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tv   Dateline  MSNBC  October 4, 2020 10:00pm-11:00pm PDT

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>> i'll craig melvin. >> i'm natalie morales. >> and this is "dateline." >> during the middle of the night i heard this loud noise. it sounded like someone was in the house. i opened up her door to her bedroom. i thought i'm hearing things. >> your instincts were right that something happened in the middle of the night. >> you think your child is safe in your home sleeping. >> she was just 16. emma the honor student. cheerleader, volunteer. >> she could get along with anybody.
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>> always so kind hearted and sweet. >> she wanted to be a nurse and she had a plan. >> she went to sleep one sunday night and never woke up. >> i saw a 16-year-old female laying in her bed. there was a bullet hole in the wall. >> so she's been shot? >> someone had fired a shot from outside the residence. >> with emma a target, that weekend she'd seen a mysterious figure dressed in black. >> turning the doorknob beating on the door. she's in fear in a panic. >> she was shaking. >> now two brave friends set out on a secret mission. could they help catch her killer? >> you're trying to bring down a murder suspect >> i just knew something had to be done. >> everybody put your hands out of the vehicle now. >> it all became a lot more real. >> hello. welcome to "dateline." emma walker was a spirited teenager with a knack for stirring up fun.
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pretty and smart she had her whole life ahead of her. after her death detectives faced a tough investigation. whoever shot emma had been brazen and it would take a bold plan to catch her killer. here's "noises in the night." >> when the autumn chill seeps into this community just north of knoxville, tennessee hundreds of high school students are drawn to the blaze of friday night lights. to cheer on their hometown heroes the bobcats. she was the friday night light who perhaps shown brightest of them all. emma walker, a bobcats cheerleader since her freshman year at central high. >> she was a really good cheerleader. some cheerleaders just go through the motions but emma put her own kind of sparkle i guess into what she would do.
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>> fellow cheerleaders kelsey and lauren said their friend emma could be sassy, too. >> she'd always say, well, i am kind of a big deal. >> and i take it she said that with a hint of sarcasm? >> yes. people who didn't know her were like oh, she's super pretty cheerleader. oh, no. then they would meet her and be like she is the nicest person they ever met. >> keegan and megan were emma's long time school friends. >> once you got to know her you're like, wow. she is a down to earth person and really sweet. >> she had a smile that could light up the room. big, beautiful smile. >> emma's parents jill and mark say that infectious smile was the hallmark of her playful personality. >> she liked to play jokes on me by grabbing my iphone, taking selfies of herself, and i had no idea. >> emma volunteered at an animal
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shelter. at school she was an honor role student with a clear career goal. >> she wanted to be a neo natal nurse. when we would talk about the different professions and we'd get to the ones about babies she was like that's what i want to do. >> it's no surprise emma got noticed by boys at school. there was one boy she definitely noticed back. >> that's really all she like talked about at first was just like he's super cute. >> he was riley, two years older than emma and popular too. a stand out wide receiver on the bobcats football team. >> did you ever think riley was going to make it to the nfl? >> if anybody was going to do it definitely riley. >> riley's friends from grade school say he wasn't just a high school jock. he was active at church and loved "star wars" movies. >> started out kind of a nerdy guy. that is how we met obviously. then a little bit later in high school he got a little more into football. but he kept with his nerd roots. >> he was really funny and i
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think that's why emma fell for him in the first place. because they were both super goofy. >> she had a big crush on him. >> she did. >> there was just one problem. riley already had a girlfriend but he said he broke up with her to date emma. >> things got serious pretty quickly between the two of them. >> yeah. >> but as the months went by it became clear riley the star football player was also, well, a player. it turned out his ex wasn't really an ex after all. >> he had, like, promised his ex-girlfriend that he would take her to prom that year and take emma his senior year. >> she was okay with this? >> she wasn't okay with it but she did let it happen. >> she couldn't let go? >> no. >> that must be hard for a parent when you see a guy who is -- has two girls on the go. that's not cool. >> no it's not cool. she was young and had a mind of
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her own and didn't want us to voice our concerns. >> emma's determination to be with riley caused a lot of tension between her and her parents. >> how does it work when you are trying to be good parents and your daughter has that strong personality? >> it's difficult. >> very difficult. >> she just was very stubborn and thought ther way was the right way. she wanted to learn for herself. >> emma and riley dated on and off in high school for two years. when riley graduated and went off to college just a half hour away they tried to keep the relationship going, but just before thanksgiving in riley's freshman year emma said she saw snapchats of riley with other girls on campus and she broke up with him for good. emma's parents say the tension at home evaporated. >> it must have felt so good to be the happy family again. >> it did. the whole household was different. >> the household wasn't calm for very long. on november 20th, 2016, a
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sunday, emma went for ice cream with her dad and planned to get up early for school the next morning >> i told her good night. love you. going to bed. and during the middle of the night i heard this loud noise. >> what kind of noise was it? >> it sounded like someone was in the house and opened the door and slammed it. and then i heard it again. >> mark jumped out of bed to check on emma and her brother. >> i opened up her door to her bedroom and i stared at her for probably 15, 20 seconds. and she was just lying asleep in her bed. and i shut the door and went to my son's bedroom. he was in the bed asleep. so i thought, i'm hearing things. so i checked the doors around the house and went back to bed. >> in the morning, emma's mom, jill, woke up early >> i went in to wake her up and
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i couldn't wake her up. >> what's going through your mind in that moment? >> i had no idea and i can't recall a lot of it. i just know i checked for a pulse. >> and there was no pulse. >> no pulse. so, you know. >> emma's younger brother evan also rushed in. >> poor evan, too. >> yes. >> i'm sure that is something you wish that -- >> i wish he'd never have to experience it. it's like a nightmare. >> jill called 911. >> i just tried to wake up my daughter for school, and she has no pulse. >> you said she's nonresponsive? >> yeah. >> stay on the line ma'am. >> what had happened to emma walker? >> coming up, the investigation begins. >> i saw a 16-year-old female laying in her bed with a small amount of blood on her pillow. >> people thought she might have over dosed on something. >> they thought she had ingested
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poison or whatever. >> this is a mystery right now. >> it's all a mystery. >> when "dateline" continues -- ♪ here's to the duers. to all the people who realize they can du more
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monday, november 21st, 2016, was supposed to be a regular school morning. instead, first responders were arriving at the walker family home. and word that something horrible had happened to emma was tearing
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through town. friends calling friends. >> she was just bawling. i was like, okay. you need to breathe. calm down. what's wrong? she said, emma is dead. i said what are you talking about? >> because it really didn't register in my mind, like -- >> not our emma. >> no. >> it didn't seem real at first to nathan either. >> i was like, yeah. that's my best friend, but, no, she didn't pass away. it just hit me. i started bawling. >> emma's ex-boyfriend riley was at his college dorm when his phone was flooded with calls and texts. he grieved on social media. >> how much he loved her, how much he is going to miss her. she doesn't deserve this. >> she's in a better place now. tell god about our bible verse. >> did their hearts go out to riley, that he's lost -- >> a lot of people. >> a lot of people commented i'm so sorry. >> prayers for you. >> praying for you. >> still, no one knew yet how emma died. what are some of the rumors that are now floating around on
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social media about what happened to emma? >> people had thought she might have overdosed on something. >> some people said brain bleed. >> the biggest one that upset us the most for people who didn't know her were like saying that she killed herself. >> was there any part of you that was confused and thinking maybe it's possible? >> no. >> no part of me thought emma would ever take her alive. >> this is a mystery right now as to what happened. emma is there and you know she has not survived whatever has happened but you don't know what. >> it's all a mystery. >> investigators arrived with just sketchy details from first responders. >> they thought originally it was a suicide that she had ingested something, poison or whatever. >> knox county major mike mclain was assigned to investigate the case with major crimes detective alan merritt. >> saw a 16-year-old female laying in her bed with a small
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amount of blood on her pillow. some people confused that with she had gotten sick or ingested something and caused her to vomit. >> when the detective looked closer he saw something unusual. >> first responders didn't immediately see the hole in the wall. >> there was a hole in the wall next to emma's bed. a bullet hole. and while only a little blood was visible on emma's pillow, when investigators inspected her head, they saw a small entry wound. so she's been shot? >> yes, ma'am. >> shot in her own bed. >> the bullet struck her just left and above the ear. basically it was a fatal wound. >> she had to have been shot then through the wall? >> yes. it was kind of obvious someone had fired a shot from outside the residence into the residence. striking her in the head. >> this is not the kind of neighborhood that has drive by shootings, right? >> yes, ma'am.
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that is correct. it is actually a fairly low crime rate area. >> as the detectives processed what was now a crime scene they found more clues as to what might have happened. >> we go outside the residence. that's where we also determined there was a second shot that had been fired through the in wall of the house. >> so, bullet holes in two separate walls. there in the walkers' yard -- >> we find a shell casing, a spent casing that had been fired. then as we again work around to the end wall of the residence we find a spent casing and a live round. >> when emma's parents learned what had happened, they were barely able to take it in. >> they had told us she had been shot. >> it's unthinkable. >> emma's father mark recalled with horror those noises he had heard during the night. >> knowing those noises i heard were gunshots and sounded
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nothing like gunshots. >> but your instincts were right that something happened in the middle of the night. >> you think your child is safe in your home sleeping. >> but who would want to kill this sweet, popular girl? whose goal in life was to care for newborn babies? it turned out the last few days of emma walker's life had been anything but normal. and might be the key to unraveling the mystery. coming up -- >> she sees a person dressed all in black. >> a mysterious figure at emma's door. >> then this person comes to the front door and starts, you know, trying to get in the house and turning the doorknob, beating on the door. she is in fear in a panic >> i would have been absolutely terrified. >> when "dateline" continues. ke) this? eh, nothing happened. (driver) nothing happened? (burke) nothing happened. (driver) sure looks like something happened. (burke) well, you've been with farmers for three years with zero auto claims.
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emma walker was shot dead in her own bed. at 16 years old, she had her whole life ahead of her. >> all of the great things she would have done. >> proms and graduations and things we'd never get to see. you know? getting married. having kids. >> as emma's family began to imagine life without her, police were focused on finding her killer. they were talking to her family and friends about the days right before the shooting. >> it's a lot of activity in a period of two days.
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it's unexplained. >> it was the weekend before thanksgiving. friday night emma and her group were celebrating a football win at a friend's house. her friend zach was at the party when emma received a text message from an unknown number. the message said something about riley. he'd been taken. >> her text message saying something like someone has riley. >> someone has riley. >> someone has like kidnapped him. >> riley kidnapped? the strange messages kept coming. then emma's phone line. riley was on the line. >> screaming in the background help me emma! i need your help. >> you can hear riley on the call, calling for help. >> yes. >> emma and her friends rushed out of the house and there was riley. >> he had his hands on his head. he just looked confused. i could see her yelling at him. like what's going on? she was really angry. >> emma was furious with riley. she and her friends thought the whole thing was some kind of prank. >> we all kind of like, eh, it's
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very far fetched for him to really be kidnapped. we didn't think twice about it. >> but if the kidnapping was a joke, what happened the next morning was no laughing matter. emma's friends told police that saturday she drove herself home from her friend's house. >> as she is pulling in the sub division approaching her residence, she sees a person dressed all in black. and as she gets closer, you know, he sin inchputs the hood puts sunglasses on. >> emma was texting her friends a play by play. >> as she gets in the residence this person comes to the front door and starts trying to get in the house. turning the doorknob. beating on the door. she's in fear in a panic. and so she reaches out to the one person that she thinks can help her, which was riley gaul. >> emma had just broken up with riley and was angry at him for what she thought was that strange kidnapping stunt the night before. still, she texted him this.
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i hate you, but i need you right now. she face time called him and asked him to come over. >> why do you think she reached out to him, given what, that they had just broken up? >> i think he was a sense of security to her and that, you know, he was a protector from other things. >> riley searched the house and neighborhood but saw no signs of anyone. neither called the police. but now detectives were investigating emma's murder. they discovered surveillance footage from a neighbor's house and there he was. >> this is the mysterious man in black. >> at that point it is. >> were you able to see a face? >> no. >> a possible intruder? an attempted kidnapping? what was going on? police needed to talk to riley right away. >> i'm detective merritt. >> they asked him for details about the kidnapping and he insisted it really happened. >> it was traumatizing. i didn't know what to make of
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it. i went to my step dad's house and i pulled in the driveway. and this van pulled over across from the semicircle. and these two guys were like walking across the street and the next thing i know one of 'em grabs my back and the other one's around the corner. and they, just, like, put their hands over my face, and just took me to their van or whatever. >> well, why would somebody do that to you? >> i genuinely have no idea. they did ask me -- they were like, um, you know, like who would you want to talk to for the last time? so i started freaking out and i said emma. and they made me call emma. i was just crying and screaming and she thought it was a joke. she thought i was playing a prank on her. >> emma didn't buy riley's kidnapping story. but she was genuinely terrified when she called him the next day about the man in black. >> that's when she face time called me. she was crying and freaking out. i said okay. give me a minute.
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i'll come down and check it out. >> that is the only person riley could think of who would want to harm emma. >> the only thing i thought of was whoever the person was at her house saturday morning. that's the first thing i thought of. >> riley told police even though he and emma were broken up he still cared for her. in fact, they spoke on the phone sunday night in the hours before emma was shot. >> i just told her how much i loved her and that i was sorry she didn't want what we had anymore. she said she didn't care about the relationship anymore. she said she cared about me. she loved me. she didn't care to be with me anymore. >> riley said he spent the rest of the night on campus about 25 miles away. crying over the break up. >> i sat in the parking lot just looking at pictures of us. >> he woke up to people texting and calling with their condolences. >> so i was like, what are you talking about? did you not hear what happened? i said no what are you talking about? >> riley, the heartbroken ex,
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and now he had lost the love of his life for good. but this pair of seasoned investigators had their radar up. >> did you start seeing more of his personality, you can see that he had to have her. >> coming up a closer look at that mysterious man in black. >> she had actually seen the man in black. she recognized him by his build, by his gait, the way he walked. the way he carried himself. >> who was he? when "dateline" continues. dinner's almost ready. but one thing we could both agree on was getting geico to help with our renters insurance. yeah, switching and saving was really easy! drink it all up. good! could have used a little salt. visit and see how easy saving on renters insurance can be. you're not welcome here!
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so false, a judge ordered them bistruck from the voter guide. prop 15 are using scare tactics but the following facts are not in dispute. prop 15 closes big corporate tax loopholes, protects homeowners, and cuts small business taxes. but that's not all, by closing the loopholes, communities can invest in local schools, ppe for nurses, and our firefighters. don't be deceived by big corporate scare tactics. vote yes on 15. hello. i'm dara brown. president trump could be discharged from walter reed national military medical center as early as monday according to his doctors. amid his coronavirus treatment he briefly left the hospital sunday to drive past a group of supporters. medical experts condemn the move accusing the president of unnecessarily putting secret service agents at risk. the presidential suv is hermetically sealed against
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chemical attack which greatly raises the risk of covid transmission. now back to "dateline." welcome back to "dateline." i'm natalie morales. who shot emma walker? the day before she died, a menacing man dressed in black showed up at her house triggering a panicked call to her ex-boyfriend riley gaul. riley told police by the time he got there the man was gone. now detectives were about to discover something riley didn't tell them. and it would send the investigation into overdrive. once again, here is andrea canning with noises in the night. >> emma walker had been murdered. and all over twitter riley gaul was the grieving ex. >> what did he change the bioto? >> living every day through emma walker. >> rest easy, my angel. i love you so much. >> yeah. >> and now emma's friends were looking back on her romance with
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riley. they remembered a high school boyfriend who was jealous, possessive, even obsessed. >> he started to get very kind of controlling of her, like where she was, what she did, like if she wanted to hang out with our friends. he was like, you're not going. >> he didn't want her to hang out with people like it was just him and her. >> and if emma went somewhere without him -- >> he would text her 40 to a hundred times. >> just blowing her phone up. emma, emma, emma, talk to me. text me back. call me. >> yeah. >> just all over again. >> call her 2k0, 30 times. >> emma's parents thought the relationship was toxic. they had seen their daughter change. >> this new personality with riley in the picture was not one that you recognized. >> no. not with emma. her fun loving self was no longer -- it was very closed off. more in her room. >> angry. >> angry at us.
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>> was it kind of like her spark had been extinguished? >> yes. >> her parents said riley seemed intent on driving a wedge between emma and her family. >> he would tell her she really didn't have parents. that she really barely had a brother. and i think he just wanted her to think that that was -- he was all she had. >> this is a nightmare situation for a parent. >> yes. >> jill and mark had always been involved parents. monitoring their kids' social media and cell phones. they even had a tracker on emma's car. so when things got bad with riley they tried to limit emma's contact with him but he always seemed to find a way around their rules. >> he would show up to our church because they couldn't tell him to leave or a basketball game because it's public, a public event going on so they can't tell him he shouldn't be there. >> when emma finally broke up with him a few weeks before she died even his close friend said it seemed like he was
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unraveling. were you worried about him? >> yeah, very. very. >> i think this is when we started to see, like, if he wanted to do something, like, he could. >> he seemed a little unstable to you? >> yes. >> now that emma was dead, her friends weren't buying his sad messages on social media. >> what are you thinking when you're reading riley's posts? >> he's trying to cover up for himself. >> did you think he did it or something else? >> i thought he had something to do with it. >> police were thinking the same thing as they listened to stories about emma and riley. >> based on my experiences as a detective, it was an abusive relationship, not physically, but it was more of a psychological and emotional type of abuse. >> police were skeptical of everything riley said. they didn't believe the kidnapping story. when they talked to one of emma's friends in the neighborhood they were even more suspicious. the friend was certain riley was the mysterious man in black.
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>> she had actually seen the man in black and believed it to be riley. she recognized him by his build. by his gait. the way he walked. the way he carried himself. >> during that interview, police were closely watching riley. they noted how he referred to emma in the strangest way. >> the girl, she, she texted me. >> what, which girl? >> the one that passed away. >> oh, okay. what's her name? >> emma. >> this is someone he's professed his love to, and gone on social media, and spoke out about how she's his everything. and all that. but yet when he goes to talk to me in the interview, he refers to her as the girl. how did you get from there -- >> as the interview progressed police tried to nail down riley's whereabouts the night emma was shot. he stuck to the same story. he was at his college in maryville, tennessee, almost a half hour away, crying in his car over the breakup.
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>> i remember getting back in my dorm at 4:30, and my roommate being awake because he asked me why i was getting in so late. >> as police questioned riley -- >> is there anybody saw you in your car? >> they became more and more skeptical and he was picking up on it >> i hope to god i'm not a suspect in her death. >> did i say you were? >> i hope you don't think it. >> you know, based on my years of experience, it was an over the top reply. i mean, it was phony. >> i would hurt myself if i would have hurt her and that's what i've done. >> did you shoot into emma's house? >> no, sir. >> despite his denial riley was now the prime suspect. but they had to let him go. they didn't have enough evidence. and there was a missing piece to the puzzle. where was the gun that killed emma? it would take two young men on a dangerous mission to find it.
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the police could hear you but you couldn't hear them? >> yeah. >> could these two friends find that missing gun and the killer? this potentially could be very dangerous. >> absolutely. you're going to have two boys in a car with a guy that's believed to have already killed one person with the murder weapon. this is a huge, dangerous thing. >> when "dateline" continues. it's better. this is seven days to put your carvana car to the test and see if it fits your life. load it up with a week's worth of groceries. take the kiddos out for ice cream. check that it has enough wiggle room in your garage. you get the time to make sure you love it. and on the 6th day, we'll reach out and make sure everything's amazing. if so... excellent. if not, swap it out for another or return it for a refund. it's that simple. because at carvana, your car happiness is what makes us happy. here's to the duers. to all the people who realize they can du more with less asthma thanks to dupixent, the add-on treatment
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for specific types of moderate-to-severe asthma. dupixent isn't for sudden breathing problems. it can improve lung function for better breathing in as little as 2 weeks and help prevent severe asthma attacks. it's not a steroid but can help reduce or eliminate oral steroids. dupixent can cause serious allergic reactions including anaphylaxis. get help right away if you have rash, shortness of breath, chest pain, tingling or numbness in your limbs. tell your doctor if you have a parasitic infection and don't change or stop your asthma treatments, including steroids, without talking to your doctor. are you ready to du more with less asthma? talk to your asthma specialist about dupixent. if your financial situation has changed, we may be able to help. special guest flo challenges the hand models to show off the ease of comparing rates with progressive's home quote explorer. international hand model jon-jon gets personal.
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the day before emma walker
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was killed riley gaul's grandfather called police about a hand gun he owned. >> he files a report the gun is stolen. >> that missing gun was a problem for riley, too. he lived with his grandpa, and the gun was the same caliber as the one used to kill emma. police didn't think that was a coincidence. did he express that he knew where the gun was? or did he completely deny -- >> he completely denied everything relevant to the gun. >> after his denials to police, riley reached out to his close friends alex and noah. since his breakup with emma, riley had been leaning on them for support. what did he say about how he felt about it? >> he was just torn up. throughout this whole time i tried to spend as much time with him as i could, just be there for him whenever he needed it. >> riley confided in alex and noah again. he said he would never hurt emma. had nothing to do with the shooting.
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but he did have his grandpa's gun. >> they're going to find a way to put this on me if they find the gun. like can you help me get rid of this? >> the boys were willing to comfort riley but not help get rid of evidence in a murder investigation. instead, they called lieutenant merritt. it's amazing that they called. >> absolutely. >> this is a big piece of the puzzle. >> absolutely. like could very well have just went on living their lives minding their business. >> riley told his friends he planned to go to the bluffs, high above the tennessee river, and toss the gun into the water. police hatched a plan. a bold and risky sting operation. have alex and noah go with riley and the moment they see the gun, signal detectives who would swoop in and make an arrest. this potentially could be very dangerous. >> absolutely. you're going to have two boys in a car with a guy believed to already have killed one person with the murder weapon. this is a huge, dangerous thing. >> dangerous for sure.
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and then detectives made it even more complicated. they decided to secretly record the whole thing. >> they set up a listening device in the car, itself, my car. it had a little one inside the cut of my jacket which sucked because i couldn't take off my jacket the whole time. >> then the key fob to take the video as well. >> the police could hear you but you couldn't hear them. >> yeah. >> everything came together with lightning speed. just hours after calling police, 18-year-olds alex and noah were wired up and ready to meet riley. what did your parents think about this? you are very vulnerable in this situation. >> listen, my parents had just moved to north carolina. i was living in tennessee on my own. i didn't have time to talk to my dad. >> you did not tell your parents. >> i didn't. >> the plan hinged on the boys texting a secret word to detectives the moment they see the gun. without tipping off riley. the pressure was intense.
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>> this is insane. >> riley came over to noah's house. the mission was under way. >> i know that she really loved and cared about me a lot. we spent two years together. >> police were nearby listening in on. as instructed, the boys tried to be natural. >> i'm sorry about emma, dog. >> i can't -- i really -- i want to be so upset and i can't because i'm more worried about getting arrested and putting away for murder that i didn't commit. never in my life would i kill someone that i love that much. >> love you, bro. it sucks that you got to deal with all this man. >> riley clearly had no clue about the sting. he had faith in his friends. >> i'm trusting you guys, like, with my life, because i mean, this is 70 years in jail if i get convicted of something i didn't do. >> why can't you just give them the gun? >> just -- it just needs to be gone.
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for whatever reason. it just needs to be gone. you guys don't have to come with me if you don't want to. >> i mean, i got your back, man. >> if it's in the tennessee river, they will never find it. >> the boys headed out. first stop, riley's step father's house where he'd hidden the gun. he came out holding a plastic garbage bag. detectives were still tracking the boys closely or trying to. >> it was kind of a crazy part here. we've got detectives watching them. they leave out from step dad's, and at some point we lose them. i mean, we lose sight of the vehicle. we've lost the wire. >> is that a heart beating moment? >> yes. obviously we want to track them real time. we want to keep up with them. >> police did find them again in time to see the boys make an odd detour. on the way to the river they stop for some drive through fast food. >> yeah. i need a cajun chicken with two sides of hushpuppies. with chili and cheese on it.
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and a large dr. pepper. >> have you tried the sauce? >> oh, my god. try it. >> you're in the middle of this critical undercover operation and you've decided to go for chili cheese fries? >> yeah. >> why? >> it was like almost the whole time we were like saying good-bye to one of our best friends. it was like almost just like comforting to kind of have it be like it was before. >> they got to the bluffs around 11:00 and pulled into an apartment complex parking lot. alex knew the security code for the gate. he used to make deliveries there. and then the big moment. the hidden camera didn't catch it but alex and noah will never forget it. riley pulled the gun out of the bag. >> oh, my god. >> noah texted the detectives. they were supposed to pounce. but 30 seconds passed. then a minute. no police. alex saw their suvs outside the
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gate. what was the delay? two minutes. still no police. the tension was unbearable. then alex did something audacious. he took the gun out of riley's hand. >> this is a real gun. >> alex, why did you take the gun from riley? that was kind of a bold move. >> yeah. it really was. >> i was watching from the back seat. i was like -- >> it was just an instinctual thing. riley grabbed it back out of my hands. that was scary. >> and that was when police got through the gate and made their move. >> everybody put your hands out of the vehicle now. >> riley was cuffed and taken away. the gun was still in the car. >> just pull that back enough just to see the serial number. >> the mission was a success. alex and noah were safe. riley was charged with the murder of emma walker and taken
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to jail. it was the end of a long, crazy day. the popular football hero was behind bars. how did it all come to this? >> he was controlling and obsessive. but you'd never thought like a murderer. >> and in a case already full of surprises, the biggest one was still to come. coming up -- a sudden change in riley's story and it's a stunner. >> as crazy as it is and as bizarre as it is, he was hoping that he could come to her rescue. >> what riley is saying is i'm not a cold blooded killer. >> would the jury believe it? >> in count one charging the defendant with first-degree murder did the jury reach a verdict? >> when "dateline" continues.
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almost a year and a half had passed since emma walker was shot and killed through the wall of her bedroom. emma's ex riley gaul pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder. knox county district attorney general sharm allen prepared for a high profile trial. why do you think the case captured so much attention >> people can relate to being a teenage couple in love. people can relate to break-ups. i think one thing that really scared people and our community
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was that emma was asleep in her own home in her own bed. >> was it stressful as the trial approached? >> yes. >> very. >> just the worries of what the turnout will be. >> prosecutors kevin allen and molly martin would have to prove to a jury that it was riley who pulled the trigger. >> what was your strategy going into this trial? >> i think the main thing we needed to focus on in the beginning was putting him there that night. and so i think the cell phone records and the gps locations were very important up until that moment. >> they placed him around emma's house. >> he placed himself in maryville and the phone records placed him back in knoxville. >> he had clearly told a lie about where he was. >> yes, yes. >> when emma was shot. >> yes. >> the picture we painted of riley gaul was a deceiver, somebody that was phony. i mean, couldn't get the truth out of him if you tried. >> but on the first day of trial
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riley's defense attorney wesley stone up ended the state's case with an unexpected admission. riley was there, did fire the gun, but it was not murder. >> that was a fairly stunning claim. >> from the beginning she saw jaws drop. >> what he said was riley never intended to kill her and in fact assumed he would not kill her. if he shot through a wall. >> we're asking you to find mr. gaul guilty of wreckless homicide. >> not premeditated murder. >> in tennessee that is two to four years in the penitentiary. >> that would be a huge difference. >> yes. >> all of the state's preparation went out the window. >> the case went from a whodunit to a state of mind defense. >> the defense said riley wasn't some crazy killer just crazy in love with emma. with a bizarre plan to win her
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back. >> when riley gaul fired that shot in the back yard, as crazy as it is, and as bizarre as it is, it was his hope he could come to her rescue. >> the defense told the jury riley only meant to scare emma with the gunshots. then with emma needing comfort he'd swoop in and be her knight in shining armor. his attorney argued riley had no idea that those bullets would pass through the house. >> for some of us to know about firearms may very well know if you shoot into a house it'll go through the wall. some of us may not. i submit to you riley gaul did not. >> the defense denied riley was the man in black. but admitted that the kidnapping story was a ruse. a stunt to get emma's attention. riley's attorney said it showed how desperate his client was to be with her. >> what riley was trying to do is get an opportunity to see
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emma. that's what he was trying to do. >> and that would later become a theme of his defense, that rather than killing emma, what he intended to do was play her rescuer. >> it almost does sound like he was just trying to scare her when you first hear it >> i wong the same thing. then i went out to the scene and looked at the house and looked at where he would be standing and it is, what, five feet away from the house i think the measurements were. and it's me pointing a gun right at you right now and pulling a trigger. it's that close. >> so close prosecutors said it was obvious that riley was shooting to kill. >> shoot up into the air. shoot in through the window, anywhere but where you shot. >> the state agreed with the defense on one point. riley was desperate to be with emma, but that desperation had become dangerous. prosecutors argued of course he was the man in black. after that, in the kidnapping
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stunt failed, they said riley gave up on winning her back. instead, he sneaked into emma's back yard, stood outside her window, and fired into the wall. knowing exactly where she slept on the other side. >> i think this is a case about revenge. i think that he sought to get back at her for the hurt that he perceived that she was purposely putting on him by breaking up with him. >> and after he killed her, the prosecutor said he went to great lengths to cover his tracks. >> and he was going to throw the gun off the bluffs. >> yes, sir. >> they showed the jury that video of that under cover sting and how riley tried to manipulate his closest friends into covering up his crime. >> i'm trusting you guys like with my life. >> his plan was to get away with this. his plan was never to be caught. >> which theory would the jury believe? a reckless act or premeditated murder? they went off to deliberate and
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came back four hours later. >> in count one charging the defendant with first-degree murder, did the jury reach a verdict? >> yes, we did. >> what is your verdict? >> guilty. >> you hear guilty. what's that moment like? >> relieved. >> it's a sense of relief. >> riley was sentenced to life in prison. he'll be in his 70s by the time he is eligible for parole. >> we're proud of all the investigators and all the work but we're almost more proud of noah and ill alex. >> are they the heroes in all this? >> i think they really are. >> lieutenant merritt, the walkers, they call you the heroes. what do you say to that? >> just did what i had to do. >> it took a lot of guts to do what you did. >> appreciate that. >> as for emma, who used to joke that she was kind of a big deal, she has actually become one with tributes to her all over town. there is a scholarship in her name at central high and a dog
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park dedicated to the young animal lover. >> just a good, fun, happy place to come and remember her and for other people to remember her. >> here at the east tennessee children's hospital a nciu exam room is named in her memory. emma's parents believe the best way to honor their daughter is to learn from what happened. detective merritt says it is important to understand when teenage drama turns into dangerous behavior. >> i think we need to educate our young people better about relationships and what a healthy relationship is and what is psychological abuse. emotional abuse. >> that is what we hope someone gets out of this story is awareness. >> and know what's healthy for you. >> emma may be gone but for those who loved her, the young girl still sparkles. >> she'd want to be out there. you know? she'd want us to be laughing and
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having fun. and not, you know, you can't cry all day. you still have to live life. >> that's all for this edition of "dateline." i'm natalie morales. thank you for watching. this was a gruesome murder, a high profile executive and his wife shot to death in beverly hills. we don't really think that children can murder their parents. you have to have a lot of evil in you to shoot your mom and dad. >> young. rich. handsome. in a case made for hollywood, they were ready for the cameras -- >> it was the first televised courtroom drama that captivated the united states, it was a huge deal. >> reporter: erik and lyle menendez -- convicted of murdering their own parents. >> i ran around and shot my mom!


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