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Get started today at UMG Dot Edu Slash podcast. I'm Lester Holt.


Tonight on Dateline nine, one one calls started coming in. They said they heard screams coming from the park. She was found naked and bound with red duct tape.


When you see the photos, you can feel the terror.


He left her for dead. We were pretty shocked as a DNA laboratory that there were no other offenders that this case matched to, how is this guy not in the system?


Then one day you got a call.


She said there's been an update on your duct tape case.


It was like finally I'd been thinking about who this guy was for so long. I don't think anything could have prepared me for that answer. How do you wrap your mind around the fact that somebody you trusted did this? I can just picture him smirking kind of a second. Victimization. Yeah, huge. Which is mind screw. What kind of person does that sort of thing? Exceptionally sick.


Evil. Here's Keith Morrison with Left for Dan. The evening air was warm and thick with anticipation, college students returning a new mixed and drank and laugh with young locals and darkness fell on Fort Collins, Colorado. One more night to take a lusty bite of fleeting summer that last Friday in August 2013.


Unseen by the party crowd, a rookie cop named Dane Stratton prowled the streets around the Little City graveyard shift.


He'd been on the job barely two months. It's all new.


I have no idea what's going to happen.


Midnight past the usual rowdies, busy, but nothing special.


And then somebody called 911 one.


About four o'clock in the morning, we get a call of a female's voice in a park screaming.


Then more and more neighbors calling 911. What about that screaming woman out on the edge of town, Cottonwood, Glen Park.


And then they started reporting they could hear her screaming, help, help. So that flipped a gear in my head that something was seriously wrong over there. And I was driving about as fast as I could. My heart's in my throat. I have no idea what I'm getting myself into or what's going to be at the end of this drive.


Big park.


He drove in, guided now by the wailing sounds of the woman stranded somewhere in the dark.


I couldn't make out what she was saying at that point because my heart's pounding. I just can hear still to this day her screams of just agony, pain.


Even with this powerful spotlight, he could still see nothing. Where was she? And as I swung my car around the headlights car on the service road, instantly my heart just jumped into my throat. She's naked, she's bound, there's just red all over her face. She was seated on the ground, her hands were behind her back and she's just screaming, terrified. She was wearing only a sock on one foot.


As the young cop approached. He saw it wasn't just blood on her body. The red that I was seeing was a red duct tape, her hands just bound and duct tape, her hair matted across her face bound and duct taped, her eyes covered. She's bruised and beaten and bloody. And it was incredible to see red duct tape finding a woman alive enough to scream, but only just. It's a horror story on the best day. It was beyond anything that I would imagine she'd been strangled and left here for dead.


As he bent down to help, a fellow officer snapped these pictures and then sitting there in the cold, concrete, naked, afraid and terrible pain, a young woman looked up and told him her name. She said she was Amber Amber Smith.


We were able to cut apart her bindings on her hands and they were Minton's almost. And this tape on her forehead and face was just cutting into her skin.


They bag the red duct tape for evidence, rushed amber to the E.R. and in the ambulance, as she struggled to calm down, David Stratton asked, what happened when you woke up, where you.


Did you set yourself up? It's OK, no, it's OK. I'm worried that she has some major internal brain bleed or trauma that she might not recover from. So we are just frantic trying to get any and all information that we can from her because is she going to be able to survive this?


The doctors assessed her head injury, patched up the rest of her as best they could. And a new cop arrived.


What was truly astonishing to me was seeing this woman who had been so badly beaten, her face was so swollen. And when I saw her driver's license picture, it was nothing like the person that was laying in that bed.


Detective Sharon Seymour found Amber in the emergency room. What was her condition when you got there?


She had suffered from a broken jaw. A brain bleed out of her eyes was almost swollen shut. She had these ligature marks on her, not tell. She had been strangled, strangled like somebody tried to kill her. Yes, absolutely. She had a hard time speaking because her jaw hurt so badly.


Detective Seymour pushed ahead, had to, but medicated, exhausted, traumatized. Amber struggled to remember everything.


I don't know if I lost consciousness because I still didn't know what kind of shape was she in emotionally.


She was afraid because she didn't know who did this and confused. She had thoughts of who might have done it, but she wasn't sure she'd been with the guy they'd been drinking.


But they were in a different park, not the one where she was found. And the guy was a friend of hers. She got out his name, Eric Van.


Goodness, you were drinking Quica. What's the next thing here? And there were so many problems.


But who did this Detective Seymour wanted? Was it his buddy Eric or someone else altogether? The red duct tape, severe beating, strangulation, like some practiced predator was living out an awful fantasy. I was feeling this intense need to figure out who had done this and fear for who.


This person that is out there and is capable of these things. Like we need to figure out who this guy is. What was your level of worry about? What could happen to this community if you did not find somebody quickly?


I was terrified that he was going to strike again. When we come back, the investigation begins, starting with a body of evidence she was processed forensically for DNA. Her hands were processed, her face or neck.


Another clue, the brutality of the assault.


Why would you attack somebody to such a degree if you didn't have a grudge against them? This didn't seem like a stranger thing to me. So why would he be so hard to find?


He was like a ghost, like the boogeyman. Medical staff at the hospital worried about a brain bleed as they treated Amber Smith and patched up her beaten body and completed one more test. And yes, no surprise, Amber, just 20 years old, had also been raped. Detective Chavan Seymour added that dismal result to her pile of bad news.


Had you ever encountered a thing like that before? No, I haven't. It's just awful. Yeah.


And I've seen my share of a pretty horrible things. This was a very scary case.


Siobhan Seymour had been steeped in crime fighting most all her life. Father, an FBI agent, grandfather once with the CIA. But she was a mother, now two young boys.


So this one hit her hard, especially when she found out Amber had a son, too. She needed to get moving fast.


A few hours after the attack, Detective Seymour, under partners tracked down Amber, sister in law and it turned out best friend Kirsty Aguilar.


I woke up the next day to a voicemail from the detective explaining what had happened to Amber. I was scared. I went into complete panic mode right away.


Frantic Jesty rushed to the hospital, but the name on the room she was sent to wasn't dismissed because they didn't know who did it to her. So they for her safety, they put her under an alias name.


And in that room, it was very shocking and scary to see.


I walked in there and her face was unrecognizable. That was my sister, my best friend.


They met when Amber was dating Kirsty's brother in law. She ended up getting pregnant with Gabriel and our relationship kind of grew from there.


Kirsti had been helping raise and her son was babysitting the night of the attack.


Amber had been working hard to get her life on track, earned her GED, juggled a job at 7-Eleven while trying to be a good single mom.


And she was young and pretty, had lots of friends.


We had no idea who could have done anything so horrible to her. Amber was somebody that you wouldn't think that would ever happen to somebody.


It would never happen to.


Detective Seymour wrestled with something that felt like dread and intense pressure. She and her fellow cops had to find the perpetrator quickly before he did it again. Everyone's a suspect when you don't know who they are. What is the sense or the level of responsibility that comes crashing down on your shoulders when you see a thing like that?


Oh, my gosh. It's truly, at times feels like the weight of the world to know that I am responsible for figuring out all these parts and pieces, putting them together so that everyone's safe, including me not just solving the crime for her, but for the whole town. Yeah, it's a lot. And the level of rage that was exercised on this woman was so scary.


The forensics people extracted what evidence they could.


We did a sex assault exam on her. She was processed forensically for DNA. Her hands were processed, her face was her neck. Any area that we believe the suspect may have come in contact with was examined.


The attacker had left his semen behind and maybe touch DNA.


They swabbed every inch of that red duct tape as investigators tried to fathom the motive. The brutality of this was unlike anything that I'd heard about why would you attack somebody and brutalize them to such a degree if you didn't know them or have a grudge against them? This didn't seem like a stranger thing to me.


And Detective Seymour knew there was one person she needed to get a look at right away. The last person Amber remembered being with, her friend Eric Bana, Gunnis Detective Seymour got a warrant, tracked his name and address. Eric was twenty something, lived with his parents, but he wasn't home.


His mother was there and she said that he usually volunteers at the church. So a partner of mine and I went to the church to contact him there.


I was involved. And yeah, I guess it could have been working out.


I think he was surprised that we were there. But he also knew, I believe at that point in time that something had happened to Amber because he was in connection with other people that she knew.


And you didn't know at that point whether it was guilty knowledge that he knew because he did it or that he just knew. Correct.


Eric echoed Amber story about drinking and Roxburgh Park having one too many in amber falling asleep. Right. So we could see where we go.


So Erik claimed he left her there asleep and drove around, but then got worried about it.


They came back something. So I thought it would be OK if I left it as it just so said Erik, he went home.


I think he was surprised that it had happened. And certainly it made him look like a very bad friend. Yeah. That he had left her in that condition. Eric did agree to provide a sample of his DNA, which Detective Seymour got to the lab.


And then hurried back to the hospital to try one more time to probe Amber for anything else, anything at all she could remember, and remarkably, despite injuries that could have killed her, she was somehow getting better, well enough to begin to relate a real life nightmare.


I was beyond scared. I thought I was going to die. I thought that was my last moment on Earth.


Coming up, a bone chilling tale of terror as I was screaming, trying to break free. I remember a rope being put across my neck and then some words were said to me. Did she recognize the voice when Dateline continues? Evening again, one day later, Fort Collins, Colorado, and once again restaurants and bars began to fill with young people eager to meet new friends. Well, Detective Chaban Seemore raced against an awful possibility, maybe a probability that a serial kidnapper, rapist killer had moved into her town.


Was the person who attacked Amber Smith still out here looking fishing? She asked the Colorado Bureau of Investigation in Denver to rush tests on DNA samples taken from Amber and forensic analyst Melissa Grass to work.


These types of perpetrators typically are first time offenders when you have a case that is so brutal. So this case was worked on the rush status. And still, Detective Seymour hadn't been able to decipher from Amber exactly what happened to her, and so 13 hours into her investigation, she returned to the hospital.


She was able to talk and she was scared.


Scared, of course, it's still very traumatized. But this time Amber was more lucid and the story she told even now, years later, as she began to tell us the same story, waves of anxiety all but stopped her.


You know, there are some people who love nothing better than to get lots of attention, go on television, be seen by lots and lots of people. They act out, they tell stories. You're not one of those are, you know what kind, caring, quiet, quiet, peaceful mother.


And so she began, in a way, embarrassed about going drinking with her friend Eric. Thank goodness I became intoxicated.


The two of you polished off a bottle. Yeah. Drink too much. Amber passed out at an outdoor picnic table. For how long? She doesn't know. And what do you remember next?


I remember waking up on my stomach on the floor and my hands and my feet were bound with duct tape and my mouth was bound with duct tape up my eyes or not, I knew I was in danger. No kidding. So I started to scream through the tape as loud as I could, and I was trying to break free from the tape.


Where was she? Why was she inside? Who was that man on top of her? No idea.


As I was screaming, trying to break free, I remember a rope or something being put across my neck.


And then some words were said to me, words we are simply not going to repeat.


I remember that vividly. And so I kept screaming and screaming, and then I remember getting hit in the face right here like a pretty good blow.


Amber could not see her attacker's face or recognize his voice, but there was one thing she was sure of. I thought that was my last moment on Earth when you thought to yourself, I'm about to die? Yeah, definitely. I thought about my son. I was like the last thing I thought about. Her son, three year old Gabriel. I can't leave my son behind. That's my baby. It's my world. Like I got to be a star out of Pulsers.


That's for it. Can't die. No, I can't die. That was not an option. I have fought for my life because of my son.


So she fought, struggled to breathe, and then the rope got tighter.


And I remember it was like a one, two or three. And then it was. It was like a bright light and a. Lost consciousness, and then she woke up in a cold piece of pavement in a different part, now naked, but for the red duct tape that bound her. I knew I needed to get out of there. I was overjoyed that I was alive and scared. I didn't know if I was still in danger, that he maybe wasn't finished with you.


Yeah, and that was motivation enough for me to scream as loud as I could and get out.


And that's when Officer Dean Stratton found and rescued her, still living massive injuries.


I remember I didn't look at myself very thank God, three days. Mr Donia looked pretty bad.


And then when I saw my face, I was like, Who am I? I'm unrecognizable.


Four days after being rescued, Amber was released from the hospital and transferred to a local safe house, which Amber didn't really feel safe at all.


I thought I would come back for me, even in the safe houses. I thought he had left me for dead. And then the fact that I was alive and the fact that they gave me an alias for the hospital live so that nobody could find you.


Yeah, I was scared everywhere. If somebody looked at me for longer than, you know, a few seconds, I would get suspicious.


This is more than just fear, wasn't it? Yeah, I definitely thought I was still lurking, still trying to find me.


But who was a face in the crowd watching her coming for her? Was it a stranger, a friend. As she ran her tests, the crime labs, Melissa Grass was optimistic that a solid DNA profile would emerge and solve the mystery quickly.


We expected that it would either hit to other cases or to an offender in the database or of course, to the last person I remember being with Eric Vannak.


Goodness, he swore he didn't hurt her. DNA would tell the truth. Coming up, the lab results come in a gut punch for everyone. We were pretty shocked as a DNA laboratory. We were surprised. I just felt sick. How could this be? I thought it was rigged.


Could anyone understand how she was feeling, the grueling pain, the unrelenting terror, humiliation, loss?


Amber Smith was a mess.


I don't even know how to describe that feeling to be pretty black darkness.


Yeah, that's a place I'd never want to go.


And if they could only find her attacker, arrest him, put it where he couldn't get at her anymore. So investigators watch the clock for the DNA results and speculated an attack like this is not somebody's first rodeo. They have had to have done something in the past.


So in my mind, a case of this gravity, we'll get an answer within days if we have the offender in CODIS, CODIS, the national DNA database that houses DNA profiles of people who have been arrested for or convicted of felonies. Detective Seymour also submitted a sample from her only person of interest, Aburish friend Eric Vanner.


Goodness, we thought it possibly could have been Eric, the person she was with the night before.


Who can know where the person is capable of even a young man who lived with his parents and helped out at church. And then, nearly a week after the attack on Amber, DNA analyst Melissa Grass picked up the phone and called Detective Seymour with the news. The first part of that conversation was exciting because we were able to develop a DNA profile, a full and complete genetic picture of the suspect, which they could use to I.D. an attacker. That was the good news.


The only good news, we were pretty shocked as a DNA laboratory.


We were surprised that there were no other cases and no offenders within the database that this case matched to.


Did you get that? No match? None. Zero. Not one single hit among the millions of profiles in the CODIS database, none of them matched the DNA recovered from Amber or the duct tape. And when they compared it to the sample that collected from Ambriz friend Eric Bana Goodis didn't match him either. He didn't do it.


So who a crime like this one at all? The earmarks of a practiced predator. So why wasn't his DNA in the massive CODIS system?


I just felt sick. I felt like, how could this be? We don't have a suspect like how do we not have a suspect? Like, who is this guy? Where is he? Is he dead? Usually have somebody you can look at. Yeah, but all somebody is. We're not his. Dane Stratton, the patrol cop still haunted by what happened to Amber by what he saw in the park, had been just as sure Amber wasn't her attacker, his first victim.


It was a kick in the gut. How is this guy not in the system? I was dumbfounded. Honestly, if this is his opening act, where's he going to go from here?


And Amber found it hard to even go outside. Chodas is a great big system with every felon in the nation.


And somebody who would do a thing like that to you must be on the list, right? Yeah, I confidently thought so. So when that result came back, nothing. Nobody there. Yeah.


What was that like? Frustrating. Irritating. I thought, like, it was rigged.


I thought they missed something but they did have one. Call it a small consolation. The DNA told them it had to be one guy, one attacker, a semen stain recovered from her body.


That DNA profile matched the DNA profile on the duct tape. So that tells us that the same individual that sexually assaulted her left DNA on the duct tape that was wrapped around her body.


The detective with that little nugget of information in her back pocket, who knew when she might need it. But now she and her partner started all over again. Abby's friend Eric had suggested maybe check some of Anvers other friends who lived in Fort Collins.


He wasn't so sure about some of them.


She had several friends that he brought up that may have been involved in this. So they're from a part in her history that she was involved in some more risky type behavior, wasn't always making the best choices.


Yeah. Oh, yeah.


So we followed up on those individuals.


And so day by day, one by one, the men in Amber Circle were questioned, close to ten of them friends, acquaintances. Each one provided a DNA sample for Melissa Grass.


So as we received more known samples from individuals in this case, we anticipated that one of them would eventually or could potentially match the unknown DNA profile in this case.


But none of them did.


And the terrified victim waited. And winter came to Fort Collins. An anxious detective, Seymour watched for news anywhere of sexual assaults. Tick tock. He had to be out there, was he watching? Coming up, for investigators, the depths of despair, I felt helpless. How do we not know who this guy is?


And then for Amber, a brand new trauma have like an anxiety attack, just like the overwhelming sense of doom.


When Dateline continues, Detective Seymour had been so sure Amber Smith knew the man who raped her and nearly killed her.


Or if she didn't, he'd be a predator who had committed other similar crimes.


So his DNA would be in CODIS, the national database. But there was simply no trace of him anywhere, not only in Fort Collins, but the entire country.


He was like a ghost like this, the boogeyman.


We couldn't figure out we had everything we needed as far as his DNA to figure out who he was, whoever he was, his behavior, duct taping and torturing his victim was unlike anything that had happened before in Fort Collins.


It became very clear that whoever had done this to her was a stranger, a stranger who'd managed to avoid capture for whatever else she'd probably done, someone who had had the bad luck to encounter at a moment of vulnerability. But was he still here in Fort Collins planning his next attack or long gone?


The patrol officers knew the suspect had used red duct tape. And so if they had stopped a car with a strange guy in it and he had red duct tape, they took his swabs, collected the duct tape. I mean, we were chasing down everything we could. I was becoming more and more discouraged and frustrated. I felt helpless. How do we not know who this guy is? Months passed. The holidays came to Fort Collins. Nobody felt like celebrating, least of all Ambre, who wanted only one thing for Christmas.


How important was it to your psychic health to learn who it was and to give some sort of justice? Very, very, very important. I just felt helpless. I would never be able to fully, you know, move on from it.


It wouldn't be just a question of I give up. I'm never going to find out, but I'm never going to find out. And this wound is never going to heal.


Yeah, that's what I thought. I thought I was deceased or he had left the country.


But did you feel any safer? Really? Not really.


A bottle that up and just try to forget about it. But there was always that fear that he would hurt somebody else.


A year went by. But Amber did not feel better with the passage of time. No, she felt guilty. I've always felt responsible or like it was my fault. Have you always felt the things were your fault? Yeah, definitely, if I went and intoxicated or at that park that night and none of this would have happened, you know, it deserved for that to happen.


Sad, really, that a victim would blame herself for her own victimization. Of course, it wasn't Ember's fault, but she couldn't see it then. And her emotions, her depression, her fear pulled her down for months. That became years.


The weight of it, as heavy as her first day in the hospital was like that sense of I'm not safe and I'm not going to be safe. I would look at mine in question as it happened.


What would happen to you inside when that happened?


Would I have like an anxiety attack, just like the overwhelming sense of like of doom?


Kirsty Aguilar's saw her once happy friend turned into someone she barely recognized.


She became very isolated and she was very self-conscious about everything and everybody that she was around. She was completely broken and shattered from what had happened to her.


And then in 2015, a whole group, in a way came to members rescue housemates who invited her to live here with them in this safe place among friends in a good neighborhood. Good situation. It was fine to feel safe. I did feel safe. It's a new kind of family dynamic, isn't it? Just a bunch of friends living together like the TV show, frankly, didn't feel a bit like that.


Little Bejar, mostly guys. And soon fast friends like Bryce Bailey, a boyfriends buddy and Bryce's childhood pal, a friendly guy named Stephan Moon who crashed on the couch. Everybody called him Sam. Gradually, they and the other housemates helped Amber learn to smile again, but particularly Sam, a bright, gentle guy, good listener. Just what Amber needed to find was real, real supportive.


Did you tell him what your situation was and what had happened to you?


Yes, he said, you know, I'm so sorry. And would you like a hug? And you should never have to go through that and nobody should ever have to go through that. I hope you feel better.


I did do her best friend, Kirsty. It seemed the old Amber was beginning to emerge again. She was settled in and happy. That was a place for her to call home there.


And then she focused on raising her son. Amber began to accept reluctantly that her case would probably never be solved and blocked it out to try to move on with my life.


And then I said there was a bicycle, the pawn shop and a small domestic drama. How curious life can be.


Coming up, a tantalizing lead from out of state, there was some guy in Virginia who had used duct tape in one of his murders and I was like, maybe this is my duct tape guy.


By 2015, the Amber Smith duct tape case was old news in Fort Collins at Colorado State University. Waves of students had come and gone. Life had moved on. Except for a few, like Detective Yvonne Seymour, who was still chasing phantoms, chasing anything she could think of, and she kept an eye on the news from out of state. There was some guy in Virginia who had used duct tape at one point in time and one of his murders.


And I was like, maybe this is my my duct tape guy.


But again and again, there was nothing to find.


We could have swabbed everyone.


We could have asked everyone for their consent. We could have asked the whole town. Yeah. I mean, we could have I mean, it's not realistic. The idea crossed your mind. Yeah. And every time there was a violent sexual assault here in town, I was certain it was my guy until it wasn't.


And new crimes were demanding attention. She had to let it go. I felt just like I had failed. Maybe not such a good cop after all.


Yeah, like I couldn't put the pieces together on this one. Take it home with you. Yes, I did. I had nightmares about this case. How could I not figure this out?


He's still out there. And now time was running out. We have seven years where we get to be a detective for you and then you get rotated back out to patrol. And I was due to rotate out. I needed to figure out who did this before. I didn't have the opportunity any longer. Officially, it wasn't even a case anymore, the Amber Smith investigation was closed two years after the attack. The case colder than the Colorado winter. But not quite for Officer Dane Stratton, the cop who found and rescued Amber in the park.


It was never his investigation. And yet years later, he was still traumatized by the horrible scene he encountered in the park.


I had post-traumatic stress, not being able to sleep auditory, hearing her shouts. Cops are people, too, after all, just like Amber Dane Straten needed relief, but I started to think, what is this guy?


A one hit wonder, is he? But surely he couldn't be because of how brutal it was.


So often late at night in his patrol car, he prowled through city parks looking for what, a villain, a rapist, because if he'd done it once. He's got to do it again, right? So I would drive my police car through the park. I would try to be as sneaky as I could in these places. Talk to kids in the middle and I would talk to people hanging out. It was never our guy ever.


But if he couldn't find him, maybe he could at least prevent another attack.


I would see people stumbling home from the bars and I kind of became a self-motivated taxi. Oftentimes, I would drive him home because the last thing that I wanted was somebody to turn up dead or washed up in a park.


But give up. He couldn't do that because if the guy's alive. He can't sit idly by for the rest of his life, he's going to do something at some point we're going to catch him doing something. He's going to slip up.


Then one day and he's just about everybody's notice somebody stole a bicycle. Well, upsetting thing to have your bike stolen, as anyone knows who's had it happen. So the owner called the cops and who was the owner? Bryce Bailey, one of Ember's old housemates.


Funny how these things happen, so the police went out and investigated that particular theft, found the bike at the Ponderosa was a lucky thing.


Bikes aren't often recovered, but the pawnbroker was keen to help, told the cops about the thief who sold them.


The hot bike thing is, Colorado frowns heavily on people who sell hot goods to pawnbroker's, which in the state of Colorado is a felony to lie.


Provide false information to a pawn broker. It's a felony case. So Colorado, you have to provide a DNA sample for all felony arrests.


The suspect was arrested and booked and swabbed all routine. Just one more DNA sample to drop into that massive CODIS system, which, of course, also contains the samples taken from Amber Smith and. Well. You just can't make up what happened next. Coming up, a call from the crime lab that was really excited to say to her, you're not going to believe what happened today. Melissa was like, we got him. And later, Detective Seymour has big news for Amber, but it's nothing she's prepared for.


I showed her a picture and she said, oh, my God. When Dateline continues. We get support from LifeLock. Last year, there was a victim of identity theft every three seconds, which means a criminal could be spending your money, applying for loans in your name, damaging your credit, or even selling your personal info on the dark web. And the thing is, you could miss certain threats to your identity by only checking bank statements and monitoring your credit.


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Pick the plan that's right for you and save up the 25 percent off your first year by using promo code dateline. That's LifeLock dotcom slash scan and use promo code dateline for twenty five percent off. Hey, guys, Willie Geist here this week on the Sunday Sit Down podcast, I get together for a rare conversation with John Cusack to talk about his new series, Utopia and his long career of memorable roles. And get our conversation now for free wherever you download your podcasts.


It was one of those picture perfect days, the kind that draw people to life in Colorado. It was four years since the attack on Amber Smith.


Detective Chevon Seymour was hiking with her kids up in a place called Pooter Canyon, west of town, and her phone chirped text message from her boss.


She was like, You need a call sehbai. There's been an update in your duct tape case where at that moment were you thinking, like, we got it. Like we got it. If you got nothing. It must be that. Yes.


I mean, I can't imagine what else it would be by right away.


Seymour dialed forensic DNA analyst Melissa Grass at the CBI.


I picked up the phone and I was really excited to say to her, You're not going to believe what happened today, Melissa.


I was like, we got him. We got a CODIS hit on this case. And there was screaming and yelling and excited us on the other side of the phone. It was just complete elation. I was so happy. It's one of those moments in my life really where I will always remember exactly where I was. But how after all those years of fruitless slogging, where did this DNA suddenly show up? Well, of course you've guessed the answer.


It came from the stolen bike that turned up at the pawn shop, the DNA swab of The Bicycle Thief. It was that DNA that matched the sample recovered from Amber.


It was just like finally, like finally, like everybody needs to stop what they're doing. We got to go get this guy right now.


So she went on Facebook and found this picture. What did you expect this person would turn out to be? He was always the boogie man to me. He didn't have a face or a name. He was just somebody really scary out there.


And when I saw that picture of him, he didn't really look like a bogeyman, not quite the monster she expected raped Amber, beat her within an inch of her life and left her to die, trussed up and helpless in red duct tape.


But the numbers didn't lie.


So when I performed my statistical analysis in this case, the statistic was one in 10 quintillion. That is 10, followed by 18 zeroes. So a significant match.


Did you find his DNA anywhere else, either on her body or on the. Rapping or the sock or anything. We found it on neck swabs that were taken from the ligature marks and the markings on her neck. We found it on the tape that was used to find her. We found it really on her injuries and then on the tape, all of it matching only the man arrested for that small time bike theft.


Officer Dane Stratton was stunned when he got the news. After four years, they finally had a suspect actually woke up to an email from Siobhan.


She said, call me. We got some news about the duct tape case. And I remember jumping out of bed and calling her and she told me that we had a DNA hit and I was so happy I was over the moon took forever. We finally have an answer.


And then Detective Seymour prepared to reveal this amazing new break to Amber. After four years of bad news, she could barely contain herself. And I called her.


I told her that I had an update in her case and can I come over and see you? And she said, yes, it was difficult to contain my joy that we had found him. He reached over to tell Amber, who by then was living with her son in her own small apartment.


She answered the door and I said, we got a hit. And I said, I think we figured out who the DNA belongs to, that we recovered.


I was like, Yeah, little dance. Yeah, it was great.


Could you believe it now?


Like, it was surreal. It was crazy. I was overjoyed. I was like, yes, the start of a new beginning. Then Detective Seymour pulled out the picture of the prime suspect finally putting a face to that unspeakable crime he committed against her.


And I said, what? Like, I know. No, no. I was like, there a mistake. This is not real. This is not right. This is not accurate. My whole world is flipped upside down.


Those overwhelming DNA results were wrong. They couldn't be. And yet Amber could not believe that the man in the picture was him. There had to be some mistake. Coming up, why Amber couldn't believe what she'd been told, there's no way this is the wrong guy. And then detectives give her a job. She asked if I would be willing to do the whole cop. It had taken four long years to this moment in Amber Smith's little apartment, where Detective Chevon Seymour could finally tell her the news that the man who had raped and beaten and found her up, the red duct tape had been found.


Oh, and say, OK, you go ahead. And I showed her a picture and she said, oh, my God.


She's like, I know him for a moment. It didn't seem to register because that was her old friend, her gentle confidante, her housemate, that man.


And the picture was Sam Sam Moon, but it didn't compute. And then suddenly it dawned on her what this picture could mean. It was like all the air had been sucked out of the room and she's like, no, you don't get it. I didn't know him until two years after the assault took place.


I love Sarah. This is interesting. This is my friend. There's no way this is this is the wrong guy.


So from lation, you went right back down again. Yeah. This is the guy you confided in. Yeah. The guy you trusted. Yeah, exactly. Your good friend. Yeah. It was a mistake.


It was a mistake. It wasn't right. It wasn't him. He wasn't capable of that.


Sam. Sensitive, compassionate. Sam, her former housemate. So good to her and her son Gabe. This was the person who did that.


And if all that wasn't bad enough, no, Amber had to deal with something far more difficult, something Detective Seymour asked her to do, call him confront Sam Moon on the phone. The DNA was huge, of course, but if Amber could somehow elicit a confession from Sam, the case would be ironclad. She said we could catch him.


We're going to get him. And she asked if I would be willing to do the phone call. I said, yeah, let's do this. Let's get him. You didn't hesitate. All hesitated. Yeah. It was a really horrible day because. Because I thought I was my friend. I didn't know what to think. I was still just blown away that I was him.


The thing was, it wasn't just the call she dreaded.


She wasn't at all sure they got the right man harmless so that I would describe him as harmless. So the next day at the police station, Abhra called Sam Detective Seymour listened in neither quite sure what would happen. Did they give you a script to read or anything like that? They just said, say what you want.


They had a little whiteboard and if I were to get stuck, they were going to write questions about me even as the phone rang. Amber was still deeply conflicted. Could she do it?


Could she really accuse him? And if she did, would she be right or wrong? Sam answered. Apparently no idea what was coming.


Hey, Sam and Amber and Sam hadn't talked in a while. And for a minute it was like old times.


Hey, it's Amber. Amber, yes. But not much you.


Then she drove in. So I remember how I told you about that stuff that happened to me in 2013 about that guy that broke my jaw and stuff. Yeah. Yeah. So the police contacted me and said, your DNA matched up. What? Oh my God, Amber, I, I, I don't know what to say. I did not I did not hurt you.


OK, but they have your DNA. So how do you explain that. Yeah. From the 2013 incident, the one I told you about, the one I wrote down to you and told you about multiple times. Yeah. Amber, that's I, I remember you talking about that and that's sick. You just kept stammering and kept denying and denying.


Amber, Amber, I'm not I'm not going to stop you right there. I did not hurt you. I don't know how this is happening. This is for real. What do you mean. You know, just come up in there and I've never met you before. Twenty fifteen. So how would your DNA be in my vagina? Dude, how do you explain that. I don't know Amber. I don't know.


I'm one of that confession. But you want an explanation. Yeah, I wanted to know. I wanted him to say I did this to you and I'm sorry. That's all I wanted.


As the call continues, Sam never wavered. Not once. And no, I didn't hurt you. I didn't hurt you. I didn't hurt you.


And then at the end of the call, it's like a light bulb went on in his head with you. Roxburgh Park, right? Yes.


Then Sam Moon said something disturbing. Yeah, we have sex.


I didn't hurt you. We had sex.


And then Sam told a whole different story about that terrible night. The story he believed would clear his name. Coming up, Sam Moon says he saw someone else attack Amber, he shot her at her home.


It was covered and it was not so bloody. When Dateline continues.


Amber Smith had overcome her worst fears and confronted her friends and moon. The DNA said he had to be the man who attacked her. Yet back at the police station, as she pressed for answers, he said something that caught her off guard. Yeah, we have sex, I didn't hurt you, we had sex, we had sex, that Rossborough Park, Rossborough Park, remember, that was the place Amber had been drinking with a different friend.




You were given out free. Yeah, you were the.


Sam insisted he'd responded to a personal ad on Craigslist, and that must be how she picked up his DNA.


Wow. We have that. I did not hurt you, Amber, but that was a terrible thing to say. Couldn't be true.


I was horrible. That was embarrassing and disgusting and disturbing. And then right after he threw out that disturbing story, Sam ended the call, the conversation with them. I didn't hurt you. I'm sorry I didn't hurt you. Was it remotely possible he was telling the truth or what? Detective Seymour had been listening intently.


You can hear his wheels spinning as he's trying to create the story that is somehow plausible, given the evidence he's trying to figure out how to make what we have matched, something that could have happened. Something that would clear him and slime Amber, the detective, wasn't buying it. And soon after the phone call was done, police arrested Simon brought into the Fort Collins police station and then they shut him down here for one more conversation, except this time.


So I would be talking to her Detective Seymour, one on one as tears rolled down his face.


Did it seem like he that guy, that couch surfer could be your monster, could be your boogie man?


No, not at first. But what this job has taught me time and time again is people are not always who you think they are.


He insisted again and again that he was innocent, that this was all a mistake and it was not a rapist.


I never, ever, ever, never heard or Detective Seymour does not bluster or threaten and she didn't hear. Well, I'm going to do my best to make you as comfortable as possible. Shoot me now. That's still fun. Let's slow it down. Take some breaths, OK? Slow it down.


Her voice steady, calming as she gently lowered the boom.


I was to be honest with each other, we have your DNA in her body. 20, 2013. OK.


Oh, Sam kept talking. Yeah, I had sex with her in 2013.


OK, and again, he offered up his Craigslist story that he had responded to a personal ad, a woman offering free sexual favors in the park. And that's why his DNA showed up.


And I just got separated from my wife at home and went out there at Rossborough Park. I had sex with a girl. I didn't see her face.


I didn't see anything about her, nothing. And afterwards he said he went home and told his roommate, Bryce Bailey, there's a girl in the park offering free sex. You should go there. Maybe an hour or two when he comes through the door and I can hear he's with somebody else and it's female.


Sam said he believed Rice went to the park, brought the woman back to the house, and that's when things happened, said Sam.


Very bad things, and it was just screaming and yelling in there. It stopped, thought, killed, Sam said he hid in his room with a door closed, so it looked to the door.


It was good to hear your girlfriend's health care and her whole head was covered and it was just so bloody.


But Sam did not report his roommate to the police. The next day. Did you have fun with somebody last night and he beat the hell out of me and told me you killed her before anything quietly in her almost gentle way, Detective Seabaugh pushed back.


Some of this stuff doesn't make sense to me. All right. None of this stuff makes sense to me.


But his story did seem to explain how his DNA could be on Ambriz body consensually. So the detective offered some inconvenient facts.


There is also scratches on her nose that were swabbed. So ordinary next swabs on our hands on the left hand swab to take your DNA. I don't like to see them all over her body. No, I wasn't so interested in. You are the man that did this to her and I pleaded with him to be the hero that I believed he could be and allow my victim to move forward with her life by apologizing and taking accountability for the things you've done.


Your friend needs this. You know that. And you heard the pain in her voice. You have something to offer her. You can change this. You can change how the story ends.


But Sam wouldn't budge. He stuck to his story, blaming his lifelong friend Bryce for attacking Amber and leaving her for dead. Seem to the detective like a good old fashioned frame job. Unless that is, unless he was telling the truth, Detective Seymour wasn't finished investigating. Yes, she'd need to find out a lot more about Simon. Who was he anyway? Coming up, Sam's parents say a brutal attack is just not in his character.


He was famous for doing stupid things, but nothing aggressive, nothing violent.


And then detectives interview the man Sam says attacked Amber. Did you have anything to do with the incident that happened to Amber in 2013?


Everybody is somebody's baby, even Sam Moon, a man accused of heinous crimes, rape and attempted murder. After Sam's arrest, Detective Seymour and her colleagues went to his parents house and, well, the others searched for evidence. The detective asked Sam's father, Brian Moon, about duct tape.


Has he hadn't seen him handle it or make stuff with the. There was some around here a while ago. Like how long? Well, in my recollection, it's been several years. There was a roll around it. My recollection is it all got used up.


The next day, Bryan Moon and his wife Susie came down to the police station to tell Detective Seymour about their son.


Have a seat on the couch, though, because they were the two people who might know him best and for whom the news was a blow.


This really shakes the whole foundation. I received notice that we had a match for the DNA and it came back to your son, something no parent wants to hear from.


Detective Seymour hope the moons might offer some insight into Sam and the odd habits of fetishes, even sexual deviances of their 30 something year old couch surfing son.


I don't know if there were things that he did growing up or here, but I never saw him looking at weird pornography.


The moon said they couldn't remember anything unusual. It's broken down again, a smart and kind kid who did not always make the most intelligent choices, they said.


I mean, he's been kind of a. He's been a screw up. He was famous for doing stupid things, the epitome of stupidity. But nothing nothing aggressive, nothing violent.


Juvenile pranks, unpaid traffic tickets, those were his worst offenses, so his parents and they were sure their once married son would never hurt a woman, much less do what happened to Amber.


I have drummed into him how you treat women and how I feel about beating women up and read that culture.


I'm a nurse and I say all I hear is that Shamoon was an unlikely suspect for sure, and he'd offered alibis. So Detective Seymour checked them out one by one. Remember how he said he looked under his bedroom door and watched his friend Bryce Bailey commit the crime? And I went to the home and I looked under the door to figure out what the vantage point was that Stephon had claimed he had.


And you couldn't see anything under the door besides maybe a heel in front of you.


All right. Then they tracked down Bryce Bailey, told him what Sam said. How did Bryce react to this?


He was disgusted and surprised that he didn't feel this.


Really. Did you have anything to do with the incident that happened to Amber in 2013? No, I don't even know Amber in 2013.


So why would his old pal Sam try to frame him for the attack on Amber? Well, that was easy, said Bryce on his ear, or to his trying to get revenge on me for getting in trouble in the first place.


Oh, yes, he stole Bryce's bike, remember? That's how police got Sam's DNA and Bryce back and forth.


Yeah, and he was eager to provide me with a sample of his DNA to exonerate him.


Then I said this about his old friend, Sam, the kid he had known since they were five years old.


Oh, I think I could tell you about Sam as day is a constant liar.


But the heart of Sam's alibi was his claim that he had sex and only sex with Amber after reading a Craigslist ad offering free sex in the park. These days, Craigslist doesn't post ads like that. But in 2013, when they did when investigators asked Craigslist, was there any such ad at the time? That one took a while. We did a search warrant for specific keywords that Stefan had used in his interview about what the ad had said. And we were not able to locate an ad that had the amount of detail that stuff on it reported this ad having.


And, you know, certainly on Craigslist, there are some seedy stuff that happens. So there are ads that. Talk about things like that, but not to the extent that Steffon men have had said it had to be investigated, though prosecutors brand hard to win.


And Carol Boksburg said they didn't believe Sam's alibi for a minute. Looked to them like Sam had a very ugly plan, one hundred percent of he believes that Mr. Moon's intent that night was to sexual assault, to leave her and have her die so that no one would be able to put together what happened and point to him about what occurred to Ross Perot.


So the prosecutors were certain they had their man. But as the trial approached the victim herself, Amber Smith was not so certain.


She routinely asked us, are you guys sure? Are you sure this is who did it? How do you wrap your mind around the fact that somebody you trusted is the one who did this? Amber, after all, was slated to be their star witness and they needed her to help seal the case here for the first time since that night in the park, she would finally confront Simon face to face.


Coming up, even on the eve of trial, Amber wasn't convinced Sam was her attacker. I still questioned would she have it in her to testify? I just was overwhelmed.


When Dateline continues, the trauma of the kind suffered by Amber Smith is a beast, the long tail.


And still, as the trial of her accused attacker approached, Amber could not quite believe that her sweet friend, Sam Moon was the one who did those awful things. A stew of emotions overlaid with confusion. And you could just see, like. There's a sense of disorientation, like everything that was real in her world just went poof, kind of a second victimization.


Yeah, a huge and just mind screw, if you will, just that this person that you developed a relationship with and trusted not only betrayed you, attacked you, assaulted you, and may have tried to kill you.


Yeah. Yeah.


Like, everything that was real is not real anymore, but it was certainly real to the two seasoned prosecutors. The idea that anybody can treat somebody like this, even in this line of work, you know, doing this for 10 years is still amazing. And then when you see the photos. You can feel the terror that Amber felt, but I have not encountered something quite like this.


And though Amber survived, if only barely her trauma, the ugliness of the crime made their mission personal. And we didn't want to let her down.


We wanted her to be able to walk out of that courtroom at the end of the trial, knowing that the person who violated her in the ways that Mr. Mounded would never walk free.


The trial began in the Fort Collins courtroom in August 2013, nearly six years to the day after the attack. It was Detective Seymour who told the story for the jury.


What was the experience like?


Stressful, because this is one of the most emotional cases I've ever experienced. So there was this tremendous amount of pressure to get it right. It was almost as if I was fighting for a sister to be able to find that sense of closure so that she could move forward with her life like we all wanted this for her. Dana Stratton, the first responder, tried to be businesslike on the stand, he couldn't do it. I teared up. I was choked up.


It was extremely emotional for me because it was so vivid when I was being asked about this crime scene.


I think that was very powerful to the jury because he added that human element to this case. Mind you, Saddam himself tried to do that, too. He testified, told the same story about responding to a Craigslist ad offering sex at the park. So it was all consensual. He said he did not rape Amber. Investigators just didn't look hard enough for that. And the defense said, although even Sam's attorney acknowledged there was no evidence to show Amber posted anything on Craigslist anyway, the defense told the jury Amber was found in a puddle of fluid.


So it must have been cross contamination that spread Sam's DNA to her neck. And the duct tape suggestions the prosecutor swatted away because the analysts found DNA where only the violent attacker could have left it.


She swabbed all areas of the tape. She didn't just swab the outside, which if you buy what the defense was trying to sell to that jury, the contamination would only be on the outside areas. She swabbed the sticky side of the tape and those swabs had the defendant's DNA on them.


The other part to keep in mind is if it wasn't Steffon Moon, there was no one else's DNA there.


Someone who, with such force placed so much tape on her that sexually assaulted her, dragged her from the first park, took her to another location and deposited her in the middle of the second park, didn't leave any of their DNA.


The DNA samples establish that the only persons DNA that was there was Mr. Moon.


Amber was there in court listening to all of this. Was there a point at which it came crashing down on you, it was him had to be him during the trial, wasn't it, till then? I wasn't. I still questioned. I still couldn't believe it.


When she sat there looking at her former friend, I was pretty angry with her as it was every emotion, every negative emotion. Just looking at it. Yeah, just looking at him. If I had laser beams out a her thing in the back of his head. Yes.


Because now she knew someone was her kidnapper and attacker, that she needed to share her story to help put him behind bars. No small feat.


I just was so nervous and so many people I just was getting very overwhelmed. My personal business thanasis out for everybody.


It's like the only way through to get your the justice you wanted was to tell all these people everything. Yeah. But even if Amber doubted herself, the prosecutors never did, and when she took the stand, she was phenomenal and I think she really got to take back some of what Steffon Moon took from her when she sat there and confronted him. She is such a strong woman.


It's inspiring. His claims are ridiculous and ugly, a Craigslist had never happened, she said, and as she finished, Amber realized she'd managed to inspire herself to I really empowering at a lot of people there to support me, too.


So I was hopeful the case was the jury's now the verdict would be swift, but what came next? Well, no one saw that coming.


Coming up, after an excruciating six year odyssey, there's an audible gasp. Amber and her team hear the verdict. I just sobbed. Remember looking at the jury and like why I was heartbroken.


Oh. In the end, it didn't take very long at all. Less than a day. And there was a verdict. I was shaking. Your heart goes like crazy. I started crying before the judge even said anything. And that's when it happened, when the judge reads count one attempt to commit first degree murder, we, the jury find the defendant not guilty and there's an audible gasp. Amber and the people in the courtroom who fought so hard for her were stunned.


I just sobbed and I just remember, like looking at the jury and like why, like I was angry and understand I cannot begin.


I don't know how to put words to it. Just I felt like I was going to vomit. Um, yeah. Just my heart I don't even think was in my body anymore. I was heartbroken. You're afraid you failed. I was. There were other charges, other verdicts to come, but the concern is they'll make that same finding all the way through.


That was probably the longest two or three seconds of my life from the first not guilty and then to the next one and then out it came one by one.


The jury found Shamoon guilty of kidnapping and sexual assault and more all of the other charges, we felt relieved.




The question now was, without that attempted murder conviction, would he do serious time or as Amber feared, would he be released to terrify her again? Months later, they got the answer.


The judge gave Mr. Moon the maximum possible sentence. She sentenced him to twenty eight years to the remainder of his natural life.


What did you think about that? Oh, yeah, um. Can't hurt anybody else, can't hurt me. This chapter in my life will close. Don. A sentence that would last more than a lifetime moon won't be eligible for parole until the year 21 15, when he'd be more than 130 years old.


He deserves every year, every minute, every second that he spends in prison.


And Amber deserves every minute, every second he deserves in prison. Patrol officer Dane Stratton, first person to respond to the scene, haunted by it all for years, who'd spent many nights searching on his own for Ember's attacker finally in court, saw her for the very first time since he'd rescued her. I tapped Amber on the shoulder and I very quickly spoke with her because I wanted to hear her. Because the voice in my memory was her screaming, terrified, I want her real voice to be my new memory.


And then the judge asked if Dane Stratton had anything to say. My parting words to Stephan Moon were, I want you to take a look at Amber Smith and remember her not as your victim, but as a victor. We made sure that Amber was no longer the girl dumped in the park and the duct tape case.


Amber was the victor. Of the ducted case. But not everyone was satisfied, Sam Moon's parents, the mortified by what their son had done and what it all meant for their family, were not so convinced that he was the one who beat and bound that in duct tape. And they thought his lengthy sentence was outrageous.


After all, many convicted murderers have got much less time, have had a chance to be released. Couldn't Sam. I'm sorry for them and my heart breaks for them, but I just don't think that that's the right choice. I do believe that he was and is a ticking time bomb. And should he be able to walk around in our community that it's just a matter of time before he goes off again?


How could anyone know whether or when he might attack someone else, where for it and any way she knew something else about that after going through his phone, something the jury didn't hear and it wasn't pretty.


We found hundreds of searches for rape, pornography in his phone. I went through some of the things that he had Googled and which is gross, gross stuff. Did you see anything that suggested what eventually happened to her?


I saw that he had an affinity for rape and for torturing women based off of the searches that he had done. Now, the searches were done years later after the event. Yes. So what the searches showed me was that he still had a propensity towards rape and hurting women. That is why she believes the only place for him is in prison. And well, Amber still has her struggles ahead. She is also relishing the first tender steps of a reclaimed and strengthened life, a newfound sense of self.


I feel more at peace now. I feel like I can finally move on with my life. It doesn't define me anymore. I'm not a victim.


No, she's a survivor, focused on raising her son Gabe and giving back somehow.


It's pretty frickin phenomenal, actually, now that you go from feeling like a worthless piece of meat victim to Wonder Woman. Yeah, you got the guy. It's you.


I feel empowered now. I actually feel a sense of hope now. And I feel like it's you have a future ahead of me and I feel like I might help people and. I know I'm going to do that. That's all for now. I'm Lester Holt, thanks for joining us. I'm Trymaine Lee, host of Into America, a podcast from MSNBC. Join me as we go into the roots of inequality and economic injustice and racial injustice.


And then when you add health is a health injustice into what's at stake, people are going to be voting not for a person, but for stability and into what comes next into America, a podcast about who we are as Americans and who we want to become. New episodes every Monday, Wednesday and Thursday.


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