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NBC Universal Anchors and Correspondents
By Dennis Murphy Correspondent
Dateline NBC
updated 9/3/2010 1:11:00 AM ET 2010-09-03T05:11:00

The victim...The accused killer.. And the father, compassionate beyond common understanding.

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Ed Zarzycki: And God told me to start praying for him.

Dennis Murphy: That you should pray for--

Ed Zarzycki: Art Ream.

Dennis Murphy: Art Ream?

Ed Zarzycki: Yes.

Dennis Murphy: This man accused of abducting and killing your daughter, the way the prosecutor described it?

Ed Zarzycki: Yes. He told me that I need to pray for him and forgive him.

And Cindy's father was about to show mercy to his daughter's accused killer in court too because of a dramatic event right before closing arguments. Art Ream was talking a plea. A courtroom top secret.

Amber Hunt: They cleared out the courtroom, told us all to leave. And I just happen to notice that the judge said to one of the bailiffs, "You need to make sure that the entire back room is cleared out. Nobody can be in my chambers or near my chambers. Nobody can overhear this." And then I put two and two together.

Amber Hunt figured it out, and would later be the first to report, that an 11th-hour plea deal had been in the works. Lawyers from both sides and the Zarzycki family were summoned to the judge's chambers.

Ed Zarzycki: We wanna talk to you. He wants to make an agreement.

Ream told his lawyer he didn't murder Cindy but he could reveal where she was buried in exchange for a reduced charge and a lesser sentence.

Timothy Kohler: He doesn't tell me where it is, but he tells me that he knows.

Defense attorney Kohler then asked Detective Derek McLaughlin for help.

Timothy Kohler: And I said, "You've gotta work the deal now."

The defense lawyer needed Mac as a negotiating ally to prod Eric Smith, the elected county prosecutor, to make a deal.

Eric Smith: My first inclination was "Hell, no." I'm gonna make sure he goes to prison the rest of his life. The idea that a defendant thinks he can take control of this process and use this poor 13-year-old girl's body as a bargaining chip may be the lowest thing I've ever seen in a criminal case.

Ream held one trump card: Cindy's body, and the Zarzyckis wanted that above anything else, even a conviction. The family found itself taking Art Ream's side in the plea talks.

Eddie Jr.: It was all about finding Cindy.

ConnieJohnson: Right.

Eddie Jr.: That was the thing. Right from day one.

They'd had no chance to say goodbye and knew nothing of Cindy's whereabouts for the past 22 years. At least now, they could give her a proper burial if only the prosecutor would make a deal with the devil.

Eddie Jr.: I would rather have her buried on our own terms than some killer in, like, the middle of the night.

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Det. McLaughlin was also arguing for a deal. After all, he'd promised the family he'd bring Cindy home.

Derek McLaughlin: Well, at the time I got this case, I had a daughter that was 13. The same age daughter as what Cindy was when she disappeared.

Now, it was up to Prosecutor Smith.

Eric Smith: It was a lot of heated discussions about this.

DennisMurphy: And you get this delicate situation of trying to broker the people's interests vs. the family's passionate desire.

Eric Smith: And you can't say no. They've lived this for more than 20 years so with myself and the father and the family, we came to sort of a middle ground. And I agreed to reduce it from first-degree murder to second-degree murder.

Smith was also willing to down-size the sentence from mandatory life to 22 years. So, would it be deal... or no deal?

Eric Smith: It fell apart because he wanted a better deal.

Timothy Kohler: We couldn't get the number. It fell apart because we couldn't get the number.

No deal: Ream had insisted on only a 10-year prison sentence. The DA wasn't going there.

Eric Smith: And when he said "no," it was taken off the table immediately and Steve ran into court and did closings.

The jury listening to closing arguments was totally unaware of the 11th-hour plea negotiations. The prosecution went first.

SteveKaplan: Cindy's not coming home, Cindy's dead. This man not only killed her, but he deprived the family of a burial.

Then closing from the defense.

Timothy Kohler: If you've got reasonable doubt, you can come back with a verdict. And that verdict is not guilty.

Then the jury went behind closed doors to deliberate a first degree murder case. And to the surprise of nearly everyone, they were back after just two hours.

Judge: All right, Mr. Foreman, have you reached a verdict?

Male: Yes, we have, your honor.

Judge: Would you please give it to my deputy?

Connie Johnson: I remember praying and praying and praying.

Judge: As to count one, your verdict is?

Male: Guilty in the first degree.

ConnieJohnson: "Guilty of first degree murder." I felt like someone punched me right in the heart. Because at that moment I knew, I would have to admit, "She's gone. And she's never comin' back." And I was glad that he'd go to jail for what he did.

A mandatory life sentence. Art Ream had overplayed his hand.

Eric Smith: it took us 22 years to- to bring justice to her.

But it was a bittersweet victory for the Zarzyckis. They'd lost their Cindy and now they'd lost their leverage with Ream to get her remains back for a proper burial.

Ed Zarzycki: And I told my wife, I said, "We'll never know now." I probably would go to my own grave not knowing where she was.

Except for one thing: The Zarzyckis still had Det. McLaughlin on the case, and it wasn't over for him.

He had to keep on a-coming--there were years of frustration--but Det. Derek McLaughlin had finally taken down Cindy Zarzycki's killer.

Dennis Murphy: How'd you take the verdict?

Derek McLaughlin: I was real happy, I'll tell ya.

Dennis Murphy: Is that a high-five moment?

Derek McLaughlin: More than a high five.

Jen Leibow: Mac and I gave each other a big hug after that.

But to Jen and Mac, this odd-couple interrogation team, the conviction was only half the battle.

Jen Leibow: The second we're done with all the official proceedings, I mean, Mac just took off. And he went to talk to Art because I think the same thing was in both of our minds. Now, it's time to find the body.

Ed Zarzycki: He says, "Ed, don't have a memorial service. I'm gonna find Cindy."

It was a promise Mac had made to Cindy's father and the rest of the family. Cindy's case would stay open on his desk until her body was found.

Derek McLaughlin: so I went and talked to Art.

Art had just been convicted. He was still in the courthouse lock-up. Mac tried the old buddy-buddy approach.

Derek McLaughlin: I says, Art, "You're not a killer." I says, "You know, you might have a fetish with 13, 14, 15-year-old girls. But you're not a killer." I says, "Tell me what happened that day."He says, "I panicked." He says, "And it got out of control. And I killed her." And I said, "But where'd you put 'er, Art? You need to tell me where you put 'er." He said, "Nah. I can't tell you that."

The detective playing buddy-buddy was all well and good but clearly Ream had no incentive to give up the information. His Murder One conviction carried with it an automatic life sentence.

John Calabrese: The first meeting he has with Art doesn't go very well.

So Mac's boss, inspector John Calabrese, suggested a new ploy to sneak inside the mind of a killer. Take away his control with some psychological jujitsu. Drill in to Ream's head that he doesn't matter anymore, no one cared about his aimless ramblings. He was yesterday's news.

John Calabrese: I said, "Mac, I think you need to-- to take a different approach with-- with Art. And you need to go in there and let him know that you don't care anymore. If we find the body, fine. If not, it's over with. You know, it was nice talking to you Art. But-- have a nice rest of your life in prison."

Dennis Murphy: So, this is a whole new strategy?

Derek McLaughlin: Yeah, yeah.

It went against Mac's gut to play nonchalant about what he cared for most--finding Cindy's body but he went with his boss's suggestion to try a new tack: Be brusque and dismissive. He hoped Ream would get flustered and produce a map, and that would direct them to Cindy.

Derek McLaughlin: How you been?

Art Ream: All right.

Derek McLaughlin: Doing all right?

Art Ream: Yeah.

Derek McLaughlin: How you been?

Art Ream: All right.

Derek McLaughlin: Doing all right?

Art Ream: Yeah.

A few weeks after the trial and conviction, Mac had a jailhouse meeting with Ream in a visitor's room by his cell. The detective recorded the interview with a camera concealed inside a plastic bottle.

Right away, Mac laid down the new law.

Derek McLaughlin: The case is done. I have closure with it. The family's got closure. Do we want Cindy back? Absolutely. But um, everybody's OK. That's all I wanna do is today: basically get information as to where Cindy's remains are. I don't wanna talk about anything else today.

Ream, as he had so often before, tried to change the conversation.

Art Ream: So you, you really don't care what happened? You're happy with the story that that was told? Right?

Derek McLaughlin: Right now, yeah.

At first, it seemed like Ream wasn't taking the bait. The two sparred.

Art Ream: If it doesn't matter what happened, it doesn't, no, then it don't matter, does it?

Derek McLaughlin: It does matter. It matters a lot.

Art Ream: Why would it matter? You know, you don't care. The family don't care.

Derek McLaughlin: No, we didn't say.

Art Ream: Nobody cares.

Derek McLaughlin: No, we didn't say we didn't care. We just said we have closure.

Art Ream: If it doesn't matter what happened, it doesn't, no, then it don't matter, does it?

Derek McLaughlin: It does matter. It matters a lot.

Art Ream: Why would it matter? You know, you don't care. The family don't care.

Derek McLaughlin: No, we didn't say.

Art Ream: Nobody cares.

Derek McLaughlin: No, we didn't say we didn't care. We just said we have closure.

Mac stuck to the game plan. Pretend like it's all old history.

Derek McLaughlin: I says, "I'm fine with it. I'm gonna move on. And this guy was like hangin' on my, i'm tryin' to get up. I said, "Art, you got five minutes to write me out a map."

The ploy was working. Ream could sense the curtain was coming down and he didn't like not being center stage anymore.

Art Ream: I don't have closure so how the hell can they have closure?

Derek McLaughlin: Because that's the type of people they are. Do they want their daughter back? Of course they do.

Art Ream: I don't have closure so how the hell can they have closure?

Derek McLaughlin: Because that's the type of people they are. Do they want their daughter back? Of course they do.

Jen Leibow: He took his trump card. It was, it was perfect. Art had no more control. He couldn't be the puppet master. You know, Mac took it from him.

Derek McLaughlin: Well, anyway, we're done today.

Art Ream: I, I, I, I don't like what you said. Nobody cares what happened.

Derek McLaughlin: I didn't say that.

Art Ream: Drives me crazy.

Derek McLaughlin: No. Art, Art, you, you're missing it. Well, anyway, we're done today.

Clearly, Mac's trick psychology had gotten to Ream. The killer who'd kept the Zarzyckis in the dark for 22 years. Now the tables were turned and he sputtered at his loss of control.

Derek McLaughlin: They care, but... they're satisfied of what they've got so far, ok

Art Ream: That's impossible. That's impossible. It's been driving me crazy for 22 years.

Mac had been shadowboxing with a psychopath. Rummaging around the brain of a killer. Jabbing at him from a different direction. But he left without Ream coughing up a map.

Dennis Murphy: You weren't sold on this strategy going in?

Derek McLaughlin: No. I wasn't.

Dennis Murphy: So about a week goes by, and his lawyer calls you.

Derek McLaughlin: And he said, "My client wants to give you a map."

It was the break he'd dreamed of since the case file thumped on his desk back in 1995.

Dennis Murphy: Jen, you get a call? "We got a map."

Jen Leibow: (laughter) I, I think I was done packing before we hung up the phone.

Later at the jail, the bottle-cam caught Ream handing his attorney a hand-drawn map.

In the crudely drawn map, Ream marked Cindy's burial spot with an X, near a river, "about 25 feet from bridge," he wrote.

Derek McLaughlin: Why'd you pick this spot?

Art Ream: You ever walk in the country?

Derek McLaughlin: I did.

Art Ream: It's nice up there.

Derek McLaughlin: It is. Why'd you pick this spot?

Art Ream: You ever walk in the country?

Derek McLaughlin: I did.

Art Ream: It's nice up there.

Derek McLaughlin: It is.

He'd mapped out a place where he used to keep bees.

TimothyKohler: How large is the area that you excavated, dug out for her?

Art Ream: (extends arms to indicate depth)

Derek McLaughlin: Did you go pretty deep?

Art Ream: Probably four feet.

Even if he was telling the truth, locating Cindy's body would be extremely difficult. It had been 22 years. She'd been buried beside a river known for flooding its banks.

Maybe her bones had carried downstream?

Even though Mac had promised her father, maybe poor Cindy was just destined to remain missing.

Continued: Part 10-11

© 2013 MSNBC Interactive. Reprints

Video: Ream interrogation videos: 'My life is over'

Explainer: Ream's map

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