Who Killed The Beauty Queen?

An Arkansas Beauty Queen Falls Victim To An Ugly Crime

But prosecutors also have that condom wrapper, which police say Kevin found at Nona's and it sent him into a rage. Police considered checking it for DNA, but chose instead to check for fingerprints that might identify who touched it more accurately.

"The crime lab told us you had a choice, because if we do fingerprints, we are going to potentially destroy DNA. If we do DNA we're gonna potentially destroy fingerprints," Bacon explains.

No fingerprints were found. But it turned out there was some DNA left on the wrapper. And Kevin's legal team found it: the DNA was male, but not belonging to Kevin.

Police believe that supports their theory that Kevin's motive was jealousy. But the defense charged the police work was sloppy. They also zeroed in on Nona's cell phone. Who had she been in touch with the day she died? Kevin's lawyers asked to examine that phone, to the great embarrassment of the lead detective.

"And he finally said, 'Look, I'm embarrassed to tell you this. But the investigator gave the cell phone to the stepfather,'" Johnson says.

It seemed strange but Mark Frost, the lead investigator, gave Nona's phone to Duane Dipert, Nona's stepfather, in the middle of the investigation.

"Tell me why you wanted her cell phone back?" Schlesinger asks Duane Dipert.

"First of all I'm a cheapskate. You talk to anybody…," he explains. "And I could use it at that time, 'cause everything was activated. So I start puttin' my numbers in, and takin' her numbers off."

"Do you know how strange that sounds that you would take this cell phone because by your own admission you're a cheapskate?" Schlesinger asks.

"Well, yeah," Dipert admits.

"It's a perception and reality thing again," prosecutor Phillips says. "The reality is that everything the state could've obtained from the phone was obtained. And that you should never give evidence back on a pending case, period. And that was done."

Those closest to Nona were convinced: even if the police made some mistakes, they did get the right man. "They had overwhelming evidence against him which you can't refute," Carol says.

For months, Kevin's life had hung in the balance. Now he waited for the jury's verdict.

When jurors began deliberating the case, the opinions in the jury room were split down the middle. Once they calmed down, they started combing through the evidence, piece by piece.

"We laid out a timeline. We looked at the cell phone. We looked at evidence from the testimony. We looked at the tape of him being interrogated. Everything. We looked, we pored over," juror Kim Willhite recalls.

They went home the first day without reaching a verdict. But then, midway through the second day, they reached a decision: not guilty.

"I felt like 10,000 pounds had been lifted off my shoulders," Kevin remembers.

"I was sittin' there with my mouth hangin' open, not guilty. And so I stood up and says, 'You got away with it, Kevin. You got away with it,'" Nona's stepfather Duane recalls.

"I was in a state of shock for a few seconds. I couldn't do anything. And it's just like everything was in slow motion," Nona's mother Carol adds.

"I'm not a criminologist. I'm not a blood expert. But I looked at everything they gave us in the jury room. There just wasn't enough to convict. There wasn't anything that pointed to Kevin as the killer," explains juror Kim Willhite.

For 18 months, Kevin had lived as an accused murderer, and now, it was over.

"It was a horrible thing that happened and a horrible situation. But at that point, I was just happy that I was a free man and that people would stop saying the things about me they'd said. And people would stop judging my family and me," Kevin says.

It was a tough loss for prosecutor Jeff Phillips. "There was still just a sick feeling of letting Nona's mom down a little bit. Still have that today," he says.

"Is Kevin innocent or is he not guilty, if you know what I mean?" Schlesinger asks.

"Kevin was not proven guilty. There was not evidence to prove him guilty," Finley says.

But former police chief James Bacon insists Kevin's still the killer. "And when you have to watch somebody walk out the door, and you're convicted that, in your own heart you've got the man responsible, it hurts," he says.

Janice knows her son is not guilty in the eyes of the law, but she also knows that some people still believe Kevin is guilty. "It is very hurtful. It is very frustrating," she says.

And Janice is still fighting to clear Kevin's name. "I made a promise to Kevin when he was in jail and sitting at the cemetery with my hand on Nona's gravestone, I have promised both of those kids that I would keep looking and searching until we found the person who did this," she says.

And Janice Jones may get her wish. Remember that DNA they found on the condom wrapper? After the trial, Kevin's defense team continued looking for a match, and just three days ago, attorney Michael Robbins announced that they had found one.

"I think this person is a viable suspect and the investigation into this individual needs to go forward," Robbins tells 48 Hours.

The person matched to the DNA has not been publicly named. But now, a special prosecutor has been appointed to look into the case.

"Hopefully it will eliminate all doubt that I was the person that did this," Kevin says.

But Nona's mother Carol remains convinced that police had the right man all along. "Doesn't change my opinion any of him being the murderer because we always thought all along that the condom wrapper was the trigger and that just reinforces it my mind," she says.

Whatever the outcome of the new investigation, for her family and friends, Nona's death is a painful end to a life filled with beauty, but haunted by cruelty.

"She should just be remembered as this remarkable person who came through so much," Adrielle says. "If you're going to remember her as a beauty queen, you should remember her as a girl who didn't win right away and kept doing it because she enjoyed it."



Nona's family is considering filing a civil suit against Kevin Jones.

After his acquittal, Kevin went back to college. He says he wants to become a lawyer.

Arkansas Tech University established a music scholarship in Nona Dirksmeyer's memory.
Produced By Allen Alter, Jamie Stolz, and Daria Hirsch