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Data: Phone call with Carla Hughes

In a phone interview from the prison where she is currently serving her life sentence, Carla Hughes told NBC's Hoda Kotb that she'd never met Avis Banks and knows nothing about her murder.

By Hoda Kotb Correspondent
NBC News
updated 7/31/2010 12:04:01 AM ET 2010-07-31T04:04:01

There was no question. It was murder.

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DETECTIVE JOHN NEAL: Extremely violent...passionate crime.

The mystery was the motive. Who wanted this beautiful young woman dead, and why?

DETECTIVE FRANK DILLARD: He was crying…He was laughing.

HODA KOTB: Did you find that odd?

DETECTIVE FRANK DILLARD: Yes.

The prime suspect – her boyfriend. Their wedding was just a few months away. But he'd found someone new.

DETECTIVE FRANK DILLARD: Were you two involved with each other?

CARLA HUGHES: Yes.

DETECTIVE FRANK DILLARD: We really thought, ‘Hey, this is our guy.’

But this case was far from closed. Sure, he had a motive, but he also had an alibi.

MICHAEL GUEST: It would have been impossible for him to have left basketball practice...committed the murder, and then returned to basketball practice.

Did he have help? Hire a hit man? And if not him, then who?

MICHAEL GUEST: Within a 30-minute period of time...we can place her in the vicinity of the crime.

A stunning twist in a shocking murder.

DEBRA BANKS: I've never in my life felt like I felt when I found out what had happened.

Part 1:

ANN CURRY: Good evening and welcome to Dateline. I'm Ann Curry. Every death is tragic, but this one moved even hardened homicide detectives. The victim was a young woman about to start a new family, and her body was discovered by her fiancé. He took it hard, but his behavior was a little surprising, and so was that first phone call he made. Here's Hoda Kotb.

Even in late November, the night settles with a summer softness over the old battlefields and bronze soldiers who stand watch over Vicksburg, Mississippi. But just after Thanksgiving 2006, the murmur of crickets outside this house on Howard Street was interrupted by the 21st century bark of a cell phone. It was neither the first nor the last time that ubiquitous gadget would play a critical role in the story you're about to hear, but for Debra Banks, this was the place where our story begins. Debra knew the voice on the other end. It belonged to her future son-in-law, Keyon Pittman. A few minutes earlier, he'd called while driving home from work to

ask Debra if she'd heard from her daughter, Avis. Now, Keyon sounded unhinged.

DEBRA BANKS: He was screaming and hollering. He said, ‘Y'all need to get over here.’ I say, ‘Keyon, what's the matter?’ I say, ‘Where is Avis?’ ‘Y'all just need to get over here,’ and he hung up the phone.

With nothing else to go on, Debra and her husband, Fred, pointed their car east toward Jackson, where their 27-year-old daughter and her 31-year-old fiancé had recently bought a home in the suburbs. They would have 55 miles to think about what it all meant.

DEBRA BANKS: All I could think of was that she had had a miscarriage. The whole while I was going over there—we was going over there—a miscarriage.

No doubt a miscarriage five months into Avis' pregnancy would be a bitter blow. But as Debra and Fred drove east, they felt confident that if that was what Keyon had been so upset about, he and Avis would survive and thrive. After all, they assured themselves, Keyon was a solid sort and Avis, their middle daughter, was the family star…The first to graduate college.

Fred and Debra Banks worked hard all their lives and managed to raise three daughters on his city street sweeper salary and whatever money Debra earned from babysitting in their home. When the girls were grown and boys started coming around, Fred says plenty of knuckleheads showed up at his door. But he says few returned once he had a talk with them and laid down the law.

FRED BANKS: A couple of weeks and they was gone, you know. So, yeah, I screened them real well.

Fred said that's why he was so relieved when Avis brought Keyon Pittman home. College educated, well-mannered and hard-working, Fred says, Keyon looked like a keeper.

FRED BANKS: He was the son we never had.

And, before long, it would be official. After a two-year courtship, the family was planning a February wedding. For Fred, it seemed like only yesterday he had given away his oldest daughter, and Avis was a bridesmaid. Now it was Avis' turn.

FRED BANKS: She was happy…Avi really was happy…She was.

In fact, the whole family was planning to celebrate Avis and Keyon's first Christmas in their new home in just a few weeks. As Fred turned the car into the subdivision where Avis lived, he expected to see the Christmas lights he'd helped Keyon put on the roof. What he did not expect to see were the police cars out front.

DEBRA BANKS: When we got to the head of the island, the street, I never in my life felt like I felt when I found out what had happened. It's the hardest thing I ever did in my life.

FRED BANKS: Well, when I saw the yellow tape, I knew it was bad. You know, I knew. They didn't have to tell me. I knew.

Sadly a father's intuition would prove correct. Would a detective's?

DETECTIVE JOHN NEAL: This looked like it was a staged burglary. There was just some items inside the house...that just didn't look right to the veteran officers that were there.

When Deadly Attraction continues.

Part 2:

Old Square Court in Ridgeland, Mississippi, just outside of Jackson, is the kind of suburban subdivision that seemed to spring up overnight, during the latest housing boom. Neat, quiet, treeless places, where – for little or no money down – a young couple could grab a slice of the American dream far from the gritty city streets. But for the people who live here, that sense of security evaporated on November 29th, 2006. At about 8:45 that Wednesday night, a neighbor living next door to Avis Banks and Keyon Pittman called 911.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: 706 Old Square Court.

911 OPERATOR: What's going on there?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: He say somebody done killed his wife.

911 OPERATOR: I need units to respond to 706 Old Square Court. I have a female caller advise that there's a male subject outside advising his wife has been killed.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Oh, my God.

DETECTIVE JOHN NEAL: By the time we get to this area here, it's obviously, you know, there's police cars on all sides of the road.

Ridgeland Police Lieutenant John Neal was the first detective on the scene that night.

DETECTIVE JOHN NEAL: There's people in the cul-de-sac standing out in front. The garage door's up. Of course, there were—there were lights—Christmas lights up. A street light at the end, so it was—it was well-lit.

Howling with grief, Keyon Pittman sat in a patrol car begging to get out and be with his fiancée.

DETECTIVE JOHN NEAL: We were trying to keep him separated from all of his neighbors. They'd started getting a little bit of information from him about where he had been, and at that time we just asked that he be taken away from the scene and up to the police department. He was a little hesitant about doing that. Didn't want to leave his fiancée here.

Inside the garage, Neal discovered a ghastly scene. Twenty-seven-year-old Avis Banks lay on the floor, sprawled in a thickening pool of crimson. At a glance, the detective could see that Avis Banks had been ambushed by someone who definitely wanted her dead. Her car keys lay beside her hand, the day's mail still in her arms. There were multiple gunshot wounds and her throat had been slashed. Her pants had been pulled down, suggesting a sexual assault. And though the house had been ransacked, the detective quickly determined that that was just window dressing.

DETECTIVE JOHN NEAL: This looked like it was a staged burglary.

HODA KOTB: A staged burglary?

DETECTIVE JOHN NEAL: Yeah. The back door was kicked in and there was just some items inside the house...that just didn't look right to the veteran officers that were there.

HODA KOTB: Why?

When we went into the master bedroom, every other drawer in the dresser drawers was opened, instead of going through all of them and one of them.

HODA KOTB: Oh, just so every other one was opened?

DETECTIVE JOHN NEAL: Every other drawer was open which –

HODA KOTB: That's weird. Yeah.

DETECTIVE JOHN NEAL: –was strange. But in my 21 years I've never worked a burglary scene where a suspect targeted items in a bathroom and they went through the bathroom cabinets where you would keep your toilet bowl cleaners and various personal hygiene stuff.

HODA KOTB: Okay, so you knew something was up.

DETECTIVE JOHN NEAL: Right.

By 10:00 PM, Fred and Debra Banks were standing in the crowd outside their daughter's home, trying to get someone to tell them what was happening beyond the yellow tape.

FRED BANKS: We stood out there a long time until the coroner come out and told us that our daughter was deceased, that she died of a horrible death. Those were the exact words he used.

Murder is rare in Ridgeland, Mississippi. This was the first in more than a year. But there was one detail Detective Neal learned at the scene that night that made it all the more shocking.

DETECTIVE JOHN NEAL: The family has told us that she was five months pregnant so, you know, it's—it's kind of hits home with anybody with children.

In coming days, that detail would make headlines. But across town that night, in a small windowless room at police headquarters, another drama was just beginning to unfold.

KEYON PITTMAN: These mother[censored by network] think I had something to do with this [censored by network].

Keyon Pittman, the young man who, a short time earlier, had been hysterically wailing over the murder of his future bride and unborn son, was now coolly using his cell phone to call and text with someone he called ‘Babe.’

KEYON PITTMAN: I mean, what am I going to do, babe?

There also seemed to be something about the situation that Keyon found funny.

HODA KOTB: Did he seem distraught?

DETECTIVE FRANK DILLARD: He was crying a little bit…He was laughing.

HODA KOTB: Did you find that odd, to be laughing on a day like that?

DETECTIVE FRANK DILLARD: Yes.

When DATELINE continues.

Part 3:

The last day of Avis Banks' life was just like every other day – until it wasn't. She had put in a full day at work at a local daycare center, used her cell phone to call her fiancé, and drove home. Once there, she picked up the mail, pulled into her garage, closed the door and promptly died in a hail of bullets.

DETECTIVE JOHN NEAL: Extremely violent, passionate crime.

Detective John Neal says the pregnant woman was shot in the leg, chest and head, and then stabbed within seconds of closing her garage door. The killer only missed once. The bullet passed through the garage door and into the empty street. Though Avis' pants had been partially pulled down, investigators determined that there had be no sexual assault on Avis Banks. That, they believed, was just the killer's attempt at misdirecting them.

HODA KOTB: Multiple stab wounds, multiple gunshot wounds. What does that tell you as a police officer?

DETECTIVE JOHN NEAL: That, along with the staged burglary, we probably figured at that point there was somebody that knew Avis Banks or had a personal vendetta against her.

HODA KOTB: And probably the person who knew Avis best was someone who was right there on the scene at the time?

DETECTIVE JOHN NEAL: Keyon.

HODA KOTB: A guy named Keyon.

DETECTIVE JOHN NEAL: Keyon had discovered her body.

The job of finding out just how much Keyon Pittman might know about his fiancée’s murder that night fell to Detective Frank Dillard…

Initially, Keyon had been taken in for questioning because he was the closest thing to a witness that investigators had.

DETECTIVE FRANK DILLARD: Think some of your neighbors saw something?

KEYON PITTMAN: I'm going to say probably not because the garage was down.

But as the hours of questioning dragged on past midnight, the grieving fiancé grew frustrated with his isolation from family and friends.

KEYON PITTMAN: I don't like being up here. I'd rather be back downstairs.

And began complaining about the way he was being treated by police.

KEYON PITTMAN: I mean, you all wouldn't let me use the restroom.

DETECTIVE FRANK DILLARD: You did use the restroom.

KEYON PITTMAN: Yeah, after I begged.

DETECTIVE FRANK DILLARD: I mean, you did use the bathroom. Is that not correct? You did use the bathroom?

KEYON PITTMAN: Yeah.

DETECTIVE FRANK DILLARD: OK, so you can't say that you did not use the bathroom.

HODA KOTB: First impression of him when you met him?

DETECTIVE FRANK DILLARD: Self-centered.

HODA KOTB: Self-centered?

DETECTIVE FRANK DILLARD: Very much.

HODA KOTB: How'd you feel that?

DETECTIVE FRANK DILLARD: In his speech he kept referring to himself, you know – I, I, I, me, me, me – just kept referring to himself.

HODA KOTB: So on the day that his fiancée is found murdered, his pregnant fiancée, he's saying ‘I, I, I’ and ‘me, me, me?’

DETECTIVE FRANK DILLARD: That's correct, yes.

As a matter of routine, the police say they tested his hands for traces of gunpowder and photographed the bloody shirt he'd been wearing. But to Keyon, it all seemed to add up to one thing. The police were treating him more like a suspect than a victim.

KEYON PITTMAN: This is the American way, huh?

DETECTIVE FRANK DILLARD: What's that?

KEYON PITTMAN: Guilty till proven innocent.

DETECTIVE FRANK DILLARD: No.

KEYON PITTMAN: Then why this?

DETECTIVE FRANK DILLARD: Well, sir, we have to find out what happened. Like I told you three or four times, I wasn't there.

Keyon told the detective he'd discovered Avis' body after arriving home from basketball practice at Chastain Middle School, where he was a teacher and basketball coach.

HODA KOTB: Did he seem distraught?

DETECTIVE FRANK DILLARD: Yes. He went through an array of emotions. He was crying a little bit. He was laughing.

HODA KOTB: Did you find that odd, to be laughing on a day like that?

DETECTIVE FRANK DILLARD: Yes.

HODA KOTB: What was he laughing about?

DETECTIVE FRANK DILLARD: Asked him some questions about clothes and he kind of chuckled about some shoes and shirts and stuff that he owned.

But when it came time to talk on the record about the murder of Avis Banks, Keyon Pittman dug in.

KEYON PITTMAN: You all have the idea I'm involved or whatever. That's what it seems like.

DETECTIVE FRANK DILLARD: It went well until I asked him to sign his Miranda warning...

HODA KOTB: Uh-huh.

DETECTIVE FRANK DILLARD: ...and at that point he declined.

KEYON PITTMAN: I'm not going to sign that because you could easily go back and write in charges.

DETECTIVE FRANK DILLARD: This allows us to ask you questions.

KEYON PITTMAN: I would rather have somebody here because I don't—I really don't like this situation at all and I feel, like I say, it's me by myself and y'all keeping me from everybody and y'all saying that I'm innocent, but I'm upstairs away from everybody, and y'all aren't letting anybody in. So that's not boding too well with me right now.

The next day Keyon Pittman hired a lawyer. As far as he was concerned, his days of talking to detectives were over.

DETECTIVE JOHN NEAL: I feel confident in saying now that if Mr. Pittman was not a suspect already because of his right to invoke the Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination that there must be something out there that we really need to look at.

So the detectives started running down leads and learning all they could about Keyon Pittman. In addition to his job as middle school teacher and coach, the detectives discovered that Keyon also had a part-time job tending bar. But the more they learned, the more it seemed that Keyon spent a lot of his time chasing women.

HODA KOTB: How would you describe his lifestyle?

DETECTIVE JOHN NEAL: Free player. He wasn't too concerned about what happened under his own roof because he knew that Avis wasn't going to keep a very close watch on him.

HODA KOTB: Mm-hmm.

DETECTIVE JOHN NEAL: He was able to work the second job, to have girlfriends come by and visit him there without any kind of fear. He was able to go out of town on weekends, with or without Avis, and still carry on relationships outside of his relationship with Avis.

Though being a cad did not necessarily make Keyon a killer, it did make him a strong suspect. What the detectives needed was evidence – a gun or knife or witness who could definitively connect Keyon Pittman to the murder of Avis Banks. With that in mind, Detective Frank Dillard set out to talk with one the girlfriends he'd heard about, a woman named Carla Hughes, who happened to teach at the same school where Keyon taught.

DETECTIVE FRANK DILLARD: I kept an open mind and was hoping that she would give me something on Keyon, you know, something I could use. Initially, when we met, when she told me that they were just friends...she was crying hysterically. She was crying very hard.

HODA KOTB: She was crying?

DETECTIVE FRANK DILLARD: Oh, yes. Once I got her to calm down, I spoke with her. You know, of course I asked her why she was crying, and she said that she was crying about what happened to Keyon's fiancee.

Hoping to give her space to calm down, Dillard invited the young woman back to the police station where they could chat in private. It was there that this murder investigation took the first of many surprising turns.

CARLA HUGHES: So I went over and started talking to him, and from that day on we were talking.

It didn't take detectives long to figure out there was much more to it than that.

HODA KOTB: First impressions of Carla when you sat down with her?

DETECTIVE FRANK DILLARD: I thought she was being deceitful with me.

HODA KOTB: What did she tell you that was untrue?

DETECTIVE FRANK DILLARD: That her and Keyon were just friends.

What else was Carla lying about? When Deadly Attraction continues.

Part 4:

In the days following the murder of Avis Banks, the investigating detectives focused like lasers on the usual suspect in cases such as this – the boyfriend.

DETECTIVE JOHN NEAL: He'd made himself a suspect, he'd been named as a suspect by myself and by Frank.

After all, police had found Keyon Pittman crouched over his fiancée’s body with blood on his clothes. And what's more, tests performed on his hands that night had come back positive for gunpowder residue.

DETECTIVE FRANK DILLARD: We really thought, ‘Hey, this is our guy.’

They'd also discovered that Pittman was a world-class womanizer. In fact, police now knew that instead of calling 911 after finding his fiancee's body, Keyon called another woman. Later that night he even called her from police headquarters.

Could that be the motive, they wondered? Did Keyon Pittman kill his fiancée because he wanted to be with another woman? After two days of following leads, Detective Frank Dillard believed he had Keyon Pittman's mystery woman – the possible motive for the killing – sitting right in front of him. But at first she denied that she and Keyon were lovers.

CARLA HUGHES: We were close friends.

Her name was Carla Hughes. And like Keyon Pittman, she was a teacher at Chastain Middle School in Jackson, Mississippi. She told the detective that they had hit it off the first day they met.

CARLA HUGHES: I saw him and I heard him talking to another teacher. And he was talking about some things that I could relate to, so I went over and I started talking to him. And from that day on, we were talking.

HODA KOTB: First impressions of Carla when you sat down with her?

DETECTIVE FRANK DILLARD: I thought she was being deceitful with me.

HODA KOTB: What did she tell you that was untrue?

DETECTIVE FRANK DILLARD: That her and Keyon were just friends.

The detectives already suspected there was much more to it than that. Witnesses had told them that the two teachers behaved like a couple whenever they were together.

DETECTIVE JOHN NEAL: This wasn't your typical co-worker, two teachers that have similar interest in school. This was obviously something more.

Even their students knew about their relationship.

DETECTIVE JOHN NEAL: They were using students as their personal messengers, aside from the text messages that they were sending during the day.

DETECTIVE FRANK DILLARD: They spend a lot of time at his second job. They spent time outside of the office at his first job. So they had a relationship.

In time, detectives would discover even more about their relationship. They would learn that Keyon had a key to Carla's apartment and that the two of them had even managed to steal away a few weeks earlier for a romantic weekend in Memphis. But on this day, just two days after the murder of Keyon's fiancée, Carla Hughes would only admit to a few acts of affection in public.

CARLA HUGHES: They see you together and they think certain things.

DETECTIVE FRANK DILLARD: Well, in this case...

CARLA HUGHES: In this case they were right.

DETECTIVE FRANK DILLARD: Yeah.

For more than an hour, Carla was pressed for details. But instead of dissolving into tears, as she had when Detective Dillard first questioned her at Chastain Middle School, Carla was so calm she actually took cell phone calls while talking to a detective about murder.

CARLA HUGHES: Oh, my God. Oh, my God. And I said, ‘Calm down, I'm on my way.’ Excuse me. [answering cell phone] Hello?

Between cell phone interruptions, Carla sketched the outlines of a casual fling. She and Keyon had a little harmless fun, she said, nothing serious – nothing at all like the gossip the cops might have heard.

CARLA HUGHES: People may have saw us being affectionate toward each other, but at the most, they may have just saw a little kissing. But as far as just like this full out blown romantic love affair, that's not what it was. It really wasn't.

According to Carla this was one of those "special friendships." Carla even claimed that Avis Banks knew all about her and didn't seem to mind. In fact, Carla said Keyon even let her keep her motorcycle in their garage for a while.

CARLA HUGHES: He would call her, like, for instance, if we went out to eat – you know, me, him, and the other coaches, or sometimes just me and him – we would call her. He'd be like, ‘I'm with Carla,’ you know, or whatever. So she knew about me.

To hear Carla tell it, it was all so innocent and evolved, hardly the kind of thing that might lead to the bloody ambush of a pregnant woman.

DETECTIVE FRANK DILLARD: Did you ever ask him to leave Avis?

CARLA HUGHES: No. I actually, you know, I told him, you know, we—what we have as a friendship is what we have. What you all have, is what you all have. I, you know, we never really just talked about him leaving. We never talked about him leaving her at all.

On the day of the murder, Carla told the detective that Keyon Pittman stopped by her house at about 4:40 to temporarily store some groceries he'd picked up for Avis.

CARLA HUGHES: He left at 5:10, and said he was going to basketball practice. Then he called me, I would say about 6:15, 6:20 maybe. And I told him I was just getting done working out and I was about to head home and take a shower. And he said ‘Okay, well, I'll be back after practice to pick up the groceries, you know, before I go home.’

At 7:50, Carla told the detective that Keyon was back at her house.

CARLA HUGHES: He stayed about 45 minutes. He went home. From enough time for him to leave home, I mean, leave my house and get home, he called me. I thought he was calling to say he made it home.

When she answered, Carla said, Keyon was screaming.

CARLA HUGHES: And I couldn't understand the first few things he said. He was just saying, ‘Oh, oh, my God, oh, my God,' and I'm like, ‘What is wrong with you? What's going on?’ And he's like ‘Carla, I need you to get over here. I need you to get over here. Something happened. Somebody hurt Avis.’ And I was like, ‘Huh?’

It was all so shocking and sudden. All she knew was that Keyon was beside himself with grief and that she needed to be there for him.

CARLA HUGHES: And he was like, ‘I need you to get over here. Somebody hurt Avis.’

The crime, as far as Carla knew, was basically a burglary gone bad. That's what Keyon had told her.

CARLA HUGHES: Keyon said that he found her by the car. He said when he let the garage up, she was by the car, keys on the ground. She didn't make it in the house cause she still had her purse on her shoulder or something. And she was holding books or something.

Though Carla gave the detective a detailed accounting of Keyon's movements on the night of the murder, he wasn't quite sure what to make of it all. The fact that she'd initially lied about the nature of her relationship with Keyon still nagged at him.

DETECTIVE FRANK DILLARD: What do you think? Just hearing from what you've told me, and from what I've told you, what do you think?

CARLA HUGHES: I mean, it's unfortunate. I think it's very, very unfortunate.

There seemed to be a brittle chill in that answer. So after having Carla write down her statement about the day Avis Banks died, Detective Dillard asked a question he had not intended to ask the girlfriend of his primary suspect.

DETECTIVE FRANK DILLARD: Do you own a gun?

CARLA HUGHES: No, I don't.

DETECTIVE FRANK DILLARD: Do you have access to a gun?

Four days later, the question that almost was not asked was answered in the unlikeliest of ways. And the answer was?

DETECTIVE FRANK DILLARD: According to him, she borrowed the gun for her protection.

But why would Carla need protection? When Dateline continues.

Part 5:

Two days after her murder, Avis Banks and the baby boy she'd been carrying were buried together in a family plot.

FRED BANKS: Hey, Avis. We back again.

Generations of the Banks' family rest in peace in this Vicksburg, Mississippi, churchyard. But on the day of Avis' funeral, there was no peace for those who gathered to mourn her. Their grief was now tinged with the growing suspicion that Avis' former fiancé, Keyon Pittman, might have had a hand in her death. Avis' older sister even had a theory of her own.

FRED BANKS: She said a man didn't do that to her sister. She said a woman did that. And it was probably some woman that he was fooling around with.

The suspicion that Keyon may have been cheating on Avis was not without cause. A week earlier, when the family gathered in Houston for Thanksgiving, everyone had noticed that Keyon seemed aloof and disengaged.

He'd been on his cell phone constantly, either mumbling in hushed tones or taking the phone outside so that no one could hear.

DEBRA BANKS: He on the phone 24/7, all day, all night, in and out the house.

FRED BANKS: And at that time, too, I remember Avis was sitting cross from him and he walked by on his phone. He said hello, and I kind of noticed Avis kind of looked at him, you know, kind of gave him a little look.

At the time, Keyon had told them he'd been speaking with his mother about a family matter. But now, they doubted that. They wondered – what if he had been cheating on Avis? What if he'd been courting a mistress right under their noses? They say a text message found on Avis' phone after she died hinted that the relationship between Avis and Keyon had hit a rough patch.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: ‘I’m doing everything I can to make it work and it will work, but how would you feel if I was on the phone all night?’

Whatever Keyon may have been up to then, the family was in no mood to see a public display of grief from him now.

DEBRA BANKS: He was hollering.

FRED BANKS: Boo-hooing.

DEBRA BANKS: He was not crying. He was just hollering. He showed tears like this here. No tears. No tears at all.

For Avis' older sister, that was the last straw.

FRED BANKS: She was sitting there and sitting there, and Keyon coming up there with all of that hollering and she just couldn't take it. She said, ‘Keyon, I'm going to beat your –‘ and before she could get to him, her husband grabbed her and picked her up.

As chairs scattered, other Banks men rose to confront Keyon. But police officers who were on hand stepped in before anyone could actually get their hands on him.

FRED BANKS: They put a coat or something over Keyon's head and they escorted him out to his car.

Coincidentally, even as the grieving Banks family focused its anger on Keyon Pittman at Avis' funeral, detectives back in Ridgeland were actually interviewing one of the women who'd been seeing Keyon on the side, 25-year-old Carla Hughes.

DETECTIVE FRANK DILLARD: Were you two involved with each other?

CARLA HUGHES: Yes.

Detective Frank Dillard had initially hoped Carla would help him build a case against Keyon. But instead, something about her demeanor had led him to ask her this.

DETECTIVE FRANK DILLARD: Do you own a gun?

CARLA HUGHES: No, I don't.

DETECTIVE FRANK DILLARD: Do you have access to a gun?

CARLA HUGHES: No, I don't. I mean, my father has a lot of guns. He's a hunter. But I don't have one.

Two days after the murder of Avis Banks, the detectives were no closer to making an arrest than they had been on the night her bullet-ridden body was found in her garage. They had an unfaithful boyfriend who'd acted suspiciously, but they didn't have a murder weapon. Then an amazing thing happened.

DETECTIVE JOHN NEAL: Frank got a phone call from one of the local attorneys just outside of Jackson that indicated to him in that phone call that he had some valuable piece of evidence that we think may be tied to that crime, and that they told him at that point that it was a .38 revolver.

Not only did the attorney turn over a gun, he also turned over a witness who knew who had that gun on the night of the murder.

DETECTIVE FRANK DILLARD: His name was Patrick Nash, who was a cousin of Carla Hughes.

HODA KOTB: And what did he say?

DETECTIVE FRANK DILLARD: According to him, she borrowed the gun for her protection.

According to the cousin, Carla borrowed a fully loaded revolver three days before the murder and returned it, empty, less than an hour after this encounter with Detective Dillard.

HODA KOTB: Did you find that at all weird that a cousin would rat out their cousin like that?

DETECTIVE FRANK DILLARD: Not in this particular case because, pretty much, this whole family seemed to be stand-up people, good people.

Once the cousin realized that Carla had been seeing the fiancé of that woman who'd been murdered in nearby Ridgeland, he got his father, Carla's uncle, involved.

DETECTIVE JOHN NEAL: There was actually some conversations between Patrick's father and Carla about that gun prior to bringing it to us.

HODA KOTB: Oh, uh-huh.

DETECTIVE JOHN NEAL: And I think one of the interviews that Mr. Nash gave to us, he indicated that when he asked Carla about the gun and asked her, point blank, ‘Is this the gun that was used in that crime up there?’ And instead of getting a verbal answer from her, she just hung her head down.

HODA KOTB: Oh, well, that's big.

DETECTIVE JOHN NEAL: And I think at that point they realized they didn't want any part of this. They were going to do what they had to do to do the right thing.

If true, it was clear that Carla Hughes had lied about not having had access to a gun on the night Avis Banks was murdered. Now, detectives wanted to know what else she might be lying about.

DETECTIVE FRANK DILLARD: Is there more to this than what you're telling me?

CARLA HUGHES: No.

Carla Hughes may not have had much to say to police, but now the detectives had a gun that could be traced to Carla. If ballistic tests tied that gun to the murder of Avis Banks and her unborn child, Carla Hughes would have a lot of explaining to do. Coming up, Carla in the hot seat… But there may be a way out.

JOHNNIE WALLS: You can stop them from charging you if you put the finger on him.

Will Carla turn against her lover? When Deadly Attraction continues.

Part 6:

For investigators, the murder of Avis Banks had all the earmarks of a classic death-by-boyfriend.

DETECTIVE JOHN NEAL: We don't like him. We don't like his lifestyle. We don't like what he—what he caused Avis and Avis' family.

Call it gut instinct, but detectives felt that a man who cheats on his pregnant girlfriend, calls his mistress instead of calling 911 after he finds her body, tests positive for gunpowder residue at the police department, and then abruptly stops cooperating with the cops might be guilty of something.

DETECTIVE JOHN NEAL: We've got to a critical point in this to where we've got some information that we're trying to verify. And due to that information we are receiving, we're not going to make any more comments on the case at this time.

And yet, in spite of all that, the detectives still didn't feel they had the kind of evidence that would hold up in court if they actually arrested Keyon Pittman and charged him with murder. For instance, though the gunpowder residue found on his hands the night Avis Banks died might look incriminating, gunpowder residue is not the same as gunpowder burns. Burns would come from firing a weapon. Residue could theoretically have rubbed off on Keyon's hands when he cradled Avis' body. And regardless of how suspiciously he had acted, Keyon Pittman appeared to have a rock solid alibi.

DETECTIVE JOHN NEAL: We know Keyon's at basketball practice some 12, 15 miles away. And we have eyewitnesses that put him at the basketball practice at the time of the murder.

Still, up until relatives of one of his girlfriends surfaced with a potential murder weapon, Keyon Pittman was suspect number one, two and three. The gun changed everything.

DETECTIVE FRANK DILLARD: We sent it off to have a ballistic test done. And, of course, the results came back as a positive match.

With ballistic tests showing that the murder weapon had been in Carla's possession on the night of the murder, detectives called her in for a second round of questioning… But this time, Carla brought a lawyer with her.

JOHNNIE WALLS: I'll tell you when to answer and when not to answer.

This was not just any lawyer. This attorney happened to be Johnnie Walls, an influential state senator from Carla's hometown of Greenville, Mississippi, and a family friend.

JOHNNIE WALLS: I met Carla through her parents. And she was just a very popular young lady.

DETECTIVE FRANK DILLARD: Okay, so you want to terminate the interview?

JOHNNIE WALLS: Yeah.

DETECTIVE FRANK DILLARD: All right, hold on for a second, okay? I need to talk to my supervisor.

Normally, a curtain of privacy is drawn at this point. An arrest is made and everybody prepares for trial. But not in this case.

DETECTIVE FRANK DILLARD: Sir, can I have a word with you, please?

In this case, the detective pulls the attorney aside and encourages him to coax a confession from Carla. As the hidden camera continues to roll, it captures something extremely rare, a private conversation between a lawyer and his client at a critical moment.

JOHNNIE WALLS: They are absolutely convinced that it's him. And they don't understand why you're trying to protect him.

CARLA HUGHES: Why is it that I got to be trying to protect him? I mean, why do they...

JOHNNIE WALLS: Because they think you know something.

As police stand outside the door, Carla Hughes and her lawyer, Johnnie Walls, cut to the heart of the matter.

CARLA HUGHES: What can they charge me with tonight?

JOHNNIE WALLS: They can charge you with accessory—being an accessory after the fact.

Johnnie Walls tells his client that the police think they have a strong case against her. They have a murder weapon and a witness, who happens to be a cousin of hers, who will say that she borrowed the gun shortly before the murder and returned it two days after.

JOHNNIE WALLS: He said that Patrick—lieutenant did tell me that Patrick will say—he said when you gave the gun back to him you were crying. Do you remember that?

CARLA HUGHES:  I wasn't crying.

JOHNNIE WALLS: He said you were crying.

But in spite of that incriminating piece of evidence, Johnnie Walls tells his client that the detective has hinted that he wants to make a deal.

JOHNNIE WALLS: You can stop them from charging you if you put the finger on him, and he can't understand why you won't do that. He says, ‘She must be in love with this cat.’ And I said, ‘Well, I don't know. Maybe she is.’

CARLA HUGHES: It's not that. I mean, if I don't—if I wasn't there when he did it, then I just wasn't there when he did. I can't make myself say he did it if I don't know. I just know he wasn't with me.

JOHNNIE WALLS: Well, you know, I'm a criminal lawyer. I've represented people who I know committed the crimes. And if they can do anything to help themselves out, they going—they going to come up with it.

She never would say that there was anything about him that she knew.

JOHNNIE WALLS: You—at this point, you have to decide that you won't make a statement just to implicate him. Right?

CARLA HUGHES: No.

JOHNNIE WALLS: Okay. And you don't want to make a statement that's going to implicate yourself.

CARLA HUGHES: No.

JOHNNIE WALLS: OK. That's the answer then.

With Carla unable or unwilling to tell either her lawyer or police anything that might implicate Keyon, she was immediately charged as an accessory in the murders of Avis Banks and her unborn baby.

HODA KOTB: Did either Carla or Keyon have any sort of criminal background? Any history, any criminal history?

DETECTIVE JOHN NEAL: Neither one.

With Carla Hughes in jail, detectives were certain it would only be a matter of time before she would implicate Keyon Pittman. Because the more they learned about Carla Hughes, the harder it was to imagine her as a cold-blooded killer.

If detectives had a problem believing Carla was the killer, they had an even bigger problem with their case against Keyon.

DETECTIVE JOHN NEAL: We didn't have the evidence to convict Keyon on anything.

When Dateline continues.

Part 7:

They were alike in many ways, both born and raised in Mississippi River towns, both blessed with a potent blend of beauty and brains, and both were their fathers' pride and joy.

FRED BANKS: She be kind of the daughter that you would draw up. Wouldn't change a thing with Avis. She was daddy's hero.

CARL HUGHES: Well, I guess I always wanted a son, and I guess she was my son. So, I mean, you know, she and I were real close.

And yet in spite of all that, the daughters of Carl Hughes and Fred Banks might never have crossed paths had they not been fatefully attracted to the same man, Keyon Pittman. Now Fred's daughter was dead and

Carl's was accused of murder.

CARLA HUGHES: Hello?

CARL HUGHES: Hey, baby.

CARLA HUGHES: Hey, Daddy.

CARL HUGHES: You okay?

CARLA HUGHES: Okay.

CARL HUGHES: You okay?

CARLA HUGHES: I'm all right.

Immediately after her arrest, Detective Frank Dillard asked Carla's father, Carl, to come in and talk about his daughter.

CARL HUGHES: I honestly don't think she did it, but I'm daddy.

After telling the detective all he knew about his daughter's involvement with Keyon Pittman...

CARL HUGHES: He was with Carla one day.

...the stress of it all got the better of him.

DETECTIVE FRANK DILLARD: So how's Mrs. Hughes taking this?

CARL HUGHES: She's a lot stronger. They all worry about me. It's my baby. You know, everybody wanted a son, and I didn't want—she was my son. And that's part of it. I mean, we did everything together. Everything.

DETECTIVE FRANK DILLARD: That's what I heard.

CARL HUGHES: That's what makes it so hard for me.

Carla had come into the lives of Carl and Linda Hughes when a relative, who already had too many mouths to feed, offered up her new infant for adoption.

LINDA HUGHES: When we looked at her, we fell in love with her.

HODA KOTB: Did you have children?

LINDA HUGHES: No.

HODA KOTB: So she was your one and only?

LINDA HUGHES: Our one and only.

CARL HUGHES: Yeah.

HODA KOTB: One and only.

Blessed with doting parents, who also happened to be schoolteachers, Carla was encouraged from an early age to excel at everything.

LINDA HUGHES: She played tennis. She played soccer. She was a cheerleader. She tracked, played basketball. She was a majorette dancer in the band. She was in the key club, student council.

HODA KOTB: That's exhausting.

LINDA HUGHES: If it came up, okay...

HODA KOTB: She was in it?

LINDA HUGHES: She was in it.

CARL HUGHES: Yeah.

By the time Carla reached high school, she was clearly Greenville's golden girl...a beauty queen who competed in Mississippi's National Teen and Miss Teenage America pageants.

Carla was also an honor student, on the mayor's youth council, and a page in the Mississippi State Senate.

LINDA HUGHES: She's just able to accomplish anything. You know, if she was with her daddy, whatever his hobbies were, she was able to tap into that.

CARL HUGHES: She and I were horse persons. She loved the horse.

Always daddy's girl, Carla learned to ride and show the Tennessee walking horses that her father, Carl, trained. In 1995, at the age of 14, she was crowned Mississippi state champion and went on to finish sixth in the world competition. And her record of accomplishment did not stop there.

CARL HUGHES: She just said she wanted to be a teacher, ‘like you are, Dad.’

Collegiate honors, a master's degree and work toward a doctorate had laid the groundwork for a stellar career in education. In short, her life seemed charmed. Not even a failed romance that left her with a two-year-old son to raise had sidetracked her.

Then along came Keyon Pittman. Four months after meeting him, Greenville's golden girl was in deep trouble. Detectives had not only put a murder weapon in her hands, they'd also found a pair of blood-flecked shoes in her townhouse that had a tread pattern that matched a footprint left on a back door at the murder scene.

Overnight, that discovery caused the original accessory after-the-fact charge to be upgraded to first-degree murder.

HODA KOTB: When you heard that news, Carl, what did you think?

CARL HUGHES: I mean, it just did something to me.

LINDA HUGHES: He's had a hard time dealing with it, and...

HODA KOTB: Because you know—you know your daughter.

LINDA HUGHES: Yes.

HODA KOTB: Had she ever done anything violent before?

CARL HUGHES: No. She wouldn't even whop a horse.

HODA KOTB: Really?

CARL HUGHES: You know, sometimes you have to get the horse's attention, and she just...

HODA KOTB: Couldn't do it?

CARL HUGHES: She wouldn't do it.

HODA KOTB: Because the murder was violent.

LINDA HUGHES: The murder was violent.

HODA KOTB: Multiple gunshots, multiple stab wounds. And they say that they've got some evidence against your daughter, a gun that they say the bullets came from. How do you explain that?

LINDA HUGHES: I can't explain that.

HODA KOTB: Why did she have a gun in her house, Linda?

LINDA HUGHES: She had it for protection. And she'd—her apartment had been broken into a couple of times.

HODA KOTB: So she was always a little uneasy?

LINDA HUGHES: Yeah.

CARL HUGHES: I fixed the door once at the back of the apartment where it looked like somebody had tried to get in.

HODA KOTB: So the gun was there, and the bullets from the scene are connected to that gun. If not Carla, then who?

CARL HUGHES: Hm. Who else had access?

HODA KOTB: Who else?

CARL HUGHES: Keyon.

Even the police suspected Keyon. But the evidence—a gun and a pair of blood-speckled shoes—pointed to Carla Hughes. Nothing had been discovered so far that implicated Keyon Pittman.

DETECTIVE JOHN NEAL: He stayed on our radar during out this entire process. The problems that we run into, and I don't want to necessary label them as problems, but we haven't had the evidence to convict Keyon on anything.

Still, there was one witness out there who'd apparently seen it all – a tall, silent type, whose story would play a critical role in this case.

And what a story it was.

MICHAEL GUEST: Within a 30-minute period of time, we can place her in the vicinity of the crime.

When Deadly Attraction continues.

Part 8:

There are places in Mississippi where the veil that separates past from present is so thin that time seems to stand still. The Mississippi River still hums with commerce and gambling, as it did in Mark Twain's day. Green cannons still recall glory days, now gone with the wind, and cotton still dots the delta, though even here the modern age encroaches. Cell towers stand out like steel magnolias here, dominating the landscape and documenting every casual drive-by conversation.

MICHAEL GUEST: Everybody has a cell phone these days. Most folks can't live without them. I believe that most folks probably have no idea of the records and the type of records that cell phone companies keep.

Michael Guest got a good feel for that when it became his job to prosecute Carla Hughes for the 2006 murders of Avis Banks and her unborn child.

MICHAEL GUEST: I think the two most important pieces of evidence that we had were the cell tower records and the gun itself.

Witnesses could link the murder weapon to Carla Hughes, and the prosecutor hoped a jury would buy his theory that Carla killed Avis in a jealous rage because she wanted Keyon Pittman all to herself. But it was the story these towers told that would ultimately reveal what happened on the night Avis Banks died.

MICHAEL GUEST: You're building a timeline based on the cell phone record of Avis Banks, the cell phone records of Keyon Pittman and the cell phone records of Carla Hughes. In our particular case, the cell tower records not only placed Miss Hughes there in the area where the crime occurred...but it also placed Mr. Pittman miles away across town at basketball practice.

According to that timeline, Avis Banks left her job at the day care at 5:10. She would have been about 10 minutes from home at 5:36 when she'd called Keyon Pittman at basketball practice to ask about dinner plans.

That was to be the last phone call Avis Banks would ever make. Immediately after hanging up the phone from Avis, phone records show Keyon called Carla. That call bounced off this tower, which is roughly a quarter mile from the house Keyon shared with Avis.

MICHAEL GUEST: The cell tower records showed that Miss Hughes was in the area. There was one call that occurred, I believe, at 5:37, another at roughly 6:04, 6:05. So within a 30-minute period of time, we can place her in the vicinity of the crime.

The detectives believed Avis Banks was murdered between 5:50 and 6:00 PM. If Carla was near the house when Keyon called her at 5:37 and Carla was calling Keyon from that same area at 6:05, that would seem to suggest that the two middle school teachers were possibly partners in murder.

DETECTIVE JOHN NEAL: We think that he's had conversations with Carla prior to coming home that night, to where she indicated to him what she had done, probably in an attempt for the two of them to be together.

One of those conversations may well have taken place here, at Carla's townhouse. This is where Carla said Keyon Pittman came after basketball practice to pick up some groceries he'd dropped off earlier. According to Carla, he spent about 45 minutes and left at 8:30. At 8:31, cell records show he was on the phone again, this time not to Avis to say he was headed home, but to Avis' mother Debra in Vicksburg.

DETECTIVE JOHN NEAL: Keyon made the phone call to Debra Banks while he was en route home asking if she had heard from Avis, which, according to Debra, is just extremely unusual and just out of character for Keyon. So I felt like certainly that he knew at that point.

Ten minutes later, police say Keyon Pittman turned onto his street, opening his automatic garage door as he drove. Stopping in front of the house and leaving the car door open and engine running, Keyon had told police he rushed directly to the garage where his fiancée lay dead because he had a feeling that something was wrong.

HODA KOTB: There were lots of red flags flapping all over this case that are pointing to him. Why wasn't he charged as an accessory?

DETECTIVE JOHN NEAL: We didn't want to bring Keyon in as a—as a suspect and officially charge him with anything without having something that's clear cut, that we knew was a—was a prosecutable case.

The key to prosecuting Keyon, they felt, was Carla Hughes, but she wasn't talking. Carla Hughes wanted no part of a plea deal. She wanted an acquittal, and she was willing to wait years, if need be, for the chance to face a jury that could give her that.

Coming up, Carla gets her chance as she comes face to face with a jury and her former lover.

JOHN EMFINGER: Carla Hughes, do you see her in this courtroom?

KEYON PITTMAN: Yes.

JOHN EMFINGER: Will you point to her, please?

When DATELINE continues.

Part 9:

The Tennessee walking horses Carla Hughes used to ride and show are known for their high-stepping gait, gentle nature and endurance, all traits that Carla herself seemed to personify.

As a teenager, she'd been a model of good breeding both on stage and off. Now, as a young woman, she'd endured nearly three years in jail while awaiting trial for the double murder of her rival, Avis Banks, and Avis' unborn child. Though she potentially faced the death penalty if convicted, Carla Hughes had repeatedly rebuffed inducements to implicate her former lover, and Avis' former fiancé, Keyon Pittman.

JOHNNIE WALLS: If you point the finger at him, they going to back away from you and try to say that he's the one.

On Valentine's Day 2008, little more than a year after the murder, the detectives sent Carla a special Valentine's message via her attorney Johnnie Walls. It was a copy of a marriage certificate that showed Keyon had married someone else and left the state. They'd hoped that sentimental bombshell might prompt a confession, but they were disappointed. Walls says Carla's only response was, ‘I'm not surprised.’

In October 2009, the former lovers met again. This time, Carla would be on trial for her life, and Keyon's secret life would be laid bare for all to see.

MICHAEL GUEST: Myself and Senator Walls, we wore dual hats. We were both prosecuting and defending. We knew that, you know, the defense was going to have to try to shift the blame off of Carla Hughes, and we knew that the person that they were going to shift that blame onto was, in fact, Keyon Pittman.

From the outset, prosecutors seemed to have ample evidence to prove the former beauty queen was a killer.

MICHAEL GUEST: There will be but one verdict which you can reach, and that verdict will be that this defendant, Carla Hughes, is in fact guilty of capital murder in the death of Avis Banks.

Not only did they have witnesses who would say Carla had the murder weapon in her position...

MICHAEL GUEST: Do you become concerned that this gun may have been used in a crime?

KEYON PITTMAN: Well, yes, I felt uneasy.

...they also had lab tests that revealed Avis Banks' blood was found on a pair of shoes found in Carla's closet.

MICHAEL GUEST: The tread pattern of those shoes matches the tread pattern that officers had photographed and documented and observed on the rear door of Avis Banks' residence.

And then there were the cell phone records. With graphs, charts and expert testimony, the prosecution could put Carla Hughes in close proximity to the murder scene.

MICHAEL GUEST: But the records of Carla Hughes show that at 5:37 PM and then again at, I believe, 6:05 PM, that she is either making or receiving two phone calls, and that those calls both are bouncing off a tower located less than a quarter of a mile from the residence where Avis Banks was killed.

At the same time, cell records seemed to provide a convincing alibi for Keyon Pittman, the ex-boyfriend Carla's defense team hoped to implicate.

MICHAEL GUEST: It would have been impossible for him to have left basketball practice, gone home, committed the murder and then returned to basketball practice.

It seemed like a solid case. But with nine women on the jury, prosecutors were well aware that their biggest problem could be their key witness, Keyon Pittman.

MICHAEL GUEST: Keyon Pittman, the fiancé of Avis Banks, had not been faithful to Avis during the course of their engagement, that he had been involved with relationships with other women, and at the time of the crime that he was involved in a romantic relationship with the defendant, Carla Hughes.

The dicey job of managing Keyon's testimony fell to veteran assistant prosecutor John Emfinger.

JOHN EMFINGER: Keyon Pittman's story is essential to the case. His relationship with Avis Banks, his relationship with Carla Hughes, that's the sum and total of this case. And so he had to tell the story because we couldn't get it from anywhere else.

KEYON PITTMAN: My name is Keyon Pittman.

The man who had not spoken to police since the night of his fiancée’s murder three years earlier now had a story to tell, and a packed courtroom hanging on every word.

JOHN EMFINGER: Carla Hughes. Do you see her in this courtroom?

KEYON PITTMAN: Yes.

JOHN EMFINGER: Will you point to her, please?

Coming up, a true confession from Keyon.

JOHN EMFINGER: Do you feel any responsibility for her death?

KEYON PITTMAN: Yes.

When Deadly Attraction continues.

Part 10:

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Keyon was saying, you know, that someone has killed Avis.

DETECTIVE JOHN NEAL: We're going to classify him as a suspect.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER 1: Keyon Pittman has not been charged.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER 2: Keyon Pittman clammed up.

MICHAEL GUEST: That he had been involved with relationships with other women.

JOHNNIE WALLS: Keyon was a bona fide womanizer.

Nearly three years after the murder of his fiancée, Avis Banks, Keyon Pittman brought his battered reputation into a crowded Mississippi courtroom and took the stand as the chief witness for the prosecution against his former lover, Carla Hughes.

JOHN EMFINGER: Am I concerned when you have a witness on the stand that's not necessarily a lovable fellow? Then yeah, we are… But the only thing that I can hope for is that he's telling the truth and that the jury believes that this is the truth that he's telling, not trying to hide it; warts and all, this is it.

From the very beginning, Keyon Pittman appeared to be on the verge of an emotional meltdown, but in this room he would find little sympathy.

JOHNNIE WALLS: Oh, well, he didn't cry. He faked it.

CARL HUGHES: Were they real tears?

JOHN EMFINGER: I don't know whether he was crying or was not crying.

MS. BANKS: He rubbed his eye for to make them red. That boy ain't cry.

With Carla Hughes sitting just a few feet away, Keyon Pittman recounted how their relationship had begun in August 2006 as a friendship between colleagues at Chastain Middle School. Then, he said, it quickly blossomed into a torrid affair worthy of Hollywood.

KEYON PITTMAN: It started moving pretty fast.

But the movie scenes Keyon described seemed more like "Fatal Attraction" than "Love Story."

JOHN EMFINGER: Were you infatuated with Miss Hughes?

KEYON PITTMAN: Yes.

JOHN EMFINGER: What did you think was going on? What did you think was happening?

KEYON PITTMAN: A sexual adventure.

According to Keyon Pittman, the relationship was all about sex. In addition to frequent liaisons at her townhouse, Keyon said they'd even managed a romantic weekend in Memphis when he'd told Avis he was helping a friend move.

JOHN EMFINGER: Were you going to leave Avis Banks for Carla Hughes, or how did you view the long-term prospects for your relationship with Carla Hughes?

KEYON PITTMAN: There was no long term. It was—it was sexual, caught up in the moment—speaking of myself. There never was a long-term plan with Carla.

But before long, Keyon said he noticed that Carla was taking their sexual romps a little too seriously. He said she insisted he meet her parents and introduced him to friends as her future husband. At one point, he said, she even told him she was pregnant.

KEYON PITTMAN: She expected or wanted me to pretty much leave Avis and come with her, and my—she wanted that to be over with and come with her and be with her and take care of the supposed baby that she had.

Though that pregnancy turned out to be a false alarm, Keyon told the court that Carla started stalking him and Avis, and even threatened to confront Avis face to face.

KEYON PITTMAN: She got pissed. She was like, ‘You know what, I want to go talk to Avis. I'm going.’ And she got in the vehicle and headed towards my house.

Following in his own car, Keyon says he called Carla on his cell phone and told her he would call the cops if she ever went near his fiancée.

KEYON PITTMAN: After that, she just went the other way. I'm not sure where she went, but she didn't come to the house that night.

A close call, to be sure. But, according to Keyon, no matter how often he told Carla he would never leave Avis, she would not let up. On the weekend after Thanksgiving that year, Keyon told the court that Carla had rented a hotel room in Picayune, Mississippi, where he and Avis were visiting his mother. Through text messages, Keyon says she asked him to leave Avis at his mother's house and meet up with her at a restaurant outside of

town. Incredibly, he did.

JOHN EMFINGER: What was the nature of your visit or your conversation with Miss Hughes at that point in time?

KEYON PITTMAN: Well, she had got upset because I wouldn't stay out late at that point in time, or I wouldn't show her around the sites or whatever it was. And we kind of—well, we did, you know, get into it. She was pissed about that.

JOHN EMFINGER: How did that visit end?

KEYON PITTMAN: It ended on a bad note.

Bad – but not bad enough for either of them to terminate the affair. Four days later, Keyon was still seeing Carla Hughes, and his fiancée, Avis Banks, was dead.

JOHN EMFINGER: Did you inflict those wounds on Avis Banks?

KEYON PITTMAN: No, sir.

JOHN EMFINGER: Did you kill her?

KEYON PITTMAN: No, sir.

JOHN EMFINGER: Did you kill your unborn child?

KEYON PITTMAN: No, sir.

JOHN EMFINGER: Do you know who did?

KEYON PITTMAN: No, sir.

This was where the delicate, high-wire work began. Prosecutor John Emfinger needed his star witness to implicate Carla Hughes but avoid implicating himself by hinting that he knew anything about the murder, either before or after it happened.

JOHN EMFINGER: Do you feel any responsibility for her death?

KEYON PITTMAN: Yes.

JOHN EMFINGER: Tell me how.

KEYON PITTMAN: If I would have stayed faithful to who I was with. If I hadn't been thinking poorly, making bad choices, or made a bad choice to sleep around and flirt with other women, this chain of events would have never taken place, probably.

JOHN EMFINGER: Now, you don't have any personal knowledge about who may have killed Avis, do you?

KEYON PITTMAN: No.

JOHN EMFINGER: The only information that you have or that you know is things that you've read in the media or that you may have heard during the course of the investigation of the case, is that correct?

KEYON PITTMAN: That's—yes.

JOHN EMFINGER: I'm convinced that he did not know about it beforehand. I am convinced that when he left Carla Hughes' apartment that night that he knew something was wrong. His explanation to me is he's never been able to not contact Avis.

Carla Hughes' attorney, Johnnie Walls, was considerably less inclined to give Keyon Pittman the benefit of the doubt when his turn came to offer a defense.

JOHNNIE WALLS: The evidence in this case is going to show you that Keyon Pittman was their suspect and he still should be their suspect, and the evidence will show that you that you should let Carla Hughes go home.

Coming up, score one for the defense.

JOHNNIE WALLS: Have you found any evidence, fingerprints or otherwise, that places Carla Hughes in that house?

DETECTIVE FRANK DILLARD: No, sir.

Is Carla in the clear? When Dateline continues.

Part 11:

CARL HUGHES: That one's Carla's. And that's the one she did all the winning on.

For three years, while his only child sat in jail awaiting trial for murder, Carl Hughes kept the faith. Her ribbons and trophies might be vanishing beneath blankets of dust, but her father's pride remained untarnished.

CARL HUGHES: Still proud of her.

Carl felt it in his bones. His little girl was not, could never have been the person prosecutors now portrayed as a cold-blooded killer. With her former lover now married to someone else, Carl could see only one explanation for Carla's refusal to implicate him.

CARL HUGHES: I don't think she knows anything. I honestly don't think she knows anything.

HODA KOTB: Really?

CARL HUGHES: Because if she knew, she would have told us something, and especially after he gets married.

HODA KOTB: Right.

CARL HUGHES: If there's—If there's anything. So I might—she doesn't know anything. So what could she tell?

But Carla's attorney, Johnnie Walls, knew he had to tell the jury something, an alternative theory that might convince at least one juror that someone other than Carla Hughes killed Avis Banks.

JOHNNIE WALLS: Another reasonable hypothesis is that that boyfriend could have killed his fiancée. And if you think that's reasonable, then your duty is to find her not guilty.

With that in mind, the defense attorney became a prosecutor, and set his sites on Keyon Pittman.

JOHNNIE WALLS: My prosecution did not have to show the jury beyond a reasonable doubt that Keyon did it. My prosecution was to show the jury that there's another theory with this evidence. The evidence in this case is going to show you that Keyon Pittman is the one that had the opportunity, had the ability and had the motive.

It was all a setup, Walls told the jury. Keyon had a key to Carla's apartment. Keyon knew Carla kept her cousin's gun in her nightstand. Keyon knew Carla had a pair of shoes that fit him because he'd borrowed them in the past. And most importantly, he said, Keyon had a fiancée he wanted to get rid of.

JOHNNIE WALLS: Keyon was a bona fide womanizer, and he did not want this child.

According to Walls, Keyon Pittman must have planted incriminating evidence, the gun and a pair of blood-flecked shoes in Carla's townhouse, after the murder. Because police found no trace of her at the scene of the crime.

JOHNNIE WALLS: Have you found any evidence, fingerprints or otherwise, that places Carla Hughes in that house?

DETECTIVE FRANK DILLARD: No sir.

In fact, Walls argued that a police dog had failed to turn up even the scent of a stranger at the murder scene. On the other hand, the lawyer accused the police of dropping the ball when they had Keyon Pittman in the police station that night.

JOHNNIE WALLS: If you really consider him a suspect, why not check his clothes for gunpowder residue?

They didn't check his clothes. Checked his hands, though. And they found gunpowder particles on his hands.

JOHNNIE WALLS: Well, if they found them on his hands, why not go further and check his clothes? They didn't. Okay. If they did, they never showed the report to us.

The cell phone records that prosecutors said put Carla in the area, Walls said, amounted to nothing. She lived less than four miles from the murder scene and happened to be out running errands that night.

JOHNNIE WALLS:They could not even put her on the street. With the cell phone evidence, they could put her in the zone. But the zone is two and a half mile radius.

On the stand, Keyon had claimed that he rushed home from Carla's house that night because he'd become concerned about not hearing from Avis while he was at basketball practice.

KEYON PITTMAN: I kept going home. I picked up my pace, you know, trying to get home because it wasn't like her not to call.

Johnnie Walls was skeptical. Cell phone records showed that Keyon had called Avis' cell twice that day, once at lunchtime and once again just before he arrived home and found her body.

JOHNNIE WALLS: Isn't it true that you only called your fiancée twice that day?

KEYON PITTMAN: Yes.

Why so few calls to Avis if he'd been concerned about her? Walls argued that Keyon clearly had time to call because cell records showed dozens of calls and text messages he'd made to others during basketball practice that night. Besides his calls to Carla, Walls argued, Keyon was also busy flirting with another woman, a Bridgette Matlock, the mother of one of his players.

JOHNNIE WALLS: Wasn't Bridgette Matlock present at practice?

KEYON PITTMAN: Yes.

JOHNNIE WALLS: And didn't you spend time texting her on the 29th?

KEYON PITTMAN: Yes.

JOHNNIE WALLS: While you were at practice?

KEYON PITTMAN: Yes.

JOHNNIE WALLS: What do you call that?

KEYON PITTMAN: Texting.

JOHNNIE WALLS: Were you texting her about getting with her?

KEYON PITTMAN: I probably did.

JOHNNIE WALLS: Probably or did?

KEYON PITTMAN: Probably did. I don't remember what the texts were.

JOHNNIE WALLS: Didn't you text Bridgette or call Bridgette on the 29th at least 40 times during the day?

KEYON PITTMAN: I probably called her. But I don't know about 40 times.

As for Keyon's claim that Carla had stalked him, Johnnie Walls said it was Keyon who had pursued Carla, Keyon who had constantly called her, and it was Keyon who'd brazenly parked his mistress's motorcycle right under Avis' nose in his garage.

KEYON PITTMAN: I told her it was a buddy of mine. Carla was a buddy – sexual buddy.

JOHNNIE WALLS: Oh, okay. Well, did you tell your future wife that that motorcycle belongs to a sex partner that I'm having sex with?

KEYON PITTMAN: No, I didn't.

JOHNNIE WALLS: When you told her that the motorcycle was for a buddy, didn't you lie?

KEYON PITTMAN: I covered it up. If you asking me if I ever told a lie or whatever, yes, I have told lies before.

JOHNNIE WALLS: So you deceived her.

KEYON PITTMAN: Yes.

It was a withering assault on Keyon Pittman's character. Johnnie Walls even produced a witness who claimed Keyon had left basketball practice early, suggesting that Keyon could've possible driven home and killed Avis himself. But after two days on the stand, the most important part of Keyon's story, his alibi, still stood.

JOHN EMFINGER: Counsel asked you a number of times what would have kept you from standing in that door when Avis got home from work and doing this to Avis. Okay? Between 5:45 and 6:15, where were you?

KEYON PITTMAN: At basketball practice.

In the end, believing that he'd done all he could to create a reasonable doubt, the attorney decided not to put his client on the stand.

JOHNNIE WALLS: I did not want to put Carla on the stand and let the state make its whole case lambasting and beating her up on the stand about any kind of a—any matters that may not look good to the jury. And, you know, if you're a single woman and you're messing around with a guy that's supposedly engaged, women on the jury may not take too kindly to that.

And so, after six days of testimony, the jury of nine women and three men retired to consider the fate of Carla Hughes.

JUDGE: First thing, I want to compliment the lawyers on a well-tried case.

If convicted of a double homicide, she would face either a life sentence or death. If acquitted, the family of Avis Banks would be left wondering who killed Avis. And yet, in spite of the stakes, two families, linked by tragedy, had managed over the years since the murder to rise above rancor and forge an unlikely bond.

CARL HUGHES: Right after it happened, they wouldn't speak.

FRED BANKS: You know, we sitting over there. They sitting over here, so they think we angry.

CARL HUGHES: But after we started going to those hearings and those—and different little things, then he started to get a little bit more friendly and a little bit more friendly.

FRED BANKS: As the trial went on, we started talking. You know, real nice people sitting up there.

LINDA HUGHES: When the prosecutors was doing his closing arguments, Mrs. Banks became real upset. As she left the courtroom, I left and went outside, and I prayed with her, prayed for her, and I felt—I feel her pain. I do, I feel her pain.

It took the jury eight hours to reach a decision.

JUDGE: All right, the court having received the verdicts, if the defendant would please rise.

The verdict – and two fathers find peace.

CARL HUGHES: He said, ‘I'm praying for you,’ and I told him the same… And we kind of hugged, and he walked off.

When Deadly Attraction continues.

Part 12:

JUDGE: If the defendant would please rise.

There had been many times in her life when Carla Hughes had stood before an audience waiting to be judged. But this time, there was more than a tiara, scholarship money or a bouquet at stake: this time it was her life.

JUDGE: We, the jury, find the defendant Carla Hughes guilty of capital murder as charged in count one of the indictment, guilty of capital murder as charged in count two of the indictment.

And this time, her composure cracked under the weight of it all. In that moment, Fred Banks silently pointed to the sky and acknowledged the daughter he believed was watching from on high. A burden had been lifted.

FRED BANKS: It was just like, to me, all the hatred just left my body. You know, I mean, I told my wife, I say, something happened to me. It seemed like I was born again. I don't know. It was—it was a wonderful feeling.

LINDA BANKS: Shadow came from me.

FRED BANKS: Mm-hmm.

LINDA BANKS: It just like, whew.

FRED BANKS: Yeah.

LINDA BANKS: A shadow came from me, and it was all right.

Across the aisle, a shadow of disbelief settled over two parents who'd made raising the perfect daughter their life's work.

CARL HUGHES: I couldn't believe it. Just couldn't believe it. And I guess the hardest part was when they was taking her away. And she said, `Daddy, help me.' And there's nothing I can do. And that's probably the hardest part of it.

HODA KOTB: You want to help your little girl, I know.

CARL HUGHES: I did. But there's nothing I could do.

Immediately after the court recessed, attention turned to the penalty phase, where prosecutors were prepared to argue that Carla Hughes pay for the death of Avis Banks with her life.

MICHAEL GUEST: The thing about the case that bothered me was the fact that Miss Banks was pregnant. She was five months pregnant. She had done nothing to Carla Hughes. And then for her to be killed in the manner in which she was killed, I believe that this was a case that death needed to be an option for the jury.

MICHAEL GUEST: She takes a knife out and she stabs her, boom, boom, boom.

But while the prosecution focused on the brutal death of Avis Banks, the defense wanted the jury to hear about the life of Carla Hughes.

LINDA HUGHES: We received her when she was six weeks old. My cousin was in distress with other children, and she was not able to afford to take care of all of the children. And as soon as the two of us walked in that room and looked at that beautiful child, we knew we had to take her and raise her in the way that the Lord would have us to do.

With the help of a hastily assembled cast of character witnesses, Johnnie Walls told the story of how that little girl had gone from having an uncertain future to a bright and shining one

JOHNNIE WALLS: She's not just a client. Carla's my hero.

Then the lawyer, senator and family friend pleaded for her life.

JOHNNIE WALLS: You should want her to live so that maybe while she's there she can help somebody, like she's always done. So I ask you to spare her life because when you kill her, there's nothing you can do to bring her back. And if it's later determined that somebody else committed this crime, you won't be able to correct that!

After a one-hour deliberation, the jury returned to the courtroom one last time.

JUDGE: As to count one, sentence is, we the jury find that the defendant should be sentenced to life imprisonment without parole. As to count two, the life imprisonment without parole.

At 28, Greenville, Mississippi's golden girl – the prodigy who'd once seemed destined for greatness – now faced a grim future, the reality that the rest of her life would be spent behind bars.

It was then, when the courtroom was filled with the finality of such monumental waste, that a rare moment of grace shone through. Two fathers who'd invested all they had in their daughters consoled each other and said goodbye.

FRED BANKS: I saw me in him. The verdict came and I walked out, he just happened to be coming out, too, and I grabbed his hand to shake his hand, and I could see he was trying to embrace me, so I embraced him.

CARL HUGHES: And he said, ‘We both lost.’ Basically is what he meant, he lost a daughter and I'm fixing to lose one. And he said, `I'm praying for you,' and I told him the same. And we kind of hugged, and he walked off.

The man at the center of the case that brought Carl Hughes and Fred Banks together in that courtroom has now moved on and built a new life for himself a thousand miles away. But Detectives John Neal and Frank

Dillard say that even though Keyon Pittman was never charged in the murder of Avis Banks, he is still on their radar...

DETECTIVE JOHN NEAL: He got her to commit this murder.

...and still someone they'd like to talk to.

DETECTIVE JOHN NEAL: We know without a shadow of a doubt that we have the person in jail serving a life term who killed Avis Banks. We're absolutely confident in that, 100 percent. Our angle on Keyon Pittman is some type of an accessory.

HODA KOTB: That he may have manipulated her or something.

DETECTIVE JOHN NEAL: Aided her in setting it up or, at the very least, knew before he got to the house that she had been murdered.

Dateline tried to reach Keyon Pittman for comment for this story at his home in Michigan, but he did not return our calls.

DETECTIVE JOHN NEAL: We're hoping that Carla wants to talk to us at some point in time. We think that she's the one that holds the key to if Keyon was involved. And it may be that she drops another bombshell on us and he wasn't involved in any way.

That, it would seem, is wishful thinking.

CARLA HUGHES: [telephone] That is one of the biggest or the biggest misconception about my case, that I know something that I could tell the police.

In a phone interview from the prison where she is currently serving her life sentence, Carla Hughes told me she had never met Avis Banks and knows nothing about her murder.

CARLA HUGHES: [telephone] I have a five-year-old son who was two at the time, and if there was anything that I could have told the police, you can believe that I would have told them from day one. I did not know anything about it and I didn't participate in it. I was ultimately framed and used, and that's all I do know. That's all I could tell police.

HODA KOTB: [telephone] Who's framing you and using you?

CARLA HUGHES: [telephone] Whoever killed Avis Banks.

HODA KOTB: [telephone] Do you know who that person is?

CARLA HUGHES: [telephone] I don't. I wish I did...

HODA KOTB: [telephone] Mm-hmm.

CARLA HUGHES: [telephone]...so that I could be at home with my family.

Though Carla Hughes is currently appealing her conviction, Debra Banks says she is confident that Carla and the young man who almost became her son-in-law, Keyon Pittman, will never be able to escape her daughter's gaze.

DEBRA BANKS: Every time him and Carla close they eyes, they see Avis. He see her. He see her.

ANN CURRY: And you can find more information about this story on our Web site. And that's all for this edition of Dateline Friday. We're back again for Dateline Sunday at 7/6 Central. I'm Ann Curry, and, for all of us here at NBC News, good night.

© 2013 NBCNews.com  Reprints

Video: Deadly Affair

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