This report aired on Dateline on Friday, Feb. 6 at 10:00 p.m. ET, 9 p.m. CT.
It could have been round any corner here in her own big city. Could have been in the very next class at the college from which she was meant to get a degree.
Not that she was looking for love, but it was looking for her. Capricious, inconvenient, forbidden. And it announced itself, as love will, 400 miles from home, to everyone's surprise.
And if she saw only the promise, the sparkle of it, well- she was young. What could she know of the powers arrayed against so fine a pairing as hers?
Bennet Reid: I never would have-- never would have thought in a million years this would have been the direction that this actually went.
Who could? Certainly not her father. And not Sparkle. That was her name, by the way, Sparkle.
Her name and her attitude. Effervescent is what she was. In high school a cheerleader. In college, enthusiastic. For a while. And then it was the summer of 1998 and Sparkle was 20. And she was, she announced, ready for life. Whatever that might be.
Donna Lowry: It's that age. You know, where they think they're ready to grow up and she had spent two years at college on her own, and just wasn't ready to come back home and live, you know, under the rules of the house necessarily.
So Sparkle packed her bags, said good-bye to her hometown of Atlanta, Ga. and announced where she was going when she got there.
Bennet Reid: We get a call, "I'm in Louisville!" "Where are you stayin'?" "I'm stayin' with Grandma." I said, "Okay, that's fine."
This is Sparkle's father. His name is Bennet Reid, he's retired army, was an infantry officer. Her stepmother is Donna Lowry, a television reporter with WXIA in Atlanta. They were at home in bed a few months after Sparkle left when she called with more news.
Bennet Reid: I guess it was about 10:30, maybe 11:00 at night. We were all asleep in the house. She calls to tell me she's pregnant. And I'm thinking, "Gee, couldn't you call me at a better time." And of course, I'm not happy that she's pregnant to start with.
- Severely Malnourished 8-Year-Old Twin Girls Rescued, Mother Charged with Abuse
- This New Girl Scout Cookie Oven Lets You Bake Up Thin Mints at Home
- How to Get Away with Murder Star Reveals Secrets Just in Time for the Season Finale
- From TIME: How to Get Away With Murder's Jack Falahee Wants Everyone to Stop Talking About Connor’s Sexuality
- Like Mother, Like Daughter: See Kelly Clarkson's Baby Pic Next to River's!
Keith Morrison: How well did you know that young man by then?
Donna Lowry: We didn't know him at all.
But was she in love? Oh, yes. The young man, she told them, was Ricky. Ricky Rai. A college dropout just like Sparkle. She met him at his father's hotel in Louisville, where he was the manager and she'd found a job working the front desk. Oh, and by the way, he was even younger than she was. Just 18. And about to be a father to their baby. Sparkle's baby .
Donna Lowry: Yeah. You know, unwed and young. And, you know, hadn't finished college. So, we had some concerns.
They felt a little better when Sparkle and Ricky moved to Atlanta. That way Bennet and Donna could help when the baby came.
Keith Morrison: They really did care for each other?
Donna Lowry: Yeah, that was obvious.
Sparkle's father: Yes, sir.
Donna Lowry: They loved each other a lot.
And as they got to know Ricky he opened up a little, admitted he was a bit of a black sheep; the rest of the five children in his family of Indian immigrants were piling up advanced degrees in college. He, the dropout, obviously wasn't... But he certainly seemed proud of his family. After all, his father had been a math professor and later a successful businessman.
Bennet Reid: But I always asked him, "Well, what do you do. How are you gonna take care of the baby and her." I was always concerned that they were just getting by.
What's a parent to do? Ricky's parents worried, too, apparently. But they seemed to blame Sparkle for running off with their son before he'd finished college.
Donna Lowry: They did not like the fact that they were together. They did not like that she was pregnant.
In fact, when the baby was born, Ricky's family did not come to visit.
Keith Morrison: Was there any sign of his parents at all during this period of time?
Donna Lowry: Uh-uh, no.
But Ricky and Sparkle were ecstatic. They named their little girl Analla, which in Hindu means 'fiery one.' And all the while that young love just seemed to grow.
Donna Lowry: That's the thing that kept us going was that he-- he loved her.
And then, just as the young couple was getting used to parenthood, Ricky came to his in-laws with dreadful news.
Donna Lowry: It was October of 1999 that he-- told us that his father died from diabetes-related complications.
There was to be a traditional funeral, the burial would be in India. Ricky flew there to be part of it.
Donna Lowry: He was gone for just a few days. And we remember thinking, "Wow, that was a quick trip to India."
But bad news can come in batches.
Within just days of Ricky's return from the India burial...
Donna Lowry: There was a cyclone in India. Thousands of people killed. It was a big news story and he said his mother, who was still in India, had been killed in that cyclone. And-- we were devastated for him. It was just horrible.
Keith Morrison: Oh my. What a tragedy.
Donna Lowry: This poor kid. He lost his dad and his mom in just a few weeks.
It was the following spring, the first spring of a new millennium, a new life. Ricky and Sparkle made their relationship official. They got married.
Sparkle's father: Well, we thought it would work. As long as they were both putting forth their best effort.
So there was simply no warning, no way to prepare for what happened next.
April 26, 2000.
Donna Lowry: I got a call from Rick who said Sparkles been attacked.
He'd just come home and found her, he said. She heard, but his words didn't quite make sense. She ran to her car.
Donna Lowry: I remember driving thinking, "Attacked." I mean, I'm thinking we're gonna take her to the hospital. "She's gonna be okay. I remember thinking, I'll take the baby. You know, we'll-- we'll make sure everything's okay.
There are times when a parent cannot make anything right. By the time Donna arrived at Sparkle's apartment, Sparkle's father was already there.
Bennet Reid: And I kept asking, "Is she dead or is she alive? What happened?" Finally, someone would come down and tell that she wasn't alive anymore.
She was dead. Murdered. She'd been strangled and stabbed to death. Her six-month-old baby was unharmed, just a few feet away from Sparkle's body.
Donna Lowry: As a reporter, I've covered homicide scenes. I've watched families fall apart. And it was surreal to be on the other end of it. And then dealing with just everything going on with that. What had happened? Who had done this?
A detective named Lee Brown looked carefully at that horrific scene.
He could not yet know who the murderer was, or the incomprehensible design behind it.
But he did know this.
Lt. Lee Brown: It appeared somebody was mad at this girl.
Keith Morrison: This is rage, then?
Lt. Lee Brown: Right. This is rage.
Donna Lowry: Having my colleagues pointing their cameras at me and coming over and-- and they were very compassionate about what we were going through, but it was very invasive, people wanting to know more about it and how we felt. How many times have I been on the other end of that kind of thing?
In Atlanta, Ga. is a television reporter who came to understand the painful end of grief made public. Donna Lowry's stepdaughter, dead. Her murder a violent overkill that looked like hate. Sparkle's father, Bennet Reid, was inconsolable.
Bennet Reid: All I could do was cry. I can't believe that I lost a child.
What happened? Detective Lee Brown took the call.
Lt. Lee Brown: There was a lot of blood, she had multiple stab wounds. And her throat had been cut, and she had been strangled.
A rage killing. Must have been.
Keith Morrison: Were there any signs that anybody had forced their way into that apartment?
Lt. Lee Brown: No. None at all. None at all.
Keith Morrison: So whoever went there had been allowed in?
Lt. Lee Brown: Right. That's correct.
Did that mean Sparkle knew her killer?
Keith Morrison: Was there anything taken from the apartment?
Lt. Lee Brown: Nothing. The apartment wasn't ransacked. Her purse, which was lying near her body, was upside down. There was U.S. currency lying on the floor that obviously had come out of her purse.
Keith Morrison: Actual money?
Lt. Lee Brown: Actual money.
Keith Morrison: Just lying there?
Lt. Lee Brown: Right, right.
Keith Morrison: So, obviously wasn't a robbery.
Lt. Lee Brown: Obviously wasn’t a robbery.
It wasn't sexual assault, either. That was obvious. But the killer had taken precautions. The telephone cord was cut. No fibers found, no fingerprints, no DNA.
Lt. Lee Brown: We had some footwear impressions in blood-- in the foyer. Other than that, we found very little physical evidence.
Was it the marriage? They seemed so happy. In spite of whatever difficulties they may have encountered with their own immaturity and sudden parenthood, they had been inseparable. But now, Detective Brown couldn't help but notice that his behavior seemed a little odd.
Lt. Lee Brown: When we arrived on the scene, he was relatively calm.
Sparkle's father, Bennet Reid, watching this, was puzzled, too.
Bennet Reid: He was just walkin' around-- holding the baby. I can't say he ever actually showed any emotion that night.
The police took Ricky Rai to the station- they recorded the interview.
Ricky Rai: She was laying up against the wall back there right there...
Ricky Rai: Where the kitchen starts.
Ricky Rai: And she was covered in blood. And I just called her name.
Detective: Did you touch Sparkle at all?
Ricky Rai: I didn't touch her or anything else but just when I tried to touch her foot, that’s when I heard Analla crying. So I jumped over real quick and ran and picked her up.
Ricky Rai: And she was covered in blood. And I called her name.
Detective: Did you touch Sparkle at all?
Ricky Rai: I didn’t touch her or anything else but just when I tried to touch her foot.
Detective: I've got to ask you this, Ricky, because it strikes me as odd, it really does.
Ricky Rai: Okay.
Detective: You come home and you open the door and you see your wife lying on the floor in a pool of blood. Why don’t you run in to her?
Ricky Rai: I don’t know. Because I didn’t know what to think at that point. I really did not know what to think. I had no idea what was going on.
They kept him here for 8 hours. Talking. His behavior, somehow peculiar. Then they sent him home. They did not charge him. And here's why:
Lt. Lee Brown: He actually had a better alibi than I did-- if that was possible. And he was at work all day that day. That being the case, we knew there was no way that he could've committed this murder.
So, what did that tell you?
Lt. Lee Brown: Our case became cold very quickly.
It all went cold.
Before long, Ricky turned over baby Analla to Sparkle's parents. And then? He left town.
Donna Lowry: That was the last time we actually saw him. And then all of a sudden he just stopped callin'.
Keith Morrison: Just disappeared out of his own life?
On the one-year anniversary of the murder, Sparkle's father went on television, offering money for information leading to the killer.
Bennet Reid: Today I am announcing a reward for $5,000 for the arrest and conviction of that person who might have had a play in my daughter’s tragic ending."
No one came forward.
Lt. Lee Brown: Well, I told Mr. Reed, her father-- "Let's not give up hope." I said, "At-- at some point, somebody's going to get arrested. And they're going to have information about a murder."
One year followed another. Little Analla grew, a carbon copy of her mother.
The Reids were parents to a youngster again.
It was spring 2004. Four years since Sparkle's murder. It was as unpredictable, unexpected, as that awful call in the night had been. There was a high speed chase. The young woman arrested had some information, she said. About a murder.
Lt. Lee Brown: I got a telephone call from the Atlanta Police Department Homicide Unit. And he said, "Let me run some things by you,." Spring of 2000, Union Station Apartments. Sparkle Michele Rai." I said, "Yes, sir." He said, "She was stabbed, she was strangled, and her throat was cut." I said, "Yes, sir." He said, "I have the young lady who was present in the apartment when it happened." So, I was sitting in his office in 15 minutes later.
An eyewitness account! The solution was apparently at hand. Or was it?
Lt. Lee Brown: She told us her friend was-- was with her. We subsequently went and found the friend.
The two women were teenagers when it happened. They met a man - a cousin - who invited them along on what they believed was a drug deal. He seemed to know where he was going. At the apartment, he stood back, told the girls, knock at the door.
Lt. Lee Brown: And when Sparkle opened the door, he forced his way in. He wrapped an extension cord from a vacuum cleaner around Sparkle's neck after he had ordered her down on the floor, and strangled her, until she quit moving. He got a knife, told the two girls they needed to go wait in the truck. He came out a few minutes later with a knife, and a towel, wiping the-- the knife off with a towel. And they left the complex.
The women said they also stopped at a supermarket Western Union counter. The man picked up a money order. Later he went to a phone. Made a call. They heard some of it.
Lt. Lee Brown: All they heard was him telling an individual that, "I'm done. It's done. And I'm on my way home." And the voice on the other end says, "Come home.”
The women looked at a photo lineup. They identified this man, Cleveland Clark, 47 years old, of Jackson, Miss., already in prison for armed robbery. But what possible motive could he have to kill Sparkle Rai?
The truth, as Detective Brown would discover, can be so unbelievable.
Lt. Lee Brown: That was way out there, way out there.
Donna Lowry: I got the call one day from the cold case unit. It had been four years and at that point he was saying that they had had some new information.
Keith Morrison: Is this out of the blue?
Donna Lowry: Out of the blue.
There is, of necessity, a protocol to the way old cases are given new life.
Four years after the ghastly murder of the young, newly married mother, Sparkle Rai, Detective Brown hit paydirt. Two young women said they'd witnessed the murder. They identified a convicted felon named Cleveland Clark, who was serving time in a Mississippi prison.
Lt. Lee Brown: I had a suspicion somebody had paid him but I didn't know who it was or why.
Their story implied he was a contract killer. But that was it. He wasn't talking. Dead end.
Det. Vince Velazquez: This was kind of a case where we didn't have D.N.A.
Time to call in the Atlanta police cold case team.
Det. Vince Velazquez: It was just kinda like the old fashioned-- you know, feet on the pavement, beatin-- beatin the street, tryin to drum up some evidence.
Who would have arranged to have Sparkle killed? Remember, detectives thought the killing was a murder for hire. The two girls who witnesses the murder remembered Cleveland Clark had picked up money orders at a Western Union; the women also remembered a phone call during which Cleveland Clark said "the job is done" and a man on the other end of the line said "Come on home."
Who was Cleveland Clark speaking to and who had sent the money? That part, it turned out, was traceable. All in the records. The money had come from Jackson, Miss, from a 74-year-old man named Willie Fred Evans.
Keith Morrison: Who the heck is that?
Det. Vince Velazquez: He's a person who has lived his whole life in Jackson, Mississippi. Illiterate, didn't finish school, but was very street savvy.
Phone records revealed that Willie Fred Evans was the very same man Cleveland Clark called right after the murder.
Keith Morrison: You needed information from him.
Det. Vince Velazquez: Yeah. We knew from the-- the phone records and the wire transfers, that he was connected to Cleveland Clark.
They paid a visit to Mr. Evans.
Keith Morrison: Was he forthcoming?
Det. Vince Velazquez: Not at first. I said, "You know,I know you're lyin. The records don't lie, but I tell you what. Why don't you think about it?”
There was a pause then. Days. Weeks. The detectives pretended disinterest.
Det. Vince Velazquez: He was callin me non-stop, just callin. And you could tell his messages were gettin a little more frantic.
And sure enough, Willie Fred Evans was willing to meet at this Jackson, Miss. Hilton Hotel, and this time, he brought a friend. Sixty-year-old Herbert Green. Was this the man who put out the contract on Sparkle?
Det. Calhoun: It's like, it can't be that easy. He's gonna bring the guy to us.
Who was Herbert Green? A little detective work made the connection. Herbert Green was a sometimes business partner of... Chiman Rai. Ricky Rai's father.
Det. Calhoun: I remember looking at some reports and I see Chiman Rai’s name. And right next to his name, I saw Herbert Greene's name. Wait a minute -- Chiman Rai? Was that the same man Ricky told Sparkle's parents he'd buried in India? Why, yes, it was. I never knew when he was telling me the truth or not.
Right. He wasn’t. The father who'd supposedly died from diabetes, who so disapproved of Sparkle's presence in his son's life, was not dead at all. Was not in India. He was alive and well, and living in Mississippi, not far from Willie Fred Evans, and Herbert Green. And now Chiman Rai became the prime suspect in his daughter-in-law’s murder.
Det. Calhoun: It wasn't the point that says, "We got him," but that was the connection.
Paul Howard offered Green and Evans a deal: tell the truth about their connection to Rai, and stay out of jail.
Paul Howard: We made it very clear to them that if we discovered that they were not being truthful, we would do our best to make sure they would be incarcerated along with Chiman Rai.
And with that, the two men who initially denied their involvement finally confirmed the convoluted plot. They were the middlemen in a plot hatched by Chiman Rai himself...to kill his daughter-in-law, Sparkle.
Det. Velazquez: Chiman Rai had approached Herbert Green to kill his daughter-in-law. Herbert Green then went to Willy Fred Evans. Willy Fred Evans then went to Cleveland Clark, and asked him. And Cleveland Clark agreed. There was a price agreed upon of $10,000.
$10,000 to kill Sparkle Rai. Still, the detectives wanted further proof of Rai's involvement. So they enlisted Herbert Green, asked him to pay a visit to his old friend Chiman Rai at Rai's hotel in Louisville, Ky.,- that same hotel where Ricky and Sparkle first met.
And, there was a caveat: Green would have to wear a hidden camera.
Det. Velazquez: We-- we told him to let Rai know that the Atlanta police had-- are trying to contact him, that they had been to Jackson, they wanna talk to him about the murder .
Detective: So you ready?
Green: I'm ready.
Herbert Green walked into the hotel, camera rolling. He made small talk with the woman behind the counter.
Green: How you doing this morning?
And who was she? Why it was Ricky Rai's mother --alive and well. And quite obviously not the victim of that terrible cyclone in India. And she had some interesting news about Ricky.
Green: How is Ricky doing?
Mrs. Rai: Ricky's alright, Ricky got married to an Indian girl.
Green: Oh, he did?
Finally, the meeting with Rai.
Ricky Rai: Hey, Herbert.
Green: How you doing today? Mm -Hmm. You all right?
Ricky Rai: Nice to see you.
Green: All right, I need to talk to you for a minute...
Green: The Atlanta police been to my house twice.
Ricky Rai: To your house?
Green: Yeah... but I haven't talked to the police, yet, the Atlanta Police.
Ricky Rai: Uhh-Huh.
Green: And they -- I guess they want to question me about that girl's death.
Ricky Rai: Uhh-Huh.
Green: So, I haven't talked to them yet. So I need $5,000 just so I can -- I can get around.
Ricky Rai: Right now I have no money at all.
Green: If the Atlanta Police, you know, catch up with me, what do you want me to tell them?
Ricky Rai: I understand.
Ricky Rai: But I don't know.
Green: Because, you know, if I go to jail you going too.
Ricky Rai: Well, we have to go to jail, we have to go.
Ricky Rai: What can you do?
Green: Oh, you don't mind going to jail?
Ricky Rai: What can you do? We have to go...
Ricky Rai: I can give you $500. That's all I can help you out. I swear to you I don’t have money. I swear to God.
Green: But doc, doc, but, I had this done for you. You see what I am saying?
Ricky Rai: I understand.
Ricky Rai: You don’t know anything. That's the only thing you have to say. I have no idea who -- who -- what is this. That's the only thing is. Why you have to answer everything, right?
Det. Velazquez: The script was for him to ask him for money because he needed to get out of town. And we knew at that point we had him. Because that is not something an innocent man would say.
Det. Calhoun: This is the closest we're gonna get to a smoking gun. It gets no better than this.
It was good enough that in September 2006, Chiman Rai, a former mathematics professor and business owner, was charged with murder. But why? Why would a man pay to have his own daughter in law brutally murdered?
Prosecutor: The killer that was hired by this man did a good job. Things were wiped down and they were cleaned.
Prosecutors are, at heart, story tellers.
And the death penalty case against 68-year-old Chiman Rai was the story of a rage that burned so intensely in his breast, he arranged to have his own daughter in law murdered in cold blood. Why? Listen to this, from co-prosecutor Sheila Ross.
Prosecutor: Ladies and gentleman the evidence will show that it was this defendant, this man sitting right here, who sent that killer to her door and the evidence will show that he hired a hitman to kill Sparkle because she married his son, because she had a child with his son, and ladies and gentleman, because she was black.
Sheila Ross: We could reach no other reasonable conclusion than he had her killed because she was black. And that he was against it and did not want that for his son. Did not want that for his family.
Chiman Rai was a racist, said the prosecution. To prove it, they called a former inmate who'd shared a jail cell with Rai as he awaited trial. Here's co-prosecutor Eleanor Ross.
Prosecutor: Did the defendant ever express feelings about people of other races in particular black people?
Walmer: Yes. One time he said he hated all n**ers wish he could get rid of them, at one point he has already spent a lot of money to protect his family, wish he could get rid of the rest.
And as Sparkle's cousin told the jury, Ricky's parents did not approve of his relationship with Sparkle -- they'd already made a different plan for him.
Prosecutor: Did Sparkle ever tell you that during those conversations that Mr. Rai did not want her and RIcky Rai together because of cultural differences and that Ricky Rai had a pre-arranged marriage?
SA: She and Ricky both told me that.
And then, the only witness who could finally offer some sort of explanation for the deception at the heart of his marriage, all the secrets he kept from parents: Ricky Rai. A reluctant witness, but he did tell the story.
Prosecutor: Did you tell your parents that you were dating Sparkle?
Ricky: I did not. I was supposed to be at hotel working and going to school, not dating anybody.
Prosecutor: Did you tell your parents that she was pregnant?
Instead he lied to his in-laws, told them his parents were dead. All to avoid questions about why his parents weren't involved in his life and his baby's life.
Prosecutor: Did you ever tell you parents that you had married Sparkle?
Ricky: No. We were brought up that we should marry, ya know, Indian, same race.
Sheila Ross: He was very much so afraid of what they were going to do if they found out. They let it be known to him early on in the relationship that they did not approve.
And that is why Ricky and Sparkle, afraid of the consequences of disobeying his parents, moved to Atlanta in the spring of 1999, when she was not too obviously pregnant yet.
Prosecutor: Did you and Sparkle move away in order to get away from your parents?
But Ricky's parents soon found out about the marriage...and the baby. And their new address wasn’t kept secret for long. They hired this private detective to track down the couple. He testified Chiman Rai fretted about the family’s reputation.
PI: He was attempting at that time to arrange a marriage for another child. He explained that the arranging of the marriage may be difficult because of the relationship that Ricky had at that time with his girlfriend because of either being pregnant of her being an African-American.
And so, said the prosecution, Rai, who now knew Ricky and Sparkle's address, was determined to put an end to this forbidden love affair. Not only was Sparkle not part of their caste, she was not part of their race.
Rai approached fellow business owner and friend, Herbert Green, for help.
HerbertGreen: He said the girl was causing him some problems and he needed her killed. He said he needed it done quick, that’s what he told me.
Prosecution: Did he say why he wanted it done quick?
HerbertGreen: No, he didn’t tell me why.
But the prosecution claimed to know why.
SheilaRoss: Chiman Rai wanted Sparkle killed before his daughter's wedding.
Rai's eldest daughter was getting married, and he did not want Sparkle showing up to spoil the party.
So Rai’s friend Herbert Green went to the middleman Willie Fred Evans, who made the deal accused killer Cleveland Clark.
Willie Fred Evans: I told him, I said now, the man told me now the job would pay but $10,000. He told me he would leave that night.
Prosecutor: That same night?
Willie Fred Evans: Yes, ma'am.
Might have got away with it, too, save for the young women he picked up in Atlanta.
Prosecutor: While the killer was very good about not leaving forensic evidence he left a big, big mistake because he left not one but two eyewitnesses to the crime.
Sheila Ross: Is this the man who pulled cord around the neck?
Those two eyewitness, their faces can’t be shown to protect their identity, were used to create a ruse to get Clark into the apartment.
Girl: We asked, can we use bathroom? She said yes and she walked away from the door. Cleveland went in house behind her.
Girl: I heard gasping sounds choking sounds and Cleve was strangling her.
They said, Cleveland Clark called his contact, got his money at the Western Union. And that was that.
Except of course for what the prosecution called its smoking gun - that hidden camera footage of Herbert Green telling Chiman Rai the police are on to them.
Hidden Camera Footage:
Herbert Green: I guess they want to question me about that girl's death.
Ricky Rai: Uh-Huh.
Herbert Green: I guess they want to question me about that girl's death.
Sheila Ross: And the first thing out of Chiman Rai's mouth is, "Uh-uh." That's it: "Uh-uh." He never says, "What are you talking about? What girl? And-- never denies it. He knew exactly what Herbert Green was talking about.
Prosecutor: Chiman Rai, he is guilty of every one of those counts on the indictment. He hired someone else to do it. He is responsible for that because he sent the hit man to her door.
So there it was. The prosecution's case for conviction. A father's intolerance of his son's bride.
True story? Maybe. Maybe not.
In the steamy summer heat of Atlanta, Ga., in the artificial cold of Courtroom 6G, Fulton County courthouse, justice appeared finally to be closing in on a businessman, former math professor, and determinedly traditional father named Chiman Rai.
Finally, this man would pay the price for arranging the brutal murder of his daughter-in-law, Sparkle. A young woman he'd put under the sentence of death for the unforgivable sin of being of a different race, and marrying his son. Really? This is defense attorney Jack Martin:
Jack Martin: Everybody would just laugh when I said, "Well, is he a racist?" Of course not, he was a great man for the community, everybody loved him in the community.
Would this man arrange a murder to end his son's marriage? Out of the question.
Jack Martin: Well, there was no question that the parents were upset with the relationship. It didn't have to do anything with race. It had to do with the fact that Ricky was young, only a teenager. The fact that he hadn't finished his education...
The defense cross examined Rai's son, Ricky.
Defenseattorney: You were supposed to in your family get a college education in your family?
Ricky: Yes, sir, and any conversation we had they were targeted at “Do what you want but get your education first.”
Defenseattorney: So it wasn't that she was African-American, or black, even if she had been Indian it would have been a problem? Correct?
And there was further proof, said the defense, that Chiman Rai was no racist. For years, Rai had taught at an historically black university. And among his many businesses, owned a convenience store in a predominately black community of Jackson, Miss.
Defenseattorney: Did you ever notice him treat black customers with disrespect?
Man: No, sir.
Defenseattorney: Ever hear him disparaging black people?
Man: No, not in his makeup.
Defenseattorney: Is Mr. Rai a racist?
Man: No, sir, not at all.
The defense call Rai's other children -- two medical doctors, a teacher, a financial analyst-- to vouch for their father.
Defenseattorney: Have you dated African-American woman?
Raj: I have.
Defenseattorney: Has that been a big issue in the family that you have dated women that are not Indian or African-American?
Raj: No, not at all.
No, said the defense, race was not the reason that Sparkle was found dead. But if it wasn't about race, what was it? Why did Sparkle die?
Defense attorney Don Samuel: What really happened was not that Chiman sent out someone to kill Sparkle, what happened was that Herbert Green decided that they would go to the house where Ricky Rai and Sparkle Rai lived and would steal money and would steal drugs.
Drugs? Sure enough. Under questioning, Herbert Green admitted he'd heard some things.
Defense attorney: Did you tell police repeatedly that Ricky and Sparkle were using drugs?
Herbert Green: That’s what I heard on the street.
Which is why, claimed the defense, Herbert Green and Willie Fred Evans hired Cleveland Clark , who made the 400-mile drive from Jackson, Miss. to Atlanta to commit not a murder, but a robbery.
Defense attorney: In the apartment, he said at least four times, where are the drugs, where are the drugs?
Jack Martin: The murderer was looking for something, where are the drugs, where are the drugs, running through the cabinets. That didn't make any sense for a hitman.
And the very way in which Sparkle was murdered, said the defense, was further proof that the murder occurred after - and because - the robbery went bad.
ME: The stab wounds could have been created by common knives and ligature could have been any kind of cord.
Sparkle had been strangled with a vacuum cord and stabbed to death with a kitchen knife. Not the work of a hired killer, said the defense.
Defense attorney: What type of hitman shows up with no weapon? What type of hitman goes to the house without a weapon and uses things in the house to commit the murder?
So why would Herbert Green and Willie Fred Evans tell the prosecution they'd set up the murder under contract from Chiman Rai?
Simple, said the defense. Their story was a clever cover up...that had the added advantage of a get out of jail free card: These were two liars who got probation instead of a jail term in exchange for their cooperation.
Defense attorney: They know they are caught, they cook up the story, we will blame it on Mr. Rai.
But Chiman Rai and his defense attorneys still had one very big problem: that hidden camera video. How could anyone explain away what sounded like Rai's own virtual confession?
hidden camera video:
Herbert Green: I did this murder for you. You know what I did, don't you.
Ricky Rai: You did it for me...
Herbert Green: I did this murder for you. You know what I did, don’t you.
Chiman Rai: You--you did it for me...
Jack Martin: What it really appears to be is Mr. Rai trying to get him out of there as quickly as possible. Often people will say, uh-huh, uh-huh, yeah, yeah, meaning I'm listening to you, when we gonna get over this.
Ricky Rai: I don't know anything about that, am I right or wrong?
Herbert Green: Okay.
JackMartin: A lot of what he is saying is "I don’t know anything, you don’t know anything."
Was he right? That Chiman Rai had nothing to do with Sparkle Rai’s murder? That this tape was nothing more than an effort to frame an innocent man?
Defenseattorney: Does a peaceful man with no history of violence in his entire life suddenly turn to violence and murder when he is older than 60. Their motive is weak and quite frankly not there.
You don't have to decide who is telling the true story. But the jury would have to.
They would hold a man's life in their hands. If they found Chiman Rai guilty of murder, the penalty could be death.
DefenseClosing: It was a senseless stupid brutal crime. But this man had nothing to do with it.
There is no telling quite how a jury will react to the stories it's told. No way for a waiting family to know what to think. The jury stayed out... A day and then a day and a half.
Judge: Has the jury reached a verdict?
...And then announced it had a verdict in the death penalty case against businessman Chiman Rai.
Donna Lowry: Actually, I said to him, "I think we've got this."
Bennet Reid: "but I always had in the back of my mind, what if these 12 people are not seeing the same thing I'm seeing?"
They'd been waiting for this moment eight long years. The judge asked the jury foreperson to read the verdict.
Foreperson: We the jury find the defendant Chiman Rai guilty. Count two felony murder. Burglary, we the jury find the defendant Chiman Rai guilty....
Guilty: Chiman Rai was guilty of murder, and every count that followed.
Donna Lowry: Guilty came out of the mouth of the foreman. It was unbelievable. Just the tears started flowing, and couldn't stop...
Bennet Reid: I sat through everything and I never cried for anything. But to hear that guilty verdict, especially the second guilty. I couldn’t help it.
Chiman Rai's face was unreadable. He seemed emotionless. He was not, said his lawyer.
JackMartin: He was just befuddled by it. And-- and he expected to be acquitted.
Ricky Rai: You don't know anything, that's the only thing you have to say.
It may have been the incriminating hidden camera footage of Rai talking with Herbert Green that swayed the jury. But it was a death penalty case. And so now the jury sat to hear pleas for Rai's life. His children, with the exception of son Ricky, pleaded with the jury. It was the first time Rai showed any emotion during the trial.
Sandy: My father is still the greatest man I know. I ask you to let him live so others can benefit from his positive traits.
Roger: I ask you to allow me to hold onto my father .To me he is someone who is very, very hard to find. I assure that no matter where I am on this earth he will always be with me.
Defenseattorney: It is your decision today, you are responsible, do you want to kill this man?
Sparkles’ stepmom Donna Lowry also spoke to the jury, telling them the loss of Sparkle was especially traumatic for baby Analla.
Donna Reid: At six months old her mother was gone, never to hold her or sing to her, never to read books to her, never to smell or touch her or feel her warmth. How alone she must have felt.
In the end, the jury spared Rai's life. He was sentenced to life in prison.
Judge: Mr. Chiman Rai, I remand you into the custody of the state where you will serve life without parole plus 25 years.
Donna Lowry: We can live with the fact that he's going to spend the rest of his life in jail.
But how can they live, they wonder, with what he did? A man who hired a hit on their own sweet daughter just to keep her out of his family.
Donna Lowry: "Here's a man who could raise these kids to be so wonderful to-- to serve the public." One's a teacher, couple doctors. And yet he could have a woman killed.
Keith Morrison: It's inconceivable, isn't it?
Donna Lowry: And that-- and just to think, "I'm gonna get rid of her. I'm just gonna pay $10,000 and get rid of her, and-- and she'll be out of my family"
Keith Morrison: And that's what a life is worth?
Donna Lowry: That's it. Ten thousand dollars.
© 2013 NBCNews.com Reprints