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The Suitcase Murder Dateline
By Sara James Correspondent
NBC News
updated 5/16/2007 1:19:45 AM ET 2007-05-16T05:19:45

This report aired Tuesday, May 15 on Dateline NBC.

Woodbridge, New Jersey looks like hundreds of other neighborhoods across America.  If you’d been here a few years ago, you might have bumped into two of the residents: that lovely couple with the beautiful boys, right there on the corner of Plaza drive.  Most neighbors knew them as the McGuires.  Friends called them Bill and Melanie.

Jon Rice, friend of Bill McGuire: We thought it was a perfect marriage.

Jon and Susan Rice also thought their friends Bill and Mel were special people. They were a bit brighter than most and a bit more in love. Jon had known bill a long time, since they met in the Navy back in the '80s.

Jon Rice: It’s just his good sense of humor. He could pick on you but make you feel good about it at the same time.

Bill always loved to make them laugh. 

Jon Rice: He’s charismatic. Bill has a sense of humor, a lot of “Saturday Night Live” type sense of humor.

They knew back then it would take a gal with a high IQ to keep up with their friend’s antics and sharp-tongued banter.  They say Bill’s first wife (now ex) was a sweet woman but a terrible match.  But his second... well, that was a different story.

Sara James, Dateline correspondent: You really enjoyed his relationship with Melanie?

Jon Rice: Yes I did. Melanie is very charismatic as well. And she’s got that wit. she’s very intelligent. She can be sweet.

When the two married in 1999, the Rices graciously and enthusiastically offered to take the cash-strapped newlyweds on a vacation to the Bahamas. It was great fun, until Jon disappeared beneath the waves.

Susan Rice: Melanie said “Sue, don’t worry about it. I’m going to row out to John.”  And she’s fighting, you know the waves are coming this way.  She’s rowing just as fast as she can and John pops up.

James: What did you take away from that experience?

Susan Rice: That Melanie is a pretty strong person both mentally and physically.

But then, she had to be.  Melanie had become a nurse.  Former patients at the fertility clinic where Melanie worked say she was dedicated and gifted.

Former patient: Melanie McGuire is just a powerhouse in a tiny petite little body. And she makes you feel like you’re her only patient.

Another former patient: You felt that she was, you know, almost a girlfriend...

Soon, the Rices say she was making good money.  So was Bill. He was working three jobs to save up for that house he hoped to buy someday.  And less than a year after they were married, the couple welcomed a first son followed closely by a second.  Even with all that, Jon says, his buddy found the spare time and cash for a high-stakes hobby.

Jon Rice: Blackjack was his game. He took the game very serious.

He went on trips to Atlantic City, New Jersey’s gaming mecca. His favorite house, the Taj Mahal, had granted him the bettor’s equivalent of frequent flyer miles:  what the house calls ‘comp points’.  Just four years after the Rices had taken Bill and Melanie for a free honeymoon, Bill returned the favor with a free weekend, compliments of the house.  It was October 2003.

Jon Rice: He got us tickets to Matchbox 20. We ate in their restaurants that were on site, which were fantastic. You didn’t have to leave the place. And everything was paid for? Everything was paid for... oh, gratuity...

And if Jon had any doubts about just how serious a gambler his friend was, they were quickly dispelled by a flash of green.

Jon Rice: The time we went down with him, he came up with... I forget the dollar amount exactly. But it was around $10,000.

James: He brought $10,000 with him?

Rice: Right. He—

James: That’s a serious gambler. Absolutely. The reason he did that is because he was getting those comps. He says “John, I gotta show them that I’m serious.”

And good.  Jon says Bill walked away from that weekend thousands of dollars richer and Susan walked away with the impression that her favorite couple was still very much in love.

Jon Rice: We sat at breakfast one morning and Bill would say something to Melanie. Melanie, you know, would have a quick... retort... and it was just fun. It was fun to be around that couple.

So, it was no surprise when, six months later, Bill called Jon with some great news.  He and Mel had finally bought that dream house—one with a big yard for their little boys.

Jon Rice: He was very excited. And I said, “Bill, that’s fantastic.”  He says, “Yeah. Y’all gotta come up and help me move.”

With a hearty ‘congratulations’ and quick ‘talk to you later,’ Jon hung up on his old friend, not knowing it would be the last time the two would ever speak.

Spring is trophy fishing season in the Chesapeake: bluefish, perch, striped bass, they’re all here. Chris Henkle and Don Connor thought they might get lucky with a catch or two from the bay that day in early may 2004.  Instead, they noticed a suitcase bobbing in the water.

Chris Henkle: It’s right next to the Bridge tunnel. I’m thinking immediately that it probably blew off somebody’s luggage rack driving down the road or something like that.

Connor’s excited 12-year-old son pulled the case onto the boat—a real live treasure chest. He quickly opened it and found a swirl of black plastic bags.

Henkle: The boy was upset. So I grabbed a hold of him and just tried to calm him down and I looked in there again and yes, it was a set of legs.

They were bloodless human legs severed at the knees. 

And then a week later: Virginia Beach crime scene supervisor Beth Dutton had already been processing the first case when police hauled in the second.  It contained a five pound weight, those same black trash bags and more human remains. This time it was a man’s head and torso. Gunshot wounds told the cause of death.  But when he had been killed was still a mystery. 

The third and final suitcase surfaced on May 16th.  This time holding the man’s hips and thighs.  But who was the man?  Virginia Beach police launched an intensive investigation to identify the victim.

Jon and Susan rice had been hearing about the bizarre story for weeks on their local news.  They live in Chesapeake, Virginia.  But by then they were more engrossed in another bizarre tale.  This one involved their favorite couple: the McGuires.  Jon and Susan Rice had heard about the beautiful new home their friends had just purchased in western New Jersey.  On April 28, Bill closed on that house, calling the electric company, turning the lights off at the old apartment.

Bill McGuire moving onto the next phase in life.  But it was a chapter he would never get the chance to write.   A few days after that recording was made, Melanie talked with the Rices to say she and Bill had had a terrible argument about that dream home, just hours after they signed on the dotted line.  She said Bill got physical with her.  Then he stormed out of the apartment, vowing never to return.

Sara James, Dateline correspondent: Did that sound like Bill to just go off and say “I’m not coming back”?

Jon Rice: No. Not and leave the boys. He just closed on a house.

James: It didn’t add up.

Rice: No. No.

But Melanie insisted he had left and he had hit her. She had even gotten a restraining order, in case Bill tried to come crawling back.  This is Melanie describing the fight to a family court judge.

(at family court) Melanie: He told me that I was a stupid ****.  And slapped me and...

Judge: Where did he slap you Ma’am?

Melanie: In the face.

While the Rices were stunned, there were some friends who lived closer to the McGuires in New Jersey, who were not.  

Selene Trevisas, Melanie's friend: I don’t think he was a good husband, nor I don’t think he was a great father.

Selene Trivisas has known Melanie almost her whole life.  For years, she’d thought that Bill was stressed by all his responsibilities.  He was quick to anger and the light-hearted repartee between husband and wife, the banter the Rices had so enjoyed? It eventually became a one-way tongue lashing...

Trevisas: She was no longer fighting back. The arguing—it wasn’t back and forth. It was more one-sided. She was just tired.

The way Selene saw it, maybe her friend was better off without Bill.  But where was he?  Selene and another friend, Allison Licalsi, say Melanie later confided in them about Bill’s other problem: gambling.  Maybe Bill had fled to Atlantic City, gone on a bender and met up with the wrong people... 

Allison Licalsi: Well, she knew that Atlantic City had always been a monkey on his back. But she also wasn’t sure the extent of what he was involved with.

The Rices would tell you that’s nonsense, that Bill didn’t have a gambling problem, and did not hang around unsavory characters.  But they did think it possible that their dear, missing friend was in Atlantic City.

Rice: We actually started calling some hotels in Atlantic City just to check for ourselves, "Had Bill checked in?"

And when one week turned into the next with no word from  or no sign of Bill. Concern became fear. 

Susan started paying attention to that other strange story she’d been hearing—the one about the suitcases and that poor, unidentified man inside.  The TV was on...

Susan Rice: The reporter said the police had released a sketch. So I came out of the bathroom and I looked at the sketch.

Something about the hair looked familiar.  Susan compared it to a photo she had of her friend. 

Susan Rice: I just remember my heart just sunk to my stomach.

She told Jon, then called the Virginia Beach police.

James: So you were more doing it just so that you knew it wasn’t?

Jon Rice: Absolutely.

Susan Rice: "Tell us that it’s not Bill. Just tell us it wasn’t Bill."

But it was.

Jon Rice: We were physically sick. We couldn’t—just a state of shock. I just couldn’t believe it was...

Virginia Beach Detective Ray Pickel was the one who had broken the horrible news to the Rices.  Now that he had the victim’s name, the detective might be able to figure out who hated Bill McGuire enough to saw him into thirds.  He was especially interested in speaking with the victim’s wife:  Melanie McGuire.  He needed her help most of all.  Little did he know just how much help she would be.

It’s bad enough working a homicide and it’s worse still when the body’s been dismembered and found bit by bit.

Virginia Beach Detective Ray Pickel: Whoever would go to the extreme of dismembering a body definitely does not want to be caught.

Virginia Beach Detective Ray Pickel was the first to investigate the murder of Bill McGuire. 

A gunshot victim in three suitcases sounds like a gangland killing, at least to the layman.  And Bill McGuire did like to gamble—maybe he reneged on a debt with the wrong person.

But the detective says the evidence never took him down that road. Case in point: the surgical cuts on the body.  They indicated someone with medical training—not a thug off the streets.  And crime scene technicians found something else: a hospital blanket inside one of those cases.  Pickel did a little checking and quickly discovered Bill McGuire’s wife was a nurse.

Pickel: She works at a doctor’s office and those types of blankets were being supplied to her doctor’s office?  Yeah, there’s a lot of suspicion there.

Roughly a week after the remains were identified, the detective was in a New Jersey lawyer’s office asking the widow McGuire a few questions. 

Had she owned matching luggage now missing?  No, she replied.  But she did tell the detective her husband’s missing car might be in Atlantic City.  And that’s just where Pickel later found the victim’s blue 2002 Nissan Maxima.

Pickel: The vehicle was fingerprinted. Photographs. They vacuum cleaned the floorboards. We also looked inside the glove box and found a clear vial of clear liquid next to a syringe.

Pickel also searched the McGuire apartment since it was the last place bill had been seen alive.   It was spotless.  No sign of a struggle there.  In fact, the place was empty.  Melanie had already moved out.  When the detective asked to see his clothes, she told him she had already given them away to a friend. 

Pickel eventually found those, still in the bags Melanie had packed.  Black plastic trash bags, just like those found with Bill McGuire’s remains.

Pickel: To find those black trash bags... I didn’t realize how huge it was going to be to have that evidence.

Oh, and that luggage?  A day after Melanie’s interview she told the detective she’d suddenly remembered something: that she had, in fact, owned matching Kenneth Cole luggage...

Pickel: I showed her a picture of one of the pieces of luggage that was recovered from the Chesapeake bay. And she identified that as being the family luggage.

It was a changing story and hard-to-believe coincidences.  Still, nothing tying Melanie McGuire firmly to the murder of her husband.  Pickel left the state certain of only one thing:  Bill McGuire’s  body may have been dumped in Virginia, but he had been killed in New Jersey.

David Dalrymple, NJ state police: At the end of the day it’s a horrible, gruesome murder.

David Dalrymple is a detective with the New Jersey State Police.  In late 2004, the 4-month-old murder of Bill McGuire was New Jersey’s to solve.  Dalrymple wanted to take a fresh look at the case. He searched gun registries, cold-called gun shops and looking for anyone in Bill McGuire’s circle who might have been armed.

Sara James, Dateline correspondent: And you got a hit.

Dalrymple: Yes.

James: Who?

Dalrymple: Melanie McGuire.

James: She had purchased a weapon?

Dalrymple: On April 26th of 2004, she had purchased a .38 special handgun at a small gun shop in Easton, Pennsylvania.

As in, two days before her husband’s disappearance.

James: That adds up to?

Dalrymple: The fact that she’s a suspect in the murder of William McGuire.

And then, Detective Dalrymple and his team tracked down this man.  James Finn an old friend of Melanie’s and a gun enthusiast.  Weeks before her husband’s death, she’d emailed Finn—there’d been “a lot of weird stuff” going on at home. She wrote and she was worried about Bill’s “paranoia” and wanted protection.  Any ideas?  Finn told her she could buy a gun in Pennsylvania in only one day. 

Now, the police wanted to know, where was that gun?  They persuaded Finn to call his friend...

(recorded phone call) James Finn: Throw me a bone. Where’s the gun? ...

Melanie McGuire: The gun was in a lock box when he first left ... I put into the storage unit...Of course I went later and I looked, and it’s not in there...

A missing gun that couldn’t be tested to see if it were the murder weapon.  How convenient for Mrs. McGuire.  But even if she had the means why would she kill her husband?  Police needed to find someone else with whom Melanie might have shared her darkest secrets.  That’s when they discovered Dr. Bradley Miller, Melanie’s boss at RMA—the fertility clinic.

Dalyrmple: Bradley Miller was engaged in a several year, three-year, love affair, extra marital affair with Melanie McGuire.

And when they talked to the doctor they learned lots more.  He told police Melanie had admitted a crazy story.  How, after that fight with Bill. After getting that protection order against him, she’d driven two hours to Atlantic City.  Once there she somehow found Bill’s Nissan and, out of spite, moved it to an out-of-the-way motel—the Flamingo.  A security camera, she said, might even have caught her doing it.  Exhausted, she left her car there and took a cab home.  The next day she said she then took a cab all the way back to Atlantic City to retrieve her car.

James: For you how credible was this story?

Dalrymple: It was incredible.

James:  Just no way.

Dalrymple: I...I...it, to me, was incredible.

Police even checked cab companies in Melanie’s area. None had any receipts for rides to Atlantic City, a fare that would have cost hundreds of dollars.

Oh, and one more thing: Melanie had told her lover, Dr. Miller, she’d been shopping for furniture in Delaware, not far from the Chesapeake bay—one day before that first suitcase surfaced. Dalrymple says they convinced the good doctor to confront his lover.  Another phone call to Melanie was being secretly recorded.  Here Miller tells Melanie the cops are hounding him...

(recorded phone call) Bradley Miller: The trip to Delaware...They want to know what you were going there for and what furniture stores you were looking for there and seem to believe you went with your father...

Melanie:  There was nobody else in that f*****g car with me...So I, I think that they’re, when it comes to like the mythical second person, I think they’re talking s**t.

Bradley Miller: I think they’re either gonna come down on me or come down on your father. That it was, you know, the one that helped you do the murder.

The evidence police had, circumstantial though it was, looked damning all the same:  a missing gun, trash bags, strange trips, bullets, a blanket.  What exactly did it all add up to—and would it all end with an arrest?

June 2, 2005: It had been more than a year since her husband’s shocking murder but for Melanie McGuire. Life was getting back to the old routine. She dropped the kids off at daycare. She was in a rush to get to work to get to her patients.  But on that particular morning, New Jersey had other plans for her.

After eight months of painstaking investigation, police finally made their move. They arrested Melanie McGuire and charged her with the murder of her husband, Bill.  She pleaded ‘not guilty.’

Prosecutor: No direct evidence, no eye witnesses, but certainly we amassed a great deal of circumstances that pointed to one person.

Nearly two years after Melanie’s arrest, prosecutor Patty Prezioso prepared to convince a jury that all those circumstances pointed to  Mrs. McGuire’s guilt.

The picture of a wife who had shot her husband while he slept. Dumped his remains like garbage into the sea—then ditched his car at an out-of-way motel to distract authorities.

Prosecutor (in the courtroom) : While Bill was engrossed in purchasing the house and all the closing details that go along with such a purchase, the defendant was very busy planning his death.

Beginning with Melanie’s purchase of a .38-caliber gun days before her husband’s death.

The prosecutor argued that the defendant only told friends about the gun after Bill’s death.  And even then, her stories shifted. She told some friends it was Bill who wanted the gun.  She told another it was she who wanted it as protection against Bill.

And then, the prosecution moved onto evidence it believed linked Melanie directly to the body.

Forensic scientist Tom Lesniak used a laser pointer to show the jury the visual similarities between the trash bags that were found with the victim and the trash bags Melanie had used to give away her husband’s clothes. His conclusion? They were manufactured on the same production line.

But it was what Lesniak didn’t find that the prosecutor found most suspicious.   His team had meticulously searched Melanie’s apartment, including its bathrooms. But they hadn’t been able to find a speck of blood. No DNA material whatsoever. No trace that the McGuires had ever lived there.

Patty Prezioso, prosecutor: Who scrubs a bathroom that well when they’re leaving an apartment?

But the forensic expert  went on to tell the jury that Melanie might not have hidden her tracks as well as she thought she had, because he found traces of the crime scene somewhere else.

Thomas Lesniak, forensic expert: I found particles that to me look like—it could be possibly human tissue.

The expert found microscopic particles of human tissue - Bill McGuire’s tissue - in vacuumings taken from the floor of Bill’s car.

James: How significant were those findings in the vacuumings in your view? 

Patty Prezioso: I think they were very significant.

Remember Melanie had admitted moving her husband’s car to the Flamingo motel parking lot that night.

The prosecutor said it all added up: that Melanie had probably picked up traces of Bill’s tissue on the soles of her shoes when his body had been cut up in the bathroom. That she’d then transferred that tissue to his car when she had driven it to Atlantic City.

Next the prosecutor told the jury about important evidence that showed the murder had been carefully planned. All of it was captured on the McGuires’ home computer.

A computer expert told the jury about incriminating Internet searches that had been done in the days before Bill McGuire’s death.

Computer expert: There were several searches that involved things like names of chemicals and poisons.  There were searches that involved guns and gun laws and things like that.

The expert said someone had browsed the Internet for advice on “How to commit murder.” And then there was this: a search for “chloral hydrate,”  a powerful but uncommon sedative. There was also a search for a nearby Walgreen’s pharmacy. 

Prezioso: Hooking it up with the computer search that led us to Walgreen’s was this very significant prescription written in a name of an RMA patient.

RMA—as in the clinic where Melanie worked.  The prescription was for chloralhydrate, and it was filled at a Walgreen's just a mile from the daycare center where Melanie dropped off the children.  There was something else about that prescription: it featured the signature of Dr. Bradley miller, Melanie’s former lover, and the state’s star witness.

Prosecutor: Sir, did you write that prescription?

DR. BRAD MILLER: No, I did not.

Prosecutor: Are you familiar with the handwriting on those two prescriptions?

DR. BRAD MILLER: Yes.

Prosecutor: And whose handwriting do you believe it to be?

DR. BRAD MILLER: It appears to be Melanie’s.

Patty Prezioso:  Certainly this defendant had written prescriptions for Dr. Miller in the past, and would be familiar with doing that, and would have access to those pads.

And listen to this:  the prescription had been picked up on April 28th, hours before he disappeared and possibly the last full day of Bill McGuire’s life.  A vial of chloralhydrate was later found in Bill’s car by the police.  The prosecutor said the killer used the sedative to knock McGuire unconscious before shooting him.

But what had motivated Melanie to commit such a brutal and calculated crime?

DR. BRAD MILLER: We were hoping to be together in the future to have kids together.

Future plans that Melanie thought would never come true, the prosecutor said, while Bill McGuire was still alive.

Prosecutor in court: All of this evidence together leaves you no doubt that she participated in this murder.

In her closing, the prosecutor said the murder likely happened like this:  Bill McGuire drinking wine to celebrate his new home, no idea the drink is laced with chloralhydrate.  Or that his wife wants to grow old with her lover—not him.  The next day, with kids off to daycare—the killer shoots a still sleeping McGuire. A pillow muffles the noise.  The dead man is cut up in the bathroom, stuffed into bags and suitcases, driven  to the Chesapeake Bay bridge and tossed through the air and into the water.

Prosecutor: Melanie McGuire murdered Bill McGuire.  And the evidence is overwhelming.

It might have looked like a convincing case against Melanie McGuire.  But it rested on circumstantial evidence—no ‘direct evidence’  and no smoking gun.

Melanie McGuire: I didn’t f**king do anything.  I didn’t --- do anything, Jim.

Melanie McGuire: Hello, because I bought a gun.  Because I had an affair.

Could it really be that simple?

For five weeks, the prosecutor had depicted this petite young mother, a woman whose vocation since college had been nursing, as a ruthless, determined killer.

But her defense attorney, Joe Tacopina, says investigators had gotten it wrong. That they had zeroed in on Melanie McGuire from the start, focusing on evidence that incriminated her and disregarding other leads. The prosecution’s case, he said, was circumstantial at best, and utterly unconvincing.

Sara James, Dateline correspondent: Any forensic proof that she committed this crime?

Joe Tacopina, defense attorney: Clearly no forensic evidence that she committed this crime.

James: Any eyewitnesses?

Tacopina: No eyewitnesses.

James: What about motive?

Tacopina: There was absolutely no motive whatsoever.

At least that’s how he saw it.  Tacopina’s strategy was tear down the prosecution’s witnesses on cross-examination and convert them into witnesses for the defense.

Tacopina: Every one of their witnesses, I was standing up and turning into our witnesses. And taking pieces of their evidence and making it our evidence.

Case in point: a forensic scientist who searched the McGuires’ apartment four times for evidence of the crime and found nothing.

(in court) Tacopina: You looked hard, didn’t you?

Forensic scientist: Yes. I believe we did, yes.

The prosecution argued there was no evidence because Melanie had carefully scrubbed away all traces of her crime.

James: Was it possible to do a crime like this, first, to murder him, and then to cut him up in this apartment and not have any sign?

Tacopina: It’s impossible. It is absolutely impossible. 

The defense said there was a much simpler explanation as to why there were no traces of blood in the apartment:  The murder never happened there. 

But what about those particles of skin in the victim’s car?  The prosecutor said the killer likely stepped in Bill’s remains and transferred the tissue into his car.  Melanie had admitted being in that car. 

Her defense attorney made another plea for common sense. Why wouldn’t traces of Bill’s skin be found in his own car?

And on cross-examination, the prosecution expert conceded there was no absolute proof that the human tissue came from a dead body.

Tacopina: You could get a cut and that could come from a live human being, correct?

Dr. Wah: If you get cut, you can shed, yes.

But what was the defense explanation for Melanie being in her husband’s car—at all—after he disappeared? Tacopina says she was just turning the tables on her husband, playing a little trick bill had taught her.

Tacopina: Bill had moved her car once before during a fight, so she would be stranded and not know where her car was.

The defense then grilled Dr. Bradley Miller, Melanie’s former lover and the man who prosecutors said embodied her motive for murder.

Remember, Miller had told investigators that he and Melanie were in love, that they had plans to be together someday. But under cross-examination Miller’s story now sounded different.

Tacopina: Never once, not before the death of her husband or after did she ever ask you to leave your wife, correct?

Brad Miller: No, she did not.

Tacopina: Nor did she ever insinuate to you, doctor, directly or indirectly that, “Hey, I’m available now. Wanna get together?”  She never said that, did she?

Brad Miller: No, she did not.

Tacopina revealed to the jury that even though Miller told police he would tape his phone conversations with Melanie, he didn’t tell them he was still sleeping with her.     

James:  The woman he loves, he loves so deeply that he’s recording conversations secretly for the state?

Tacopina: And then going to meet her at night and having sex with her. I just find that to be phenomenal.

But Tacopinathinks Miller did his lover a favor by making those audiotapes.

James: Is she saying anything that incriminates herself?

Tacopina: Not only is she not saying anything that incriminates herself, she’s saying things that scream out innocence.

The defense also tackled a critical piece of evidence against his client: that gun. The prosecutor said it was highly suspicious that Melanie could never keep her story straight about why she had bought it. But Tacopina countered that Melanie couldn’t tell people the real reason-- the gun was always meant for Bill, a convicted felon who couldn’t buy it himself .

Tacopina: Melanie really was committing a crime by purchasing a gun under her name with the intention to let someone else use it.

One of Bill’s colleagues told the jury that buying a gun had been very much on Bill’s mind.

Then the defense called its experts to knock down the rest of the state’s circumstantial case. 

A computer expert who suggested there was just as much evidence that Bill had made those incriminating online searches as Melanie. For example, a search for data on “undetectable poisons” was made almost immediately after a search for information on gambling. They were Bill’s past-time, not hers.

Defense attorney: And what is the time difference between the gaming source search and this search on Google for undetectable poisons?

Computer expert: It appears to be about 20 seconds.

A plastics expert who thought the prosecution’s analysis of the trash bags was sheer nonsense.

Sally Ginter: The bags from the victim and the bags that had the clothes in them from the apartment are not the same.

And finally “Melanie experts” - friends who said she was no killer.

As Tacopina prepared for closing arguments, he was confident he had riddled the prosecutor’s case with doubt.

It was unusually cold that first week of March as Melanie McGuire stood trial in a Middlesex County courthouse for an unusually callous murder — shooting and dismembering her husband.

People who had known the McGuires long before the newspaper headlines and the TV trucks arrived,  asked themselves whether the demure nurse they knew could really be responsible for a crime that some thought looked more like a gangland hit.

Jennifer Calise: It is like watching your next door neighbor. It is just so surreal. I don’t believe the person I knew is capable of that.

Linda Smit: There is no way. Not the Melanie I know.  Absolutely not.

Jennifer Calise and Linda Smit are Melanie’s former patients from the fertility clinic.  Calise says as she was trying to get pregnant in early 2005, she made her nurse Melanie promise her something:

Jennifer Calise: I said you have to promise me that you are not gonna’ leave this clinic and until I’m done. And she said, they’ll drag me out of here when I’m 85.

Linda Smit says Melanie’s dedication and commitment to bringing life into this world, make her the last person capable of murder.

Smit: Someone who’s in the position of giving life and helping people to achieve life. There’s no way that you can take someone like that and say that they could take life so carelessly.

Melanie’s old friend Allison Licalsi goes a step further. She says the very idea Melanie could even dismember her husband defies common sense. 

Allison Licalsi: His whole torso essentially in one of those suitcases. Had to be 150 pounds or more. She’s going to throw that in the car, drive down to the Chesapeake and just sort of chuck it over a bridge?

But if her friends weren’t buying the bridge scenario, her former friends were.  By now, Jon and Susan Rice were convinced Melanie had murdered their friend. And they could only remember that time when Melanie had fought the waves to save Jon Rice. 

Susan Rice: I would hear that “there’s no way this petite little person could do something to a person like Bill’s size” and be able to carry the suitcases and dump them in the Chesapeake bay. I’m like absolutely she could.

Finally, after six weeks of testimony,  it was almost time for the jury to determine Melanie McGuire’s fate.  Those attending the trial could only watch and wait.

In closing arguments, the defense stressed that Melanie lacked any motive to commit such a gruesome murder.

While the prosecutor described Melanie as a calculated killer.

The jury began trawling through the evidence. The forensic testimony, the trash bags, the computer searches. So much to consider. Four days later, a decision.

The foreman read the verdict on eight counts...

Judge: How do you find on the count of the indictment charging Melanie McGuire with the murder of William McGuire?

None mattering more than this...

Foreman: Guilty.

Her face wincing, hands clutching her attorney, Melanie McGuire listened to the other counts against her:  desecration of human remains, perjury, unlawful possession of a firearm... 

Foreman: Guilty.

Tacopina: Melanie, started pulling on my arm and grabbing my lapel and was saying to me, “I didn’t do it.  I didn’t do it”  and “My babies.  My babies.”  That’s all she kept repeating, “my babies,” meaning her two kids. 

On the remaining four counts: not guilty.  Little consolation there.  On the murder count alone, she faces 30 years to life—no parole.  Her parents sat behind her, their bodies slumped one into the other... grief upon grief. 

Jon Rice, Bill McGuire's friend: I really thought I’d be happy… it wasn’t. There’s no win in this.

Even Bill’s friends felt a pang of something as they watched herBut it was tempered by their outrage at what she had done.

Susan Rice: She could have filed for divorce. But I think that’s the choice she’s gonna have to ponder now.

Melanie’s lawyers say she is already preparing her appeal.  But for now, and the foreseeable future, she is in jail.  Her two young sons without a mother or a father.

Rice:  He loved those boys. That was, you know, his biggest crowning achievement.

And who knows, maybe someday he would have brought them here.  The Chesapeake...  bluer than blue... so peaceful. Friends say Bill McGuire loved Virginia, ever since his days as a young man in the navy. 

They even say he wanted to return to live in this state.  Instead, he drifted back, lost, broken on these waters, his shattered body in need of a place to rest.  The Chesapeake, ever grand, gave that to him — if only for a moment.

© 2013 NBCNews.com  Reprints

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