughter's alleged killer

"48 Hours": Relentless
"48 Hours": Relentless 43:03

Last Updated Jun 21, 2014 10:58 PM EDT

Produced by Susan Mallie, Paul LaRosa, Alec Sirken and Tom Seligson

[This story first aired on Nov. 2, 2013. It was updated on June 21, 2014]

It had been a quiet Sunday morning in Surprise, Arizona, but now Gael Schneider's son-in-law, David Pietz, was phoning from Seattle with devastating news.

Gael's husband, Rod, took the call.

"And so when I came home [from church] Rod said, 'Gael Ann, sit down.' And I said, 'Well ... what's the matter?' And he said, 'Well, David called and said Nici's gone missing."

Nici was Nicole Pietz, Gael's youngest daughter.

"So I called him and said, "David, what's happening?" He said, 'Nici's gone missing.' I said, 'Well, what do you mean by that?' ... And he said, 'Well, we were supposed to go to another couple's for dinner last night ... and she didn't show up. And I haven't heard from her since.' ... I thought, 'Well, somebody's abducted her,'" she said. "And so Rod and I grabbed a couple things, threw them in the suitcase, and got on the next airplane and flew up to Seattle..."

Nicole and David Pietz

Gael would soon join forces with her other daughter, Tonia Zurcher, and they peppered David with questions.

"We asked if they had a fight. He said no," Tonia said. "I mean we couldn't find her anywhere. We didn't know if somebody had her ... it was such a nightmare."

It made no sense. Gael and Tonia say Nicole would never run off without contacting them. They had always been a close family, growing up on picturesque Lake Sammamish, just outside Seattle.

"How would you describe your love for Nici?" Van Sant asked Gael.

"Just as deep as the deepest ocean and as high as the highest sky," she said as her eyes welled up with tears. You know, children are your heart ... she wouldn't miss a day of calling me. Sometimes she'd call me ... just to say, 'Mummy, I love you.' ... She was my everything. She was my heart."

When the girls were little, Gael divorced their father. As a single mom, she juggled a family and a globetrotting career.

"I was a stewardess for Pan American and I flew all over the world and sometimes my trips were quite long," she explained.

"Stewardesses were really looked up to in our culture back then weren't they?" Van Sant commented to Tonia.

"Yes, they were, and I just always thought of her being so elegant and glamorous in her jetset life," she said.

Glamorous and charming -- something Nicole, as a child, tried emulating at home, dressing up as - and becoming -- Snow White!

"And it was, 'Don't call me Nici. Call me Snow White,'" Gael recalled fondly. "And then she had a very special Snow White smile."

But, for Nicole, life was no fairy tale. She suffered from a painful gynecological condition.

"When she was 13 she developed endometriosis," Gael explained. "... from the time she was 13 till the time she was 21, she'd already had three surgeries. And-- the doctors just put her on pain pills and pain pills..."

All those pills took their toll and by the time Nicole got to college, she was an addict.

"And how long did she stay addicted before she reached that point of saying, 'I have to do something about this'?" Van Sant asked Gael.

"I think she was 23 when she came home and said she needed help," she replied. "... she was in pain and in tears and very ashamed of herself ... it was very emotional, holding each other and saying, 'You'll get through this sweetheart ... we'll get you through it.'"

Nicole did get through it. After spending time in rehab, she swore off pain killers and began attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, which also cater to other addictions.

"And once Nici got off these painkillers, did she change? Was the old Nici back?" Van Sant asked.

"Oh absolutely, a more wonderful Nici than ever," said Gael.

Nicole's life was coming together. She got a job as a receptionist at a local health club where she met her best friend, Tamara van der Heyden.

"She was a people person. Yeah, absolutely, everyone loved her," said van der Heyden.

Asked if she would call Nicole a strong person, van der Heyden told Van Sant, "When I first met her, no. No, she became a strong person, but when I first met her, she was still transitioning and wasn't quite sure of herself."

That's when Nicole met another health club employee, a tall dashing salesman named David Pietz.

"And what did she tell you about this guy?" Van Sant asked.

"She really liked him. She saw a strength in him, I think, that she didn't see in herself," van der Heyden replied. "I think she looked at Dave as somebody who could take care of her -- his strength, his confidence -- you know, would protect her."

They began dating, but Nicole didn't realize she had some competition.

Sabrina Strieck worked in one of the health club's other locations.

"I was 20 when I met David," she said.

"So you were single?" Van Sant asked.

"Yeah, yeah I was," she replied.

"And when you met David, he was single?"

"Essentially, yeah," said Strieck.

Essentially, because, at some point, she learned about David and Nicole's relationship.

"So if one of your friends said to you, 'So what's he like?' what would you say?" Van Sant asked Strieck.

"I'd say ... he was a nice guy ... and actually extremely generous ... a very generous

Guy ... taking me out to lunch, taking me out to dinner, bringing over wine," she replied.

After many romantic times with Sabrina Strieck, David proposed -- to Nicole.

"I remember that that hurt," said Strieck.

April 20, 2002, was a sad day for Strieck, but a joyous one for Nicole, who married David on the sands of Hawaii.

"It was beautiful, very beautiful. Maui, sunset on the beach, barefoot," Tonia recalled. "It was amazing."

"It looked like Snow White was gonna live happily ever after, right?" Van Sant asked.

"It sure did. It really looked like that," said Tonia.

With her new husband and a new job at a cell phone company, Nicole -- at least on the outside -- seemed content.

Asked if Nicole loved David, Gael said, "Oh with all her heart ... she was always saying 'My wonderful husband, my brilliant husband, my handsome husband.' She loved him!"

But on the morning of Jan. 28, 2006, Nicole was gone. Some close friends knew that Nicole had injured her back and were worried she may once again become addicted to pain killers.

"In the weeks leading up to her disappearance, what we talked about were her back problems, the pain she was having, and how she was scared. She didn't wanna take the recommended dose of the painkillers," said van der Heyden.

"And it scared her that she had to take this again?" Van Sant asked.

"Absolutely. Absolutely," she replied.

And when David began looking through their apartment, he says he noticed an empty pill bottle - 56 painkillers were missing.

A plea for help

After Nicole went missing, Gael went on Seattle TV to make a desperate plea.

"Nothing is worse than not knowing where she is. I love her more than life itself," she cried on camera. "If you are in control of your circumstances, please come home, because everybody that loves you is here."

As an all-out search was launched, Nicole's friends were leaving frantic voice mails looking for her. David too made a public appeal:

"We just want to know that you're OK and that you're loved and everybody here cares about you," he said in his television plea.

He was telling everyone that it was not like Nicole to disappear even for a short time.

"She's always in contact with almost everyone she knows," David said on camera. "If she's gonna be five minutes late for a coffee date she's calling half an hour ahead of time and letting people know because she does not want to put anybody out, ever.

"I worked until 11, and I got home around midnight and came to bed and that's the last time I saw her," he said.

But off-camera, David seemed far less concerned.

"He's just talking like matter of fact, 'Nici's gone missing.' He didn't say, 'Have you seen her -" Gael said.

"Not emotional, not scared, frightened, worried?" Van Sant asked. "No, no," she replied.

Unsolicited, David offered up odd bits of information.

"And the first thing he says is, 'You know, we haven't been wearing our wedding rings lately. And Nici's been wearing her night guard during the day, just when we're going out casually,'" Gael recalled.

The night guard is a plastic mouth guard Nicole wore to keep from grinding her teeth while she slept.

"Why would he say wearing a night guard?" Van Sant asked Gael. "What would that have to do with anything?" "I don't know," she replied. "I don't know."

He then suggested there was something sinister about those missing pain pills.

"It sounds like what David is saying is that our marriage is in trouble and her prescription bottle has been emptied," Van Sant noted to Gael. "-- the suggestion is that she's left and maybe doing herself in?"

"Well, I didn't think that at the time. My mind was in such a muddle, I wasn't thinking," she replied.

"You're emotional, but he's not?" Van Sant asked.

"Exactly," said Gael.

Detective on Nicole Pietz cold case 02:22

After nine long days, Nicole's body was found in a wooded field near the airport by a man walking by. She had been strangled.

"What was her condition," Van Sant asked Jake Pavlovich, one of the lead detectives on Nicole's case.

"She was naked. She had no clothes on whatsoever," Det. Pavlovich explained. "Interestingly enough, the bottom of her feet were clean. No cuts, no dirt. So no indication that she had walked back here or been drug back here."

And another clue: the night guard was still in her mouth.

"That night guard, that mouthpiece, really jumps out at you," Det. Pavlovich said. "The only reason, in my mind, she has that in is because she's killed inside her own condominium."

Shortly after her body was found, when he was interviewed on audiotape by police, David made a point of again mentioning Nicole's powerful pain pills.

Investigator: Where did you think she was at?

David Pietz: I didn't know 'cause I saw the pill bottle and I freaked out ... I was so scared she relapsed. That's a lot of pills and I thought maybe she OD'd or something.

Nicole's friends, like Tamara van der Heyden, were stunned when they heard the news.

"What was that moment like for you?" Van Sant asked.

"... dream state. You know it's real ... I knew it was happening, but it was so surreal that it didn't really hit me," van der Heyden replied.

"You know, I was crying so hard I couldn't see through my tears," said Gael.

In the midst of her sadness at Nicole's funeral, David made a comment to Gael that threw her for a loop.

"David put his arms around me at that point and said, 'I didn't think you'd take it so hard.' And that still rings in my ears. I kept thinking, 'Why would he say that? Why would he say that?'" she said.

And then he did something else that started her thinking David was not behaving like a grieving husband. After Nicole's body was cremated, David gave her ashes away to an acquaintance.

"He said he'd given them to Jeffrey, who was the real estate guy who sold them the condo," said Gael.

"David gave his wife's ashes to their real estate agent? Why would he do that?" Van Sant asked.

"I asked him that and he said, 'I didn't want to take them home,'" Gael replied. "And I said, 'Why didn't you give them to me?'"

David also gave away Nicole's beloved pets to people who barely knew her.

Nicole's friends from her AA group, like Dave Tilzer, had been skeptical about David almost from the beginning.

"I thought it was a random act at first ... you know, somebody just, you know, here's this beautiful girl, grabbed her, abducted her, broad daylight of course," Tilzer said. "But then when I started seeing the behavior, right away I said 'No.'"

Nicole Pietz's friends speak out 03:14

Nicole's friends had noticed David's aloofness in the past.

"Looking in his eyes, you can't see emotion. That scares me because that tells me the person is blocking something. They don't want you to see inside of them," said van der Heyden.

Tilzer says David always made Nicole feel insecure.

"She looked up at me and she goes, 'Do you think I'm beautiful?' And I said, 'Nici, you're beautiful inside and out.' I said, 'Why?' She said, 'Oh it's David ... he's being really mean to me."

"Mean" was just the beginning. David continued his secret relationship with Sabrina Strieck even during his marriage.

"Did you eventually have a sexual relationship with David?" Van Sant asked Strieck.

"An actual truly sexual relationship oddly didn't happen until after they were married," she replied.

Asked if David was someone she wanted to spend the rest of her life with," Strieck told Van Sant, "I pictured it."

Somehow Nicole uncovered the affair with Strieck, who she tried to confront by calling from David's cell phone.

"You were now the other woman?" Van Sant asked Strieck.

"Yeah. Then I -- I was now penned. People knew who I was," she replied.

"Was that embarrassing for you?"

"It was incredibly embarrassing," she said.

Strieck says she and David split up well before Nicole went missing.

"I know I've made a very big mistake and I'm not the same person that I was," she told Van Sant. "I have a husband that I'm incredibly committed to ... that's nothing like who Dave was."

Sabrina Strieck on her relationship with Davi... 02:12

Gael knew nothing of David's cheating. But given his tasteless remark at the funeral service, she took to heart what the priest said in his eulogy.

"When the priest spoke of evil, he looked straight at David," Gael said. "And Rod and I looked at each other and we started adding everything up. And we said, 'How could we be so stupid?' Because he almost told us on several occasions, with hints he gave us."

But hints don't make a murder case. And police did nothing more than question David Pietz. As months passed, Gael went from being a shocked mom steeped in sadness to a tiger mother determined to avenge her daughter's murder. Every month, she called the police to push them to keep working on the case.

"You know, please, you've gotta do something. I mean a life is gone here. A very precious life and we need justice for her," said Gael.

"And you were persistent, you were a pit bull, you would not let this go, would you?" Van Sant asked.

"Yeah, I hate to think of myself as a pit bull, but I was," she said with a laugh.

Gael began a personal campaign of harassment -- even leaving a blonde wig with fake blood on David's doorstep.

"So this is psychological warfare," Van Sant pointed out.

"Yes, absolutely. Absolutely," Gael replied. "I couldn't get to him any other way. Like I said, he wouldn't -- he wouldn't talk to me.

Despair turns to hope

Gael Schneider had no doubt in her mind that David Pietz had killed her daughter. But four long years passed without any arrests.

"I just cried and cried. I knew I'd see her again in heaven," said Gael.

"I really felt that not only did David take my sister, that he took my mom as well," said Tonia.

Despair turned into hope in 2010. That's when Jake Pavlovich and Mike Mellis of the King County Sheriff's Office were assigned to the case.

"Mike got the case first. And he called me and said, 'Gael my name is Mike Mellis. And I'm gonna be the last detective on this case.' And I said, 'Mike, I love you. I'm coming to see you,'" said Gael.

"She made it very clear that she would be calling us on the 28th of every month," Det. Mellis explained. "I've had other families say that before, but she was like clockwork."

"Gael helped to keep the case alive. There's no doubt about that," said Det. Jake Pavlovich.

"I just bugged them to death," Gael told Van Sant.

Gael was still keeping track of David, who was seeing other women and had even become a father with one of them.

"That really hurt because Nici wanted a baby so badly," said Gael.

Pouring over the old case file, the new detectives became convinced Nicole had been strangled in her bed while wearing her night guard.

"She's not gonna wake up, brush her teeth and then put it back in and leave the apartment," Det. Pavlovich said. "She's killed inside her own condominium."

"This apartment here is the apartment Dave and Nicole Pietz lived in on the night of her murder...a bit more risky...we think he carried her to the car," Det. Mellis explained.

Inside Nicole's car, which was recovered 20 miles from where her body was found, was DNA from both Nicole and David.

"When the people from the crime lab swabbed those control areas of the car--the windshield wiper knob, the steering wheel and the gearshift knob, Dave's DNA was there. Much more his DNA than Nicole's," said Det. Pavlovich.

Which told detectives: "Dave Pietz drove that car," said Det. Mellis, who then decided to take a second look at where David worked.

"Behind me is the 24 Hour Fitness building, where Dave Pietz works during the month of January 2006, the month leading up to Nicole's death," Det. Mellis explained standing outside the building.

He became fascinated by security camera video recorded the day Nicole disappeared.

"You can see on the surveillance images that Dave was at the front counter at 11:48 in the morning. He leaves and leaves the front desk area and he's out of camera range," Det. Mellis said of the surveillance recording.

Two minutes later, records show a call from Nicole's cell phone is answered at the front desk at the gym. It lasts 21 seconds. Then, David walks back in.

"Our theory is simple," Det. Mellis said, "He makes a phone call with Nicole's phone basically to make it look like she's still alive."

Supporting that theory, Det. Mellis learns which cell tower pinged during that call.

"The tower that connected Nicole's phone for that phone call was right there ... about 188 yards almost due north of this complex," he explained.

Detectives now felt they had enough evidence to seek an arrest warrant. In March 2012, more than six years after Nicole's murder, Det. Pavlovich came to the bank where David Pietz worked as a manager to make a withdrawal.

"And I told him, 'Dave, you're under arrest,'" Det. Pavlovich said.

"Think he was in shock?" Van Sant asked. "I think so," the detective replied.

"At the arraignment, it was my 71st birthday. And it was the best birthday present I've ever had in my life, to see David Pietz with shackles on his arms and feet and that orange jumpsuit. I've never had a better gift in 71 years," said Gael Schneider.

On Sept. 9, 2013, David Pietz went on trial. Because prosecutors couldn't prove premeditation, he was charged with second-degree murder.

"The defendant did all the right things when he murdered his wife. He did all the big things correct," Prosecutor Carla Carlstrom said in her opening statement. "He committed a crime with a minimum of physical evidence. He took steps to conceal what he had done. ... When someone is killed in the privacy of their own home when no one else is around, sometimes you can get away with murder. The defendant had it all figured out. He'd done the big things right, and he almost got away with it, until now."

"What happened to Nicole is a mystery. This is a case about a husband whose wife disappeared. Tragically," David's lawyer, Cooper Offenbacher, addressed the court in his opening. "The state's case is based on ... what we call circumstantial evidence. It's not based on any direct evidence, and it's not going to show that David Pietz took Nicole's life."

Precisely the challenge facing the prosecution: the circumstantial nature of their case. Key to their strategy, David's motive for murder: his lust for other women while married to Nicole.

There was no shortage of witnesses:

Prosecutor: You said he came up to your place after dropping you off. And what happened?

Samantha Duffy: We had sex.

Prosecutor: "I'd like to direct your attention to one night in particular where there was some physical contact. Do you remember that.

Julie Hansen: Yes. ... It involved me and Katie and Dave.

Prosecutor: Tell us what happened.

Julie Hansen: It was just the three of us kissing.

Ironically, David insisted, in his police interview, that he wasn't that interested in sex:

"I don't have much of a libido. It's kind of opposite roles of what the stereotype is," David told investigators.

But, in fact, he had once put ecstasy in Nicole's drink to get the kind of sex he wanted.

"He told me he put it in her Red Bull ... And he was trying to loosen her up to get her to do a threesome," a woman named Renee testified.

To show David's true feelings for Nicole, they brought his former longtime girlfriend, Sabrina Strieck to the stand.

"I asked him why he was getting married, and he said that at that point it was too late to back out of it," she testified.

It was all damning testimony, portraying David as coldhearted and selfish. But to seal the deal, prosecutors drew on their strongest weapon and David's biggest nightmare.

Mother-in-law from hell?

Gael's Schneider's seven-year quest for justice for her daughter, Nicole, now dramatically rests entirely on her shoulders.

"I was gonna just make it my lifetime work to make sure that there is justice for her," she said.

Wearing a back brace because of recent surgery, Gael looked down at her son-in-law seated at the defense table. She finally gets to tell a jury her story, starting the day after Nicole went missing:

"When he opened the door and he's walking us back to her bathroom, he said, 'Lately, we haven't been wearing our wedding rings. And Nice' been wearing her mouth guard when she -- when she goes out.' And then when we got to the bathroom, he showed us an empty bottle of pills," she told the court.

At last, Gael gets to tell jurors about that one sentence of David's that has haunted her:

Prosecutor Carla Carlstrom: Did he make any comment to you in relation to Nicole's death at the funeral?

Gael Schneider: You know, he did. It was a really strange thing, but he put his arms around me and said, "I didn't think you'd take it so hard."

But when defense attorney Cooper Offenbach gets to cross examine Gael, he basically accuses her of harassing and taunting an innocent man:

Cooper Offenbach: Ms. Schneider -- over the years, you have -- contacted David regarding the circumstances surrounding Nicole's disappearance --

Gael Schneider: Yes.

Cooper Offenbach: Is that fair to say--

Gael Schneider: -- I have.

Cooper Offenbach: And on more than one occasion, you have called him in the middle of the night -- 12:30 on a Friday night -- and left him a voicemail asking where he was on January 28th --

Gael Schneider: Yeah, just about the time that I figured she was murdered.

Gael won't back down. She is proud of her psychological campaign against David, including that wig incident one Halloween:

Cooper Offenbach: You and a friend took a blonde wig and put some red ink on it --

Gael Schneider: Uh-huh

Cooper Offenbach: -- and hung it in a bag on David's doorknob? Is that correct?

Gael Schneider: I thought we just threw it on his doorstep, but maybe we did. I don't remember.

Cooper Offenbach: But one way or the other, you--

Gael Schneider: Yes, I did.

Cooper Offenbach: -- you put that near the condo?

Gael Schneider: Yep.

Offenbacher recounts the times that Gael showed up at David's workplaces. Once, Gael hand-delivered a message to her son-in-law:

Cooper Offenbacher: And what you wrote on the note to David was, "David, we're planning to buy a house just a few minutes from here, and I will be in here every day to make your life as miserable as you've made mine. The new detective has vowed to get you, you murderer. How do you live with yourself?"

Gael Schneider: Yep. Yes, sir, that's exactly what I said.

But Gael didn't stop there:

Cooper Offenbacher: And did you also tell the other employees in the bank that he had murdered your daughter --

Gael Schneider: Well, as he is making sure I walk out, he just couldn't stand to have me around, I just said, "He murdered my daughter." Hey, you know, my life has been -- I have cried my brains out every day for seven years. If he can't take it -- being confronted by a 72-year-old woman, well, I'm sorry, but he's not much of a man if he can't handle that!

"You got some guts, Gael. You got some guts. You were in his face. You were letting him know, 'You're not getting away with this, '" Van Sant said. "The mother-in-law from hell, right?"

"Oh, boy. Oh, boy. Well, you know, you -- Peter, you have children. You know how you love them. You -- you'd do anything for your children. Anything. And you know what? ... if I didn't have Tonia and -- and Rod, I would've -- I would've forgot what my religion tells me and I woulda killed myself," she said in tears. "I didn't wanna live."

The prosecution's case goes on for 10 days with 57 witnesses. When it's the defense's turn, lead attorney David Allen has a strategy: to suggest that Nicole had become a drug addict again, living on the edge.

Dr. Carol Waymack, Nicole's physician, was called to the stand. She was treating Nicole for a back injury in the months before Nicole's death. Waymack knew all about Nicole's history with pain pill addiction:

Dr. Waymack: She called the office on November 30th and reported ... that she was taking Vicodin and Ibuprofen and that the Flexeril had not been effective.

David Allen: OK. And did you prescribe pain medication?

Dr. Waymack: Yes. I gave her more pain medication on that date.

David Allen: And what type of medication?

Dr. Waymack: It was more Vicodin again.

In December, six weeks before she died, Nicole tells Dr. Waymack that she had been taking another narcotic painkiller prescribed by a different doctor.

"She was taking Oxycodone-- one half to one pill every four to six hours," Dr. Waymack testified.

Oxycodone -- a powerful, potentially addicting drug contained in Percocet.

David Allen: And did you prescribe her additional medication at that visit on December 12th?

Dr. Waymack: Yes. I gave her 30 tabs of Percocet.

Nicole had become more desperate, telling Dr. Waymack that her pain was unrelenting and demanding more pain medication:

Dr. Waymack: Her descriptive word for her pain is screaming -- screaming pain.

David Allen: You were seeing her once a week?

Dr. Waymack: I was.

David Allen: And was that because of your concerns about addiction?

Dr. Waymack: Addiction and her medical problem. ... That she by that time she had enough narcotics prescribed to her that she may well be currently addicted again.

David Allen: OK.

Dr. Waymack: But of necessity because of her pain.

The defense rests. David Pietz is all alone with no family support in the courtroom as closing arguments begin.

"We know Nicole Pietz now. We know her husband, the defendant. We know how she died. We know how he lied," Prosecutor Kristin Richardson addressed the court.

"Ms. Pietz was going through some very difficult times with her back injury and her addiction. An addiction is a terribly powerful malady," defense attorney David Allen told the court. "She did fall off the wagon really, really badly."

"The defendant killed her. Nicole Pietz thought up until those last few minutes that she had married the man of her dreams. That dream and those minutes turned into a nightmare," Richardson continued.

On Oct. 10, 2013, the jury gets the case. A full day of deliberation comes and goes. The jury of five women and seven men leave for the weekend and still no verdict.

"My greatest fear is that some girl on the -- on the jury'll say, 'Oh, he's too good looking to do something like that,'" said Gael.

Could David's charms with the ladies be working for him one more time?

Judgment day

Seven years, eight months and 17 days after Nicole Pietz was murdered, it's judgment day.

The tension is almost unbearable as Gael Schneider and daughter Tonia Zurcher wait to learn David Pietz's fate:

The verdict: guilty of murder in the second degree. Justice for Nicole at last.

"Guilty. Guilty. It was the best moment," Tonia said. "It made all my mom's hard work--finally paid off. She will be able to rest.

"Tears of joy, and also, love for everybody that was there supporting us.

"The jury. Just love. I wanted to hug every single person in there," she continued. "And if the verdict was anything but guilty I know I woulda lost my mom forever," said Tonia.

Handcuffed, a stone-faced David Pietz is led past Nicole's family.

"You're going to burn in hell, Pietz!" Tonia yelled, pointing at David.

Asked if he looked at her, Tonia told Van Sant, "No, he's a coward."

Someone else in the courtroom yelled, "Don't drop the soap!"

"Tonia and Gael, more than seven years you've been waiting for this moment," Peter Van Sant asked as the women as they left the courtroom. "When you heard the word guilty, Gael, what was that moment like for you?"

"Oh, absolute elation. I just wanted justice for my daughter and we got it," she replied. "The last seven-and-a-half years have been torture for us. She'll never come back. ... I'll never get to hold her again and by the horrible way she'd been murdered, I'd never got to kiss her goodbye ... I never got to say goodbye to her ..."

"Martin David Pietz is a lowlife scumbag, a cheater, a manipulator. I wish I could think of more words. But he's the devil to me," Tonia said.

"And where do you go from here?" Van Sant asked defense attorney David Allen.

"Certainly, David is going to appeal this--there are appeal issues," he replied.

Allen says he will fight on, but ...

"Do you believe the jury was wrong in their decision?" Van Sant asked.

Allen paused before replying, "Ah, let's have another question."

For the detectives who brought this cold case back to life and promised Gael they would solve it, there is vindication.

"When this group of detectives that have worked on this case for so long ... the common sense was that Dave Pietz was the killer and nobody else," Det. Mike Mellis said. "I think Dave Pietz is a guy who got in over his head emotionally and couldn't control himself."

"Is he a psychopath? I'm not an expert in that," Det. Jake Pavlovich told Van Sant at the site where Nicole's body was found. "What I will tell you is that he strangled his own wife in his own condominium and then continued to live there ... Is that the definition of a psychopath? Maybe not the classical one you'll find in a book, but it certainly rings true to me."

In a case where no obvious motive stood out, it is left to those who knew Pietz best to speculate.

"Why do you think David killed?" Van Sant asked Sabrina Strieck.

"I don't think that he thought she was the perfect woman," she replied. "Not representing what he saw as what he deserved, what his life should've looked like -- the wealth ... you know, the right car."

In a private moment alone in her room just hours after David had been convicted, Gael says she spoke aloud to her beloved daughter.

"We did it, honey. We did it. You knew we would," she said.

"The photo that they have of Nicole ... with the halo -- for her Halloween costume, she was an angel. And now she is a real angel," Tonia said, "And I miss her."

Gael now hopes that with justice, her final challenge will be to find the compassion to forgive.

"I know she had forgiven him the minute her soul left her body, because that was Nici," Gael said of her youngest daughter. "So I just need to get to that -- that point where I can forgive him, too."

David Pietz was sentenced to 18 years and 4 months --the maximum under Washington state law. He has filed an appeal.

In July, Gael and her husband plan to move back to Seattle to be close to her daughter, Tonia.

  • Peter Van Sant
    Peter Van Sant

    Correspondent, "48 Hours"