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Video: The House on Murder Mountain

NBC Universal Anchors and Correspondents
By Josh Mankiewicz Correspondent
NBC News
updated 8/2/2010 4:07:18 PM ET 2010-08-02T20:07:18

JOSH MANKIEWICZ reporting:  They call it Murder Mountain. So many

lives lost, so many of them young.

(House on hill; photo of Jason Kinser and Suzan Osborne; side-by-side photos

of Kinser, Suzan and Celesta Graves; photo of Suzan sunbathing; photo of

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Kinser)

VICKIE: He was the tow-headed kid that everybody loved.

MANKIEWICZ:  Her brother was murdered here, his daughter.

(Photo of Kinser; mobile home; Thomas Osborne)

Mr. THOMAS OSBORNE:  How can you take three lives—for what?

(Side-by-side photos of Graves, Kinser and Suzan)

MANKIEWICZ:  Police were certain they knew the answer to that

question, certain they had their killer.

(Police vehicles; weapons; photo of debris; photos of Scott Cannon)

MANKIEWICZ: Case closed.

Mr. ERIC MASON: Absolutely.

MANKIEWICZ:  But then a strange thing happened. With the

convicted killer locked away for life, the killing continued.

(House on hill and mobile home; mobile home; photo of shell casings; jail cell

closing; photo of Dan Spencer; Bimla Boyd)

Unidentified Woman: She had told Dan before that he’d never leave that hill

alive.

MANKIEWICZ:  The connection? One woman, the mysterious landlord

of Murder Mountain.

(Photo of Boyd; house on hill)

MANKIEWICZ: What do you now know about Bimla Boyd that you didn’t know?

Mr. SCOTT CANNON: Looks like she’s not afraid to kill people.

MANKIEWICZ:  What really happened up on that hill?

(House on hill; mobile home)

MATTHIAS:  As the years go by, fills me with this rage.

(Photo of Graves; photo of Kinser and Suzan)

MANKIEWICZ:  The House on Murder Mountain.

(Title graphic)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Profile: The House on Murder Mountain; Scott Cannon, convicted

of triple homicide, set free after new details emerge about case

THE HOUSE ON MURDER MOUNTAIN

ANN CURRY: Good evening and welcome to DATELINE. I’m Ann Curry. Many of us

remember that spooky place in the neighborhood when we were kids, where we

were too scared to go. But there is a place that even adults are spooked by

because it has been the scene of one tragedy after another. The question is

why. Here’s Josh Mankiewicz.

JOSH MANKIEWICZ reporting:  High in the rolling hills of central

Oregon, within sight of the state capital, where the landscape is lined with

endless acres of vineyards and miles of Christmas tree farms, sits an estate.

(Forest; city in distance; road through country; vineyards; Christmas tree

farm; house on hill in distance)

Mr. THOMAS OSBORNE: I know what evil is. I’ve seen evil. That place is

evil.

MANKIEWICZ:  It’s a place where many lives have ended in

mysterious ways, and what happened here in the space of 30 minutes more than a

decade ago is still unknown.

(Trees passing; house on hill; photos of hill and environs)

VICKIE: There’s got to be somebody out there that knows something...

KATHY: Mm-hmm.

VICKIE: ...that could take that doubt away.

MANKIEWICZ:  The story begins in the fall of 1998, just below that

big house on the hill. A young man had just moved into this mobile home.

Twenty-six-year-old Jason Kinser had been hired to be the property’s

caretaker. Kinser’s sisters, Vickie and Kathy:

(Country road; mobile home and house on the hill; photo of Jason Kinser;

Vickie and Kathy)

VICKIE: Jason, he was the tow-headed kid that everybody loved.

I mean, he always was smiling.

(Photos of Kinser)

KATHY: Made you laugh. Biggest smile.

MANKIEWICZ:  And living there with Jason Kinser? His fiancee,

Suzan Osborne, who was saving money to attend a school to care for tigers and

other large jungle cats. Suzan’s father, Thomas Osborne:

(Mobile home; photo of Kinser and Suzan Osborne; photos of Suzan, Kinser and

Suzan, and Suzan and Thomas Osborne)

Mr. OSBORNE: She was going to take care of the house, I guess. And he was

going to do odd jobs.

MANKIEWICZ: You liked him? You approved of him?

Mr. OSBORNE: Jason was like a son. Everybody liked Jason.

MANKIEWICZ:  But on the afternoon of November 23rd, 1998,

Osborne’s phone rang. On the other end was a woman who he would later learn

was the owner of that big house on the hill, a woman named Bimla Boyd.

(Thomas on deck; house on hill; photo of Bimla Boyd)

Mr. OSBORNE:  Bimla Boyd was screaming, ‘They’re dead.’

(Phone off hook)

Mr. OSBORNE: ‘Somebody shot them.’

MANKIEWICZ: Did you know who Bimla Boyd was at that point?

Mr. OSBORNE: Not at all, no.

MANKIEWICZ: How’d she have your phone number?

Mr. OSBORNE: I don’t know. It was about two hours later, a detective came

to the house and told us that—what had happened.

MANKIEWICZ:  What that woman, the estate owner, had said was sadly

true. Inside the mobile home, Jason Kinser lay dead on his kitchen floor,

under the trailer the bodies of Suzan Osborne and of a friend, 25-year-old

Celesta Graves. Investigators believe Kinser was killed first and that the

women were then chased, cornered and executed, their killer working

methodically to make sure he or she did not leave witnesses behind.

(Trees at sunset passing; photo of Boyd; crime scene photos; photo of Celesta

Graves; mobile home)

VICKIE: I always think about those two girls underneath that trailer.

And that’s just wrong. And I think about my brother laying on the

floor, thinking through his mind, ‘Gosh, did I deserve this?’ You know, what

was he thinking. ‘How could I have let it come to this?’

(Photo of Graves; crime scene photo; photo of Kinser and Suzan; mobile home)

VICKIE: They didn’t deserve that. They didn’t deserve that.

Mr. OSBORNE: Even today, you know, I can still see my wife sitting across

the table and just—she’s completely unglued.

MANKIEWICZ: What did you think had happened out there?

Mr. OSBORNE: Somebody went nuts and killed three kids. Why? Don’t know.

MANKIEWICZ:  Investigators for the Polk County Sheriff’s Office

had little to go on: a few spent shell casings near the bodies; but no murder

weapon or weapons, believed to be .22 caliber pistols; and no witnesses beyond

the estate owner, Bimla Boyd. She told detectives that at about 3:45 that

afternoon she’d looked out her window and seen smoke coming from the mobile

home below. When she’d driven down the hill, she said, she’d put out a fire

inside the trailer, a fire apparently set near the wood stove to consume the

evidence of the killings. She found the bodies, and at 3:57 PM, she called

911.

(Crime scene photos; photo of shell casings; photos of house and mobile home;

photo of Boyd; exiting door; mobile home; moving down hill; mobile home; crime

scene photo with fire overlaid; clock; phone off hook)

MANKIEWICZ: Despite the lack of evidence, investigators soon discovered

information they thought might help identify the killer. Jason Kinser, the

kid with the smile who was loved by everyone, turned out to be a small time

drug dealer with, police said, plans of making it to the big time. He had two

previous drug convictions and a new arrest just weeks before the murder. More

importantly, Kinser had been involved in a number of drug deals that went

wrong, leading, police said, to threats against Jason Kinser’s life.

Mr. ERIC MASON: There were people who told Jason at the time, ‘This is

dangerous.’

MANKIEWICZ:  At the time of the murders, Eric Mason was an

investigative reporter for a TV station in Portland.

(Photos of Eric Mason and others)

MANKIEWICZ: Three people were killed that day.

Mr. MASON: Right.

MANKIEWICZ: But police thought at the time that Jason Kinser was the primary

victim; the two women were killed because they were witnesses.

Mr. MASON: That’s right. So I think when you start running through this

list of names—Bushwhacker, Duct Tape Mike, Nazi Red.

MANKIEWICZ: These are all drug dealers who were angry at Jason Kinser?

Mr. MASON: These were all people with stated motive to kill Jason Kinser,

and you have to ask yourself if one of those threats someone made good on.

MANKIEWICZ:  And at least one more of the victims had recently

faced drug charges. Celesta Graves had been arrested for possession and then

released from jail just days before her murder. Her sister Jennifer:

(Crime scene photos; photo of Graves; flashing police lights; mobile home)

JENNIFER: She was a loving, caring person with a good soul.

MANKIEWICZ: What was she up to when you last talked to her?

JENNIFER: Hanging out with the wrong people. Doing the wrong things.

MANKIEWICZ:  For Suzan Osborne’s family, as well, the fact that

drugs may have played a role in her murder is part of a much larger mystery.

(Mobile home; photos of Kinser and Suzan)

MANKIEWICZ: And your daughter never mentioned anything to do with drugs or

anybody even being angry at Jason, or Jason having any enemies.

Mr. OSBORNE: She told Irene one time while they were in—sitting in the

kitchen, was talking, which they did quite often, that she was scared, OK? I

don’t know why. And now, she might have told her mom why, but she never told

me.

MANKIEWICZ:  Although an arrest would soon come, it would also be

clear to the families and to that reporter that there was evil yet to be

revealed here on Murder Mountain.

(Police vehicle; crime scene; aerial view of mobile home; trees passing; house

on hill)

MANKIEWICZ:  And secrets revealed about the mysterious landlord of

Murder Mountain.

(Mobile home; photo of Boyd; porch; mobile home)

Mr. MASON: She was the person who told police, ‘There isn’t anybody that

comes and goes off the property that I don’t know about.’

MANKIEWICZ:  But was she telling the truth?

(Photos of mobile home and house; door)

(Announcements)

MANKIEWICZ:  On a 30-acre Oregon estate in November 1998 the

bodies of three murder victims—Celesta Graves, Suzan Osborne and Jason

Kinser—were found in and underneath this mobile home. Stories of drug

dealing and death threats swirled around the scene. Detectives believed Jason

to be the target. Suzan and Celesta were simply heart-rending collateral

damage. Suzan’s father, Tom Osborne:

(House on hill; mobile home; trees at sunset; crime scene photos; photos of

Graves, Suzan and Kinser; crime scene photos; ambulance; mobile home; photos

of Graves, Kinser and Suzan; Thomas on deck)

Mr. OSBORNE: Why? Why does something like this happen? How can you take

three lives—for what? What could make you so mad, so upset to take three

lives of young people like that? No.

MANKIEWICZ:  And then, just a little more than 24 hours after the

bodies were found, Polk County sheriff’s investigators thought they had an

answer, and they would make an arrest. The suspect, 32-year-old Scott Cannon,

a plumber who on the day of the murders was at the trailer providing an

estimate for repairs, the father of one young son with another on the way.

But he was also a pot and meth user, and his motive, investigators believed,

was a drug deal that went sideways.

(Aerial view of mobile home; police vehicle; photo of Scott Cannon; van;

trailer interior; photo of Cannon; mobile home; marijuana joint; baggies full

of substances; photo of Cannon; mobile home)

Mr. MASON: They had a guy who was on drugs. He was in the meth world.

MANKIEWICZ:  Former investigative reporter Eric Mason:

(Mason)

Mr. MASON: He looked like a good suspect. He knew drug dealers.

He liked weapons. And when police showed up and started looking

around his garage, what was in his garage looked pretty good to them.

(Photo of Cannon; crime scene photos; photos of weapons)

MANKIEWICZ:  What police found was an extensive gun collection.

No murder weapon, but hundreds of rounds of bullets, and these: homemade

silencers. It was circumstantial, but it was enough. Scott Cannon was

charged with three murders. If convicted, facing the death penalty. When his

trial began here at the Polk County, Oregon, courthouse in January of 2000,

the heart of the prosecution’s case was the theory that Scott Cannon was the

only person at the scene who could have committed the crime. Two witnesses

who it turns out were making a drug delivery that day testified that as they

arrived shortly after 3:30 PM, Cannon met them outside the mobile home and

acted strangely, discouraged the two from going outside and then followed them

off the property in his van.

(Photos of weapons; Cannon in court; courthouse; empty courtroom; Cannon’s mug

shot; crime scene photos; road; mobile home; photo of Cannon; van)

MANKIEWICZ:  Then the prosecution’s star witness sealed the deal.

Remember the estate owner, Bimla Boyd? She said that right after Cannon’s van

left, she saw smoke coming from the trailer. She’d gone down, put out the

fire, discovered Jason Kinser’s body, and then at 3:57, dialed 911.

(Empty courtroom; house on hill; photo of Boyd; van; mobile home seen from

house; crime scene photo with fire overlaid; clock; phone off hook)

Mr. MASON: She was the person who told police, ‘There isn’t anybody that

comes and goes off the property that I don’t know about.’

So when she sees the van, she tells police, and that eventually

led to Scott Cannon.

(Photo of van; crime scene photos; photo of Cannon)

MANKIEWICZ:  And finally, prosecutors had high-caliber science

linking Cannon to the murders. It steamed as foolproof as DNA. An expert in

an obscure methodology called comparative bullet lead analysis told jurors

that bullets found in Scott Cannon’s garage were chemically indistinguishable

from lead in the slugs found in the murder victims. The chance that they

didn’t match was one in 64 million.

(Cannon in court; newspaper article; gun being fired; “reactor on” sign;

reactor; readouts; photo of weapons; crime scene photos; bullet casings)

Mr. MASON: The bullet lead analysis showed the match of the lead found at

the scene with the lead found at his house in a box.

MANKIEWICZ: Case closed.

Mr. MASON: Absolutely.

MANKIEWICZ: Scott Cannon was in disbelief. No murder weapon, no

eyewitnesses, but there he was, a self-described recreational drug user on

trial for his life. When it came time for his defense, Cannon simply said

that all the people in the mobile home had been alive when he finished his

work that day. He described the Hispanic looking man who he said had been at

the trailer and who might have been the real killer. The prosecution’s case

was almost entirely circumstantial, but before Cannon knew it, the jury was

back with word on his fate.

What’d you think when you heard the word guilty?

Mr. OSBORNE: I was satisfied. I felt that justice had been done.

MANKIEWICZ:  Scott Cannon avoided the death penalty. What he got

was life in prison without parole.

(Newspaper articles)

VICKIE: I’ve always felt that for those three kids, the person that had

committed the murders was at least suffering—not as much as they did, but at

least suffering enough by being kept away from his family and his life.

KATHY: Mm-hmm.

MANKIEWICZ:  There was no doubt jurors believed Scott Cannon was a

merciless killer. But what remained a mystery was his motive. Prosecutors

never offered any real explanation for the crime, and the families were left

to wonder.

(Empty juror seats; Cannon in court; Cannon leaving court)

MANKIEWICZ: Is it hard to not really understand what happened?

VICKIE: That’s probably the hardest part. It’s like, you can send your son

off to war and he gets killed in war, and you know why.

KATHY: Mm-hmm.

VICKIE: You can drive down the road, and a drunk driver can kill your child,

and you know why. But for these three kids, they just—they weren’t doing

anything. And it was—for what?

MANKIEWICZ:  The trial was over, the case closed. But the story

wasn’t over. It would soon become clear that those three deaths on this

property were just the beginning as the killing continued on Murder Mountain.

(Prison exterior; trees passing; house on hill; photos of Graves, Kinser and

Suzan by other photos; house on hill; mobile home)

MANKIEWICZ:  And this time the killer was Bimla Boyd, the estate

owner, and a key witness against Scott Cannon.

(Mobile home; photo of Boyd; mobile home; Boyd behind bars; Cannon behind

bars)

MANKIEWICZ: What do you know about Bimla Boyd you didn’t know at your trial?

Mr. SCOTT CANNON: It looks like she’s not afraid to kill people.

MANKIEWICZ:  When DATELINE continues.

(Dateline graphic)

(Announcements)

MANKIEWICZ:  Nearly four years after the murders on this mountain

outside Salem, Oregon, Scott Cannon was serving three consecutive sentences of

life without parole at the state penitentiary when, again, gunfire erupted on

this property and another man lay dead. The victim? Again, a caretaker who

lived in that very same trailer where the three were gunned down below that

big house on the hill. The suspect? This time the estate owner herself,

Bimla Boyd.

(House on hill; signs; mug shots of Cannon; penitentiary exterior; house on

hill; mobile home; photo of Dan Spencer; house and mobile home; photo of Boyd)

Mr. MASON: (Newscast) What do all these deaths have in common? Well, the

owner, Bimla Boyd.

MANKIEWICZ:  That local investigative reporter, Eric Mason, was

now covering a new murder case, the case of Bimla Boyd.

(Mason on television)

Mr. MASON: All of a sudden at 5909 Orchard Heights Road, the same address,

there’s this shooting.

Unidentified Man #1: (In court) That’s correct, Your Honor. It’s my

understanding she has been arraigned.

MANKIEWICZ:  Bimla Boyd had gone from witness in one murder to

suspect in another.

(Boyd in court; photos of Boyd)

Unidentified Man #2: (In court) We will continue to...(unintelligible).

Man #1: (In court) Thank you.

MANKIEWICZ:  Who was Bimla Boyd? And what was the story behind

this latest killing on the estate? The reporter began digging. Here’s what

he found. Bimla Boyd was then 46 years old, born in Fiji, a single mother of

three who’d come to America two decades before, a devout Jehovah’s Witness who

was three times divorced. After the murders in 1998, Boyd hired a new

caretaker, Dan Spencer. He’d moved into the same mobile home where the

killings had occurred. Family members say Boyd and Spencer soon became more

than friends. But Boyd, family and neighbors say, threatened Spencer who he

said he wanted to leave. Here’s what one neighbor had to say.

(Boyd in court; house on hill; Mason driving; photo of Boyd; trees passing in

sunlight; sun setting on different landscapes; photos of Boyd; photo of Boyd

by photo of Spencer; crime scene photos; photo of Boyd by photo of Spencer;

mobile home)

Unidentified Woman: She had told Dan before that he’d never leave that hill

alive.

MANKIEWICZ:  And Dan Spencer did not. Bimla Boyd admitted

shooting Spencer, but claimed she’d caught him sexually abusing her teenage

daughter. In the end, Boyd cut a deal, pleading guilty to manslaughter, and

agreeing to serve nearly seven years in prison.

(Road in wilderness; house on hill; empty courtroom)

MANKIEWICZ:  And in a prison just 10 miles away from the scene of

the murders, the news of Bimla Boyd’s conviction was more than surprising.

(Prison exterior; Boyd in court)

Mr. CANNON: My celly came down there and said, ‘Hey, man, you’re on the

news.’ And I said, you know, what’s up? And he said, ‘Well, that gal that

testified against you killed somebody.’

MANKIEWICZ:  This is Scott Cannon. You can imagine his surprise

when he heard the news that the woman who’d been the star witness against him

was now a convicted killer herself.

(Josh Mankiewicz interviewing Cannon)

MANKIEWICZ: What do you now know about Bimla Boyd that you didn’t know at

your trial?

Mr. CANNON: Looks like she’s not afraid to kill people.

MANKIEWICZ:  But would the latest death on what became known as

Murder Mountain make any difference in Cannon’s case? When we met him in

April 2009, he’d been behind bars for more than a decade, losing every appeal

he had ever filed, and he was still claiming that he did not kill Jason

Kinser, Suzan Osborne and Celesta Graves.

(House on hill; mobile home; Cannon in cell; photo of Suzan and Kinser; photo

of Graves; penitentiary)

MANKIEWICZ: What do you most want people to know?

Mr. CANNON: Wrong guy is in prison.

MANKIEWICZ: Are you a killer?

Mr. CANNON: I’m not a killer.

MANKIEWICZ: It’s hard to say that, isn’t it?

Mr. CANNON: It’s easy to say I’m not a killer. It’s hard to be asked it

over and over and over.

MANKIEWICZ:  And while Cannon had been languishing in the state

pen, his family had stood by him. His girlfriend Sarah, the mother of his two

children:

(Cannon returning to cell; photo of Cannon, Sarah, Matthias and boy)

MANKIEWICZ: Scott says he told you to move on.

SARAH: Yeah. I don’t want to move on. I want Scott. I want him home.

MANKIEWICZ:  Son Matthias was nearly nine when he saw his father

arrested at gunpoint.

(Sarah and Matthias)

MATTHIAS: As the years go by, you know, it feels me with this rage that, you

know, penetrates nearly every single, you know, factor of my life. There’s an

injustice that happened here.

MANKIEWICZ: Scott Cannon’s version of the events of that deadly day has never

changed. He said that when he went out to the trailer to make some estimates

on plumbing repairs, he saw that unidentified Hispanic-looking man inside the

trailer and heard him arguing with another man, presumably Jason Kinser.

Cannon says he told one of the women what repairs were needed, and then he

says Suzan Osborne said the words the words that still haunt him.

Mr. CANNON: Suzan came out and said, ‘Maybe you’d better go.’ I have no

doubt in my mind she saved my life.

MANKIEWICZ: When you left the trailer, was everyone there still alive?

Mr. CANNON: To the best of my knowledge they were, sure. Hadn’t heard

shots, hadn’t—you know, could still hear bumping and thumping on the inside,

raising of voices. It sounded like two men.

MANKIEWICZ:  So, Cannon says, he turned to leave the mobile home.

The time? Shortly after 3:30 PM, he says, about the time those two men were

making a drug delivery arrived. Remember, they testified that Cannon met them

outside the trailer, acting strangely, discouraged them from going inside, and

then followed them off the property in his van.

(Mobile home; photo of Cannon; dirt road; photo of Cannon; mobile home; van)

MANKIEWICZ: The implication being the reason you didn’t want them to go

inside was that you’d already killed everyone in the trailer.

Mr. CANNON: That seems to be the state’s theory, yeah. I basically gave

them their alibi. I said they left before I did, and that alone puts them in

the clear.

MANKIEWICZ:  Cannon did that, he says, because he thought there

was trouble inside, not because he was trying to hide something. But if

neither Scott Cannon nor the drug delivery men committed the murders, then who

did? The arrest and conviction of Bimla Boyd raised suspicions with that

local investigative reporter. After all, if Boyd could kill a man in cold

blood, was she really the reliable witness she had seemed to be when she took

the stand against Scott Cannon?

(Photo of Cannon; crime scene photos; photo of Boyd; Mason on newscast; photo

of Boyd next to photo of Spencer; empty courtroom)

MANKIEWICZ: At trial she seemed to be just a witness who was telling the

truth, doing her duty.

Mr. MASON: I think if everyone in 2000 could have had a crystal ball and

said, you know, later on Bimla Boyd is going to take an SKS assault rifle and

shoot the next person that lived in the trailer, I think there might have been

a different level of trust in her testimony, certainly.

MANKIEWICZ:  But the reporter was about to take on a new role and

uncover new evidence about Bimla Boyd on the day of the murders, and maybe

even learn the identity of that mystery man from inside the mobile home.

(Mason)

MANKIEWICZ:  A young man who seemed to know a lot about what

happened in that trailer.

(Photo of man; mobile home; photo of Kinser and Suzan; photo of Graves)

Mr. MASON: He told his girlfriend, ‘You should have seen the look on those

girls’ faces when they were shot.’

MANKIEWICZ: Suggesting pretty clearly that he was there?

Mr. MASON: Absolutely.

MANKIEWICZ:  When The House on Murder Mountain continues.

(Title graphic)

(Announcements)

Mr. MASON: (Newscast) What do all these deaths have in common? Well, the

owner, Bimla Boyd.

MANKIEWICZ:  In 2005 Eric Mason left TV news for a new line of

work. The investigative reporter became a private investigator. And in 2008

the newly minted private eye walked into the Oregon State Penitentiary where,

at the visitor’s desk, he recognized an inmate named Scott Cannon.

(Mason; penitentiary exterior; photo of Cannon)

Mr. MASON: He said, you know, ‘I tried to find you. I’ve been—I’ve been

looking for you. I knew you were a good investigator. Would you take on my

case?’ And I said, ‘Absolutely.’ Not—I didn’t hesitate at all.

MANKIEWICZ: You covered this story as a journalist?

Mr. MASON: Correct.

MANKIEWICZ: And now you’re investigating it as a private eye?

Mr. MASON: Mm-hmm.

MANKIEWICZ: Is Scott Cannon a killer?

Mr. MASON: I don’t think so. I have confidence that Scott Cannon did not do

this crime.

MANKIEWICZ:  Mason joined forces with Mark Geiger, an attorney in

charge of Cannon’s appeal.

(Mark Geiger in court)

Mr. MARK GEIGER: I think when you look at the evidence, it becomes almost

one of those cases in which you can’t imagine how he could have done it

because there’s so many other people who could have done it.

MANKIEWICZ: And yet he was charged and convicted.

Mr. GEIGER: That’s correct.

MANKIEWICZ: Because, what, the state has some vendetta against him?

Mr. GEIGER: It appears to me that they locked onto Mr. Cannon and they just

wouldn’t let go, and they just ignored other evidence that was just very

overwhelming pointing to a whole cast of other characters.

MANKIEWICZ:  But if Scott Cannon didn’t kill the three victims,

then who did? That unknown Hispanic-looking man whom Cannon claimed was

inside the mobile home? Estate owner turned convicted killer Bimla Boyd? Or

someone else?

(Mobile home; Boyd in court; mobile home)

Mr. MASON: (Newscast) And no one would listen.

MANKIEWICZ:  First, Mason, the reporter turned private eye,

revisited the scene of the murder. He found this woman. She lives at the

bottom of the road leading to the house on the hill.

(Mason on news; Mason; Irene Morrow; dirt road)

Ms. IRENE MORROW: We were standing at the bottom of the hill down here.

MANKIEWICZ:  Irene Morrow told the private eye that on the day of

the murders in 1998 Bimla Boyd did not stay on the property the entire

afternoon as Boyd had told detectives. At one point she drove down the

driveway in such a hurry that she almost ran over Morrow’s husband, who had

gone out to get the mail.

(Morrow; house on hill; photo of Boyd; crime scene photo; mailboxes)

Ms. MORROW: When she saw us, she was visibly shaken. I mean, she didn’t

expect to see anybody. And she took off real fast. I mean, real fast. I was

standing right here when she came home, and it was almost as fast.

MANKIEWICZ:  The time? The witness says about 3:55 PM. Now,

remember, just two minutes later Bimla Boyd was on the phone to 911 reporting

the murders at 3:57 PM.

(Water beading on windshield; clock; phone off hook; house on hill; clock)

MANKIEWICZ: What do you think Bimla Boyd was doing when Irene Morrow saw her

leave the property before 4:00 and then come back before she made that 911

call?

Mr. MASON: I don’t know, but I think it certainly would have impeached her

testimony about the events of that day. And had you been able to impeach

Bimla Boyd in 1998, Scott Cannon I don’t think would be sitting in prison

right now.

MANKIEWICZ: And there’s one more thing that doesn’t add up. Bimla Boyd told

the 911 operator that when she found Jason Kinser, he was alive and gasping

for air. The problem with that is that the autopsy found Kinser lived less

than a minute after being shot, so Bimla Boyd almost certainly had to be

present when that fatal shot was fired.

Mr. GEIGER: She either saw it or she took part in the shooting, because you

can’t be there that close there too and not see something.

MANKIEWICZ:  And Boyd apparently did see something. The evidence?

This letter obtained by DATELINE in Bimla Boyd’s own handwriting, according to

her own family and a handwriting expert, written five years after the murders.

The letter reads, , quote, “I was an eyewitness to a triple homicide at

gunpoint, a drug deal went wrong, and I happened to be the only one to witness

the whole ordeal,” end quote.

(Photo of Boyd; handwritten letter by crime scene photos)

MANKIEWICZ:  To Cannon’s defense team, Bimla Boyd, a convicted

killer herself, should now be viewed as a viable suspect in these three

homicides as well. But she was not the only one, because as they began trying

to identify the Hispanic-looking man whom Cannon had always claimed was at the

mobile home the day of the murders, look what they found in the dusty court

file: a photo array, or a throwdown, as it’s called, made by Polk County

detectives in the hours after the murder, like a police lineup with photos.

In it, only dark-haired Hispanic-looking men. Mason, the reporter turned

private eye, took the photo array to prison and showed it to convicted killer

Scott Cannon.

(Boyd in court; photos of Graves, Kinser and Suzan; Boyd in court; mobile

home; photo of Tom McMahon; Mason; Cannon and Mason)

Mr. MASON: Ten years after this crime, I walk into the Oregon State

Penitentiary, and I said, ‘If the person that was there at the trailer that

day that you saw is in this throwdown, I want you to point at him.’ And he

pointed at Tom McMahon without hesitation.

MANKIEWICZ:  Thomas McMahon isn’t actually Hispanic, but you can

see how someone might mistake him. At the time he was well-known in the drug

world and he knew murder victim Jason Kinser. Did that unidentified

Hispanic-looking man finally have a name?

(Photo of McMahon; photo of Kinser by photo of McMahon; mobile home)

Mr. CANNON: It clicked, yeah.

MANKIEWICZ: You told police in 1998 that there was a Hispanic guy in the

trailer when you got there?

Mr. CANNON: Yeah.

MANKIEWICZ: You didn’t see a picture of McMahon until 2009?

Mr. CANNON: Yep.

MANKIEWICZ: And that was the guy?

MANKIEWICZ: Yeah.

MANKIEWICZ:  But how had Polk County sheriff’s detectives known to

put Tom McMahon’s picture in a photo array to begin with? It turns out that

when murder victim Jason Kinser had been arrested for selling methamphetamines

six weeks before he was killed, guess who was arrested along with him? Tom

McMahon. The PI also learned about a phone call McMahon made right after the

murders.

(Sheriff’s vehicle; photo of McMahon; photo of Suzan and Kinser; photo of

Kinser next to photo of McMahon; Mason on phone; crime scene photos)

Mr. MASON: He called his girlfriend in the hours after this shooting and

told her details that no one else could have known. He told his girlfriend,

‘You should have seen the look on those girls’ faces when they were shot.’

MANKIEWICZ: Suggesting pretty clearly that he was there.

Mr. MASON: Absolutely.

MANKIEWICZ:  A story backed up by this affidavit from the

girlfriend, who said at the time of the murders, McMahon’s “behavior became

increasingly erratic and paranoid,” and by a one-time cell mate, who says

McMahon told him he’d shot the three “execution style.” That cell mate told

Polk County investigators about McMahon’s admission, and they wrote this

report in 1999 before Scott Cannon ever went to trial.

(Affidavits; photo of McMahon; police report; photo of Cannon)

Mr. GEIGER: That report was never discovered to the defense team, which is a

huge constitutional issue.

MANKIEWICZ: But police heard about it?

Mr. GEIGER: Yeah, that—we got it from a police report.

MANKIEWICZ: It’s hard to believe that police would not disclose someone else

essentially admitting to the shootings.

Mr. GEIGER: It is.

MANKIEWICZ:  But for some mysterious reason, Tom McMahon was never

pursued further as a murder suspect or called as a witness at Cannon’s trial.

DATELINE tried to find out why, but the Polk County sheriff and district

attorney declined to answer any of our questions regarding McMahon.

(Mobile home; photo of McMahon; empty courtroom; sheriff’s office exterior)

Mr. MASON: No one can prove why Tom McMahon ended up just sort of falling

off the end of the earth there.

MANKIEWICZ: But police knew about him?

Mr. MASON: Absolutely.

MANKIEWICZ:  With new suspects, new witnesses, new evidence and

information, Scott Cannon was about to get an extraordinary chance for a new

trial for the freedom that he says should belong to him.

(Sheriff’s vehicle; photo of McMahon, Boyd; handwritten letter; Cannon in

jail)

MANKIEWICZ:  Coming up, would Scott Cannon get that chance? Not

everyone thought he should.

(Cannon in court; cell door opening; Thomas on porch; Cannon in cell)

MANKIEWICZ: You think the right man’s in jail?

Mr. OSBORNE: Yeah.

MANKIEWICZ:  When DATELINE continues.

(Dateline graphic)

(Announcements)

MANKIEWICZ:  The Marion County Courthouse, Salem, Oregon, summer

2009. Scott Cannon, in prison for nearly 11 years for a triple murder, had a

court date, a hearing on all the points raised in his appeal, a hearing that

could end with him getting a new trial or being sent back to prison for life.

(Penitentiary exterior; Cannon in court; Geiger in court; Cannon in court)

MANKIEWICZ: You think you’ll ever get out of here?

Mr. CANNON: I’m confident I’m going to get out of here. I really am. Too

many things have happened to go my way at this point to slow it up.

MANKIEWICZ: You think Scott Cannon’s going to walk out of prison a free man

like this is some kind of movie?

Mr. GEIGER: I do. I don’t even think we’re going to have a trial. I think

this case is that good.

MANKIEWICZ:  But Cannon’s son Matthias, who’d grown from a boy of

nine who witnessed his father’s arrest into a teenager filled with rage,

wasn’t so sure.

(Matthias and child; Matthias and Sarah; Matthias)

MATTHIAS: You get kind of jaded to things, I guess, after a while, you know.

I’ll believe it when I see it, but that sounds good. You know, just cautious

optimism, I guess.

MANKIEWICZ:  Family members of the three murder victims were in

disbelief that they would soon find themselves back in a courtroom more than a

decade after the killings which they thought had been solved.

(Photo of Graves; photo of Suzan and Jason; photo of Thomas and Suzan; mobile

home; Cannon in court)

MANKIEWICZ: You think the right man’s in jail?

Mr. OSBORNE: Yeah, but apparently there’s people who don’t think that way.

So it’s a wait and see thing.

MANKIEWICZ: You don’t believe it?

Mr. OSBORNE: No.

MANKIEWICZ:  But Cannon’s defense team believed they had the

evidence. They’d found new witnesses pointing to new suspects. There were

now serious questions about the story told by the key prosecution witness

Bimla Boyd, who was later convicted of manslaughter for gunning down and

killing another man on that very same property. And then there was what

prosecutors had called the scientific evidence, proving, they said, that Scott

Cannon was the killer.

(Geiger in court; Morrow; house on hill; photo of Boyd; Boyd in jail; photo of

Spencer; mobile home; crime scene photo; mobile home; photo of Cannon)

MANKIEWICZ: Remember, the jury in Cannon’s trial heard from an expert in

comparative bullet lead analysis. The expert testified that the chances of

the bullets in Cannon’s garage containing the same lead as the bullets found

in the victims’ bodies was one in 64 million. As good as DNA, or so it seemed

back then. The problem now is that comparative bullet lead analysis has been

completely discredited by none other than the FBI.

Mr. GEIGER: The FBI declared that they were not going to use comparative

bullet lead analysis anymore because it’s bad evidence—junk science,

essentially.

MANKIEWICZ:  Suddenly the weight of evidence in the case was

shifting in favor of Scott Cannon’s innocence. And just before Cannon’s

hearing was scheduled to be held, Oregon’s attorney general threw in the

towel, agreeing that Cannon deserved a new trial. Scott Cannon’s attorney and

investigator delivered the news and the paperwork to Cannon at the

penitentiary. But while the defense team celebrated, what the victims’

families had feared was now coming true.

(Crime scene photos; Cannon in cell; penitentiary exterior; courthouse;

newspaper article; photo of Mason and Cannon; photo of Cannon; photo of Mason,

Cannon and Geiger; Mankiewicz talking to Kathy and Vickie)

KATHY: Just totally screwed up. You rely on the justice and cops and all

that, and what went wrong here? On one hand I want to feel, you know, happy

for Scott because if he’s not supposed to be in there, he’s not supposed to be

in there. But we’ve got 11 years now. We’ve got to start all over, and we

don’t know if anybody’s going to help us.

VICKIE: We’re the families, and we care about what happened. Is anybody else

going to care now?

MANKIEWICZ:  Oregon’s attorney general declined DATELINE’s request

for an on-camera interview about the decision. And on September 1st, 2009, a

judge signed the order vacating Scott Cannon’s conviction. He was not yet

free. Prosecutors were still convinced he was a triple murderer. They

intended to take him back to trial. But the Scott Cannon story had one more

giant twist that was still to come.

(Penitentiary exterior; court document; penitentiary sign; photo of Cannon;

courthouse)

MANKIEWICZ:  Coming up, the families of the victims get a phone

call they’ll never forget.

(Photos of Kinser and others; court envelope)

JENNIFER: Made me sick, truly made me sick.

MANKIEWICZ:  When The House on Murder Mountain continues.

(Title graphic)

(Announcements)

MANKIEWICZ:  In September 2009 Scott Cannon left the Oregon State

Penitentiary. He traveled less than 20 miles, across the Willamette River to

the small town of Dallas, Oregon, where nearly a decade before he’d been

tried, convicted and sentenced to life in prison without parole. But when he

returned to a courtroom, it was clear that authorities in Polk County were

intent on trying him once again on those three murder counts. It appeared

Cannon could sit in the county jail for months, maybe years, waiting for that

new trial. But the defense wondered: So much had changed over the past

decade, what evidence could prosecutors even use at trial this time?

(Penitentiary exterior; trees passing; Dallas welcome sign; Cannon in courts;

newspaper articles; evidence box)

Mr. GEIGER: Right.

Mr. MASON: I just don’t think you have anything that links Scott Cannon to

the scene anymore.

MANKIEWICZ:  After all, the comparative bullet lead analysis the

jury had found so compelling in the first trial was no longer considered

reliable. The prosecution’s chief witness, Bimla Boyd, was now a convicted

killer herself, which could make her less credible to a jury. And the defense

had turned up new witnesses pointing to plausible new suspects, like Tom

McMahon, the suspected drug dealing partner of murder victim Jason Kinser.

McMahon’s picture had turned up in a police photo array just hours after the

murder, and at least two witnesses now said McMahon had admitted to the

killings.

(Crime scene photos; photo of Boyd; Boyd in court; Mason driving; photo of

McMahon by photo of Kinser; mobile home)

Mr. MASON: So Mark and I go in front of the district attorney of Polk

County, and for a couple of hours make the case that they shouldn’t prosecute

Scott Cannon over again. The problem is, he hadn’t been there when this

prosecution happened. All he knew was that this was back on his plate.

MANKIEWICZ: Did you think they had something else that you didn’t know about?

Mr. GEIGER: We turned over every rock, so we couldn’t imagine what it would

be, but, yeah, you do start to think, man, is there something that we don’t

know about? Did we miss something?

MANKIEWICZ:  But it turns out it wasn’t the defense that had

missed something. As prosecutors announced they were reviewing boxes of

physical evidence left over from the first trial, there was a bombshell

waiting to hit the headlines. In December 2009, just three months after

Cannon’s new trial was ordered, the victims’ families received phone calls

from prosecutors, calls they will not forget.

(Crime scene photos; evidence box; crime scene photos; trees passing; Polk

County Jail; photo of Kinser and others)

KATHY: It hits you as a blow. It was like, oh, no. Now where do we go from

here?

JENNIFER: Made me sick. It truly made me sick.

MANKIEWICZ: What sickened the families and caught nearly everyone by surprise

was this: Prosecutors had discovered that key exhibits were gone. Vital

physical evidence had been lost or maybe even destroyed, perhaps as far back

as 2005. Exactly why, like so much else in this case, remains a mystery. But

there’s no mystery about this. Without that new evidence, there could be no

new trial.

And just before Christmas 2009, more than 11 years after Scott

Cannon’s arrest, would come a scene that few outside his family and staunchest

supporters thought they would ever witness.

(Matthias, Mason, Geiger and others waiting outside jail; Cannon exiting jail)

Mr. GEIGER: Look at you!

Mr. CANNON: Look at you.

MANKIEWICZ:  Scott Cannon was a free man.

(Cannon hugging Matthias)

Unidentified Man #3: Congratulations.

MATTHIAS: This summer’s been crazy.

Man #3: What does this feel like, to be free?

Mr. CANNON: Man, it’s pretty good.

MATTHIAS: Yeah.

MANKIEWICZ:  Waiting there, his son Matthias, who’d seen his

father arrested at gunpoint, and who was now, at age 20, a man himself.

(Cannon and Matthias outside jail)

MATTHIAS: This is going to be a new experience.

MANKIEWICZ:  And the defense attorney, and that reporter turned

private eye, who, in Cannon’s mind, had made all the difference.

(Geiger hugging Cannon; Mason hugging Cannon)

Mr. CANNON: I knew you’d do it, man. Let’s go home.

Mr. MASON: All right. Car’s this way.

Mr. CANNON:  After you’ve had your whole life taken away from

you, to have it dropped back in your lap is, I mean, it’s wow. You know,

it’s—I don’t want to be cliche, but, you know, you stop and you smell the

flowers, and they smell real good.

(Cannon and Matthias heading away from jail)

MATTHIAS: The cup’s half full.

Mr. CANNON: The cup is definitely half full. It’s overflowing.

MANKIEWICZ: You’re a remarkably forgiving guy.

Mr. CANNON: I was—I was angry and I was hateful for a long time. And that

just—I think that’s what made my hair gray and the wrinkles. And it

physically eats you up inside to be that way.

MATTHIAS: Yeah.

Mr. CANNON: Why waste time on that?

MANKIEWICZ: You seem like you’re in a much better place than the last time we

talked.

MATTHIAS: I’m getting there, yeah. Like the whole reality of it, you know,

hasn’t quite sunk in for whatever reason, you know. I’m on Dream Street, you

know?

MANKIEWICZ: You know, the headline on the story put forward by prosecutors is

‘guilty man gets away with murder because we accidentally lost the evidence.’

Mr. CANNON: That’s a—that’s a nice spin they’re putting on it, but the

reality is, you know, my conviction was overturned based upon faulty evidence

and prosecutorial misconduct. I had to actually have my conviction overturned

before I ever got to the point where they could say, ‘Oops, we lost our

evidence.’

MANKIEWICZ:  But you can only imagine the emotions on the other

side, the families of the victims.

(Photo of Graves; photo of Kinser and Suzan; photo of Thomas and Suzan)

Mr. OSBORNE: I’m sorry. Something’s wrong there. Something’s definitely

wrong. The attorney general, where is he? Why isn’t he investigating this?

MANKIEWICZ: I don’t have the answer to that because the attorney general

wouldn’t talk to us.

Mr. OSBORNE: That’s why I say it. There’s no answers. None whatsoever.

MANKIEWICZ: You know that no matter how this goes, that right now somebody’s

getting away with murder.

Mr. OSBORNE: Yep. Had to be somebody that was on that mountain.

MANKIEWICZ:  So the story ends with many wondering, what now?

Polk County authorities, who refused our requests for interviews, say the

triple murder is once again an open investigation. The office of Oregon’s

attorney general to this day asserts that Cannon is the killer.

(House on hill; Cannon and Matthias leaving prison; Cannon in car)

Unidentified Man #4: (In court) The defendant is still the main and the only

suspect in the murders of these three people.

MANKIEWICZ:  Bimla Boyd is out of prison and on parole in Oregon

after serving nearly seven years for manslaughter. She did not respond to our

repeated requests for interviews. Neither did Tom McMahon, now serving 10

years in a Texas prison after pleading guilty to multiple drug charges. Scott

Cannon is now 43 years old and living outside a prison cell with his family

for the first time since 1998. The same system that put him in a cage has now

set him free.

(Boyd in court; photos of McMahon; jail cells; cell door closing; Cannon and

Matthias)

Mr. CANNON: Had a life, had it taken away, and had it given back. It’s just

indescribable.

CURRY: And Scott Cannon is pursuing a lawsuit against Polk County and the

state of Oregon for wrongful imprisonment. Both the county and the state are

seeking to have the lawsuit dismissed.

© 2013 NBCNews.com  Reprints

Explainer: Photos and documents in the Scott Cannon case

  • Cannon at time of arrest

    Scott Cannon's original jail photo dated August 17, 1999. The 32-year-old plumber was at the trailer providing an estimate for repairs on the day of the murders. Evidence was circumstantial but was enough to get him convicted for life in prison without parole.

    Cannon always maintained his innocence, and his version of events of the deadly day never changed.

  • Documents

    Click here to see an Oregon Department of Justice report on the attempt to track down the missing evidence in the Scott Cannon triple homicide case. (.PDF).

    The missing evidence meant Polk County could not retry Cannon on the homicide charges, and forced the county to release Mr. Cannon after more than 11 years behind bars.

    This amended petition for post conviction relief outlines all the new issues and evidence and ultimately led to Cannon's release from prison.

  • Cannon a few months before he was freed

    Scott Cannon, 10 years later. Photo taken September 2, 2009.

    "I was angry. I was hateful for a long time," said Cannon after his release about his decade in prison. "I think that's what made my hair gray and the wrinkles... but why waste time on that? After you've had your whole life taken from you, to have it dropped back in your lap... I mean, it's... Wow. You stop and smell the flowers and they smell real good."

  • Star witness

    Bimla Boyd was the star prosecution witness in Scott Cannon's murder trial in 2000, but two years later, shot and killed a man she employed as a caretaker on the same property. She pleaded no contest to manslaughter and served 70 months in an Oregon prison. She was released in 2009.

  • Another suspect?

    2010 mugshot of Thomas McMahon, who's just pleaded guilty to multiple drug charges and is serving a 10-year prison sentence in Texas.

    In 2009, an affidavit signed by a former girlfriend of Thomas McMahon's was submitted as evidence of the need for a new trial for Scott Cannon by Cannon's defense team. (.PDF)

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