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Video: ‘Kids gravitated toward Vincent’

NBC Universal Anchors and Correspondents
By Keith Morrison Correspondent
Dateline NBC
updated 7/24/2009 8:39:02 PM ET 2009-07-25T00:39:02
transcript

They say people re-invent themselves when they come to California - something transformative about the road west, the cities on the hills and the valleys by the sea. They're not exactly the same, anymore, once they're here. But if that's so, can you ever really know a person?

A person like Vincent Brothers, for example.  By all accounts popular, successful, and kind. 

Donald Collier: I thought he was a very loving individual.  I thought he had a heart of gold. 

Ah yes, a heart of gold. Your ability to know a man - know what he is or is not really capable of - is about to be challenged.

Vincent Brothers was an elementary school vice principal.  A very good one, apparently. Here's his wife, Joan, a school supervisor in Bakersfield, Calif.

Eddie Harper: Joanie was the sweetest, most gentlest person you'd ever meet. 

They had three kids. Vincent was the love of her life, said her brother Eddie.

Eddie Harper: Vincent was very nice, very giving to-- toward Joanie. She thought he was an-- incredible person. We knew that Joanie was in love with this man.  Deeply in love with him.   

So here he was, the respected educator, father, happily married man. And who'd have thought it given his beginnings, back in Bellport, Long Island.

Donald Collier: Where we grew up, it was easy to get in trouble.  And that was the biggest thing was to stay out of trouble.

But Vincent remembered childhood pal Donald Collier had a kind of pied piper popularity.

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Donald Collier: Kids gravitated to this guy like you wouldn't believe.  They'd run out like he was the ice cream man.  They loved him.

One of ten kids, his mother, Margaret, struggled and worried... But not about Vincent.

Margaret Brothers: Vincent was just blessed with the gift of knowledge. Cause he never had to study. But he took things serious. But I never saw him down or depressed or going through anything.

He went to college, served in the Marine Reserves, and headed west in the mid-eighties to complete his masters degree at Cal State Bakersfield. He wasn't perfect.  There were two brief marriages which ended even as he rose quickly as a school administrator.

And then he met sweet, quiet Joanie Harper, from a modest but respected Bakersfield family.

Joan's mother Earnestine was an outspoken community activist who most recently had been working with the defendant in a high profile murder case.

Eddie Harper: My mother's main work-- was helping those defendants who were unjustly accused. She was fearless.

Joanie had been a gifted athlete, a star basketball player. But her real passion, like Vincent's, was helping children.

Eddie Harper: She loved working with children. She was also a division one women's basketball official. And yes she was-- multi-talented, multi-talented. 

And so Vincent and Joan became a team themselves, going above and beyond for the local kids, which did not go unnoticed around Bakersfield.

Kyoshi Tamono: We had done previous stories on how he walked kids home from school. 

Kiyoshi Tamono is a Bakersfield news anchor.

Kyoshi Tamono: He was known as the caring vice principal; the guy that really wanted to make sure his kids succeeded.

Keith Morrison, Dateline NBC: And were safe.

Kyoshi Tamono: And were safe. Bakersfield's got a lot of heart.  They said, "This guy should have bikes so he can help escort these kids home."                            

From local news:

“Vice Principal Vincent Brothers and Joanie Harper, who is campus supervisor, are escorting kids home on wheels.”

Girl: He's the best principal we ever had.

Kyoshi Tamono: And he was there with his wife in our stories, riding the brand new bikes and thanking the community for doing that for him.

From local news:

Vincent Brothers: I'm excited. I really appreciate it.  I didn't expect this.  And-- thank you.

Reporter: How 'bout you?

Joan: It's a bit overwhelming.  But we appreciate their support that they've given us-- the years that we've been here. And so it's just an opportunity for us to show that we care. And make sure their children get home safely.

Keith Morrison: He's kind of like a neighborhood hero.

Kyoshi Tamono: Absolutely.  He was a pillar in this community.

Their son Marques was born in 1998.  And to the relief of Joan's family, the two married in January 2000. And this is where we would like to have used the words “happily ever after,” but, of course, that's not why we're here.

Things… happened. The first thing was Vincent's odd disappearances.

Eddie Harper: He would leave for three days, wouldn't say where he's going.  And he'd come back and Joanie could not question his whereabouts or who he was with or what he was doing.  And-- so that behavior-- was extremely strange.

They fell out of love, they divorced, they fell in love again. They had a daughter, Lyndsey. Joanie, said her brother, worked very hard at this.

Eddie Harper: Joanie wanted her children to have a father. She wanted it to be husband and wife. That was her main concern, that-- he was really involved in the children's life.

And it seemed that Vincent wanted that too.  He began a study program with a local minister. And in January 2003, he and Joan secretly remarried. Four months later their third child, Marshall, was born.

Eddie Harper: Seeing him-- change, watching him, how he was with the-- with the children, and-- and he was, in all intent and purpose, very good.

July 4th weekend, he took a break, flew east to Ohio to visit his brother Melvin. Joan stayed home to enjoy fireworks and barbecues with her mother and the children.

It was Tuesday the 8th - Vincent still back east - a friend dropped by to see Joanie and the children. And what she found was horrifying.

911 call:

Sister: Get someone here, 901 3rd Street.

911 Operator: Where are you?

Sister: 901 3rd Street. Somebody’s dead.

911 Operator: Hold on, hold on.

Sister: My sister, my best friend - she's dead. She lay on the bed dead.

911 Operator: OK.

Sister: My mother and three children.

Eddie Harper: I thought I was-- dreaming.  I thought-- this day was not really happening.

The news about what happened over the July 4th weekend at the Bakersfield home of Vincent Brothers and Joanie Harper was delivered in pieces, like shrapnel, to Joan's brother Eddie.

Eddie Harper: My cousin's husband called me. And told me that Joanie-- and-- Lindsey had been shot and killed.

About two hours after he called me back and informed me that not only was Joanie and-- Lindsey-- killed, but my mother and Marcus were-- were also shot and killed.

He called me back the third time, and told me that they had found Marshall, and he, too, had been shot and killed.

A massacre.  A whole family, murdered in cold blood. Save for Vincent, who was on the road, thousands of miles away in North Carolina, on the way to see his mother, Margaret. It was she who broke the news to Vincent when he arrived.

Margaret Brothers: I held him real tight.  And he broke away from me. He started running and screaming and hollering. 

Who would have done it?  The police in North Carolina talked to Vincent, hoping for leads.

Kyoshi Tamono: According to the detectives that interviewed him initially, he was crying, inconsolable, and at one point asked for a trash can.

Keith Morrison: Asked for a trash can?

Kyoshi Tamono: Because he was so sick to his stomach that he needed a trash can.

Still, as the husband, Vincent was, of course, an automatic suspect. At the request of Bakersfield police he was even arrested, briefly.

Press conference:

Captain Neil Mahan: Five counts of murder.  And that's what the-- that's what the arrest warrant-- will also state.

Within hours, Bakersfield police announced that North Carolina was releasing him.  And he was free to return home.

Press conference:

Captain Neil Mahan: He has ties to this community.  He has property in this community, and he voluntarily came in.  So the flight risk issues are fairly minimal.

What's the phrase?  Person of interest? Anyway, when he got back to Bakersfield, Vincent Brothers entered a kind of limbo. His family was dead. He was now famous for the worst of reasons. And the town was nervous.

Captain Mahan: We have heightened our police patrols in that particular neighborhood because we know there's a heightened sense of concern in that neighborhood. 

A terrible criminal might still be in their midst.  But, who?  And why, of all people, them? Why the whole family, why little children, why a baby?

Kyoshi Tamono: People just came out in droves. For several days, it was a-- a shrine outside the home.

Female voice: We've never had a tragedy such at this.  So it's-- has a great impact on all of us.

Then it was over. The dead were buried.  Anxiety about the possibility of a serial killer in town began to fade. The police couldn't find the murder weapon.  And for all the chaos and carnage at the scene, forensics provided no real clues. But there was Vincent. 

Kyoshi Tamono: It's kind of classic.  You know, they look towards the people that know these people first, and then move outward.

Still, Vincent was certainly an unlikely suspect. After all, wasn't he was thousands of miles away, in Ohio, when his family was murdered? And anyway, he was a respected and by all accounts gentle man who loved his family.  A murderer? Of his own kids? Impossible.

Donald Collier: -- My mom and my dad they was like, Vincent wouldn't do nothing like that. No. there's no way that, you know, Vincent would do something like that." 

Eddie Harper: Joanie nor my mother ever talked about him having a bad temper. I talked with him-- after the funeral.  And he told me, "Eddie, I was not there.  I did not do this."   

Maybe Vincent's wife and children weren't even the intended victims.  Maybe the target was actually Vincent's mother-in-law, Earnestine Harper. After all, as a community activist she'd been working closely alongside some very rough characters, including murder suspects.

Eddie Harper: If my mother helped anyone. her car was not off limits.  Her house was not off limits, nothing.

Margaret Brothers: The-- work that she was doing in the community that would automatic bring enemies, you know? I know my son had told me years ago-- that Miss Harper was very nervous and always had fear somebody was gonna break in her house.

Had Earnestine Harper opened her life to the wrong person?                    

Keith Morrison: Vincent's mother-in-law was a woman who worked with gangs. Dangerous people hung around.  Were any of those leads considered to be, you know, possible early on?

Kyoshi Tamono: I don't know if they were thoroughly investigated.  I don't think they ever presented evidence that they were-- I think the police did look into that-- that angle. 

No, police seemed to feel that Earnestine's contacts were a dead end. A year went by. The investigation cooled. And then, quite suddenly....

Judge: You're charged with first count felony, murder. In the course of that murder, you used a firearm.

Once, they were so full of promise. A fine family: Vincent Brothers, Joan Harper, three small children. Known.  Liked.  Respected. And now this family in one horrible moment, was over. It was nearly a year later when they finally brought a suspect into court. And who was the accused mass killer?

Judge: Your true name is Vincent Edward Brothers?

Vincent Brothers: Yessir.

Judge: Mr. Brothers, you're charged with criminal complaint, first count felony, murder.

Margaret Brothers: I say it was no way possible. No way he could did this.

Surely not Vincent.  Anybody but him. Unless, as the state contended, nobody really knew him.

Eddie Harper: We've never heard of him being violent with Joanie. We did learn that he had been with-- the mother of-- his first child.

For a year, investigators had been quietly poking around in Vincent's past. They found a former girlfriend, Shann Kern. Once upon a time, years before he met Joan, the two had lived together when both were studying at Cal State Bakersfield.

Shann Kern: I was in love with Vincent.  I-- I loved-- I admired him.  

Shann was the mother of his first daughter, Margaret, born in 1988. That year, Shann said, she filed charges against Vincent for assaulting her after she confronted him about one of his unexplained "disappearances."

Shann Kern: I had little slippers on. I had a little fuzzy slipper.  And I picked that thing up, and I said, "Vincent, you can't treat me like this."  Man, when that slipper hit him-- he's just boom, whoom, whoom, jumped on me, and just started beating me like I-- like he didn't even know me-- like he didn't know me, just kept wham, wham.  Every time I would get up, he would hit me.

Keith Morrison: He could turn on a dime?

Shann Kern: Just like that.

Keith Morrison: And when he did that, he was capable of what?  Anything?

Shann Kern: A complete different person than what you were really dealing with. And just had this most evil face. Scared the living life out of me.

Vincent spent several days in jail after that incident. There are two sides to every story, of course. Vincent continued to deny he'd attacked Shann. In fact he claimed there was a time when she came after him with a gun and a knife. But she was cleared of those charges.

But one certain thread police were discovering was Vincent's penchant for other women.

Keith Morrison: Did he cheat on you?

Shann Kern: Oh, yeah, by far, yes.

Vincent's disappearances turned out to be covers for serial infidelity.

Eddie Harper: During their marriage relationship, there were a number of women whom he-- had relationships with.

All but one of his affairs, it turned out, had occurred while he and Joanie were separated. Still, hard to dispute he was a womanizer.

Donald Collier: Sometimes you're not ready for the relationship you give in to. That's what happened with Vincent, you know? Sometimes we don't mature. 

But of course, just because he cheated on his wife, it certainly doesn't mean he killed her and his mother in law and his three children. Besides, wasn't he thousands of miles away in Ohio the weekend of the murder? It didn't make any sense. Unless.... Unless he was in both places that long holiday weekend.

In the year since the murder, Bakersfield investigators had worked to piece together that very case. On Wednesday, July 2nd, Vincent Brothers flew from Bakersfield to Columbus, Ohio, rented a car, a Dodge Neon, and went to stay with his brother Melvin and his family.

Then, the state claimed Thursday or Friday, Vincent drove that rental car all the way back to Bakersfield -  2300 miles - and there slaughtered his family sometime on Sunday, July 6th. Then he drove all the way back to Columbus, 2300 miles,  arriving late Monday. Early the next morning, Tuesday, he and Melvin got in the same Dodge Neon and drove more than 600 miles to see their mother in North Carolina.

Really?  Or was there another explanation for the five murder charges?

Michael Gardina: They assume it's somebody the people know.  And they jumped to the conclusion it would be Vincent Brothers who was the husband.

Obviously, Vincent needed a lawyer.  This is he, Michael gardina.

Michael Gardina: What was compelling about the case is there was a total lack of physical evidence to tie Vincent Brothers to the crime scene.

And, said his lawyer, Vincent could offer solid evidence he had been in Ohio with his brother Melvin and his family the entire holiday weekend.

Michael Gardina: The family first saw Vincent Wednesday night when he arrived.  He was with them on Thursday, They went out to a restaurant called the China Buffet, and they had a receipt from there that Vincent had signed, he used his credit card to purchase lunch. 

But although Vincent's credit card showed up on more Ohio purchases that weekend, it wasn't Vincent who used the card.  He'd given it to his brother Melvin to use over the weekend.

Keith Morrison: Wasn't that just an alibi?

Michael Gardina: No. The fact that one brother would help out another brother, another family member, is not unusual.

Melvin and his family said Vincent was with them all weekend. However, after Friday, the family didn't actually see him again until Monday.

Keith Morrison: Then he disappeared after Friday.

Michael Gardina: Well, he didn't disappear, he was with Troy on Saturday. Came back, left early in the morning, came back late.

Troy was yet another of Vincent's siblings. Troy had come from New York to see Vincent. The two of them, according to Vincent, spent Saturday driving around to investigate universities for Vincent's graduate work. Unfortunately he had no receipts to prove it.

But he did have something, and that was the memory of an incident that occurred while he was in Columbus that Sunday.

Michael Gardina: On Sunday, two witnesses that were from this neighborhood had seen Vincent and seen his car.

Keith Morrison: This is the car accident.

Michael Gardina: This is the car accident.

A young boy on a bike had accidentally hit a car stopped at an intersection in Columbus. Nobody was hurt. No police report was filed.

Martin Yant: Vincent Brothers said that he was the driver of that car.

Martin Yant, an Ohio investigator went to work for the defense. He scoured Columbus, looking for anybody who'd seen the incident.  And he found them.

Martin Yant: Witnesses said that the man who was driving the car resembled Vincent Brothers.  And the description of the car they gave matched the car that Vincent Brothers had rented when he arrived in Columbus.

That kind of bolstered a feeling that Vincent Brothers was telling the truth-- or how he would know about this otherwise since it wasn't even reported

But Vincent had even more proof he was in the Midwest, and not in California, when the murders happened. In the cellular age, no one goes untracked and a little of Mr. Yant's checking revealed that Vincent's phone records had already told their tale.

Martin Yant: It confirmed that there were some cell phone calls made from Columbus, when he would have had to have been in Bakersfield, or on his way to Bakersfield.

Certainly Bakersfield wanted answers. But how could that answer lie with a man who seemed to have solid proof that he had been thousands of miles away from the scene of the crime, a man the community had admired and trusted for over a decade?

Michael Gardina: That-- that was the shocking part.  This community's really divided over whether or not Vincent actually did this. There's many people, especially in the-- school system, that believe he was not capable of such a crime.

Of course, the state had to have other proof. It had to be something else. Had to be.

We can only guess now at the terror in this house. Two women slaughtered, three little children, an infant, exterminated. Now, four years later, the state was finally ready to claim in court that Vincent brothers - popular educator, school vice principal, had driven across the country and back to obliterate his own family.

Keith Morrison: Was any motive mentioned?

Kyoshi Tamono: The motive even all the way down the road, after all the investigation, even the Prosecutor still wasn't entirely clear.

A scorned former girlfriend felt Vincent Brothers needed no motive at all.

Shann Kern: There's somethin'-- somethin' wrong with his personality.  Where he just flips.  He's still Vincent, but he's just evil Vincent.  It's just good one, it's evil one.  It was just two. 

Prosecutor Lisa Green contended Vincent was lying when he said he spent the entire fateful July weekend in the Midwest. Oh, the state agreed Vincent did arrive at Columbus Airport on Wednesday, July 2nd, here was the airport video proving it. But Vincent's rental car during that very weekend racked up enormous mileage: enough, in fact, for a trip to Bakersfield and back.

Lisa Green: The total mileage driven in July 2nd-- July 11th date of the 5,424 miles.  Is that right?

Cheick Omar Tall: Correct.

The prosecution then offered a truly creative piece of investigation direct from the land of CSI.

Female bug expert: Just little fragments of insects.

Bug experts examined the grill of Vincent's rental car and found there scores of dead insects, mute evidence that told a remarkable and damning story.

Dr. Kimsey: We were asked to look at a radiator and an air filter to see what kind of insects we could find and-- and see if we could tell where they were from.The question was whether it had been in the western part of the country.

So.  Where did those shredded bits of bug encounter Vincent's rented Dodge Neon?

Lisa Green: Are the areas of distribution of these four insects consistent with a person traveling-- west on interstate 70? 

Female bug expert: Yes.

In other words, the bugs the neon collected lived out west on the road to Bakersfield. And Vincent might have had time to make the round trip from Columbus, all the way out here and back again. But only if the state could impeach his alibi witnesses, his brother Melvin and family. In fact, said the prosecutor, Melvin had given several versions of his dealings with Vincent that weekend. First he'd waffled on the day Vincent gave him his credit card. Was he trying to cover for his brother?

Trial:

Lisa Green: Were you lying when you told the detectives that your brother, Vincent Brothers, had given you the credit card on Monday, July 2?

Melvin Brothers: I was lying.

Lisa Green: Were you lying when you told the detectives that your brother, Vincent Brothers, had given you the credit card on Sunday, July 3?

Melvin Brothers: Yes.

Kyoshi Tamono: She painted him as-- as a liar, as somebody who couldn't be trusted, that his testimony couldn't be trusted.

The state even implied it was Melvin, not Vincent, who signed the credit card receipt for that Thursday night family dinner in Columbus.

Keith Morrison: Which would given him an extra day, assuming that Melvin is lying about his presence there.

Kyoshi Tamono: it would give him an extra day and more time to get across-- across the country.

And if Vincent had given Melvin his credit card for an alibi, did he do the same thing with his cell phone, the one that seemed to prove Vincent's presence in the Midwest - far from the crime scene - all weekend?

Keith Morrison: So, if he'd given away his credit card, he could well have given away his cell phone also.

Kyoshi Tamono: That's what she was implying.

It was clear the prosecution wanted to destroy any credibility Melvin had as an alibi witness. In fact, in different interviews over the years since the crime, Melvin said. He saw Vincent at his home sometime Saturday, then he said he saw him on Sunday. His story kept changing. And now, in court Melvin told the jury he didn't see Vincent from Friday night until late Monday.

Lisa Green: Would the truth be that you have no idea what time your brother got home?

Melvin Brothers: Like I said, it was Monday.  I don't know the exact time.  I mean, how do you want me to answer it?  You want me to say it was 12?  I said it-- I-- I don't know.  I don't know exactly what time it was.

If Melvin had hoped to help his brother's case, that hope crashed to earth here under the prosecutor's withering questions. But where was the prosecution's proof that Vincent was actually in Bakersfield at any time during the weekend his family was murdered?

Michael Gardina: There was nothing to show that an individual had driven-- 2200 miles from Bakersfield to-- Ohio-- Columbus, Ohio; had been in the crime scene and had deposited physical evidence. There was simply nothing.                

And the defense had something pretty interesting up its sleeve. The one man who could claim he was with Vincent, thousands of miles from the crime scene, when it mattered most.

Keith Morrison: What about the brother, Troy?

Michael Gardina: Troy was with Vincent on Saturday.

Vincent Brothers was on trial for the savage slaughter of his wife, his mother-in-law, and his three youngest children. And prosecutor Lisa Green was holding nothing back.

Lisa Green (to jury): Vincent Brothers killed his six-week-old son Marshall.

Keith Morrison: She's a take-no-prisoners sort of prosecutor.

Michael Gardina: Very much so.

Lisa Green (to witness): So the Harper family would have gotten home around two o'clock?

But the prosecutor offered little in the way of motive. No life insurance.  No threatening lover. No why. But now here was the defense that carrying out that terrible plan would have been simply impossible.

Michael Gardina: The evidence will show that it was and it remains physically impossible for Vincent Brothers to have committed these crimes. Let me repeat that it was physically impossible for him to have committed those crimes.

Remember, the prosecution alleged that Vincent drove almost 2300 miles - Columbus, Ohio, to Bakersfield, California - committed those gruesome murders, and then drove all the way back again. How could he do it?  By averaging 70 miles an hour, without stopping or sleeping, the entire way. A defense expert on fast driving:

Trial:

Dr. Solomon: I wouldn't expect 70 to be something you can average cross country.  It would be very difficult at best.

Michael Gardina: You can't change the physical impossibility of the drives as testified to by the engineers.  You can't change the mechanical composition of the car that was rented.  This is not a car that can go at speeds of 100 miles an hour for 2200 miles without stopping for gas.

Keith Morrison: It's the stuff that makes you go, "Wait a minute, is this even possible?"

Kyoshi Tamono: That was the fundamental lynchpin, if you will, of-- of the defense in this case.  That it was physically impossible for him to make such a trip.

But hadn't the man from the rental car company testified the car had indeed driven over 5000 miles on the weekend? Well, yes.  But that very prosecution witness had to admit that his company's mileage records were not always very reliable.

Michael Gardina: So there can be many scenarios where bad mileage would be intentionally entered in the computer?

Mr. Talls: That is correct.

Keith Morrison: They make mistakes on mileage all the time.

Kyoshi Tamono: All the time.  And-- and-- the-- the Defense elicited the fact that the rental car attendants, when they get the car back, don't actually physically look at the odometer.  They just put down a number basically to check it back in and get the person on their way.

And as for those specifically western insects the prosecution found splattered on the neon's grill? Those bugs, it turns out, have been found in the Midwest, too.

Michael Gardina: What circumstances would they-- they be found outside their areas of distribution?

Defense bug expert: If they are dispersed in some unusual fashion.

Michael Gardina: They hitch a ride on a truck, for example?

Defense bug expert: Possible.

And then there was the whole question of timing.  For the prosecution's theory of drive time out here to Bakersfield and back to work, then Vincent would have killed his family on Sunday, July 6th.  But defense pathologists testified those murders happened much later, perhaps as late as Monday morning. And if that were the case then, Vincent certainly could not have done it.

Remember, Vincent's brother Melvin and his family had offered various accounts of Vincent-sightings over that weekend, making it impossible for him to have committed the crime in California. But the prosecution had worked hard to prove that Melvin, in particular, was lying. But was he? 

Interrogation tape:

Police: Do I put a case on Melvin or do I use him as a witness? That's basically how this is going to work.

Melvin: This is how you treat witnesses?

Police: Oh no, right now, right now, right now, you know what you are. You know what you are right now? You're a suspect.

Melvin: I'm a suspect then.

Police: Okay, you wanna play hardball?

Melvin: I'm not playing hardball.

Police: No, no.

Or had police used overly harsh methods to get Melvin to change his story?

Michael Gardina: Did they want you to change your testimony from Friday to Thursday?

Melvin Brothers: That is correct.

Michael Gardina: Did they threaten your family?

Melvin Brothers: Yes.

Michael Gardina: How did they threaten your family?

Melvin Brothers: That they was gonna lock my wife up, me up, put my kids in a home.  They said, "The nice house you livin' in, you won't be livin' in that no more.  That nice vehicle that you drive, it will be gone."

Michael Gardina: Did you break down and cry?

Melvin Brothers: Yes, I did.

Michael Gardina: The police scared the hell out of him so he changed his story and backed off.

The defense presented the interrogation tape. 

Det. Kruger: You don't want to go down with your brother, pal...cause there ain't nothing more serious than this, nothing, except maybe what Hitler did.

Michael Gardina: We had an expert analyze the video, and he concluded that the techniques that were used on this individual were so psychologically coercive that it-- it was the equivalent of using a rubber hose on an individual.

But now it was going to get tricky. Remember that minor accident in which Vincent said he was involved that Sunday of the murder weekend?  A cyclist hitting Vincent's car on a Columbus street corner? The defense called people who witnessed the mishap, and they were helpful... Sort of.

Kyoshi Tamono: There were several people who say they saw a dark-skinned man in- in a car that appeared to be teal.  And it appeared to be Vincent Brothers, but they weren't able to say specifically.  I mean, it-- they-- they certainly leaned that way.

Which meant it was quite a surprise when the prosecution suddenly put up a witness who told a completely different story about that little accident. In fact, said car dealer Tamba Lebbie, it wasn't Vincent who had the accident, it was him.

Tamba Lebbie: As soon as I started movin', this little-- boy came with his bicycle and hit me on-- on my side o-- of the car.

Quite a shock to the defense, given that Lebbie, before the trial began, actually talked to the defense investigator.

Michael Gardina: He told our investigator that he had nothing to do with it, he had never been there, he doesn't drive that car, in fact, he said he didn't even own that car.  He had sold it to somebody else.  Mr. Lebbie did not fit the physical description of the defendant or the description given by the witnesses at the scene. We have no idea-- why Mr. Lebbie did what he did or said what he did.

Who to believe? Waiting just outside the courtroom was Vincent's ultimate alibi witness: his brother troy, who had already sworn the two of them spent the bulk of that murder weekend together thousands of miles away from the crime.

Now was Troy's chance to come into the courtroom and tell his story. And then...

Kyoshi Tamono: He didn't testify.

Keith Morrison: He didn't show up.

Kyoshi Tamono: Did not show up. He was actually in the courtroom at one point. We all saw him. But then there was a lunch break, and he was supposed to be called, and he never came back.

The courtroom was buzzing. Why had Troy disappeared? The defense maintained it was a conscious decision - finally - not to have troy testify. 

Michael Gardina: Troy was the only member of the family that did have a-- a felony record, and that // influenced our decision because we had put no one on the stand who had a felony record.

Keith Morrison: So you put Troy on the stand, he gets impeached by the prosecution-- your whole case looks a little shaky.

Michael Gardina: Yeah.

Instead the defense made a risky move. Risky but...maybe... Crucial.

Keith Morrison: Why did you decide to put-- Vincent Brothers on the stand?

Michael Gardina: He was very adamant about the fact that he was not involved, that he loved his children, he would never do this to - his children.  And I think that's something the jury needed to hear.

If there is anything on this earth we can call true evil, then surely it would apply to vincent brothers, a man who slaughtered his whole family. If! If he did it.

Clerk (in court): State your name for the record, sir.

Vincent Brothers: Vincent Edward Brothers.

Now he could tell the jury how he really felt about his family...

Vincent Brothers (in tears): Joanie, Marques, Lyndsey and Marshall and Ms. Harper.

...How, for example, he had cared for his wife through a difficult pregnancy.

Vincent Brothers: I just asked her what was wrong. And she said she was having cramps, and-- her back was hurting.  And-- I kissed her, and she told me to-- go get the kids.  And that's what I did. I told her I love her and I'll be right there.

But where was he that dreadful weekend? He told the jury he was with his brother troy in Ohio on Saturday but the two of them went for a drive out of state to look at colleges and take in a basketball game.

Vincent Brothers: On the way back we stopped in St. Louis, Missouri.

Michael Gardina: What did you do when you were in St. Louis?

Vincent Brothers: We stopped and listened to jazz, got   something to eat.  Stretched our legs before getting back on the road.

And then there was that little mishap back in Columbus on Sunday.

Vincent Brothers: A little boy, he came running.  He was running with his bicycle.  And he was running on the side of it.  And when he came down the curb, he tripped off the curb.  And the bike kept going.  And it hit the car.

This was Sunday.

Over the years, thousands of people had put their trust in him as a school administrator, a champion of children.

Lisa Green (closing): Innocent men do not lie.

But here he was on trial for his life.  And the prosecutor's assessment was blunt.

Lisa Green (closing): He looked you in the eye and he lied.  And that's because he-- he is an evil man.  What he did was evil.  And I'm asking you to return verdicts of guilty because that's what justice calls for and that's all that is left. Thank you.

Michael Gardina (closing): We gave you witnesses.  We gave you m-- engineers-- medical experts to show that Vincent Brothers could not be the perpetrator of this crime.  There's, also, a total absence of evidence to put Vincent Brothers in the house when those homicides occurred on Monday, July the 7th.

So it went, back and forth. There had been over 100 witnesses. Now it was up to the jury.

Eddie Harper: Emotionally, it was-- it was difficult.  It was difficult.

For two and a half days they waited.  Until...

“We, the jury empanelled to try the above entitled cause, find the defendant, Vincent Edward Brothers, guilty of felony, to wit, murder of Ernestine Harper, murder of Joanie Harper, murder of Marques Harper…”

Truly, decided the jury, this man was evil.

“Murder of Lyndsey Harper, murder of Marshall Harper…”

Eddie Harper: We were happy that he had been justly tried and found guilty. We know we can close that chapter, who did it. We can close that chapter and move on.

Prosecutor Lisa Green declined Dateline's requests for an interview, nor would she comment on the case. And without cooperation from the DA'S office, Bakersfield police also declined to talk to us.

A motion for a new trial was denied. An appeal is pending. And as they wait, Brothers’ family and remaining friends still argue he was convicted by implication. Not by facts.

Donald Collier: They didn't get the right guy.  And a lot of people on the block said they never even went after anyone else. So they never proved anything. All they proved well he's a womanizer.  They never proved that he was a murderer 'cause he wasn't a murderer.

Or was he?

Eddie Harper: He thought he was so smart that he could not only fool Joanie, my mother, but he could beat the system... unfortunately, he met Lisa Green.  And-- she made sure that he was not gonna-- get away-- with murder.

For the murder of his family, Vincent Brothers was given the harshest sentence the law allows: death.

Keith Morrison: How did Vincent take it?

Michael Gardina: Very hard. He deteriorated rapidly after that.  He took it very hard.

For just about everybody involved, it has been and will be a long, bad dream...a dream whose tangled roots might never be uncovered.

Eddie Harper: I don't think that he will ever tell why. Because I'm sure he will continue to maintain that he's innocent.  But we know different.  We know different.

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