How quickly life can tumble. From candelit dinner to this...
Hi, we just got shot. My wife got shot.
The long-married couple's date night in Manhattan wasn't supposed to end this way. Not out here on a dark road. Not with a gunman besides the window of their Mitsubishi. Not with the crack of gunfire.
I'm taking my wife to the hospital, I think she was murdered. She got shot.
The day had begun like so many other lazy Saturday mornings in a well-heeled New York City suburb of good homes, good schools and solid families.
Carlos Perez-Olivo, 58, a well-known criminal defense attorney was puttering around the family's two-story cobalt-blue center-hall colonial - just three doors down from their very famous neighbors Bill and Hillary Clinton - in the desirable village of Chappaqua.
Carlos' wife, Peggy, 55, worked as a teaching assistant during the week and, as Carlos joked, reported to her second job of shopping the town's upscale boutiques on the weekends. Carlos and Peggy's two older boys were off on their own now. Carlitos, 29, had followed in his dad's footsteps and was now lawyer. Merced, 23, was out in Colorado finishing college. Alysia, 16, a bubbly high school cheerleader, was still living at home. She was going out with friends that night.
After raising three children in their almost 30 years of marriage, Carlos and Peggy were enjoying their new freedom from the unrelenting pace of full-time parenting duties.
Carlos Perez-Olivo: We wanted to enjoy ourselves while we were young. I think we were both deathly afraid of getting old, we saw too many people who became old, they had money, but then couldn't really enjoy themselves.
So that evening they'd decided to make a night on the town of it. Peggy went on the Internet and bought some movie tickets. The plan: drive into New York, see the film, maybe do a little shopping and have a nice dinner.
Carlos Perez-Olivo: We were going to go in her car but it didn't have gas. So we went in mine that had a little bit of gas.
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It was Nov. 18, 2006 -- the week before Thanksgiving, and New York wasn't yet overrun with the usual madness the Christmas season would bring. The calm before the holiday storm.
Carlos Perez-Olivo: And we walked around for 20 minutes 'cause we were quite early she wanted to see the stores and we walked back. We saw the movie.
It was "Volver" -- starring Penelope Cruz -- a dark comedy dealing in part with a widow trying to conceal the body of her abusive husband. Later, they went to a favorite French bistro.
Carlos Perez-Olivo: We had a wonderful dinner.
DennisDennis Murphy: A lot of Cosmopolitans on the table that night?
Carlos Perez-Olivo: Yes, Peggy had two or three. I had about five or six. We enjoyed going out to dinner and we enjoyed having a drink.
But now it was time for the hour-drive home north to Chappaqua. As they started to make their way out of the city, Frank Furillo, one of Carlos's closest friends from their college days at Columbia, had played telephone tag with Peggy's that evening.
FrankFurillo: I could tell that they'd been out to dinner or something because she was very happy and very bubbly and she was actually even trying to speak with a French accent.
Carlos, as usual, did the driving.
Carlos Perez-Olivo: Normally, we'd get in the car. And she's put on the classic rock station and invariably, she would fall asleep
Alysia, their 16-year-old, called her mom's cell phone as they as they were driving home from the city, asking them to pick her up at a friend's house later that night.
AlysiaPerez-Olivo: She was having a really good time. I told her I loved her and she loved me. And my dad says he loves me, too.
Carlos said Peggy soon then drowsed back to sleep.
Meanwhile, the fuel gauge was reading low. Carlos said he was determined to make it to his favorite gas station ... the one with the rock-bottom prices, but also off the highway down a dark stretch of road.
When it came to a gallon of gas, Carlos was as tight as a tick.
Carlos Perez-Olivo: Whereas I might spend whatever I wanted to spend on meals or a bottle of wine, for whatever reason, the idea of spending 15 cents more for a gallon from one station to another was offensive to me.
The stretch of Route 100 he exited onto was quiet at that hour, but Carlos wasn't apprehensive. He was on familiar turf.
Even though he was an attorney who'd defended some of the worst low-lifes New York City had to offer, once he crossed that county line he always breathed a sigh of relief.
Carlos Perez-Olivo: That's why we moved up to Westchester, because we felt up here it was safer.
But this autumn night, something was very different. In the past three months, Carlos had stopped practicing law. He'd been disbarred after some clients had accused him of running off with their money. And, while he said he was relieved to be moving on to a new stage in his life, he'd left behind a trail of angry former clients.
Carlos Perez-Olivo: There'd been some threats and some problems obviously. People that weren't happy with me.
DennisDennis Murphy: You represented some tough customers?
Carlos Perez-Olivo: Yes, I did.
DennisDennis Murphy: Were any of them present tense in your life at that point on that day?
Carlos Perez-Olivo: I had gotten some threats the year before or six months before. They'd been communicated to the U.S. attorneys.
Carlos made his way toward the gas station. Peggy was sound asleep in the seat behind him, the radio droning oldies. He'd look back at that moment later thinking life had never seemed better. What a nice evening out it had been. A marriage still intact after 30 years, three accomplished children, and he was finally out from under the relentless pressure of practicing law.
Carlos Perez-Olivo: It was like a big load had been taken off my shoulders. I was enjoying myself. I was able to be more at home than I was before.
But the concept of home -- time with Peggy -- was about to be changed forever. A car had loomed up out of nowhere, overtaking him, now cutting him off. The car had stopped and a ballcapped man with a gun had jumped out of the back.
He could do the drive from Manhattan to his home in Westchester on auto-pilot, but in seconds, on this Saturday night, on a dark stretch of road, shrieking trouble had found Carlos Perez-Olivo, as he recounts the night.
Carlos Perez-Olivo: I'm driving, and all of sudden this car kind of cut in front of me. My concern at the moment was not to get into an accident for the obvious reason that i didn't want the cops coming because I had been drinking.
Cut-off and forced to the side of the road by an older model, dark-colored sedan that looked to him like a Toyota.
Carlos Perez-Olivo: My initial reaction was to get out of the car and yell at them.
But in an instant, a man wearing jeans and a baseball cap and who Carlos thought vaguely looked Columbian was standing by his car window pointing a gun at him.
Carlos Perez-Olivo: I froze. I should have put the car in reverse or I should have tried to hit the car, but I didn't. And he got into the backseat. I then reacted.
Carlos started wrestling with the gunman.
Carlos Perez-Olivo: I tried to grab the gun and twist it. We started struggling, he was pulling away. I was trying to pull this way to turn, twist. I was using this hand as leverage. And I wound up, you know, shots went off, and I wound up in the backseat. I remember a burning, stinging sensation.
Carlos knew he had been shot. Peggy still looked asleep in the passenger seat upfront.
The gunman fled.
Carlos got back in the driver's seat.
Carlos Perez-Olivo: I turned the car on. I picked up the phone. And I started to drive away, I called 911.
We got shot by the side of the road ... I'm going on 133, I'm trying to get to get to northern Westchester.
Carlos, bleeding from his lower left side, started driving frantically to the nearest hospital about 15 minutes away.
911: Are you in Ossning?
Carlos Perez-Olivo: Instead of asking me more about what I was trying to tell them about the description of the car -- all they kept asking me was, "Where are you? Where are you? Where are you?" "Pull over," you know, “Wait for the ambulance." And I kept telling her I'm not pulling over. I'm taking my wife to the hospital. I'm not going to pull over, not pulling over.
Peggy was now slumped over in the passenger seat.
Carlos Perez-Olivo: She didn’t say "boo" and didn’t move all the whole way. I drove as fast as I could. I drove around cars. I went through red lights. I just wanted to get somebody out to get attention to her because it was my job to take care of and protect my family, and I obviously didn't do a very good job of it. So you know the least I could try to do is make sure that she got whatever medical attention she could as quickly as she could.
At the hospital, Carlos lands the SUV in the guard post. The hospital security cameras, catch him leaving the Mitsubishi, trying to get help for himself and his wife.
Carlos Perez-Olivo: I just got out of the car as soon as I could and I tried to get medical assistance.
Carlos was rushed into the emergency room.
Carlos Perez-Olivo: They took me into a room and I remember being upset because i thought they were working on me and not doing anything with her.
The doctors gave him a sedative to calm him down. He had been shot in the side of his stomach. Peggy had taken a bullet to the head.
The couple's daughter Alysia waited at her friend's house for a ride home that never came.
AlysiaPerez-Olivo: And I kept on calling my parents and they weren't picking up. And my parents always pick up the phone no matter what.
Alysia's brother Merced was away at college when he got the news to call home.
MercedPerez-Olivo: I got my brother on the phone and he said that “Mom and Dad have been in a car accident.” You know that Dad was going to be okay. They weren't sure about my mom. I need to get home as soon as possible.
Alysia got the same news before dawn: her parents in a car accident. Family friends came to take her to their house to spend the rest of the night. On the way there, she convinced herself it was just scrapes and bruises.
AlysiaPerez-Olivo: I was like "Oh, Mom's fine," 'cause my mom was always very healthy. And-- I was, like, maybe she has, like, a, you know, a bruised elbow or something like that.
But when she woke up the next morning, older brother Carlitos told her what had happened to their parents. She went to see her dad.
AlysiaPerez-Olivo: He was crying hysterically just saying, "My Peggy. My Peggy," just asking for my mom, "My girl Peggy." He was holding onto my hand. And I have never seen my dad cry. I've never seen him just crumble and be so disheveled.
Other family members and friends started descending on the hospital as the awful news spread.
Robert Buckley found his close friend Carlos in human wreckage.
Robert Robert Buckley: In shock, in grief, drugged, I mean he'd been shot himself, he was almost inconsolable and would go in and out of sobbing. He wished he was dead.
Frank Furillo also rushed to the hospital to be with Carlos.
Frank Furillo: He was broken. He was really a broken man. Everybody was distraught. Everybody was distraught. Carlos was distraught, the kids were distraught, friends were distraught. You know, how could this happen?
Exactly. How could this have happened? Peggy, 55 years old, the mother of three, was down the corridor still alive- but only barely.
The 55-year-old woman being kept alive by machines in a suburban New York City hospital was an unlikely target for an unknown assailant's bullet to the head. She was wife, mother, teacher's assistant.
In the 1970's before flying became a misery, flight attendants were still known as stewardesses and Peggy was one of them flying for the now-defunct Eastern Airlines.
It was a career that still had a slight aura of glamour to it and it got Peggy up and away from her big family of seven sisters and one brother in their little bungalow in Lexington, Ky.
Laura Labowsky said her older sister Peggy was determined to find adventure and escape the slow lane of their small southern city.
Laura Labowsky: Peggy wanted excitement. She was the first one in the family to get out of town.
And Peggy with her 1000-watt smile and personality to match would soon catch the attention of one of the frequent flyers on her trips to Puerto Rico: a charismatic up-and-coming lawyer, Carlos Perez-Olivo.
Laura Labowsky: Carlos was very romantic, sensitive. He spoiled Peggy rotten. And most of us were pretty jealous that Peggy was doing exciting things. And here she had this man who gave her just everything that she could dream of.
Carlos with his impeccable manners and big-spender ease swept the small-town girl -- and her family -- right off their feet.
Laura Labowsky: He was very much the ladies’ man. He could charm us. Carlos loved to take everybody out for dinner and buy wine and stuff. The types of things we weren't accustomed to.
And soon the dashing lawyer and the pretty stewardess were married, and the couple's first baby arrived a year later. Peggy soon turned in her wings to be a stay-at-home mom. And new babies arrived like clockwork.
Carlos Perez-Olivo: And every six years she had a child, and I used to kid and tell her that she would have a child because she didn't want to go back to work.
The family was finally complete with their two boys and a little girl. Alysia says she couldn't have picked a better family.
AlysiaPerez-Olivo: I love my family so much. And-- my mom spoiled me to death and so did my dad. And I have very, very protective brothers. I think I really had the perfect childhood.
Both Carlos and Peggy dove into parenting.
Carlos Perez-Olivo: Our joy was our children and I did the things that other parents, I guess, do. I became a soccer coach not knowing anything about soccer - basically enjoying life with my children, with my wife. Work was something I did because I guess I was good at it, and because I had to earn a living to support my family.
Some families may run on a well-calculated master plan of upward mobility but the Perez-Olivos weren't one of them: the money came and went.
Frank Furillo: Money wasn’t particularly important to Carlos. If he had it, they spent it. When he was making a lot of money, you'd pull out your wallet to pay for something, he'd say “No, put it away.”
Looking back, even Carlos thought sometimes he was a little too free-spending.
Carlos Perez-Olivo: Maybe we went a little too overboard. My Carlitos was driving a Porsche convertible to high school.
But when the money dried up, the family simply trimmed its sails.
AlysiaPerez-Olivo: Our family is like a roller coaster. And it's always been that way. We'll have these wonderful highs of, you know, doing what we like, to these kind of lows. But it was never stressful in our house or a time of panic. It was just like, all right, hold off a little bit.
MercedPerez-Olivo: That was just how it went in my family. Sometimes we had a lot of money, sometimes we didn't. But eventually, everything always evened out and was fine.
But in 1996 Carlos' business hit the skids hard--so much so that Carlos decided to leave Chappaqua for Puerto Rico to jump start his law career. He also hoped it might pull him out of a growing depression that he believed was triggered by a bad bout of Lyme disease.
Carlos Perez-Olivo: All of a sudden, I couldn't stand the cold weather. I couldn't stand the snow. I thought I was basically going to die. So I told Peggy, "Look, Peg, you know, let me go back to Puerto Rico. I have contacts there. I can work there.
The family tried to make the best of it, but in 1999, after almost three sometimes restless years in Puerto Rico, Carlos was itchy to move back to Chappaqua, the moneyed Manhattan suburb, weather be damned.
Carlos Perez-Olivo: I figured I was well enough because I'd come two or three time back to the United States on cases during the winter and it didn't seem to bother me so we moved back.
What followed was almost a vagabond experience, the family living in a hotel, then a cramped apartment over an upholstery shop. They even relied on the kindness of a family friend for a simple roof over their heads.
Alysia Perez-Olivo: We lived in our friend's basement for, I think, the summer. And then we lived in a hotel room for a little bit, all of us.
Dennis Murphy: That had to be tough as family?
Alysia Perez-Olivo: No. Things never really got tough. Even in the worst times, we were living above an upholstery store. Living on mattresses and stuff. It was never stressful. I still remember really great memories and just hanging out and really loving each other.
And soon Carlos was up and running again with new clients and before long, they'd settled into a nice home in Chappaqua. Even after all their years together, Alysia says her parents still held hands and cuddled as though they were teens themselves.
Alysia Perez-Olivo: They were always together. I don't think I could ever find them not together. They would be reading together, sitting together, watching TV. Everything was together. They got along beautifully. They were constantly holding hands, which sometimes, as a teenager especially, I was like, "Oh, come on. Like, stop it."
And with all her kids all but full-grown, Peggy had found work as a teacher's assistant at one of the town's grade schools, rewarding despite the paltry salary.
Alysia Perez-Olivo: She was a wonderful teacher. She worked with special needs kids. And the students really loved her. And they made her, like, cards and it was really good.
By 2006 -- seven years after their experiment in Puerto Rico -- the family seemed as good as ever. Carlos even took his girls Peggy and Alysia for a splurge trip to Florence in February of that year.
Alysia Perez-Olivo: I got to go to all the art museums and shopping. And it was beautiful.
Everyone in the family seemed to be doing well: Carlitos, the oldest, had gotten married that August, and Carlos and Peggy had thrown him a nice party at the house, and helped pay for the honeymoon. Alysia was soaring at the high school. And Merced, who had transferred from West Point to a Colorado college that he felt was a better fit, was finishing up his senior year. It was a good season in the family all in all.
Merced Perez-Olivo: I had everything I wanted. Family's good, I was good, I was about to finish school, I was doing stuff I loved. I had my whole future ahead of me. And yeah things were going great.
But there were secrets in that nice colonial in Chappaqua. Carlos had been disbarred in August, his law career finished in disgrace after clients had accused him of spending their money he had held in trust. Did his own family even know? And, of course, he hadn't told Peggy about the mistress of ten years, the onetime shop assistant from Puerto Rico. Nor had he owned up to calling escort girls for occasional sex.
So that night the car with the gunman ambushed them on a dark road, there were things that Peggy would never learn about her husband Carlos.
While Carlos lay wounded in his hospital bed, the grim reality started to break through the haze of drugs doctors had given to sedate him. Doctors had been unable to save Peggy after she suffered a catastrophic shot to the head.
Carlos Perez-Olivo: My wife is dead and I am alone. And I am responsible for it one way or another because if it was random, I didn't react well. And if it wasn't random, it was because of me. She never hurt anybody. She never did anything wrong to anybody. She didn't deserve that.
What had happened that night? Was it a failed carjacking? Or perhaps a disgruntled former client out for revenge?
Robert Buckley: as a defense attorney he dealt with some strange guys and you got to remember he had been doing it for about 25,30 years.
Carlos's friends had always worried about some of the rough characters he'd represented.
Dennis Murphy: If you're a lawyer defending heroin dealers and you get poor results, you could develop a set of enemies.
Frank Furillo: You could. And in fact, there were instances where he actually did have some threats.
And Laura Labowsky knew her sister Peggy had always been concerned about the high risks that attended her husband's work as a criminal defense attorney.
Laura Labowsky: Carlos and Peggy did get pretty reliable threats, and I know that they had a very elaborate lock systems and whatever on their house .
Dennis Murphy: She bolted herself in at night.
Laura Labowsky: Yeah, and she said, “Well, in Carlos's line of work he gets threats and stuff,” and he was just kind of cautious.
But now all of Carlos and Peggy's precautions were for naught. Detective Marc Simmons got the call that Saturday night that there had been a double-shooting in the upscale bedroom community he served.
Dennis Murphy: What kind of crimes are you usually called to investigate?
Detective Simmons: I would say mostly property crimes: burglary, theft, larceny, criminal mischief, drunk driving and so forth.
Murphy so when you get a call of gunshot victims.
Detective Simmons: That's unusual.
Detective Simmons raced to the hospital. The first thing he sees is this: the Mitsubishi rammed into the guard post.
Detective Simmons: All four doors were open. The car had blood in it. There was a noticeable bullet hole in the window; there was a shell casing sitting on the backseat. There was a black coat sitting on the backseat with a white, plastic bag protruding from within the folds of the coat.
First glance observations, little that explained itself.
Detective Simmons: I don't have very many facts at this point other than to ask the person who was involved what happened.
Detective Simmons was led into Carlos's hospital room. Carlos told him about the ambush.
Detective Simmons: The person had gotten into his vehicle into the backseat with a weapon, during which and he attempted to take that weapon from the assailant, during which time shots were fired in the car.
Dennis Murphy: Does it make sense to you?
Detective Simmons: Is it plausible? Well, yes. He tells me he's an attorney, that he's represented various clients, some of which weren't happy with the way their cases had gone.
Dennis Murphy: He's been a criminal defense attorney. He's got some tough characters he's represented?
Detective Simmons: Absolutely.
Dennis Murphy: People that might be out for revenge ‘cause they thought they got a raw deal?
Detective Simmons: Absolutely.
The police worked through the night collecting bits and pieces of evidence from the SUV and from the general roadside area where Carlos had described the ambush taking place.
Detective Simmons: They found blood on the road, and a shell casing was located there as well.
Dennis Murphy: So that was the X marks the spot of where this took place?
Detective Simmons: Basically, yes.
Merced finally arrived at the airport.
Merced Perez-Olivo: When I got there, my brother, his best friend and my best friend are there waiting for me in the baggage claim. And you know, I knew right away that my mother had died pretty much.
The facts were overwhelming: his mother dead from a gunshot wound to the head, his father shot, lying wounded in a hospital bed. Merced paced the hospital corridor, waiting to see his father.
Merced Perez-Olivo: They finally let me into to see him and, and, he burst out crying, he was like, “You know, I am sorry, I couldn't protect her.”
Dennis Murphy: Did he tell you anything about the incident itself at that point, Merced?
Merced Perez-Olivo: No, no he was just crying. I mean he looked skinny, he looked pale. He was shot in the stomach, and from what I was told by the doctors, if it had been an inch to the side it would have hit a major artery and killed him.
From his hospital bed, Carlos told the police the details he could remember.
Dennis Murphy: Did he have a make/model/color of the vehicle?
Detective Simmons: Yes, there was a Toyota-like vehicle, and he described it as boxy, not rounded as the newer models are.
Dennis Murphy: Did he have a license plate?
Detective Simmons: He did not. Maybe white.
Dennis Murphy: Has he given you a description of the assailant?
Detective Simmons: He did say he was Hispanic.
Detective Simmons summoned a sketch artist to the hospital. Carlos described an olive-skinned man, maybe Columbian, scruffy, wearing a baseball hat and jeans. As an experienced criminal defense attorney, he urged investigators to get the sketch out immediately before the gunman disappeared.
Carlos Perez-Olivo: When I gave them the sketch, I also told them, “Look, if this is a hit- because they were the ones starting asking me if I gotten threats of this, that and the other - I said “If this is some kind of hit, this guy's going to be out of the country.”
Detective Simmons: We were able to furnish a copy of that sketch to the media to get out on the wire.
Even as the police gave the local media some details of the crime, the shocking news was filtering out to Peggy's large family spread all across the country.
Laura Labowsky: My sister Joanne called me and she was quiet for a minute, and she goes, “Peggy’s dead. She's been shot.” And she was just pretty hysterical and I was just dumbfounded.
The family has the sketchiest of details about the roadside ambush, but it sounded to them like a revenge killing rooted in Carlos's criminal defense practice.
Laura Labowsky: We were concerned that somebody was unhappy with him and had ordered a hit.
And, now the family had even more to worry about: Would the hitman return to finish the job?
Peggy Perez-Olivo had been murdered on a Westchester roadside. Her family and friends gathered to say their good-byes. At the funeral, Alysia remembers thinking a small urn of ashes was all that remained of her mother. Alsyia was at childhood's end.
Alysia Perez-Olivo: This was my time to be a grownup. It-- this was the first time that I had to pull myself together and take care of people.
Dennis Murphy: Alysia became an adult.
Alysia Perez-Olivo: Yep. That was the day.
The detective, Marc Simmons, was among the mourners.
Detective Simmons: A detective and I went to the memorial service.
Dennis Murphy: What do you expect to get at that type of thing?
Detective Simmons: You're going to try to pay a little respect, you are now gonna be charged with investigating the death of this woman but you do watch. You watch to see who's there, and you never know you're going to be around people that may have info to share with you.
The police so far had turned up nothing. No older Toyota. No Columbian with a baseball cap. At the house, after the funeral, Carlos could not stop talking about the shooting.
Laura Labowsky: The one way he put it to me was that the one time in his life that he was called on to protect Peggy and he failed. You know, a lot of it was “If I had this. If I had that. If I hadn't fought with the gunman.” You know, just second-guessing himself.
Dennis Murphy: He felt guilty about your sister's death?
Laura Labowsky: Yes, he was just destroyed. He had nightmares. He couldn’t sleep.
Restless nights. Bleak days. The father Alysia knew was gone.
Alysia Perez-Olivo: He wasn't there. He just wasn't. Part of him just died, you know? He was-- he's-- my mom made him whole. I tried to give him me a hug, but he couldn't really move because of the-- the shot wound. And-- after that, it was just a very, very different-- my life was turned upside down for sure.
Peggy's sister Laura Labowsky did what she could to help her brother-in-law.
Laura Labowsky: He had a room off of the kitchen that was like his study or whatever and he had a rocking chair in the room and he would just sit in the corner, by himself most of the time and people would go in and spend time sitting with him if he felt like talking, we would talk. And if he just wanted to sit and stare out into space that's pretty much what he did.
Dennis Murphy: Just staring?
Laura Labowsky: And just crying. Carlos was he was in agony. I mean there was just no way to describe the grief.
Merced, who had always been particularly close to his mom, tried to comfort his father while confronting his own grief.
Merced Perez-Olivo: No one will ever love you the way your mother does, you know? I felt like I had a support beam had been taken out from underneath me.
Alysia was having a hard time even accepting that her mother was dead.
Alysia Perez-Olivo: For a long time afterwards, I believed that my mom was still gonna pull into the driveway and that it was a bad TV show prank. I was, like, this is not true. This wouldn't happen to my family. My family's the perfect family. That's what my friends say. It wouldn't happen to us.
As the family struggled with grief in the days after the funeral, they were also on edge that the killer might come back to finish the job. So much so that Frank Furillo, a former college football player, spent the first week sleeping at the end of Carlos's bed.
Frank Furillo: I was just concerned with his general safety. I slept at the foot of his bed and one of his friends actually slept out in the hallway because we weren't sure whether or not this was a hit or not.
Dennis Murphy: So you're a big guy...
Frank Furillo: Right.
Dennis Murphy: If someone were to come back, they'd have to get past you to get to him?
Frank Furillo: Right. Right.
Three days after the shooting, as friends and family kept their round-the-clock vigil in the house, Carlos -- barely functional in his grief - offered to speak to the detectives alone as he sat in his bedroom wearing his bathrobe.
Carlos Perez-Olivo: I said, “I know, you gotta look at me. I know that you have to consider me initially and, and you have to investigate me.”
Dennis Murphy: You know very well that the spouse is a suspect until ruled out?
Carlos Perez-Olivo: I told them, look, I know you have to look at the husband first. So, you know, talk to anybody you want. You want the names of people that we know, here are the names, you know, blah, blah, blah. Talk to them because I want you to realize that there is no reason why I would do this. There's absolutely no reason.
And yet the detectives were soon to discover there may be plenty of reasons to look at Carlos Perez-Olivo. Starting with his precarious situation as an out-of-work attorney with lots of bills piling up. There was also a big insurance policy on his wife Peggy.
It was falling to the police officers of this small community in Westchester County, New York to determine what had happened on a darkened roadway in their town where things like this just never happened.
Carlos Perez-Olivo had told the police a horrifying story: After a night out in Manhattan, he and his wife had been ambushed by a gunman on this dark Westchester road. She was shot in the head, fatally. He was shot in the stomach.
Twelve days after the shooting, Carlos Perez-Olivo agreed to accompany the detectives to New York City to retrace the route of where he'd gone on that Saturday of the shooting.
Carlos Perez-Olivo: I had nothing to hide.
Detective Simmons and his partner picked up Carlos at his house.
Detective Simmons: We said “Take us the way you went.” And he did. And we drove down to the city. Initially when he got in the car he had a pen and he got in and he was clicking the pen. Click, click, click, click like this.
Dennis Murphy: Why did that strike you?
Detective Simmons: Well, I just wondered, are you nervous? Are you upset? What's causing you to do that?
When they returned to Westchester, Detective Simmons asked Carlos to guide them to the spot where the ambush occurred.
Detective Simmons: we recovered items from that scene where we think this at least occurred. Initially we went past that spot, and he stopped us said, “No, it's too close to that.” So I turned around and we start back up again, “No, I'm too far south.” So we played for a little while in that area until he finally settled on where he thinks this occurred.
Dennis Murphy: It is a long dark stretch of road?
Detective Simmons: Right, at this point, I'm wondering if he doesn't know but as we got up to the area where we believe this occurred he starts to click and lock and unlock the electric door in the car on the door lock.
Maybe if Carlos was edgy it was because of a secret he disclosed to the detectives the day before. He told the investigators that he knew they'd look for a girlfriend and they would find one.
Detective Simmons: He brings that to our attention. That's how we first learn of this woman.
It was an affair with a younger woman he had met in Puerto Rico and it had lasted for a decade.
Carlos Perez-Olivo: It was in a sense out of character. I never looked at another woman for the first 20-years that I'd been married. I don't know. My wife didn't deserve it. I have no excuse.
Dennis Murphy: Was she currently tense in your life?
Carlos Perez-Olivo: No, we had stopped about two-and-half-years before. And it was like an on and off situation. And I had always basically told her because from the beginning, I told her I am married. I have children. I am not going to break up with my family.
Yet some months before the shooting, he said the lover had called to tell she'd married and had a baby. They resumed as phone friends.
Carlos Perez-Olivo: we would talk maybe once every two or three weeks, she'd call.
The day of the shooting it would turn out was also the former lover's birthday. Carlos had sent his old flame flowers.
Carlos Perez-Olivo: I did. I did. I had not sent her anything the year or two years before that. I would always send her flowers, and I chose to do it that time because/we had talked very so often. And I felt that as a friend it was a goodwill kind of gesture.
Carlos had called the woman from the city hours before the shooting to see if she gotten the flowers.
Dennis Murphy: so now you have wife who has been shot to death and a man who's telling you that he has a lover who is maybe past tense but this a classic part of a homicide case ?
Detective Simmons: It was a long-term affair, ten years whether or not it was concluded when he said he did. But, so yeah, that adds an element to this. It adds an element to this.
Not good facts for a man with a murdered wife and no sign of the assailant from the back seat, but to Carlos it was as meaningless as it was only circumstantial.
He, of all people, a criminal defense attorney, would never be that stupid.
Carlos Perez-Olivo: I mean, stop and think about it, okay? You think I am going to send an ex-girlfriend, or if she is a girlfriend, flowers the night that I'm supposed to go and kill my wife? It'd be the stupidest thing to do, okay? I mean, you know? And I'm the one who told the police. I said, “Look, I sent flowers, blah, blah, blah. I made a phone call that night. You're not going to find it on the phone because I used the card that I used to call out of the country.”
His friend Robert Buckley knew all about the girlfriend and shrugged it off.
Robert Buckley: A number of us knew of the affair. We knew when it ended. It had been over i think it was like 18-months before the incident.
Dennis Murphy: and yet right at the time of the crime, he sends her birthday flowers.
Robert Buckley: She was still a friend.
Dennis Murphy: Do you believe it was a hot and heavy ongoing thing?
Robert Buckley: Absolutely not. The affair was sex. It wasn't the kind of relationship that Carlos and Peggy had.
Dennis Murphy: Does it say, "Therefore the marriage was unhappy?"
Robert Buckley: No, it says at that point in their marriage as people get older as women change interests in the sex life changes. He would never leave, never leave Peggy.
Laura Labowsky doesn't know whether her sister knew about a girlfriend or not, but she wasn't shocked to learn that there was one. One thing everyone seemed to know about Carlos was how much he doted on women.
Laura Labowsky: He loved women. And Carlos needed, he was a person who liked attention and affection, and I don't know what was going on in their lives but it didn't surprise me that Carlos would have somebody to fulfill needs if he felt he needed more attention than he was getting.
But while the adults could maybe understand it in the big picture context of a 30-year marriage, the news hit his son hard.
Merced Perez-Olivo: I wasn't happy finding that out.
Dennis Murphy: Were you mad at your dad?
Merced Perez-Olivo: Yeah, yeah. I was very mad with him.
But while Carlos, admittedly, may have not been a model husband, no one could say he wasn't cooperating fully with the police: laying out his imperfections, giving them potential leads, trying to help.
Carlos even suggested that he offer up a $100, 000 reward to anyone with information leading to the arrest of his wife's killer. And he pushed the detectives to wire him up to a polygraph.
Carlos Perez-Olivo: Give me a lie detector test. I don’t care.
Dennis Murphy: You'd be willing to take one any time?
Carlos Perez-Olivo: I have nothing to hide. I have nothing to hide.
The detectives decided not to give Carlos a polygraph since they can't be used in New York State courtrooms. But they also didn't need a lie detector to tell them that there were strengths in Carlos's account of an unknown armed assailant. Chief among the reasons to believe him: he had taken a shot himself and there was a long as your arm roster of former clients who potentially might want to settle a score with a Carlos.
From the outset detectives had wondered whether Peggy Perez-Olivo was a wrong time, wrong place, victim of a hit man, someone intent on taking out her husband for getting sideways with one of the tough customers he represented.
And Buckley, who'd worked briefly with Carlos in his law practice, told detectives that they might want to check out one of them from a recent high-profile case that two had argued together.
A man named Elio Cruz believed Carlos had botched his defense when he got sentenced to prison for killing his wife's lover. Had Cruz hired a hitman from his prison cell as payback?
Dennis Murphy: You believe that he had made a threat directly against Carlos and his family?
RobertBuckley: I had been told that he did.
Dennis Murphy: So maybe the mystery of what happened out of that dark roadway might be explained by talking to Elio Cruz?
Prior to the shooting, Carlos says he had heard that Cruz was trying to even the score.
Carlos Perez-Olivo: I got a call from an ex-client telling me that he had overhead conversations afterwards with Mr. Cruz saying that he was gonna ruin my life like his life was ruined.
Detective Simmons chased down that lead.
Detective Simmons: What he had told us is that both he and his family were very unhappy with the outcome of the case.
Dennis Murphy: Hey, maybe.
Detective Simmons: Absolutely.
But detectives had hopes of a breakthrough in the case. They didn't have the murder weapon, but there was a large lake right near where the ambush had taken place.
Had the gunman thrown the firearm in it? Police divers were assembled for a what-do-we-have-to-lose kind of search.
The shoulder of the road where Carlos said a gunman shot him and killed his wife is just yards from the bank of a good-sized lake.
ChristianMCarthy: Here's a body of water. It's a perfect place to get rid of a gun.
New York State trooper Christian McCarthy's dive team was dispatched to the lakeside on little more than the homicide detective's hunch. Check out the lake.
Christian McCarthy: We were just told that there was a murder weapon that was missing and it might be in here.
The lake was covered with ice and snow when we asked the trooper to meet us and tell us about that search his dive team made four days after Peggy's death. Their point of reference was the spot on the shoulder where blood drops had been found. Had the killer perhaps tossed the gun from that very place?
Christian McCarthy: The thought being that if somebody got out of their car that might be where they threw the gun right there, rather than walking up and down the road or driving to another location.
As they've done on hundreds of investigations the divers mapped out a grid with lines coming back to the ground zero of the blood drop and plunged into the murky lake.
Christian McCarthy: Once you hit the bottom, the silt gets mucked up and you're in a cloud of silt and you can't see anything, not even an inch. It's total blackness.
Finding a handgun mired in a silty bottom -- if it even existed -- struck the veteran divers as long odds. They figured they'd be days searching the grids.
Christian McCarthy: I would says it's astronomical, the odds of us finding it.
As Trooper McCarthy kicked his way just above the bottom he trailed a gloved hand, finding stones, muck .... Then, there it was, the heft.
Christian McCarthy: I held it up out of the silt and I am staring at a handgun. I was amazed it was a needle in a haystack and now I'm looking what might be a murder weapon.
DennisMurphy: Very lucky day of diving?
Christian McCarthy: Very lucky day.
Amazingly, they'd retrieved a gun, an old semi-automatic, but was it the gun used to murder Peggy?
That was a question only the experts could answer. Tony Tota does the ballistics work for Westchester County. In the homicide of Peggy Perez-Olivo, he now had three valuable things to compare: the actual bullet slug the medical examiner had removed from the victim's head, spent shell casings found at the scene, and the mystery gun fished out of the nearby lake.
Tota always examines the gun in question and fires a sample round. Standard procedure to help him make his finding:
Tony Tota: That was the weapon that produced those shell casings.
Dennis Murphy: And you can say that with the certainty out to a lot of decimal points.
Tony Tota: Oh, absolutely.
Dennis Murphy: this weapon fired this bullet?
Tony Tota: I have no wavering factor to when I say it's the firearm, it's the firearm.
The needle in a haystack recovery of the handgun and the ballistic test finding that it was definitively the murder weapon was a major breakthrough.
Dennis Murphy: How huge is this for your case at this point?
Detective Simmons: Well, it's huge. I couldn’t have hoped or imagined that in a million years. So we now have the murder weapon.
Dennis Murphy: And then you've got to put the murder weapon in someone's hands?
Detective Simmons: Someone's hands.
With his initial interviews concluded, the detective stepped back to look at the big picture of his case.
And there was a part of the husband's story he didn't quite get, something common sense, really, and it had to do with going down out-of-the-way roads looking for gas.
Detective Simmons: It did strike me as odd to get gas there to save, I think, what was kind of a nominal amount per gallon.
Dennis Murphy: He had to go out of his way to save a few cents, huh?
Detective Simmons: It seems a bit odd having been in the city at a fairly, not an inexpensive dinner, just an hour before - struck me as odd.
As the detective speculated on the hitman-revenge theory of the crime, how was it that the assailant knew Carlos would be on that stretch of highway where he said was overtaken, miles from his house?
Detective Simmons: if you're going to lay in wait for somebody you have to pretty much know where they're gonna be and when.
It only made sense if the husband had been followed, so Simmons found security camera pictures documenting parts of Carlos and Peggy's day in New York.
Detective Simmons: You're looking to see the video. What's the demeanor? What are you seeing on that camera? Is somebody following them?
There's the couple entering the movie theatre but there isn't anyone obviously casing them. Take a look for yourself.
Detective Simmons: Didn’t see anybody lurking in the back or apparently following them. We had video of them out purchasing the tickets, walking through the theater, waiting outside, I believe the bathroom at one point and then walking into the movie theater. It was fairly unremarkable footage. Just a man and his wife at a movie.
And coming home, at the toll booth the camera doesn't record a vaguely older Japanese car following them.
Detective Simmons spent hours analyzing this video from that night.
Detective Simmons: Looking at a video you can't tell if someone is following them or not. There's a constant flow of vehicles through it, a New York City toll barrier on a Saturday night.
Though the detective noted with interest there was a car matching that description ahead of them at the toll plaza.
Detective Simmons: What I did see is a car, a boxy kinda Toyota four-door similar to the one he described to us.
Could one of those cars have belonged to the gunman?
But the detective was also learning more about that back seat struggle Carlos had related in some detail: arm-wrestling the man for the gun over the front seat console, ending up himself in the rear of the vehicle.
Detective Simmons: We saw no evidence of any footprints or scuff marks across the dashboard or the seats. We also found in the back of the car there was a newspaper on the floor of the passenger side rear where this assailant got in, but the newspaper wasn’t torn or stepped on. It didn’t look like it had been disturbed.
Dennis Murphy: It didn't look as though there had been a struggle in the back seat?
Detective Simmons: Well, it didn’t. And remembering that the coat was still sitting in the center of the seat with this bag coming out of it. Still in the seat in the middle. If two people had slid out of the car it almost seems to me that would've been dragged out onto the floor at least out the side of the vehicle but that wasn’t the case.
The county crime-scene techs had also analyzed scorching from the muzzle blast, measured the angles of the bullets' trajectories, and mapped out the blood spatter and what they found wasn't matching Carlos' account of the struggle.
Detective Simmons: It just didn’t seem possible for the sequence of shots to have occurred the way he describes them.
Start with Peggy, the victim. The M.E. determined that the gun had been fired right near the back of her head: the bullet went straight and true, not angled up or down, an amazing shot for a gun being wildly fought over.
Detective Simmons: The medical examiner tells me that in his opinion the bullet that struck and killed her was fired from about an inch from the back of her head and was straight and level.
Another bullet went into the fabric beneath the roof. The angle of entry dictated to the county ballistics experts where the gun had been when it was fired.
Detective Simmons: When they looked at the angle of entry of that bullet hole it appears to be from coming out towards the outside of the car rather than inside the car.
Another bullet shattered a rear glass panel. The angle told the county's experts it was fired straight into the glass like Peggy's fatal wound.
Tony Tota: My findings were that that hole in that glass was straight on, 90 degrees.
It was hard for investigators to understand how that same bullet could go through the side of Carlos's stomach during the struggle and then continue through the car window exiting at a clean 90-degree angle.
Detective Simmons: It seems like it would be impossible to get yourself up into that position where the bullet could go through him and then go through that glass at the angle and height that it did.
Other questions: Carlos' overcoat folded on the back seat. Sticking out of the pocket was a small white garbage bag. Inside the bag, crime scene analysts found gunshot residue.
Detective Simmons: It seemed like that was a tremendously high concentration of gunpowder residue inside that.
Dennis Murphy: My totally non-expert brain could see gunshots being fired in a contained area and it's raining down particles of something. That's gonna be detectable to the lab.
Detective Simmons: For it to get down inside in a pocket in a bag down in there in the concentration that it did is very difficult.
There was so much that didn't add up to the detective. Peggy, as Carlos told it, had remained snoozing as this fight in a confined space broke out Carlos Perez-Olivo -- despite his willingness to take a lie detector test -- wasn't entirely eliminating himself as a suspect. After all, there was the admitted former girlfriend of many years.
Detective Simmons: It's hard to speculate but it's also impossible to discount the coincidence that the night Peggy dies is this woman's birthday.
But the detective also knew that if sex and passion are very often part of the mix in domestic murders, then so often is money. And now the investigators began the tedious paper chase of tracking down the Perez-Olivo's finances. What jumped out at them was how little cash on hand Carlos apparently had.
The family banking account was down to the last $300, and the investigators believe he hadn't told his children or even his wife Peggy, the monumental news that he'd been disbarred.
Detective Simmons: His sole means of making money and supporting himself and his lifestyle and his family's lifestyle is now gone.
Dennis Murphy: This is an enormous fact in a relationship of 30 years.
Detective Simmons: Absolutely.
Dennis Murphy: My ticket's been pulled to practice law and this how we make our money.
Detective Simmons: Absolutely.
Dennis Murphy: The children didn’t know?
Detective Simmons: I don’t believe that they knew.
Dennis Murphy: And the wife didn’t know Peggy?
Detective Simmons: That's what we believe. She didn’t know.
With his livelihood gone no money was coming in -- that the detectives could see -- but the bills kept piling up.
Detective Simmons: We got a financial picture of people that on the surface seemed to have money. Beautiful home, beautiful community, wealthy suburb. But when you delve deeper you find that okay, he doesn’t own the home, rents the home. Okay, you don't own this car, they're leased bills are late, credit cards are not paid, and then new credit cards are opened. You start to see a financial picture of people that may be living beyond their means.
And then they came upon the life insurance policies: Peggy's.
Detective Simmons: What we found was that while Mr. Perez-Olivo was by all counts the primary, supporter, breadwinner he had a fairly low amount of insurance on himself but we found there were approximately five policies that had Ms. Perez-Olivo as the insured where the payout was somewhere in the area of $850,000 to $875,000.
Dennis Murphy: She's making maybe $25,000 a year with the wind at her back in a good year.
Detective Simmons: If that, as a teacher's aid.
Dennis Murphy: And she's got a $900,000 payout policy on her?
Detective Simmons: Right. We also found that the policies on Ms. Perez-Olivo, the payouts increased somewhere in the area of '04 and '05.
The investigation was a year old. On the anniversary of Peggy's death, Alysia and her older brother Carlitos took the urn with her mother's ashes to beach.
Alysia Perez-Olivo: It was a beautiful day. And-- it was time to really think about my mom just as a person, not as a victim, not as anything like that, just my mom.
And, then a few weeks later, Carlos had something to tell Alysia, by then a senior in high school.
Alysia Perez-Olivo: In 20 minutes the police were going to be coming to arrest him. He told me that “Money's over here. You know, use this money to pay the bills, get food. And, you know, you're a big girl now. You can take care of yourself.”
The investigation had put together a picture of a failing lothario, in late middle-age, disgraced in his career, tapped out at the bank, unable to keep up the good suburban happy-family facade. Killing this wife for the insurance money, they theorized, was the solution to his problems.
From the upstairs bedroom, Alysia pushed aside the curtain to watch the detectives take her father away.
Alysia Perez-Olivo: I don't know why I did that. That was kind of a bad memory. But they pushed him up against the car. And they took him away. And I was left there.
Carlos Perez-Olivo was charged with the murder of his wife Peggy.
Carlos Perez-Olivio was now on trial for shooting his wife to death on a darkened suburban road as they drove home from Manhattan.
Prosecutor Difore: When it comes to this guy, the evidence will show that what may at first appear perfect is not.
The prosecutors believed Perez-Olivo was a man in a personal tsunami, and saw killing his wife as the solution to his problems.
Prosecutor Difore: Mr. Perez-Olivo, without any doubt in my mind, planned the murder execution of his wife.
Dennis Murphy: So he went to new york knowing full well that he was gonna kill her on a dark road?
Prosecutor Difore: Knowing full well he would kill her on a dark road.
Westchester County District Attorney Janet DiFore believes that Perez-Olivo was all but dead broke, with a lifestyle in an affluent suburb he could no longer afford to keep up.
Prosecutor Difore: The payoff of the insurance policy provides motivation with a capital "M."
Money and another woman -- the former mistress of many years he'd sent flowers to and called on the very day his wife was murdered.
Perry: What does that tell you about the perfect family?
In court, the big-picture the prosecution team was trying to draw for the jury was of a desperate man coming unraveled, the secret compartments of his life breaking open.
Prosecutor Difore: This was a man who obviously was a very narcissistic person. And after all, he was disbarred for stealing money from his clients. He showed that in his relationship with his wife before he murdered her by being involved with another woman. This is a man who elevated his own self interests above all those around him.
Carlos's story was that he and his wife were run off the road on a Saturday night in November and a gunman climbed in the back seat of their car. There was a struggle for the gun, as Carlos told it, shots fired, killing Peggy, wounding him. The investigators made a video demonstration of the sequence of events as he'd told it to them. In the confined interior of the Mitsubishi, they couldn't understand how Carlos ended up in the back seat as he struggled for the gun with only the narrow opening of the console to get there.
Prosecutor Difore: There is no way imaginable that Mr. Perez Olivo could have gotten through the space, in between the space in between the seats. The space as measured was 9 inches. And he would have you believe that he is tussling with the assailant in the backseat, and he gets into the backseat of the car. Not possible.
And what's more, to believe Carlos's version of events, the prosecutor argued, he would have clambered into the back seat without ever waking up his wife beside him.
Prosecutor Difore: I think it defies common sense that if you are in the passenger compartment and your husband is in a struggle for his life and your life, that you are not aroused in some way. Very unusual and highly unlikely.
And the prosecutors thought the very fact that Carlos drove to the hospital, instead of waiting for EMTs to come to him was also part of his master plan.
Prosecutor Difore: He needed to get away from the exact location of the murder because he tossed the gun not far from the location of the murder. He wanted to divert the police away from that location so they wouldn't recover the gun.
Dennis Murphy: Because if the crime scene moves, it makes it all that much more difficult for the investigators, doesn’t it?
Prosecutor Difore: Absolutely.
And something caught their eyes as they played back that security camera video taken when Carlos arrived at the hospital. Take a look for yourself.
Prosecutor Difore: His shirt was tucked into his pants. This is a man who had just claimed that he was in a life and death struggle for his and his wife's life, and he's arriving at the hospital a few short minutes later with his shirt tucked into his pants and looking perfectly neat and trim.
And if it was a professional hit, or even a carjacking, why, the prosecutor asked, would the gunman put himself in a vulnerable position -- in the backseat of Carlos's Mitsubishi?
Prosecutor Difore: What common sense tells you if this were a carjacker as Mr. Perez-Olivo offered to us, the carjacker wouldn’t get into the backseat. He'd yank you out of the front seat of the car, get in the car and take the car. He didn’t do that.
Dennis Murphy: So if you get into the back seat of the car, you’re in an unsafe area if you're the perpetrator?
Prosecutor Difore: You've lost all control virtually. And there would be no reason. What would be the advantage for the perpetrator to get into the backseat of the car. None.
And perhaps most importantly to the prosecutor also from a common sense point of view was, if this was a professional hit -- or a carjacking -- why would the gunman kill the wife and leave the husband, an eyewitness, with little more than a treat and release wound?
Dennis Murphy: The assailant leaves the car?
Prosecutor Difore: He leaves.
Dennis Murphy: With the male with a very minor wound and the female dead. Does that make sense?
Prosecutor Difore: Of course that doesn’t make any sense.
Dennis Murphy: If you are a robber, if you are the hitman?
Prosecutor Difore: Exactly. If you are the carjacker, you take the car. And if you were a hitman, you'd shoot him dead.
Dennis Murphy: And that didn't happen?
Prosecutor Difore: And that did not happen.
Suspicions about the husband's story, but they'd need much more than that if they were going to convince a jury that Carlos Perez-Olivo killed his wife.
Why would this seemingly happy 30-year marriage end in a morgue?
Dennis Murphy: This is a family not unlike many others in Westchester?
Prosecutor Difore: Absolutely. Absolutely.
Dennis Murphy: very good appearance, accomplished.
Prosecutor Difore: They did appear to be a loving couple, but you know there's no telling what goes on behind people's closed doors.
So investigators starting pushing those doors open, looking into deeper psychological terrain.
They saw a man who had been at one time hospitalized with clinical depression and who had now lost his ability to practice law. He had been disbarred, a disgrace they believe he concealed from his family.
Prosecutor Difore: Practice was done over. There was no apparent means of income.
What the prosecutor saw left was the life insurance on her: $900,000 was not a fortune by Chappaqua standards, but enough the authorities figured for Carlos to set himself up for the next chapter in his life, perhaps with the old girlfriend he'd sent flowers to that day.
There'd be no costly divorce for him. A movie and dinner date in New York -- followed by a bullet to the brain -- would be the way out.
Prosecutor Difore: All part of a plan, a very devious and diabolical plan to commit murder and get away with it.
But this case would turn out to have a star witness having to do with that very handgun the divers had retrieved from the lake.
Dennis Murphy: How often do the legal gods give you a witness like that?
Prosecutor Difore: It was unbelievable. It's the gun, the gun, the gun.
The court was about to hear from the prosecution's star witness. His testimony would be about the vintage German handgun used to kill Peggy that divers had fished out of the roadside lake.
MarkGazzola: That's the gun. I mean there was no mistaking it.
Mark Gazzola would tell the court that he'd seen the distinctive Walther PPK semi-automatic inside Carlos' house five months before Peggy was murdered. His story starts back in June of 2006, Carlos and Peggy were renters boxing up for yet another house move.
Mark Gazzola was helping out his uncle, the Perez-Olivio's landlord, in making sure that the tenants had left the property in broom-swept condition. He found the house was anything but packed-up.
Mark Gazzola: boxes were in the living room, furniture was still there. It was just chaos.
So Gazzola made a distress call to his father to come help him get these tenants out quickly because the house had been sold.
Mark Gazzola: We started upstairs, we started sweeping floors.
As they worked their way through the bedrooms, his father noticed a partly opened manila envelope.
Mark Gazzola: He saw a gun inside of it. So he called my attention. I turn around and we look and it was, it was a pistol that was on the floor.
Dennis Murphy: Did you know what it is?
Mark Gazzola: Absolutely, yeah absolutely. I have a pistol permit, I know my firearms. It was a German Walther PPK.
Dennis Murphy: No doubt in your mind?
Mark Gazzola: No, not at all.
The pistol, in question, is one some collectors like Mark Gazzola keep their eye out for. The Walther PPK is known as the James Bond gun and has a certain cachet.
Gazzola said he went downstairs and asked Carlos to come up to the bedroom.
Mark Gazzola: As we're walking upstairs I tell him, “We found a pistol in the closet.” Oh yeah, yeah, that's his pistol. We walk into the bedroom. I walk up to him he picks up the firearm. He and I are both looking at it. He's handling it for me he says, “Hey, do you know what this is?” I said, “Sure, that's a German Walther PPK.” He says, “Do you know what it's famous for?” “Yeah, James Bond movies.” We go back and forth, small-talk about the firearm.
Gazzola, it turned out, had been shopping around for a Walther PPK and the pistol Carlos was holding was exactly what he'd been looking for.
Mark Gazzola: I tell him that I was actually interested in purchasing that firearm, I said, “Listen, would you love to sell it, I'd love to buy it from you.”
Carlos, he said, answered that the gun had sentimental value something about it being a gift from a client, and he wasn't interested in selling it. End of the conversation. Back to sweeping out the house.
Then that November weekend it was all over the news: that ambush shooting of Carlos and Peggy Perez-Olivo.
Mark Gazzola: My immediate response was I felt horrible. I felt bad. I had just helped him clean up. I knew her she was nice. She made me something to drink while I was at the house.
As he followed the news of the shootings, Mark Gazzola told his co-workers about that June day when he saw the gun in the Perez-Olivo home.
Mark Gazzola: I went into work and I said, “You know if they ever turn up with a German Walther PPK, I have to come forward and I have to say something.”
Dennis Murphy: And lo and behold...divers fish out from the lake?
Mark Gazzola: A German Walther PPK.
In the courtroom, the prosecutors saw him as an unshakable witness. He spoke with encyclopedic certainty about Walther PPK's: their caliber, the place and years of production.
ProsecutorDifore: He was an extraordinary witness as luck would have it. He was a gun enthusiast, very familiar with that particular gun and in fact searching for that particular gun.
And Mark Gazzola identified for the jury the murder weapon as the very gun he saw in the Perez-Olivo house that day.
Dennis Murphy: Is the gun in evidence the very same one you saw at the house that day?
Mark Gazzola: Sure. Yeah that's the German Walther PPK I saw.
Dennis Murphy: Not close, not like it, not sort of. It was the same one?
Mark Gazzola: No no no. That was the one that, yeah, that I wanted to buy.
Carlos dismissed Mark Gazzola's story altogether. No way could he have seen a Walther PPK in his house.
Dennis Murphy: You think he's lying, he's making the story up?
Carlos Perez-Olivo: Oh, I don't think he's lying, I know he's lying.
Dennis Murphy: He could not have seen that distinctive gun in your house?
Carlos Perez-Olivo: He could not have seen that gun in my house because there was no gun in the house I don’t like guns. I've never had any guns. There have never been any guns in the house. The only thing that was in the house that looked like a gun was a pellet gun that looks quite similar to what that gun looked like.
Dennis Murphy: Do you think the guy who came to your house that day saw that?
Carlos Perez-Olivo: I know that's what they saw. Video: 'This whole experience has been bizarre'
Dennis Murphy: A pellet gun?
Carlos Perez-Olivo: Yes, it looks like a real gun but it's not.
But Mark Gazzola says there is no way he could confuse a pellet gun for a Walther PPK.
MarkGazzola: Our discussion was not of a pellet gun. It was a German Walther PPK.
Dennis Murphy: Are you sure it wasn’t a pellet gun you saw?
MarkGazzola: Absolutely. It was definitely not a pellet gun.
The gun...the story of a troubled marriage and teetering finances. The defense had its work cut out for it.
But Carlos Perez Olivo -- a onetime criminal defense lawyer who had represented clients accused of murder -- would fight back with all he had.
Dennis Murphy: Did you murder your wife, Peggy?
Carlos Perez-Olivo: Of course not, please. If there was any way that I could change places with her, if there was any way I could be dead, I'd be very happy.
ChristopherMcClure: Their case has been nothing more than innuendo and speculation.
The defense was up and it had to undo the prosecution's damaging version of the story of Peggy's murder.
ChristopherMcClure: Just not credible, just not believable. He has no idea what he saw.
Defense attorney Christopher McClure took on the biggest problem: Mark Gazzola's testimony about seeing the murder weapon in Carlos' hand five months before his wife was murdered.
Was it funny, posed the defense, that anyone could have such vast knowledge about the Walther PPK at their fingertips, the way Gazzola seemed to on the stand?
ChristopherMcClure: The question is when did he learn that -- did he learn it from Wikipedia two weeks before the trial? Did he learn it a month before the trial? No one knows when he learned that.
And co-defense attorney Richard Portale would also try to poke holes in the forensic evidence, starting with that the reconstruction demonstration.
It didn't contradict Carlos's account, the defense team argued, because significantly, it failed to take into account the position of the driver's seat during the struggle: they argued the seat was pushed back further at the time of the shooting, leaving enough room for Carlos to be dragged into the back of the Mitsubishi.
RichardPortale: The seats were not placed in the same position they were in at the time of the incident.
The prosecutors had argued that Peggy was shot at close range with the gun put beneath the space of her headrest, but the defense said that was just one "possible" scenario.
RichardPortale: Their claim that the muzzle of the gun was under the headrest and that was not supported by any of the forensics, any of the gunshot residue pattern analysis that we had done.
And, they pointed out to the jurors, don't forget Carlos himself had been shot:
ChristopherMcClure: It was a wound to the stomach and fortunately it went in and out, but even their own doctors testified there are major organs around there.
And the defense team pointed out that Carlos could have been shot in the stomach during the struggle with the gunman with that same bullet exiting the rear window.
RichardPortale: We actually introduced an anatomically correct doll with a dowel going in and out of the doll and out the hole in the window to show that it was certainly possible.
And to further prove its point that someone else was in the car that night, the defense pointed out that investigators had found some male hair that didn't belong to Carlos in the back seat area of the Mitsubishi as well as other DNA they couldn't trace.
ChristopherMcClure: They found a substantial amount of blood on the back seat. They just couldn’t link it to anybody.
And the defense lawyers also believe that the police had failed to fully investigate Carlo's former client: Elio Cruz.
ChristopherMcClure: There are witnesses that claim they heard him make statements indicating that he, Mr. Cruz, believed that Carlos threw his case that he knew everything about Mr. Perez-Olivo. He knew where he lived I think the quote was “When he's dead, send me the press clipping upstate so I can laugh.”
DennisMurphy: So this was a hitman who was hired, by a guy with a major beef against your client?
ChristopherMcClure: What we do know is Mr. Perez-Olivo represented a lot of people that are capable of such acts.
But Detective Simmons chased down the Elio Cruz lead and came away convinced that he had nothing whatsoever to do with the shooting.
Dennis Murphy: Could he arrange a hit in prison?
Detective Simmons: I don’t know if it's as easy to do as maybe movies or television have it portrayed to do. But we did purse that angle, but were unable to corroborate that this individual was able to mastermind this.
But perhaps the most important point the defense wanted the jury to take away was that Carlos Perez-Olivo's family and friends believed that he was incapable of killing Peggy, the woman he loved, the mother of his three children.
Merced Perez-Olivo: I know he didn’t kill my mother. If I thought for a second that my father had anything to do with my mother being killed, I would not for a second be supporting him or defending him and I am defending him because I am 100 percent sure there is no way he could have done this.
His sister Alysia is equally emphatic.
Alysia Perez-Olivo: There's just no possible way. That's ridiculous. The DA has nothing. They have nothing.
Peggy's own sister even testified on behalf of her brother-in-law.
Laura Labowsky: I can't say Carlos is perfect guy. He had an affair. He had money troubles. He's been disbarred. I can’t say he is a model citizen, but just because you do all of those things that doesn't make you a murderer. So even though no matter what you think of Carlos as person, I knew that there was no way he killed my sister.
But what would a jury think?
Male: You know, we tried to understand the marriage and here's a guy who says he loves his wife but he had a mistress for a number of years. He told the detectives he went to escort services. I mean, it wasn’t quite the picture he wanted to paint.
In the courthouse, the case was now in the hands of the jury. District Attorney DiFore was confident it would be a guilty verdict.
JanetDifore: I think if anyone who sat through that trial that took place in this courthouse that there would be absolutely no doubt in their mind as to what happened that night on the side of the road. And absolutely no doubt that Carlos Perez-Olivo murdered his wife in cold blood.
But defense attorney McClure felt just as strongly there was no way a jury could convict based on the evidence.
ChristopherMcClure: They speculated the entire trial as to what happened and you just can't convict somebody on speculation.
But, of course, the stakes were highest for Carlos Perez-Olivo. If the verdict was a gamble, his life was what was at stake. As a veteran criminal defense attorney, he knew exactly what he was up against.
Dennis Murphy: You've waited for a lot of juries to come back. How strange was it for you to be waiting in the courtroom for the jury to come back and decide your fate?
Carlos Perez-Olivo: Bizarre is the only way to describe it. It's like sometimes I feel like I am somebody and I feel like I am looking at something that is happening to be somebody else. It just doesn’t make sense.
But now a jury of 12 would decide his fate. They included an IT director, a customer service supervisor, a marketing project manager, a housewife, an auto mechanic, an IT manager a phone company worker, a retired executive, and an MRI technician.
In a circumstantial case with no eyewitnesses, no confession to the crime, the jury was going to have to work its way through the evidence piece by piece.
They started by debating the central question: Would Carlos Perez-Olivo -- one-time successful lawyer, father of three -- brutally kill his wife of thirty years?
Woman: Everyone was happy, but we don’t really know what goes on behind closed doors.
DennisMurphy: This is sort of a dilemma for you because on the exterior, from the sidewalk, before you peel away the roof, things seems to be pretty good. They've been together a long time.
Tom: But inside, something else was going on.
Martin: You got the sense that this is a family that was, despite was what appeared to be kind of a wealthy lifestyle, was really kind of one event away from being completely bankrupt.
In addition to the family's money problems, Carlos had also carried on a decade-long affair, even sending the woman flowers for her birthday and calling her the night his wife was shot to see if she got them.
Male: We learned he made a phone call to his former mistress while they were out that night. While they were supposedly at the restaurant eating he slipped away and made a phone call. So it certainly wasn’t as it seemed.
Martin: If nothing else what is showed was this wasn’t the ideal, the idyllic marriage that the defense tried to paint this was somebody who clearly wasn’t entirely happy with his wife.
But Carlos, a former criminal defense attorney, had been disbarred just three months before the murder. Had one of his angry clients ambushed him by the side of the road? Was this a revenge killing?
Martin: He'd defended tough guys. He'd defended drug dealers and you know people who may have been in organized crime.
Dennis Murphy: Did you have to consider whether his practice, defending tough guys, might have come back to haunt him.
Steve: I thought about it.
Martin: It was a story that you could imagine might be true.
Theresa: Maybe there was really was a hitman.
Dennis Murphy: So you had to consider that.
Theresa: Oh, absolutely. Definitely considered that.
Alfrin: It was more the fact that he was a criminal defense lawyer and that he defended people that were perhaps were disgruntled and were looking to get back at him there are situations where you don’t have happy customers, and if those unhappy customers are criminals you got to factor that in a bit.
And remember, Peggy's own sister as well as her children had taken the stand to tell the jury there was no way Carlos had killed his Peggy.
Rich: For me, that was a tough emotional thing to get by and in thinking that “Gosh, these kids love their dad so much. How could he do this?”
Dennis Murphy: Maybe because he didn’t do it?
But the jurors were also going to have take a hard look at the forensics of the case. The angle of the bullets. The size and shape of the Mitsubishi. Could the struggle in the car with the gun man have happened the way Carlos described it?
The jury was prepared for a long deliberation.
Dorothy: We felt a great sense of responsibility and we did go over every bit of evidence.
The jury deliberated late into the night. And the longer they were out the more confident the defense team was that they would find their client -- Carlos Perez-Olivo -- not guilty.
Christopher McClure: I can just say that we're encouraged by the fact that they are looking at the case carefully which is what we could ask for them to do looking at the evidence and that they are...We think they'll come to the right decision of a not guilty verdict.
Upstairs in the courthouse, the jurors were taking a hard look at the forensics in the case. Remember, the prosecution had argued the struggle in the Mitsubishi could not have happened the way Carlos said it did. They'd shown jurors this video demonstration to show how difficult it would have been for Carlos to end up in the back seat. He would have to go through the narrow opening of the SUV's console, end up in back with the gunman -- and all the while not wake up his sleeping wife. Then the prosecution argued, there were the angle of the bullets: Peggy shot level in the head, another gunshot fired at a 90-degree angle through the back window. All of this during a wild struggle.
Was it possible? Some jurors thought yes.
Theresa: They alluded to the fact that he's too tall, too big of a guy to be able to fit through such a small area between the driver's seat and the passenger's seat.
DennisMurphy: What did you think, could it be done?
Theresa: I think it could be done based on the circumstances. It could have happened. Absolutely.
But some of the jurors weren't so sure.
Tom: It was a narrow car. It was a very strenuous, tough job to get into that backseat. And then what was left in the backseat seemed to be in very orderly shape.
Mark: For me, what I found that most damaging- I mean the fact that his wife never woke up, car traveling at 45 miles an hour, comes to a stop. She does not wake up. Someone forces you off the road in a dark route and not once he did wake his wife up to say “We might be in trouble.”
But remember, Carlos had also taken a shot to the stomach
Dorothy: When I first heard about the case, I said to myself, “Are they kidding? Who's gonna shoot himself in the stomach?” You know, somebody had to shoot him.
DennisMurphy: It is strange, she’s dead, he's wounded. That’s a long way to go.
DennisMurphy: To throw the police off your case?
And there was the prosecutor's star witness. Mark Gazzola had testified that he saw the vintage Walther PPK in Carlos's house just five months before the shooting.
Tom: He really identified the gun very clearly.
Dennis Murphy: How believable a witness was he to you all?
Finally, after a day and a half of deliberations, they had reached a decision.
Their verdict: Carlos Perez-Olivo, guilty of murdering his wife Peggy.
Carlos Perez-Olivo: Guilty. Yeah, to me it was a shock. I believe to the attorneys it was a shock. To my family it was shock.
His son Merced was away from the courthouse when the verdict was read. He ran back to get the news.
Merced Perez-Olivo: I didn’t even know how to react. It just felt like the sickest joke in my life had been played on me, you know? It just didn’t compute. It didn’t make sense. I didn’t understand how he could be guilty. The trial had gone so well, and from that it was just like a fuse going off and I remember blacking out almost like nothing I was able to see. Just going red.
He was so angry, he put his fist right through the plaster of the courthouse wall.
Merced Perez-Olivo: I broke the wall. I went ballistic. Just the rage was uncontrollable but it caught me just so off-guard because I was so sure they were to find him innocent.
Alysia learned of the guilty verdict by phone. She headed to a park.
Alysia Perez-Olivo: I was just in shock. It was just, like, it was just take a deep breath and-- time to, you know, keep going 'cause obviously there's nothing I can do about it. I-- I have to deal with this now.
Peggy's sister is still standing by Carlos.
Laura Labowsky: I was really shocked that it was a guilty verdict. I honestly don’t believe he could have killed my sister. There was no way, no matter what else he did wrong in his life that he had held a gun in his hand and kill anybody much less his wife.
But the jurors -- those with the beliefs that mattered -- were convinced that Carlos Perez-Olivo had indeed murdered his wife of three-decades.
Dorothy: It was like a puzzle. It was like all the pieces fit in. It was the money, the fact that he did have this other love interest and then the fact that he was a criminal attorney he elevated himself in his own mind that he can outfox all these policemen. And the fact that he shot himself, I think he thought that nobody would figure out that he would shoot himself.
But Carlos's friends believe the jury got it wrong.
Dennis Murphy: You think wrongfully accused, wrongfully convicted?
Frank Furillo: Yes.
Dennis Murphy: Miscarriage of justice.
Frank Furillo: Yes, anybody that knew them would not believe that this could have happened.
Robert Buckley: I don’t know what to think. It's just wrong. He has a moral compass, he has a sense of honor. And he would not have done this.
But District Attorney DiFore has no doubt that Carlos Perez-Olivo did indeed kill his wife in cold blood on that dark Westchester road.
JanetDifore: I believe that there are people who are willing to put their own selfish self-focused needs above all those around them including the people they are supposed to love and protect and care for.
Dennis Murphy: Justice served?
JanetDifore: I think that justice has most definitely been served.
And the judge apparently agreed.
Judge: The defendant is a master of deceit who contrived a diabolical plan to murder his wife for his own financial gain.
She sentenced Carlos to the maximum: twenty five years to life -- either way likely a life sentence for the 60-year-old former attorney.
Carlos Perez-Olivo: I'll die in jail. I do believe we all have a destiny and there's nothing you can do to change it. I can put up with anything. I can put up with the humiliations people asking me questions if I killed my wife of not. I can put up with being in jail for the rest of my life maybe in part it's easier because I'm kind of half empty after she died.
Dennis Murphy: You didn’t shoot her?
Carlos Perez-Olivo: No. No.
But that's not what the jury thought about what happened on that dark Westchester road that November night. So the onetime criminal defense lawyer who used his skills to keep clients out of prison is now himself an inmate with a number and a jumpsuit.
Carlos Perez-Olivo is appealing the verdict.
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