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Video: The Disappearance of Debbie Hawk

NBC Universal Anchors and Correspondents
By Keith Morrison Correspondent
NBC News
updated 7/19/2010 7:37:59 PM ET 2010-07-19T23:37:59
TRANSCRIPT

This report aired July 19, Monday, 10 p.m./9 C.

Part 1

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The key was waiting for them under the mat that evening outside their mom's house.

Silence.  No one home.

Where was she?  She was always on time to pick them up from their dad's place. But tonight he had to drive them...this just wasn't like her. Where was she?

Conrad, the eldest, put the key in the lock, opened the door.

Chelsa, in the middle, crossed the threshold. Stopped. What was this?

CHELSA HAWK: Once we took a few more steps in, then we realized there was something wrong.

This was the moment, the defining one. Nothing would be the same after this...

CONRAD HAWK: There was a lot of blood everywhere.

Then the adrenaline kicked in – instinct took over.

CHELSA HAWK: We just dropped our stuff and split throughout the house

Panic rising now... Conrad was 15 then, his little sisters Chelsa, 14, and Savannah, 10. Three kids trying to make sense of a horribly frightening scene.

CONRAD HAWK: My mom normally keeps it completely spic and span. There's hardly ever any dust anywhere, let alone anything out of order. 

And now things were anything but.

CHELSA HAWK: Where the desk was, you could see that there papers s—scattered around, drawers were, you know, ripped open.

KEITH MORRISON: And—and you went into the bedroom?

CHELSA HAWK: I think that was the first place my sister ran into. And then, so, she quickly called us in and then we followed her.

KEITH MORRISON: What did you see there?

CHELSA HAWK: There was blood on the ground—

KEITH MORRISON: A lot?

CHELSA HAWK: Yeah.

Her mom's bed – It was made, but...

CHELSA HAWK: It was kinda haphazardly thrown together, you know, not quite smoothed out.

KEITH MORRISON: And she would have done it a different way.

CHELSA HAWK: Right. 

KEITH MORRISON: At that point you were pretty upset, I imagine.                  

CHELSA HAWK: Yeah. My—my biggest fear was that we were—that we were going to find her. That's what—it scared me most is that we'd find her somewhere in that house. 

But they did not. No Debbie Hawk, not anywhere.

CONRAD HAWK: There was some drag marks and kind of smear marks leading out to the garage where they stopped.

And Debbie’s van was gone, too.

CONRAD HAWK: My initial reaction was, oh my God, what has happened? Who could have done this?

The girls ran to a neighbor's house. Conrad called 911.

CONRAD HAWK: We went in our mom's room, and her bathroom, and there's blood on the carpet.

CONRAD HAWK: After the initial shock of it, I kind of start to reason—well, think, well, wait a minute, let's not overreact here. Clearly she cut her hand with a knife or something, and she was bleeding, and she raced out to the car to go to the emergency room. This is all just a big misunderstanding.

But it wasn't, though there were plenty of misunderstandings to come and questions that stubbornly refused to be answered. Like, where was Debbie Hawk? What happened to her? And what happened to that sacred bond that once held three children together?

Back at the beginning, even the police were confused.

DAREN MATTESON: This case seemed very unusual from the start. 

Police investigator Daren Matteson and DA’s investigator Arend Lablue have worked other cases here in Hanford, California, and out among the suburbs, and the almond orchards and the giant, odorous dairy farms that splay across the miles of flat valley floor.

But this one did not smell right at all, thought Matteson.

DAREN MATTESON: It appeared that she was drug out of the house, obviously against her will. In my 28 years, I've never seen that before.

Whatever happened here must have been planned, thought out.

DAREN MATTESON: It looked like a staged crime scene. Her jewelry in her bedroom neatly laid out just where she had put it. Nothing was missing but her and her van.

Had somebody been trying to make it look like Debbie Hawk had been kidnapped? Or was the intention – a failed intention, perhaps – to show that she'd just left home?

DAREN MATTESON: I believe it was designed to look like a missing person's case.  The bed was made.

KEITH MORRISON: Yeah.

DAREN MATTESON: Most of your crooks don't do that.                 

And had the perpetrator been looking for something?

DAREN MATTESON: There was paperwork that normally would have been put away, at least stacked up – wasn't. It was scattered. And this financial document was on top.

Significant? Maybe.

But certainly significant were the sounds that neighbors reported hearing in the middle of the night, the night beforeDebbie’s kids arrived at her doorstep and discovered she was missing....

DAREN MATTESON: Several neighbors actually heard a loud scream. It was a blood-curdling-type.

KEITH MORRISON: Why did nobody call 911?

DAREN MATTESON: That is not the type of neighborhood that bad things happen in. 

No, and not the type of person to whom bad things happen. Debbie was an accomplished woman, a sales rep for a pharmaceutical firm and, with a wide circle of friends, immensely popular...

TARYN: She was very regal and, to us, royalty. She definitely fits the bill as the princess.

ELIZA: She should have been a Kennedy.

Which is why the ribbons that suddenly bloomed everywhere around Hanford were royal purple.

And the people who put the ribbons on – and up – also joined a search to find her. Hundreds of them combed through the miles and miles of farmland around town, they walked the river banks, they peered among the trees... Not a trace. 

By then, as you can imagine, the whole town knew about the disappearance of Debbie Hawk.

And they knew something else, too. Two days after she vanished, there was a find, and it wasn't good – but it wasn't Debbie. Instead, police found her van. It was parked on the street in a high crime district of Fresno, 40 miles from home. The drug samples Debbie had kept in the van – medications for nasal allergies and asthma – were missing. And this was weird: The windows were down, the keys in the ignition, the license plate had been replaced with a stolen one.  

AREND LABLUE: It appears that whoever left it there wanted somebody to get in and drive off.

Oh, and one more thing:  The van's back seat was covered with blood.

AREND LABLUE: At that point, whoever was driving the van would immediately become a suspect in Debbie Hawk's disappearance.

Police were pretty sure that was exactly what the killer wanted. It was a ruse, an attempt to plant blame somewhere else.

But, around town, some people had already begun directing blame at one individual. They thought they knew who did it.

DIANE: She had said to me, ‘You know, if anything ever happens to me you know where to look.’

But suspicion runs fast. The truth dawdles along. Has it arrived, even now?

Part 2

You couldn't go anywhere that summer of 2006 without seeing those purple ribbons – a vivid reminder of Debbie Hawk, the mother of three who'd vanished from her home in Hanford, California, leaving only traces of blood.

Before long, in her absence, Debbie was famous, as if everybody in town had known the woman her children so loved.

CHELSA HAWK: She'd walk into the room and it just kind of brightened. 

CONRAD HAWK: There was never a dull moment. 

ANGIE TRIANTIS: She was all for her family, her children.

These are her parents: Angie and Bud Triantis.

ANGIE TRIANTIS: Hard worker. She was just—to me, she was perfect. She was the perfect daughter. And I dearly love her and miss her.

WILLIAM "BUD" TRIANTIS: There was a lot of lives that have been shattered because of her demise.

Demise, yes – no getting around it now. In July of 2006, the case was reclassified from missing person to homicide.

A formality, really. They knew from the moment they arrived at the house, said DA investigator Arend Lablue:  Somebody killed Debbie.

AREND LABLUE: We kept up hopes, obviously, for the family's sake.  But it was clear that she was not alive based on the crime scene.

Investigators poked around Debbie’s life history, looking for clues.

DIANE TRIANTIS: She was very talkative, friendly. Likeable. Always was, kind of, the life of the party.

This is Debbie’s sister Diane, who recalled how friends set her up on that blind date years ago.

He was the date. Dave Hawk.

DIANE TRIANTIS: She was short, and attractive, and a lot of fun, and a pretty good sense of humor. You know, you'd say something and, man, she'd—she'd pop back with something that you didn't quite expect. 

They were married within a year. They built a home among his family's almond groves.

DIANE TRIANTIS: I think they both wanted to have a family. And I think that was, like, the impetus for the acceleration, I guess you'd say, of the relationship.

Though Debbie’s big sister wasn't sure what she saw in him.

DIANE TRIANTIS: He seemed very quiet. Very opposite of my sister. 

Then, before long, Conrad arrived…and Chelsa and Savannah.

CHELSA: I still remember Christmases, where my brother and I would run around, deliver all the gifts to everybody. And everybody's gettin' along. Definitely some happy memories there. 

But, sadly, a lot of unhappy ones too.

CONRAD HAWK: I mean, pretty much from when I can remember, fighting and arguing were pretty routine.             

And after nearly nine years, this marriage, like so many others, fell apart. 

DAVE HAWK:  We might have been a little bit more different than we were willing to admit early on.

CONRAD HAWK: Even at that age, I could definitely see—yeah, the water was about to boil over.

The kids were 9, 8 and 4 when the divorce was finalized in 2000.

And young Conrad, Chelsa and Savannah learned how to navigate the choppy waters known all too well by the children of divorce…

CHELSA HAWK: They just couldn't talk to each other, really. So—I'd try to step in and help resolve that.

KEITH MORRISON: You were kind of a mediator—

CHELSA HAWK: Yeah.

KEITH MORRISON: —in a way. That's—

CHELSA HAWK: Yeah.

KEITH MORRISON: —a tough role for the kid to play, isn’t it?

CHELSA HAWK: I think it was easier to be the mediator than to have them yelling at each other on the phone.

And, living apart, said Conrad…

CONRAD HAWK: My mom was happier than ever. I think all of our lives improved. 

Debbie did well enough as a pharmaceutical representative that she was able to buy her own home.

CONRAD HAWK: She could finally start living her life the way that she'd wanted to.

Except there were issues: Once, after they separated, during the squabbles over divorce, she claimed he tried to choke her...

DIANE TRIANTIS: She said, ‘He—he just looked like a crazed animal. And I thought he was gonna kill me.’  And, not too long after that, she had said to me, ‘You know, if anything ever happens to me you know where to look.’

Dave said that choking thing just never happened, that he wasn't ever violent with her.

DAVE HAWK: I've never choked anybody.

Things settled down eventually, though there was always some dispute. And the things Conrad says he heard his dad say about his mom?  Awful.

CONRAD HAWK: Things like, ‘She needs a taste of her own medicine. She's gonna get hers. She's gonna get what she has coming to her.’

In fact, the very night he discovered Debbie had vanished, Conrad told police, his dad might have done this.            

CONRAD HAWK: I don't see any—anything that would, you know, disqualify him from—from being able to—to con—carry that out.

Which is why, just hours after the kids discovered Debbie was missing – it was 2:20 AM by then – police called Dave, woke him up, and asked him to drive down to police headquarters for a talk.

And the phone call was curious , thought Investigator Matteson, because Dave didn't ask why.

DAREN MATTESON: I've received calls in the middle of the night. My first thought for me is family.  What's going on? Especially if it's the police department. He didn't.

And when he arrived in the interview room?

Dave: What's going on?

Dave didn't seem to have much of a reaction at all to learning his ex-wife, the mother of his three kids, was missing.

Darren: At this point, I have no clue as to where she might be…Well, I can tell you what's been going on in the last week.

KEITH MORRISON: What did you expect?

DAREN MATTESON: More surprise, any surprise.  I didn't see that at all.

Of course, people do react in different ways to traumatic news.

Besides, Dave told them he was at home, asleep, in the early morning hours when police believed Debbie must have been killed. And his kids said they didn't hear him leave the house. They were there, too, at the time

And there was no evidence that Dave was ever at the crime scene.

KEITH MORRISON: Did you find any DNA?

DAREN MATTESON: No.

KEITH MORRISON: Did you find any fingerprints?

DAREN MATTESON: No.

KEITH MORRISON: Hairs, anything?

DAREN MATTESON: No. 

But then, they'd just begun to uncover the troubling secrets of Dave and Debbie Hawk.

Part 3

It was a frustrating summer back in 2006, here in the farmlands of California’s Central Valley...

Those purple-ribboned search teams came up empty, though they looked everywhere for weeks. Police named Dave Hawk a “person of interest,” but he seemed to have an alibi all three kids were with him in his house the night Debbie vanished. And besides, there wasn't a shred of physical evidence to tie Dave to the scene of an apparently violent abduction.

His own daughter, who spent the day after the abduction with Dave, told the police it couldn't have been him.

CHELSA HAWK: I don't believe that he'd even be capable of doing something like this. 

But then they started poking around in the relationship between Debbie and her ex-husband, and there some curious things began to emerge. For example, in the months before Debbie disappeared, Dave took Debbie to court – and she was fighting back.

Kim Aguirre was Debbie’s attorney.

KIM AGUIRRE: The issues that she was dealing with were custody and support.

Dave had asked the court for a reduction in his $553 per month child support payment. Why? Because he claimed he only earned $6000 a year. His salary came from his dad, who paid him $500 a month to work on his almond farm – his only income, apparently, though Debbie’s attorney found that a little hard to believe.

KIM AGUIRRE: He lived in what I understood to be a very nice home. He drove a late model suburban. That's hard to do on $6,000 a year.

So Debbie asked the court for more time with the children.

KIM AGUIRRE: His response was to ask for half custody. The percentages were something like 65 with Debbie and 35 with Dave, and he wanted to make it an even 50-50.

And that's when the battle moved to these trust funds set up for the children's futures. The money came from Dave’s father, but Dave controlled the funds. And Debbie was sure Dave was stealing from them to support his own lifestyle...

Why would she think that? Well, this was actually the second set of trusts established for the children. Several years before, a judge caught Dave’s hand in the cookie jar of the first trust, which listed both Dave and Debbie as trustees. Dave was removed as trustee of those funds, but, during the divorce, Dave’s father gave him sole control of a second, quite generous, trust fund. 

But when investigators ran the numbers on that second fund, administered only by Dave?

DAREN MATTESON: Basically, there was supposed to be a hun—several hundred thousand dollars in each account. And, instead, there was just a couple hundred or a thousand dollars in each of the kids.  He'd been living off of it, for up to about five years at that point.

Something like $300,000 was missing. And though Dave cried poverty, he bought his girlfriend, Mary Royer, a $27,000 Lexus, took her on vacation to Hawaii and used $60,000 to pay off divorce costs and the $1,500 he owed to his kids from the first set of trusts.

But here, believed the detectives, was the heart of the motive for murder: Debbie, if she hadn't disappeared, was about to expose all that in court.

DAREN MATTESON: You steal $300,000 and you're about to be exposed for it.

KEITH MORRISON: By a woman—

DAREN MATTESON: That's a pretty good motive—

KEITH MORRISON: —you despise.

DAREN MATTESON: Exactly.

AREND LABLUE: Certainly one more piece of the puzzle.

And there was yet another strange piece to this puzzle... Remember that mess around Debbie’s desk?  Documents scattered everywhere? Well, sitting right on top of the pile were the records from the children's first set of trusts – the one only Debbie controlled. 

DAREN MATTESON: There was $166,000 in those accounts.

The investigators in Hanford now focused hard on Dave, searched his home several times and carted off lots of stuff, including a stun gun, which it turned out he bought a month before Debbie disappeared.  He told investigators it was for home protection for his daughters and girlfriend, Mary.

DAREN MATTESON: However, he had never discussed it with Mary. He had never discussed it with the children, at all. They did not know it existed.              

They couldn't find anything to connect the stun gun to the crime, but it was odd. They also took his computers, of course, and since Dave did volunteer work at a local church, they seized the church computer, too. They even cuffed him outside his house, in full view of local television cameras, which were now buzzing around endlessly, asking, ‘Did you do it?’

DAVE HAWK: For the last time, no. I’m getting’ tired of answering that question. No means no. But the fools at the Hanford Police Department don't seem to understand that. They’re on a witch hunt. That’s what's going on. They’re on a witch hunt.

Whatever they were on, they couldn't find the evidence to arrest him. Dave remained a free man... Something that made his own son, Conrad, very nervous.

CONRAD HAWKS: My suspicion was growing stronger and stronger

Conrad had already told police about the night after he discovered his mom was missing, when he saw his dad sharing a bottle of wine with his girlfriend.

CONRAD HAWKS: They opened it, and toasted and had wine out on the patio with cheese and crackers. I didn't want to jump to conclusions, but at the time I thought, ‘My father and his girlfriend have really poor taste.’

Conrad and Dave spent that summer on the outs; it was after quite some time of not getting along terribly well. And, in August 2006, two months after his mother's disappearance, child protective services took 16-year-old Conrad to a foster home.

CONRAD HAWKS: There were just a few altercations that we had had, kind of like what my mom had gone through.

Investigators talked many times to Dave’s girlfriend Mary, and, eventually, this exchange occurred:

INVESTIGATOR: Has he ever verbalized to you at all how much he hated the woman?

MARY ROYER: Absolutely.

INVESTIGATOR: What did he say?

MARY ROYER: "It's not gonna stop until that f---ing b---- is dead." Numerous times.

An a-ha moment?  Well, maybe not quite.

INVESTIGATOR: Did you ever think he was serious?

MARY ROYER: No. Early on, I thought, ‘It's never gonna stop ‘til she's dead,’ meaning it's gonna go on his whole life. No. Never in my life would I think he would kill her. Never.

So it all seemed quite suspicious. In fact, most people in town seemed to have made up their minds about Dave Hawk. But one of them was not the DA.

LARRY CROUCH: They kept pushing and pushing.  And we kept sitting back.

Did the cops have it wrong?

Part 4

LARRY CROUCH: They kept pushing and pushing.  And we kept sitting back.

Prosecutor Larry Crouch told his investigators he would not charge Dave Hawk with the murder of his ex-wife Debbie.Even after it was obvious this popular single mother had been murdered, even after months of searching around Hanford, California, turned up no sign of her anywhere, and after police had convinced themselves that Dave was responsible, prosecutor Crouch would not budge. Not yet, anyway.

Instead, a year after Debbie vanished, Dave was charged with embezzling – stealing – more than $300,000 from his own children’s trust funds.

He pleaded not guilty, was released on bail – and waited for the other shoe to drop.

Now, imagine this: The police, not to mention most of the town, believed their father killed their mother, leaving three children caught in the middle.

Conrad had no doubt – his dad killed his mom. A dad he began referring to as ‘Dave’…

CONRAD HAWKS: I tried to cut all ties that I had with him as much as I could. He was nothing to me now.

But Chelsa has been and is her father's staunchest defender.

KEITH MORRISON: Why do you think your siblings have chosen the other path?

CHELSA HAWK: I think they're—they're just very upset about what happened and their relationship was not as close to my dad.They were either not home or not awake when I was awake. And they were not around him the next day like I was around him.

Chelsa says Dave was acting perfectly normal the day after whatever happened, happened. No odd behavior. Nothing whatsoever to suggest he'd been up all night committing a terrible crime.

CHELSA HAWK: So the things that convinced me about his innocence aren't there to convince them. I think they are defending my mom so much so that it's like they're gonna point to the most obvious suspect.

But Chelsa isn't the only one in this small town who believes dave hawk is innocent...

SANDY BROWN: I believe what he says, that he had nothing to do with her disappearance and presumed death.

Sandy Brown is Dave's longtime pastor and friend...

SANDY BROWN: This person who is portrayed as such a monster, just simply isn't: He's a man who has worked hard in the church.  He's a good father. 

As their son prepared to face serious financial charges, Dave's parents, Stan and Lois hawk, took over custody of Chelsa and Savannah. Not the way they expected to spend their 80s, any more than they expected to have to defend their son.

STAN HAWK: Well, he's made some mistakes. But nothing of the scope that is generally accepted in the community.

Stan established those trusts for his grandchildren, and says Dave had the right to use the money how he saw fit to benefit the children.

KEITH MORRISON: Were you surprised to discover how it was used?

STAN HAWK: Yes. Apparently his financial situation was worse than I knew. 

A year passed in this gossipy limbo. Now it was May 2008. Nearly two years after Debbie’s disappearance, her body still hadn't been found. And there was no new evidence tying Dave to her murder.

But prosecutor Larry Crouch heard disquieting reports from his investigators.

LARRY CROUCH: Dave starts surveilling our office, the police offices, eventually starts driving by an investigator's home.  And it was getting pretty concerning out there.

Time to move. On May 29, 2008, Dave Hawk was arrested and charged with first degree murder and a special circumstance: Murder for financial gain. He pleaded not guilty. 

When the trial finally began more than a year later, Dave faced murder and the earlier embezzlement charges together.

Prosecutor Larry Crouch offered the jury this theory: Dave snuck out of his house in the middle of the night without waking his sleeping children, maybe even used a ladder to get out of the window, and got someone to give him a ride to Debbie’s house. Then he entered her bedroom.

LARRY CROUCH: I think he tried the stun gun on her, and she screamed very loudly, and he struck her with something, more than once. And, at that point, I assume he suffocated her.   

Then, said the prosecutor, he must have dragged Debbie’s body to the garage, put her into her own van, and disposed of her... somewhere. Then drove the van to Fresno and left it in a high crime zone.

How did he get back home?  That accomplice, said the prosecutor, must have picked him up and driven him the 40 miles back to his farm.  

But really, there was no body, no DNA, no forensic evidence to show Dave had even been at the murder scene. Everybody in town seemed to have a theory. Apparently the prosecutor did, too. But was that proof?

So the state tried to build a bridge from Dave’s alleged financial crimes to the murder, painting him as an evil man who decided to eliminate his ex-wife when he knew his misuse of the trust funds was about to be exposed.

Enough?  Well, we shall see.

MARK COLEMAN: There's a number of other explanations for what could have happened other than Dave. Dave was the convenient ex-husband. 

Part 5

DENNIS PETERSON: The alignment of the stars in this case was just stacked against us, stacked against Dave Hawk.

At least in the harsh court of public opinion, it looked bad for Dave Hawk as his murder trial approached in Hanford, California.

Dennis Peterson and Mark Coleman were Dave’s attorneys

DENNIS PETERSON: We have this guy allegedly stealing from his kids, saying bad things about this sympathetic victim, and all of these things being widely played in the press

If there ever was a case for change of venue, this must be it, said the defense. After all, almost everybody seemed to have heard the accusations about Dave, and every time he had a court appearance, purple-clad "Friends of Debbie" crowded into the public gallery. In fact, during jury selection, said attorney Coleman, he actually heard some jurors tell the judge they had already decided Dave Hawk was guilty.

MARK COLEMAN: The judge asked 'em, ‘Well, if I order you to set those opinions aside, can you do it?’ ‘Well, I guess so.’

Still, the defense application for a change of venue was denied, as was the defense request to separate the financial charges from the murder charge. The defense had argued the embezzlement accusations were unfairly prejudicial.

MARK COLEMAN: They wanted to make him look like a bad person, a person who would take money from his kids, would be likely to murder his ex-wife.

In fact, the prosecution would say Dave’s fear that Debbie was about to reveal in open court his theft of the kids’ trust funds was a powerful motive for murder.

MARK COLEMAN: But the fact of the matter was, that was already exposed. It had already been filed in open declarations in court.

KEITH MORRISON: You mean—

MARK COLEMAN: —it was exposed—

KEITH MORRISON: —he would've gained nothing by getting rid of her at that stage?

MARK COLEMAN: No.        

KEITH MORRISON: We also have that great old American saying, ‘If it walks like a duck and it quacks like a duck, it's probably a duck.’ But you're saying it's a turkey.

MARK COLEMAN: The burden is on them to prove it's a duck. In this case, they didn't.

No, the defense argued that the prosecution had absolutely no evidence that Dave even left his house the night Debbie was abducted and presumably murdered. In fact, his daughter Chelsa insisted he could not have left the house without her having heard him.

CHELSA HAWK: That just doesn't seem at all possible

And, even though investigators would tell the court that the kids slept so soundly it was hard to wake them up when they went to see them one morning, the defense claimed that the prosecution's theory of what happened just didn't add up.

MARK COLEMAN: That's just beyond belief that somebody would take that kind of a risk. That he would sneak down the hallway, open the door, drive the ten or 12 miles over to Debbie Hawk's house, subdue her, bludgeon her, load her into the van, drive it to Fresno and then get back to his house without getting any blood on him, without being discovered. 

So what did happen to Debbie Hawk? The defense floated this theory: Debbie worked in pharmaceutical sales; perhaps a drug addict had gone after the samples she kept in her van.

MARK COLEMAN: All of the pharmaceuticals in her van were missing.

DENNIS PETERSON: Somebody took 'em.

But that was a ludicrous idea, countered the prosecution. Debbie carried very few samples – and, anyway, if drug theft was behind it, why didn't the thief take any jewelry or electronics?No, it all seemed to come down to Dave – his behavior, his character, his own words. Like the conversation with a friend that police recorded, in which Dave speculated on what might have happened to Debbie. The defense played it in court as an unguarded indication that Dave had no idea what happened.

DAVE HAWK: I tell you, if I was a bad guy I'd go throw somebody off a bridge. That's what I'd do, believe it or not. I'd toss ‘em in and they'd float downstream and they'd go away.

DENNIS PETERSON: He basically offered that, ‘You know?  I don't think she's ever gonna be found.’

Did it work?  Listen to prosecutor Larry Crouch:

LARRY CROUCH:  You're going, ‘Oh no. Why are they putting that in?’ I thought it was harmful. 

Though what the jury thought, no one could say. Then there was, inevitably, a conversation about whether or not Dave would testify.

DAVE HAWK: I told them that I wanted to testify.

An idea that Dave’s attorneys did not like one bit…

MARK COLEMAN: Dave is a combative individual. He's very prideful. He's offended easily. 

DENNIS PETERSON: He thinks he's smart, and he hates for anybody to think he's not smart. I mean, he—he'd be just perfect fodder for a trained prosecutor.

And so Dave held his tongue in court... He saved his story for us.

KEITH MORRISON: So you don't think they had any useful evidence against you at all?

DAVE HAWK: Can you—can anybody name anything?

Part 6

Dave Hawk, on trial for the murder of his ex-wife Debbie, did not testify, didn't tell the members of the jury what he was thinking.

But he had a sinking feeling he knew what they were thinking.

DAVE HAWK: Always blame the ex-husband first. 

It was an awful problem, as he saw it, had been from the day his ex-wife Debbie disappeared through a trail of her own blood: The number one suspect...was him.

That's what the police had been saying all along.

And that's apparently what a great many people thought in Hanford, California, even as he sat here as a defendant in a murder case.

DAVE HAWK: I didn't have the motive and I didn't have the capacity. 

You know how it can be, said Dave. Once people get it in their heads that you did something, they will tend to misinterpret everything, to make you look guilty.

DAVE HAWK: I was home with my children in another town all night. But I'm being accused of being in another place committing a terrible crime based on financial shenanigans that didn't exist in the first place.

Shenanigans like, for example, that trust fund for his kids. His father made the terms very broad, said Dave, so he could spend the money as he saw fit – any way that would benefit the children.

DAVE HAWK: The money is to be used for the—for the health, education, support, and maintenance of the children. And that's exactly what it was used for. And I acted legally in that respect.

And then, since they didn't have any evidence against him, said Dave, prosecutors made a case based on misinterpreting things he said. Like the time he said to a friend, “If I was a bad guy, I’d throw somebody off a bridge.”

DAVE HAWK: My point was they haven't looked for her. If someone had thrown her off the bridge, it would have floated downstream, they didn't look anywhere—

KEITH MORRISON: So did you throw her off a bridge?

DAVE HAWK: [laughter] No. I didn't throw anybody off a bridge.

They also made a huge deal about something he supposedly said to his girlfriend about Debbie.

KEITH MORRISON: ‘Dave said, you know, ‘We won't be rid of that f-in' bitch until she's dead.’”

DAVE HAWK: I might have, but I don't remember that. And that certainly does not mean that I'm going to go kill somebody.

And then there was his own son Conrad, who, after all, believed he was guilty, and told police he saw Dave and girlfriend Mary share a celebratory toast after Debbie’s disappearance. Conrad, said Dave, just didn't get it.

DAVE HAWK: Whenever we open a bottle of wine, we always raise our glasses and say, ‘Cheers.’ It's just a tradition. We were not toasting anybody's anything.

KEITH MORRISON: Why have you never been able to persuade Conrad of—of your innocence?

DAVE HAWK: I don't know. He knows that I was at home the whole time, never left, didn't have any involvement in anything illegal. But he's perhaps angry and needs to fill in the blanks with something.  

KEITH MORRISON: Well, maybe he's angry at his dad because his dad killed his mom.

DAVE HAWK: His dad didn't kill his mom.

KEITH MORRISON: He thinks so, though.

DAVE HAWK: He could be wrong.

So who did kill Debbie? Dave has an opinion about that, too.

KEITH MORRISON: Who else wanted her dead?

DAVE HAWK: Maybe the boyfriend that was stalking her. 

KEITH MORRISON: Stalking her?

DAVE HAWK: This is somebody who was reported to the police and the police swept it under the rug, apparently. Was an ex boyfriend…

Of course, investigators say they did look into that, and other leads, too, but they all came back to Dave and one primary motive.

So, some cross-examination…

KEITH MORRISON: The prosecutor said you killed your ex-wife because she was going to expose your embezzlement of the children's trust funds. 

DAVE HAWK: They said a lot of things—

KEITH MORRISON: Weren't you, for example, afraid your father was going to find out what you were doing with that money from the trust fund? The father who lovingly put the money into the trust fund before you kind of siphoned it out?

DAVE HAWK: I really don't like the way you're characterizing these things. I really don't like the way the prosecutor has accused me of—

KEITH MORRISON: Whether you like it or not, those are the—the accusations.

DAVE HAWK: Yeah, and they're not—they're not right. They're wrong. They're false. Which part did you not understand?

KEITH MORRISON: What part did I not understand? What I understand is you bought a $27,000 car using trust fund money. You took a trip to Hawaii with your girlfriend. You paid off your divorce attorney's fees and money you took from the first set of trusts by taking $60,000 out of the kid's second trust fund.

DAVE HAWK: The money was used for the children.

KEITH MORRISON: Which child drove the Lexus?

DAVE HAWK: All three children were driven in the Lexus.

KEITH MORRISON: Which child went to Hawaii on vacation?

DAVE HAWK: Perhaps that money was my own money. Prosecutor never bothered to—to figure out what dollar went where, did they?

KEITH MORRISON: Well, you made it kind of hard for them, ‘cause you were mixing up the trust fund money and your money all the time.  And frankly, that's what scam artists do.

DAVE HAWK: I'm not a scam artist.

KEITH MORRISON: Why didn't you go get a job?

DAVE HAWK: I had a job.

KEITH MORRISON: I'm talking about a job that actually paid enough to support your family, which is what a dad does.

DAVE HAWK: You're reading from a script that the—that the prosecutor's given you apparently.  Because none of these things are true.

A guilty man? Or not? The jury did not take very long to decide:

We the jury find defendant David Martin Hawk guilty of the murder of Debbie Hawk.

Guilty of murder and nine financial crimes, Dave Hawk was sentenced to spend the rest of his life behind bars. But is it over? No. Defense attorneys will appeal, claiming some jurors were swayed by pretrial media coverage. Police have yet to find Debbie’s body or identify anyone who might have helped to kill her. And the children? For them, it may never end.

KEITH MORRISON: It's complicated, huh?

CONRAD HAWKS: Yep.

They are divided now. Conrad feels justice was served. Chelsa, devastated, has remained her father's champion. Sometimes, she says, her family has even questioned her unshakeable love for her mom.

CHELSA HAWK: It's hard to convince them that I can stand by one parent and believe the other parent's innocent because they just cannot see that 'cause they're so hurt. 

And Conrad?  He imagines he knows her thoughts better than she does.

CONRAD HAWK: I personally don't think that she believes that her father is innocent. I think, in her mind, she would rather have one parent who may have done a horrible thing, than have no parent at all.

KEITH MORRISON: Has this created a rift between the two of you?

CONRAD HAWK: A little bit.  Yes.

KEITH MORRISON: What do you do about it?

CONRAD HAWK: Well, we do the best we can. We see each other at holidays and whenever we're both in town. But it's the elephant in the room.

Not an easy problem for the children of Dave and Debbie hawk. But they'll be close again, says Chelsa.  Someday.

CHELSA HAWK: It's gonna take a while, yes. And maybe it's too soon to start, because we're both still hurt. Things are too fresh. But he—we—we don't want to lose it.

© 2013 NBCNews.com  Reprints

Explainer: Debbie Hawk photographs, evidence

  • The disappearance of Debbie Hawk

  • Debbie Hawk

  • Debbie Hawk

  • David Hawk

    Photo Courtesy The Hanford Sentinel / The Lemoore Advance
    David Hawk
  • Evidence photo

    Debbie Hawk's bedroom

  • Evidence photo

  • Evidence photo

    Debbie Hawk's office

  • Evidence photo

    Debbie Hawk's car was found with the key in the ignition.

  • Evidence photo

    Debbie Hawk's car was found 40 miles away in Fresno.

Discuss: What did you think of the verdict?

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