The Comic Book MurderDateline NBC
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- 5 Nov 2020
In this Dateline classic, Barbara George is rushed to the hospital after being found bleeding in the back of the comic book store she owned in suburban Detroit. What the nurse finds launches a decade long mystery. Dennis Murphy reports. Originally aired on NBC on January 25, 2013.
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Shot in the head, it didn't seem like it could happen to such a good person. We were shocked. Murder in a comic book store outside the comics corner, a strange crime scene, strange suspect. And he said it looked like a woman in a fake beer. I believe that the person with the fake beard and mustache is the killer. But soon the case grew cold. Maybe it wasn't the bearded lady. How much frustration is building within the family?
What can you do then? A new clue, a witness who spoke to the killer the night of the murder.
He sounded like he was busy in a hurry, but that's the one piece that was missing. But would it be enough? It's true, we didn't have forensic evidence supporting our case. I always operate under the theory, you don't shoot, you don't score. Was this shot a shot in the dark? My brother Terrence means this is your heart beating fast. I said, Dad, is this is it.
And I look at him.
I said, hey, let's go down to the side of the story and help out with the party. We pulled out of the party. The police stopped us. I knew immediately all the crime scene papers there and they said, you can't go through. We're investigating a homicide. We're investigating the comic book store.
The comic book store was a mom and pop shop in a strip mall outside Detroit out front by the register bins of the fantasy Big Guy's Spidey Hulk X-Men. But in the storage space and back was an ugly reality. One of the shop owners, the woman was on the floor with a life draining out of her customers that found her most of the time who were there on Friday nights.
It was July of 1990, a Friday the 13th when Tom and Lenore award stopped by the comic book shop before going out to dinner. They liked buying from the woman there, Barb.
She knew our name immediately. When we would walk in, she would light up with a smile. Many times she would actually come around the counter to greet us. But not on this summer evening. It was just after six o'clock, Tom and Laura had picked out a comic, but there was no one behind the counter to take their money, not Barb or her husband, Michael, the co-owner. It wasn't uncommon that someone wouldn't be at the cash register, but this was a longer than normal time.
So we thought we would stick around just to make sure, you know, because we liked her. Some teenage customers were also in the shop browsing and they, too, were itchy to pay and go. They were the first ones to peek into the back room and see Barb sprawl cried out for somebody back here. And at that time, Tom and I rushed to the back storage area and found Barb on the floor.
We thought she perhaps had fallen backwards and hit her head.
I noticed that she was blue around her mouth. Her pupils were dilated and big and I could not find a pulse.
Llanera, the customer happened to be a nurse and took charge. She noticed only a small amount of blood and concluded that Barb had suffered a heart attack or a seizure.
She told her husband to call 911 one while she began administering CPR.
They had never done CPR on someone that I knew and loved. It was, please, God, let this be OK. She's a mother. As the ambulance rushed Barb to the hospital, Menora Ward felt she'd done her professional best, but she wasn't at all sure her prayers would be answered.
I knew that she was medically in dire straits.
The woman rushed into the emergency room that evening was 32 year old Barbara George. She was a little heavy, but physically fit and enthusiastic. Softball and volleyball player. Doctors and nurses began working feverishly to get a pulse, thumping the woman's chest in rapid bursts. One E.R. nurse was Chris Kiho.
If you can give 100 compressions per minute to that patient, the better the chance of reviving the heart. But after 15 minutes, it was all over. A doctor pronounced Barb George, the mother of two dead. It fell to Nurse Kiho to clean up the body for the family to view. That's when she saw it and we were straightening up her hair.
We noticed some blood on the top of her head. I noticed that there was a small hole. My first thought as a nurse was that it had to be a bullet hole there.
Imagine that Barbara George, the nice lady behind the counter, shot to death.
We were shocked, shot in the head. It didn't seem like it could happen to such a good person. Back at the comic book shop, friends and family continued to arrive for what was supposed to be a surprise birthday party that night for Michael, George Barb's husband. What a pleasant night it should have been with toasts, the singing of Happy Birthday and all the superheroes from his beloved Marvel in Action Comics. Looking on all those guests now stunned to find the party turned into a crime scene and bar the hostess dead.
Two possible clues to solving the mystery right after the murder. Witnesses reported seeing a speeding car and a man waiting outside the comic book shop head on. Kind of a dark outfit for that time of the year. Greek fisherman's cap. That's how I would describe it. Their hole in the wall shop comics world had been Barbe and Michael is just go for it passion. He collected thousands of comics over the years and he likes superheroes adventures way more than he likes selling insurance.
So with some help from Barb's parents, they took the jump and opened their little shop in a Clinton Township, Michigan, strip mall in the winter of 1988.
Joe Kevin is Barb's brother. When we met you, he earned a living by removing dents and dings from cars. But back in 1990, he was the kid brother who looked up to his sister, admired her on the softball field where she was a standout.
I used to go to our games. I remember going to the tournaments with the family. You know, she was your typical older sister. She was always there to help you.
Barb had been brought up in a traditional Polish Catholic family. And when she found her man, Michael George, marriage became the organizing principle of her life. Was she a happy bride? Very happy. Yeah, she couldn't. She couldn't wait. And when children came along to girls, Barbara George seemed complete. Her kids were pride and joy.
And I think that was everything to her.
The night of Friday the 13th, brother Joe and his then girlfriend, now Mary Shamo, drove over to the comic shop for what was to be a celebration. Barbe surprise birthday party in the store for Michael. He was turning 30. Michael's mother was going to keep the two kids at her house for the weekend, while Barb and Michael took off after the party for a cozy couple of days at a lodge. So that would have been a Friday night.
And it was going to be a romantic weekend, right? A weekend not meant to be, because by the time Joe and Mary got to the comic book store just before nine o'clock, there was confusion.
Cop cars pulled up and in tow rather than when the police stopped us and they said, you can't go through. We're investigating a homicide. Somebody was killed. I immediately thought, Mike, because I thought no one hated my sister. Absolutely nobody. But the victim wasn't Mike. It was Joe's sister and it was up to Detective Sergeant Damon stuck to make sense of the senseless he'd been the investigator on duty in the hospital called that they'd had a woman come in with a single gunshot to the head.
So now we had a full blown homicide. You know, it's gonna be a long night. Yes. As the detectives team scoured the strip mall dumpsters for maybe a tossed weapon clothing, something, he turned over the few facts he had so far. A woman with children gunned down execution style in the back of a little comic book store. Police interviewed merchants and customers at the mall. And anyone seen anything out of the ordinary. It turned out Tom and Lenore were awarded.
The couple who'd given Barbe first aid had picked up on something when they first arrived that evening, a speeding car in front of the comic book shop.
And we both thought to ourselves and then set it to each other, boy, that car's going too fast.
Later, they'd wonder if that was the getaway car, but another observation tugged at them. Who was that guy lurking outside the comic book shop head on?
Kind of a dark outfit for that time of the year. Greek fisherman's cap. So I would describe it.
Another man visiting the strip mall would say he saw a different suspicious character, someone wearing what appeared to be a fake beard, possibly a bearded lady. The shop was small, deeper than it was wide aisles of bins filled with comic books out front by the register and a door to the back storage room. Barber George had been found just inside the back room. On the far wall was a locked door that led to the alley in the rear.
Outside the comics corner, crime scene techs began videotaping the crime scene at the cash register. There was 750 dollars still in the cash register, untouched in a glass case just behind the till. A wall of collectible vintage comics. The good stuff. They hadn't been ransacked in the storage area. Some bins had been toppled over, but the empties might have done that as they rushed in to assist Barbe George as she lay on the floor, more than 400 dollars would be found in her pocket.
The good jewelry she was wearing wasn't taken. Later, the medical examiner determined that the shop owner had been shot from above the bullet entering almost the very top of the skull, indicating she'd been crouched. Another bullet had been fired. First, police believe it missed and went through a swimsuit calendar on the wall and into the empty shop on the other side of the sheetrock. If it was a robbery at the comic book store, it was an unusual one.
Just after eight o'clock, Detective STICKMAN was told that the husband of the victim had just arrived.
He identified himself and he said, what's going on? We said, well, there's been an incident here and we're sorry to tell you, but your wife has been injured. Injured. I told her not that we never told him. What? We never told him what happened to her. He doesn't know what has happened to us. To our knowledge, he had no idea what was going on. I said, well, you need to go over to the hospital because your wife is really seriously injured.
At the hospital, Michael George was informed that his wife had died of a gunshot wound to the head. A few minutes later, Mary and his brother in law, Joe, came rushing in. The girlfriend was undone by the awful news. I'm blown away. I'm shocked.
I wasn't even related to her. And I was devastated and I was crying and I was upset. But there was someone who didn't seem as upset as Mary was. The new widower, Michael George. Why was she so suspicious of the comic book man? And I'm troubled husband and a very troubled marriage. We started receiving phone calls, we might want to look at his relationship with his employee linguine a little cozy. Check it out. Yes.
Barbara George had been shot to death in the storage room of the comic book shop she owned with her husband Michael, six hours after her birth. Michael George had returned from the hospital to show the chief detective Sergeant STICKMAN around what was now a crime scene. The back room where Barb was shot was also where Michael said a robbery must have happened. He noticed two important white boxes were gone. Soon as he walked in the back room, he looked and said there were two cardboard boxes full of very expensive comic books missing.
So he's saying, I had some expensive stuff, two boxes of comic books, and it's gone and they're gone.
Michael George made a written list of stolen comics from the white boxes and estimated their value at 1600 dollars.
He'd later file an insurance claim for vintage editions of Spider-Man, Green Lantern and Iron Man, to name just a few.
So he's talking about robbery as his like his his whole scenario was it had to be robbery at the comic book shop.
Michael George told the detective he had no idea what had happened to his wife. He said he'd last seen her a little after 4:00 o'clock when she'd relieved him behind the counter. He said he took their two kids over to his mom's and remained there napping on her couch until a little before eight o'clock. When he returned to the comic book store, Detective STICKMAN asked Michael George the questions that a cop would when the wife has just been murdered.
Let's get all this up straight. Were there any any girlfriends? No. Where you having any affairs? No. Any any problems with your marriage? No. Everything was fine at the funeral.
Days later, Mary Shammo, the girlfriend of Barb's brother, couldn't make out what he was feeling because his eyes were concealed behind dark, dark sunglasses. Like something that's a blind person would wear something.
You see Stevie Wonder where and Mary Sense that Michael was acting strange, even goofy, only increased after a visit to the trailer park home where Michael, George and Barbara had lived, she and Joe, Barb's brother had gone over to give Michael some support.
During tough days.
He comes in and her vacuum sitting there and he grabs a vacuum and embraces a vacuum. And he's just like like he showed more emotion with this vacuum than he did the whole time. What's he saying to the vacuum? And he's just saying, oh, this was Barb's vacuum and oh, my God, she's never going to use his vacuum again. And and then he would he would go to like a blender. And he's like, she's never going to be in this kitchen again.
Are you thinking, what's up with this? And I'm looking at him like he was a screwball. Here you are grieving over vacuuming all these appliances. And there wasn't one tear in his eyes. There was no swelling, swelling going on in his eyes. He just yeah, he had nothing going on. It was all an act.
The police, meanwhile, were chasing down bank records, insurance policies, looking for leads on the speeding car, the man in the Greek fisherman's cap, the so-called bearded lady, and whether this could have been a botched robbery. After all, they were also getting a crash course on the value of vintage comics. Unhappily for them, the case detectives hadn't found the gun and hope for forensics like a bloody print just weren't there. But the investigators were getting calls on the Kutty about Michael, George maybe having a girlfriend.
When did you learn about a shop assistant named Rene?
Friend of both. That was two days. Two days later, we started receiving phone calls from people advising us that we might want to look at his relationship with his employee named Renee. But a little cosy. Check it out.
Yes, it was Barb George who'd met and befriended Rene Rene Kotula at their children's school and brought her to work at the comic book store. Rene had five children and needed the money. Her floundering marriage had ended in divorce just three weeks before Barbes murder.
Not long after they buried Barbara Marie.
Shamo remembers dropping in unexpectedly at the comic book shop, along with her boyfriend, Joe, and the pair got a shock through.
They saw Michael and Rene, the shop assistant, canoodling.
They didn't see us pull up. They were really close and they were giggling together in their arms were crossed over to each other. And when you lose somebody your life, you kind of look around at the world like, what's going on? Why is it good? Why is the world keep moving when I've just lost somebody so important? And here this man is is just he's as happy as a clam. You wouldn't think that he had any care in the world the way he was carrying on with her.
Michael and Ronnie would set up a new home together with the help of one hundred and thirty thousand dollar life insurance payout on Barb that he'd received as beneficiary.
Is he becoming what cops call a person of interest? Yes.
At that point he was at that point, he had to be he'd talk to the police casually at the store that night, then in a more formal interview with the police station six days later. But there would be no follow ups. According to Detective STICKMAN, Michael George said he would hire an attorney lawyer. They'd start talking.
Exactly. So this is this is a big unsolved case. Yes. Yes. How much frustration is building within the family?
What can you do? Can't take I mean, you can take the law into your own hands, but what's going to happen with that? Do you ever talk about it? I felt that there was times I felt that I should do something. You know, I am a Catholic, I, I couldn't live with it in the comics, superheroes are ageless, but the comic book shop in the Clinton Township strip mall wasn't it closed its doors in 1992, Michael George, the shop owner, and his new wife, Renee, had moved from town.
They'd settled some 375 miles southeast of Detroit in Windber, population 4000, an old coal mining town. On the main drag there, the Georgias had opened their new comics world. With his two kids and Rene's five being raised together in their spacious new home, they found friends in Windber among the other parents involved in their kids sports teams. Michael coach, Pastor Brad Westover, his daughter in basketball. He never missed a game. Tremendous family man, respected business person in the community.
Jeff Lively had the electrical supply shop three blocks down from comics where his life was for the kids. And I'd have to say his life was for Renee. He treated her like gold. The Jorges endeared themselves to a town where families went back generations by raising money for the Make a Wish church and giving comics to the public library. Besides his good works, his friends said he was just plain fun.
The guy always had a smile on his face, always joke, and everybody enjoyed being around him.
Michael George at all but severed ties with his murdered wife's family, uncles and an aunt back in Clinton Township, Michigan, rarely saw Barbara's two girls come.
The year 2000 was Michael George, even aware that the longtime chief of police in his former town had passed away? Chief Robert Smith had died without solving the nagging case of the comic book murder.
But everyone in this town was aware of that crime, and probably myself, more so because my dad was a chief of police at that time.
Chief Smith's son, Eric Smith, had driven by that store a thousand times with my old man. Just about every time we drove by there, there was there was something he said was still gnawing at him.
There's no question about it.
Four years after his father's death, Eric Smith was elected chief prosecutor in Macomb County, Michigan. He became responsible for all the criminal cases in Clinton Township and beyond.
And I can't tell you how many people came up to me and said that a family member of theirs had been murdered or had been killed and nothing had been done. And you could see the desperation on their face and they really thought that the system had passed them by. And if I'm going to be the chief law enforcement officer, this county, I can't let people out there think that that we don't care. So we started a cold case unit very soon after I came in.
One of Prosecutor Smith's first acts in office was to send out a letter to all the police departments in his county asking police chiefs and detectives to look at their old unsolved with fresh eyes.
I did it with Michael George in mind. There's no question in my mind that at the time I was hoping that we'd get a lot of cases. I was hoping that Clinton Township would pick this case up, be resolved.
One for the old man. That's it. That's it. That was the case that was unsolved for my old man. For my dad. Just as he'd hoped, the Clinton Township PD reopened the dusty comicbook murder case and what a surprise the detectives found there, someone did have a vital piece of information about the night of the murder, but his story had slipped through the cracks. How could police have missed all those years?
A phone call to the comic book shop that seemed to come at a very bad time. He sounded like he was busy phone. The comic book murder files came out of the archives and the lead detective blowing off the dust was Lieutenant Craig Keith. He'd been on the Clinton Township force long enough to remember the killing at the strip mall. And he took it personally that someone out there had gotten away with murder. The lieutenant had identified with the victim.
I was approximately the same age and had children the same age. And maybe that was something that just stuck with me. This is a tough one to pick off the stack. Yes, I knew that going in, but I always operate under the theory you don't shoot, you don't score. And I thought I owed it to myself because it was something I had told myself.
But then I owed it to Barbe to the detective needed help. Good old fashioned shoe leather cops to make the calls knock on doors. So he recruited veteran detectives Jimmy Holt and Lenny Rico. The three of them went into the old boxes reading and rereading yellowing police reports.
But there's a reason crimes go into the cold case file and stay unsolved, a lack of evidence. The three wondered if they had one of those here.
Is this even doable? And finally, when we came to the conclusion that it's doable, we need to notify the family. That's when we finally contacted them.
The cold case detectives were painfully aware of giving Barb Georgas family false hopes after 17 years. But in early 2007, the detectives laid out what they'd found, warts and all, for Barbara's brother, Joe and other family members.
And we were honest with them. We don't know how successful we're going to be here.
Still, after that meeting with the detectives, Barb's family and friends allowed themselves to be optimistic.
I told my sister when we walked out of that police station, I said, something will come out of this.
Joe and Mary, his girlfriend back then, had broken up after Barbara's murder, but they remained close over the years.
My dad was in the hospital at the time. He was dying of cancer. And I told my dad what was going on. And my dad was just and and again, he could barely even talk. And he looked right up and he said, good, good God, God's going to get. The detectives started their investigation as though it were July 13th, 1990, 91, one call had just come in. All three of them knew this wasn't going to be an episode of CSI Forensic Science Saving the day.
No weapon or blood smears, no hair fibers in terms of what people are used to seeing nowadays with DNA and things like that. We didn't have it. We just had to do detective work, which means get out there and interview people.
They say without preconceived theories, they chase down the old leads again, the speeding car, the man in the Greek fisherman's cap, the bearded lady, and reexamine the old motive. Was it possible that Barbara had been shot to death over a pricey collectible comic book? Thank you, sir. The cold case detectives interviewed over 100 people. And of all those fresh 2007 interviews, the one they did with this man turned out to be the game changer. His name is Mike Renel, a girls softball coach now confined to a wheelchair after a swimming pool accident in 2003.
Back in 1990, Ronald was a college senior and a Spiderman fanatic. On July 13th, the night of the murder, the detectives learned Reynaud had placed a call to the comics world store.
He thought it had been about five thirty or so, about 30 minutes before the murder. The avid collector wanted to know why one of his comic books had zoomed in value, a voice he knew very well, answered the phone. It was Michael George, the shop owner, who sounded like his busy, nerdy phone.
Did he say, you know, I'm busy. There are people in the shop. I got to go now. Now, just it was just a short just something you could hear in his voice or the way he we would be a little bit.
And he just there was no time for both the cold case cops had struck gold.
Micronized story was the missing puzzle piece the detectives had been looking for for years. If Renault's account is true, it does nothing less than demolish Michael George's alibi that he was napping at his mother's house when Barb was murdered around 6:00 a.m.. Phone call story meant that George was lying and Reynaud was certain that he talked to the comic store owner at his shop and that that brief conversation must have taken place just a few minutes before Barb was killed.
The embarrassing thing about this nugget of a clue was that Mike Reynaud had told the very same story to the police back in 1990, the day after the murder. What looked like a case breaker in 2007 had simply slipped through the cracks back when they'd had it in the case file all along in clear handwriting there, it was a record of Raynaud's July 14th phone call to the police. Mr. Renauld stated that he called Comic World around five 530 and talked with the owner, Michael George.
Well, that's the one piece that was missing. Even so, it was a piece that still had flaws as evidence.
There were no existing phone logs to corroborate Rohnert Story or to pin down the exact time he said he placed the call. To this day, former detective Donald Stegman doesn't know how that note from Reynaud went astray, but he says he was unaware of the comic book collector story of talking to the husband in the shop minutes before the murder. How did you not see it? Well, I never saw it. If we'd have seen it, we would not be sitting here today.
You could have gone for an arrest and indictment. No trial, no doubt about nineteen ninety one. No doubt about it. And now the investigative leads pointed just one way toward the husband. It just kept coming back to Mike and it was like a funnel effect. We started off looking at a lot of things and a lot of people, and it just narrowed down just like a funnel. It was time for the cold case detectives to take a road trip to Pennsylvania, a trip across miles and time.
They were going to make a surprise visit to Michael George at Comox World was the one time husband finally collectible. After 17 years, a conversation a suspected killer never expected. If you're going to show. Word because this. Two of the cold case detectives, Rico and Hole, punched up a MapQuest address for Comics' World in Windber, Pennsylvania, and motored southeast. It was 2007, 17 years after the murder and Lake Commando's synchronizing their watches, the detectives had decided to execute simultaneous surprise interviews on Michael Georgias turf.
We had teams of detectives go to all three locations exactly the same time, Michael with the storm, his wife Renee at the house, and Michael's mother at her home back in Hazel Park, Michigan, unannounced, unannounced. When they found Comics' World, the two detectives waited for some customers to leave, check their watches, then sauntered in.
We're probably about a minute behind the other detectives. So when we walked in, Mike George was on the phone and we assume he's talking to Renee, his wife, and he says, no, there's nobody here. And he had his back to us. As we walked to the door, he turned around. He goes over here and he got off the phone and he just looked pretty sick.
At that point, Detective Hall switched on the tape recorder he'd concealed in his jacket. Introduce ourselves. Mike was pretty much unemotional. He said, hey, come on in, have a seat. Started talking to him.
This is some of that conversation. We have the questions for you. Want to talk about it? I've got to tell you that the hard part they had me. Oh, they never told me what the leads were.
He didn't say much at the beginning. Does he say that this is great news. I want to it for 17 years. What's happened? I've been waiting for you guys to come in and tell me you've solved that. No.
Does not give the typical response like you found somebody or. Well, that's good. Yeah, like I say, what do you have? Nothing. He just started staring.
Seventeen years on Michael, George claimed a flickering memory for events.
Who? I don't know how hard because he gets sweaty, twitchy, anything. Oh, he's very nice.
He was very pale. I didn't make eye contact most of the interview.
His head was looking down towards a table in 1990, his late night conversation with the lead detective at the store. After the murder, Michael George had speculated that Barbe was killed in a botched robbery, someone after valuable vintage comic books.
OK, well, I was thinking maybe a very old books.
OK, we get what kind of books were their golden age box office is the one that he can't remember exactly how many comics were taken or the amount.
Although he was sketchy on those details, he had no trouble coming up with a totally new answer when the cops asked him to speculate on why Barbara, of all people had been murdered. Listen. As Michael's theory switches from robbery to revenge, I think Bob was at the wrong place, at the wrong place. I think somebody wanted to get back at me, you know, but I should have said this was in vendetta and that what Barbara took the bullet that was meant for.
Exactly. And that was something entirely different from what he told the police back in 1990.
Is that as interesting as anything else? You heard that. Absolutely.
While very interesting, he come up with a new world of meanwhile, the prosecutor back in Michigan, the son of the one time police chief, was deeply curious about how the swooped down interview was going.
Were you surprised to hear that he talked to them, that he hadn't lawyered up or said, I'm getting on the phone to my attorney right now? Very surprised.
But I really think he was so shocked by the fact that we're still looking at him, so shocked that he didn't know what to do.
And that's why we didn't call them. That's why we didn't give them a heads up.
As the interview continued, Michael George says he hadn't in 1990, now owned up to his philandering discectomy.
You're married to her at the time of her death. It was dropping because we had all the pressures. I just quit my job to open up that store. We would have our quality, whatever our to. And people have pointed out the fact that there was a club being with extramarital affair. Yeah, yeah.
I wonder if I guess my son late in the 90 minute interview, the conversation circled back to that earlier theme from the supposed theft of valuable comics. The detectives asked if anyone knew that he kept the good stuff in the back storage room. That's when things got testy. And listen, as George's previously passive tone becomes more direct and confrontational, that I'm just trying to find out how that individual, the suspect, would have known they were there.
That's all I said. An inside job, or unless they were they weren't paid, there was up insurance fraud. So you're saying I'm lying? No, no, no. I'm just I'm just saying that's that's a possibility. My you have to look at all options. So now you're saying that I lied about the books ago now. So now what you're saying is I bring get a lawyer. We didn't say that. Yeah. You did not read one of the possibilities.
That is a passive insurance shop. If you're going to show up tomorrow, let me know. I'm going to work because this. The next day, in fact, he would need a lawyer, a criminal defense lawyer, the Michigan detectives and the Pennsylvania State Police arrested him at his workplace, the comic book store, as he was led away after a later court appearance, he loudly proclaimed that police had nabbed the wrong man.
Take me away. I know. They know I didn't do this. The cold case had turned red hot. Michael George was returning to Michigan and would stand trial for the first degree murder of his wife. A case prosecutors knew would be hard to prove in the age of CSI and show me forensic evidence. That's because there was none.
So it would come down to a single witness and his recollection of a solitary phone call he said he made on a Friday the 13th, 1990.
A twist in court few would have predicted initially. Never crossed my mind. After five hours, you start to worry. All rights in a Michigan courtroom not far from his own comic book store, Michael George was standing trial, charged with a first degree murder of his then wife, Martha. He was the husband from hell in early 2008. The man who intended to put Georgia away was Steve Kaplan, then the trial prosecutor for the county's cold case unit.
It's true, we didn't have forensic evidence supporting our case. He knew getting the comic book man with nothing but circumstantial evidence, no weapon, no witness, no DNA made this case a tough one to win, something he'd never let on to the jury. Of course, we will prove to you that it was a murder. And if it's a murder, there's only one person in this world who had a reason to kill this wonderful person.
And that's Michael short for Caplan, proving it all boiled down to a case of who do you trust? Would the jury believe Janet, George Michael's mother? She said her son was sleeping on her couch at the time of the murder, or would the jury accept the word of the comic book collector, Mike Brennan? He said the defendant was in the store around that time answering his phone call. Who answered the phone? Michael.
George, how long did you talk to the defendant at that time? Less than five minutes. What time did you call the defendant? Anywhere between five. Fifteen and five. Forty five. Do you remember how he seemed to you? He seemed like he was in a hurry. How important is he to your case without Michael Renard?
We cannot win this case because without Michael Renard, we cannot place the defendant physically in that store close to the time of Barbara shooting.
And then came a routine moment that we've all seen in courtroom dramas on TV. The prosecutor in this case, Steve Kaplan, rose and told the judge of the people rest. And the defense response in this Michigan courtroom, just as predictably, was to try to get the case thrown out. Not enough evidence state hadn't met its burden, argued defense attorney Carl Malinga in asking the judge for what's called a directed verdict.
When you just don't know, you have to you have to pull the plug. You have to say that's it. And then it got really strange.
And you say, Your Honor, the state has not proved its case. We ask that you dismiss it right now, that it not go to the jury. Right. Happens all the time. Right. And almost always you're rebuffed. That's right. And you're almost always rebuffed within about 10 to 15 seconds. That didn't happen here.
No, we can't this time. The judge, James M. Burnett, listened intently for 20 minutes as Michael George's defense lawyer argued that there was no way the prosecution had proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was in the comic book shop with a gun in his hand.
A trial judge is obligated to make a call to say whether or not there was sufficient evidence to justify this.
Prosecutor Kaplan knew that by law, the judge has to regard all evidence in a light most favorable to the prosecution. He took just 30 seconds and parried with a brief citation of case law, arguing why the case should go to the jury.
The evidence presented to this court creates a question of fact for the jury whether Michael George is the murderer. The motion should be denied. And then the judge retired to his chambers to ponder this motion, to dismiss and ponder, he did staying out for hours. Erik Smith was the county's chief prosecutor. What was going on?
Well, I can tell you what was going on in the prosecution's end. We were fit to be tied. We've all tried hundreds of cases and these motions for directed verdicts are dismissed almost immediately. Did you expect it was possible he was going to come out and say, this case is dismissed, jurors are released? We don't have a case here?
Well, initially never crossed my mind after a couple hours and still hadn't crossed my mind after five hours.
You start to worry for the defense. Carramar Malanga was feeling better by the hour.
I remember walking outside with my client and saying, this is obviously good news. I cannot lie to you. Judges don't take this along to decide these motions.
After hours of watching the clock go round, the defendant out on a million dollar bond, praying with his circle of friends and family in the hallway, the judge at last returned to the bench.
The court has been reviewing this matter for approximately five hours, I think in extraordinary length of time to review any motion for directed verdict.
There was a case to be made for the defense's position that it could be argued that this evidence is marginal. Then he seemed to point out the merits of the prosecution's argument. This is in many ways the classic murder case. If the evidence is believed by the jury, then the jury could reach a finding of guilt on the one hand and the other.
Where was the judge going?
So the court at this point cannot substitute its judgment for that of the jury. He decided for the prosecution there was enough evidence to go for directed verdict is denied.
The defense had lost a five hour long, high stakes game and apparently by the closest of margins. That's probably the toughest moment I ever had as a lawyer. You thought you might have. I thought I might have delivered this guy from this horrible, horrible experience of not only having lost his wife, but then being falsely blamed for it. After all of these years. I thought I thought the ordeal was almost over.
All right. For the jury place, the jurors filed back in for the defense case, unaware of how close they'd come to being thanked and sent home without ever hearing any more evidence.
If the judge had already indicated he had doubts about the case, what would the jury think? Once the defense played its trump card, Michael George's alibi witness. The verdict, count No. One, first degree murder, we find the defendant. Small businesses have really taken a hit this year, you have to do more with less suddenly every single hire is critical, but resources are scarce and finding the right people can feel impossible. Our sponsor indeed is here to help in.
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Michael George was on trial for gunning down his wife in the back room of their comic book shop, fired up by the knowledge that the judge had almost tossed out the case.
The defense set out to counter the prosecution's crucial phone call, but seemed to place the defendant at the scene.
Michael could not have been at the store committing this murder. Lead defense attorney Carl Malanga said it was impossible to be in two places at once. And so he called Michael George's mother as his alibi witness to tell the jury that Michael arrived at her house sometime after five p.m. on that Friday the 13th. He said he was tired.
I told to lay down and take a nap for a while.
Mrs. George then testified she took her two granddaughters to the school playground. Now, when you got back, did you observe Michael at all?
Yeah. And where was he? Is on the couch sleeping.
Now, it would be up to the jurors to decide whether they believed Michael George's mother or the witness who said Michael George answered his phone call. Decision Day, March 17th, 2008, Michael George prayed quietly to himself, his freedom, his family, the life he'd enjoyed in Pennsylvania, were at risk for a murder conviction meant mandatory life, no possibility of parole. All right. For the jury, please. The jury of eight women and four men filed in nervously.
As one juror explained, my hands were sweating.
And I took a look at Michael. George and I saw his family and I was numb and scared. At the same time, my brother tears me.
He says, your heart beating fast. And I said, Dad is I mean, this is it. The foreman read the verdict. Count No. One, first degree murder. We find the defendant guilty, guilty of first degree murder.
Michael George slumped and sobbed in his attorneys are Barbe sister and two brothers seem to share a gasp of relief.
He took away my oldest sister. She didn't get to see me get married or to return to. She didn't get to see my son being born. She will never get to see him do anything. I mean, he took a part of me away.
Across the room. The convicted man's younger daughter, one of Barbes two children, collapsed into her stepmother, Renae Michael.
George would go on weeping for a full two minutes.
But Lieutenant Craig Keith, the cold case detective who rediscovered the crucial evidence, was unmoved by George's tears.
Mike showed no emotion back in 1990 and now he cries. And my impression of that, as Mike is crying for himself, it was devastating. It was just devastating.
Barely able to stand. George was helped to the podium to face the judge, the same judge who had apparently been a heartbeat away from dismissing the case altogether.
The jury has found him guilty of all charges at this time. I'm commanding you to the custody of the homecoming of the comic book.
Man was now a convict coach. Oh, OK. Oh, OK.
His hands were cuffed and deputies led him away.
I had no doubt that the verdict that we came to was the correct one.
The jurors had returned to their deliberation. They said they could hear George sobbing, but that didn't shake their confidence in their verdict. They said it had come down to the testimony of the man who said he called about a Spiderman comic.
I think I hear you all saying he was tripped up by answering that phone call from Michael Renard. Yes. Yes.
He should not have been there when Mike Renard called the cold case unit started by prosecutor Eric Smith with this case in mind, had won a conviction. I really thought I was finally going to face the just punishment he deserves.
And Smith had notched one up for his dad, the late police chief, or so he believed.
It was my right to my old man, and I wish he was here to share this with. But I know he's smiling.
The losing defense lawyer voiced the kinds of comments you'd expect to hear.
I think that the jury got it wrong. I believe that we have a strong shot with this judge to be able to get either an outright reversal or a new trial.
But that wasn't brave bluster in this case. Michael Georgias, defense attorney, was being prophetic.
Six months later, the defense tried again a motion for a new trial before the same judge. One of the grounds for the appeal was prosecutorial misconduct.
This is not a robbery. It's not a robbery. It's a murder. What happened was in his closing argument, the prosecutor had a display for the jury. This timetable, timetable in and out of the judge's eyeshot, began assembling pieces of a photo like a jigsaw puzzle, tying the punch line when you put the picture together.
Voila, jurors, there's your killer. Michael.
George. Maybe clever or maybe cornball, but either way, the prosecutor may have overstepped his bounds, the image of the finished post was a mug shot of Michael George that was never introduced into evidence and according to defense lawyers, showed him in a bad light prejudicial error.
The defense on strike one, strike two was newly discovered evidence in the police case files possibly favorable to the defense.
Judge Bearden had had enough.
A judge ruled Michael George should get a new trial in the 1990 comic book store murder case.
Burnat threw out the jury's guilty verdict and was now giving once convicted Michael George another chance to win his freedom.
It was just elation. It's like, OK, the greatest injustice that I had ever been associated with as a lawyer had just been corrected. We are going to get a new trial.
Defense attorneys Carl Malinga and Joe Kosmala always believed in their client's innocence.
And now they'd want another chance to prove Michael was devastated by the verdict and suddenly he's got new life.
Suddenly, he has faith again in the system.
I think he had two things working. He had new evidence. You had some unfairness in the closing argument on top of this real heartfelt feeling by Judge Burnett that an innocent man had been convicted.
The county prosecutor, Eric Smith, wasn't buying any of it.
The judge seems to have directed that there be a new trial because of prosecutorial misconduct.
He hung his hat on a lot of things and that was clearly one of them. Since this case began, it appears that he has not been comfortable with this case. And what he did was set aside a murder conviction, which is unheard of.
Smith was beside himself, even though the judge's controversial decision was eventually backed by Michigan's highest courts. You wait 18 years for justice. And you finally get justice. Only to have it the carpet pulled out from under you after the 2008 guilty verdict, Barb's brother had gone to her gravesite to share the good news.
We finally got him, you know. He didn't get away with it and, you know, you can rest now, but now there was the judge's blockbuster decision that tore a hole in our hearts.
It's something that, you know, here we thought it was over.
Barb's family would have to go through its painful ordeal all over again and with even more uncertainties this time around. So the jury had found Michael George guilty. The judge clearly had serious doubts a new jury could go either way, especially since the defense now had new evidence for possible alternate killers and just dug up dirt on the prosecution's star witness.
But two completely new prosecutors were ripped up for the coming courtroom battle. Steve Fox and Bill Cataldo teaming up to make Michael George face the music one more time. The trial of the comic book murder volume two was now at hand.
A different jury, different prosecutors. Michael George fell prey to the two issues most known to common man sex and money. Will there be a different verdict?
September 2011, in the nearly three years since the last comic book murder trial, Michael George had been locked up in the county jail where he said inadequate care caused a vitamin B2 deficiency that crippled he was now confined to a wheelchair as his second trial got underway before a new judge, Mary Shinozaki, officially calling the case of people versus George was present.
But if the defendant's disability made him appear feeble and may be more sympathetic to jurors, the new prosecution team of Bill Cataldo and Steve Fox would work hard to demonize Michael. George fell prey to the two issues most known to Common Man. Sex and money. So but what was your theory for the jury? Well, I think motive is important and it was easy. One hundred and thirty thousand dollars in insurance proceeds and the fact that he really didn't want to be married, he didn't like his wife, he found a completely unattractive he wanted a new life in his opening argument.
Prosecutor Steve Fox told jurors that in 1990, Michael George was having a torrid affair with a shop assistant, Renee Kotula. Now his second wife, he wanted to get rid of his overweight wife and move on to something better. Before the murder, the husband wasn't bothering to hide his disdain for his wife, Barbara, according to this prosecution witness. Raise your right hand. Teresa Daniloff testified that she and her son went to Comics' world the Saturday before the murder.
Michael, Barbara and their two young daughters were in the store. When Teresa walked in.
I had remarked to him how beautiful his little girls were. What did he say? That if it wasn't for his daughters, that he would not had been with his wife, that he found her unattractive and heavy, and if it was up to him, he would take the girls and move to Florida. What was your reaction to that response?
I couldn't believe he had said something like that to me while she was right there in the store.
And that same customer was shocked again days later when Michael made what she thought was a pacifier during his own wife's viewing at the funeral home, he gave me a very inappropriate hug.
It would have been a hug that I would only had given my husband, meaning it's a very intimate hug, a little creepy.
But the following Saturday, as was their custom, Teresa and her son stopped by Comics' world. Michael slipped her a note. Would you read that note for the jury?
You look very, very, very pretty today. Thanks for coming in. Sincerely, Michael.
Publicly scornful of his wife hitting on other women and now a long time friend of Barbara's was testifying that her friends and family were all well aware of capital t trouble in the marriage. Kathy Treece got a call from Barb weeks before the murder.
She was crying, very upset. Mike wanted a divorce. And did she convey to you whether she would agree to that?
Oh, she did not want a divorce prosecutor Fox then asked the witness about seeing the defendant at Bob's funeral.
I overheard Mike saying to his mother kind of yelling out, Mom, did you call the insurance company? It just didn't sound good because of the phone conversation I had with Barb. And then now her death.
Michael George, a one time insurance salesman himself, received 130000 dollars tax free from his wife's life insurance policies.
Not bad money. In 1990, a witness who worked with Michael in the insurance business was asked about the money.
What is documented there? This is a claim statement for payment of the proceeds who signed the claim. Michael George. Looks like on what day? Seven eighteen of 19 July 18th of 1990. Yes, sir. Are you aware that Barbara George had been buried on July 17th at. Yes, womanizers, scoundrel. The prosecution dissected Michael Georgias character and referred to him as the only possible killer.
Our concentration was to show that he was the only guy that he was the one that had to have done it because no one else on earth would speak loudly. Your first name is Kim. Yes.
Prosecutors called this witness who worked at a nail salon in the same strip mall as Comics' worked. I would say that I witnessed about 30 to 35 arguments. She testified. She heard many heated arguments between Michael and Barbara that summer.
But the one she overheard that afternoon, Friday the 13th, sounded even uglier.
It was much louder. He was much angrier, much more violent than the ones in the past. Yes.
Less than four hours later, Barbara George would be discovered by customers on the floor in the back of comics world. Yet in this public place of a strip mall, customers coming and going cars. No witness remembered hearing gunshots, though. Two had been fired and no one remembered seeing anyone leave the store. And no witness saw Michael George at the store from the time he left after four o'clock until he drove up at eight o'clock for what was to be his birthday party.
By then, police were all over the scene.
He told us who he was identifying himself and wanted to know what happened to the store. Lead detective Donald Steck, then of Clinton Township PD, testified that Michael said his wife was working at Comics'. Worried.
I advised him there had been an incident at the store and his wife had been injured. Did he ask you about her condition? No. Did he ask you about how it happened? No.
STICKMAN told the husband that then Lieutenant Donald Brooke would be driving him to the hospital where he could find out about his wife.
The former lieutenant testified that Michael started chatting without prompting.
He made a statement that I thought was noteworthy. And what was that statement? Something must have fell or dropped on her in the back room.
Why is that statement interesting to you? Because I never told him that Mrs. George was in the back room of the store. He knows things he shouldn't know.
He knows evidence that only the shooter would know, not realizing how unique that information is.
Later that night, according to police, Michael George told investigators that two white boxes of expensive comics were missing and that poor Barbara must have stumbled into a robbery gone bad, a theory police and prosecutors subsequently rejected.
This is why it's not a robbery. Diamond ring was on Bob's hand, and we know that ring was worth at least 25 million dollars. There were seven hundred and twenty dollars cash in the registers. They were untouched, expensive. Comics' behind the glass were untouched. The safe untouched. The safe was in the back storage room where Michael claimed the missing boxes of comics had been.
And what's unique about that is these two white boxes were unmarked. They didn't say expensive comic books here.
Missing comics were never found. The prosecutors believe they were never stolen either, even though Michael recovered a twelve thousand six hundred dollar insurance claim for them and there's a hundred unmarked white boxes in that room, the only way to know which ones to grab would be as if it's an inside job. But the only inside job, according to the prosecutors, was the murder itself. The reason it's an inside job is because of the accessibility to that door. That door was central to the prosecutor's theory of the murder.
Michael George, they said, sneaked in the back door and concealed himself until his wife was alone in the store.
When she came into the back room, their belief was he fired two shots, the first one hitting a swimsuit calendar in the wall, the second striking barb in the top of her head as she was ducking away. The murder took place and where he went from there, theory is out the back door and gone, slipping into the alley, sight unseen, but not before doing what only he could do. Bill Cataldo told the jurors as stealthily as he came in.
Lock it that lock. Double locked, indeed, the door was locked from the outside when police arrived. Something prosecutors claimed only Michael George could do. You have to have those keys. No one but the defendant had keys to the back door. Prosecutors maintain and they added any supposed robber would have fled through the busy front door and certainly would have been spotted. There were too many witnesses that started walking in within a minute to two minutes of that gunshot, no one saw anyone leaving with boxes of comic books.
No one saw anyone running out the front door.
And what about the people who were spotted by witnesses around the comic book shop minutes before it, after the murder, the guy in the Greek fisherman's cap, the suspicious character who seemed to be wearing a fake beard, the so-called bearded lady. Police even made a sketch of the bearded lady, but prosecutors said none of the would be suspects ever amounted to anything except in the case of the bearded lady. Prosecutors theorize that this person may have been Michael George's accomplice.
Now, the prosecutors would offer up their star witness, the sole person who could say the husband was indeed in the store as the minutes were counting down to murder comic collector Mike Renauld. But this time, the defense was ready with new evidence to challenge not only Renault's credibility, but also his memory.
In 1990, you used marijuana and you drank alcohol on the weekends, did you not?
Once again, Michael Georgias, guilt or innocence would likely come down to the man who said he made an innocent phone call about a Spiderman comic book people would call micronized. In the first trial, the jurors had bought Mike Reynolds account of speaking to the shop owner over the phone, apparently just minutes before the murder.
The judge, however, had seemed skeptical, but now 12 new people would be deciding the case.
So prosecution and defense lawyers had to start afresh with the all important star witness. The stakes couldn't be higher. Michael Reynaud, without him, would you had a case?
No. He's the only one who puts defendant at the scene is the only one that alone can destroy the defendant's alibi. Without him, we don't even issue a warrant.
Defense lawyers Ramalinga and Kosmala knew their client's freedom depended both on their challenging Reynaud story and reinforcing the defendant's alibi.
It's a one witness case from the prosecution's side. So we really had to focus on and what we hoped to direct the jury to focus on was specifically that alibi.
The defendant's 1990 story was that he'd left his Clinton Township shop sometime after 4:00 p.m. to go to his mother's house. She lived in Hazel Park about a half hour away. It's Michael George's alibi that he was at his mother's house from about 430 to 730. A little after he arrived, his mother said she took her grandchildren to the park and he was sleeping on the couch. When they got back sometime after six o'clock, Barb was murdered a little after six o'clock.
If Michael George's account is true, he was at his mother's at that time and therefore could not be the killer. But according to prosecutors, Michael George wasn't napping on the couch at all. They contended he'd returned to Comics' world and sneaked into the storage room with a gun when Barb left to order pizza for his birthday party.
And about what time was that? Two, five and five thirty.
That's the time frame when this witness, a friend of Barb's, came to the store, it was locked and she had to wait for Barb to return from the pizza place.
If she's not in the store at five thirty, she couldn't possibly answer the phone at five thirty, correct? Correct. So if somebody answered the phone at five thirty, you'd have to be someone other than her, correct.
Now, prosecutors question the one witness they said, who could identify who answered the phone against Michael or not.
Yes, sir. Mike Reynard.
In 1990, a decade before his disabling accident, Renauld was married, had a young daughter and was holding down two jobs.
Were you also attending school? Yes, I was going to say. And how well did you do at Wayne State Graduate School?
The prosecution wanted the jury to regard Reynaud as both a serious person and a knowledgeable comic book collector before July 13th, 1990.
How frequently would you go to the store? At least once a week.
The day of the murder, he testified he actually stopped by comics world before work. But Raynaud's critical story for the jury had to do with the phone call he made later in the day to the shop. He had a collectors question about a Spiderman comic he owned.
He called because he was excited that some book had jumped from eight dollars to forty dollars.
Did you contact anyone to discuss the reasons for going up in value? Yeah, I called my he knew the voice.
He knew the time that he would be there. And that's that's the whole case.
Tell me about the demeanor of Michael George in that phone call. Dispatchers for very short. And do you seem to kind of be in a hurry to get off the phone?
So you might wonder, as so many people did, if Michael George was lying in wait to murder his wife and just moments, why would he be so dumb as to pick up a ringing phone in the store? He picks it up for one of two reasons, either as a businessman, it's a call and he doesn't want to lose business. Or number two, it's his accomplice from the outside letting him know what's going on. Couldn't investigators simply pull the phone logs and verify Reynaud story by seeing what time the record showed the call coming in?
Not in 1990. The phone company didn't keep those kinds of logs on local calls. But remember, Renauld story had fallen through the investigative cracks all together until a cold case cop Craig Keith came upon it in 2007. And in that rediscovered file was a statement saying that a guy named Reynaud had called the police department the day after the murder. He wanted the detectives to know that he'd spoken with Michael George in the comic shop at six p.m. on the fateful day after you hung up the phone with the department.
Did you think about it further?
Yes, like, I did not want to get, like, in trouble if I was wrong on my time.
And according to those newly discovered police records, Renauld had called the police back almost immediately to amend the time he'd spoken to Michael.
George, and what did you advise? Police, this time when you call back, it was closer to five thirty six, there were multiple calls to police. We actually saw that as a strength rather than a weakness. He's actually trying to help Michael George. He's trying to tell the police don't get him in trouble because of me. It's establishing that he's not in this because he has some ill will against the defendant or he is just making it up for four, 15 minutes of fame.
That's not how the defense team saw Renard. They thought he was basking in the limelight of a big murder trial.
We think he's just kind of like exaggerating his own importance. In his mind.
He saw a way to become important in a homicide investigation when the defense had its crack at Reynaud on cross-examination, it wanted the jury to question his motives, memory and credibility.
First of all, this guy micronized makes himself sound like he's a really good buddy. Michael Girot, you talk to him all the time, Michael. George doesn't remember him at all.
As the defense told it, Raynaud's multiple calls to the police, changing as times indicated that this witness didn't have a good handle on his recollections and was therefore unreliable.
He called back several times, being uncertain of the time when he was making the call if the call to Michael George happened at all and the defense disputes that it did.
Defense attorney Mark Lingga believed it must have been placed before the shop owner left for his mother's house. That was more than an hour before the murder. So you're saying Renard is not just mistaken in his times that he is. He sees a little bit motive as a person of mischief. We think he wanted to to to become a hero. In fact, since the last trial, Renauld had tried to bolster his story by adding new facts. According to the defense, Renauld revealed for the first time that he went to the Clinton Township Police Department days after the murder to make a report in person.
Marling's tough cross-examination brought out that Raynaud's memory of that police interview was at best hazy.
The person that you met with in the face to face conversation, do you know the name of that person? I do not. How about the gender? Male or female was male Aldar Young. I cannot say. Was this person in a uniform or in a suit or sport coat or shirt? I cannot say. Do you remember seeing a badge? I cannot say. Did you ever see a police report that was generated as a result of that interview?
There is, in fact, no police report of that interview. Was it another example in the defense's theme of inept police work or a figment of Ronald's imagination?
Either at the police department lost a very important police report or the lack of police notes is a fact because the interview never happened.
Isn't it true, sir, that you invent it? That is, you made up this conversation?
I did not do that.
But now the defense was moving on, telling the jury there may be a reason why Ronald's memory is so hazy. Back in those days, the lawyers asserted he was often in a haze of pot smoke.
Can you even remember the times that you were high? Objection. Relevance, argumentative.
So the strategy is to go nuclear on micronation wouldn't say nuclear doe. I mean, we regard it. Just bring out the facts. In 1990, you used marijuana and you drank alcohol on the weekends, did you not?
I was in college and that would not surprise me.
Okay. The homicide that we're talking about occurred on Friday, July 13th. Your two initial calls into the Clinton Township Police occurred on Saturday, July 14th of 1990. We are agreed that Friday and Saturday are weekend days, correct? Correct.
When questioned whether he got high on the only weekend that matter, July 13th and 14th, 1990, the had to admit he just didn't remember. You could have used it or you could not have used it. You don't remember.
Correct. Again, the defense's goal was to raise reasonable doubt with the jury about Raynaud's recall and credibility. Marijuana can cause the same distortion. So we're talking to a person who might not have the best handle on time. Now that the defense believed it had shredded Renauld story, it was ready to tell the jury who really murdered Barbara. Another possible suspect in an impossibly strange disguise, he said it looked like a woman in a fake beer, really thin guy with, like, womanly hips or something like.
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Michael George had been married to his second wife, Renee, for almost 20 years through thick and thin.
They still seem very much in love. This case will show up. But at his 2011 trial, the defense acknowledged right up front that during his first marriage, Michael would never have won an award for husband of the year.
This is not a matter of suspicion, innuendo discussed with the person for having affairs. This is a matter of evidence.
So lead defense attorney Carl Malanga reminded jurors the defendant was on trial for murder.
An adulterer is a person who has done evil things, but that does not necessarily make him a murderer.
The victim should be seen as for any hard evidence that Michael George killed his wife in cold blood. The defense maintained it just didn't exist. And you have no weapon, no witnesses, no forensics, nothing. There's nothing to tie Rigi. Zilch, nada.
That ties him to the grand jury, Your Honor. People are happy to say that we rest. And then just as in the first trial came that moment when the prosecution rested and the defense filed a motion saying, your honor, they haven't proven their case.
There is no physical evidence which links Michael George to the crime.
But this time there was no five hour retreat to Chambers for the judge to think about it. Her ruling came in seconds.
It is finding that the prosecution has presented substantial evidence. The defendant teared up.
There was enough evidence, the judge declared, to go forward.
The basic conclusion, gentlemen, is that the motion is denied.
So with that setback not unexpected, the defense began its three pronged line of attack that the original police work was indicating that there was evidence, some of it knew that someone else committed the murder. And thirdly, that Michael George had a strong alibi, we decided that our strongest evidence was the alibi and that would normally be sufficient to to win. But knowing that we are dealing with Michael's history and the affairs that could make him an unlikable character, Joe and I realized that we really almost had to prove innocence.
Michael George told police that he left the store with his daughters a little after 4:00 p.m. that Friday, they went to his mother, Janet's house, about 30 minutes away. He said he was asleep on his mother's couch when, tragically, his wife shot Janet. George, the mother had testified in the first trial and backed up. Her son's asleep on a couch.
Story is on the couch. But defense attorneys altered their strategy for trial number two.
Do you swear or affirm that you're going to read word for word, everything that's in that transcript and your mom didn't testify in person this time around?
The defense had a stand in read Janet George's 2008 testimony into the record, an account in which Michael arrived at her house a little after 5:00 p.m. that day. She said he was tired, so he took a nap while she took her granddaughters to a nearby playground.
Now, when you got back, did you observe Michael at all? Yeah. Where was he? He was on the couch sleeping. If the jurors believe the story being recited to them, Michael George couldn't possibly have been at his shop around 530 answering the phone. That's when the star prosecution witness, Mike Reynaud, said he talked to him. Janet George, his mother is the heart of his alibi. She's still alive. Why didn't you put her on the stand?
Tough, tough call. We agonized about it. The problem with Janet, George is that she loves her son, but she's a wild card for her memory is fading.
But the lawyers were confident about their decision not to call the mother because they had a strong witness to substantiate parts of her story. OK, have a secret of Peggy Merrington. Was Jenna George's next door neighbor on that Friday the 13th? Like most days, Peggy said she got home from her job between 545 and six o'clock and she got close to your house. Did you see anybody? I actually saw Janet in the two girls in the school playground at the end of our street.
When you saw them there, what, if anything, did they do? We just waved as you pulled into your house. What, if anything, did you see in front of Janet's house?
There was a van parked in front of the house. And did you recognize whose van it was? I assumed it was one of Michael's fans, yes. In the prosecution's theory of the timeline, there was a missing link of logistics. How did Michael get from his mother's place and back to the store in time to kill Barbara? The neighbors sighting of his van outside his mom's could plant the seed of reasonable doubt.
She has no dog in the fight. She's not a close, close bosom buddy or lifelong personal friend of Janet or Michael's. She's a neighbor.
Why wouldn't you believe her when you take the combined testimony of Janet George and Peggy Marotta, you have solid evidence that he was at someplace else and that neighbor was a person the defense team had found on its own. The police had never knocked on doors to corroborate Michael's alibi of being at his mother's evidence. In itself, the defense argued of shoddy police work.
Even the former police lieutenant admitted on cross-examination that aspect of the investigation could have been better if you were the officer in charge of this case, would you have conducted a canvass of his mother's neighborhood to see if people could have placed him there at or about the time of the homicide? Yes, sir.
Inept police work was a defense team, for instance. The police never tested Michael George for gunshot residue the night of the murder and the rear entry door and also failed to dust the prosecution's critical back door for fingerprints.
If the bad guy reached for the handle to try to get out that way, he would have left some prints.
But we'll never know that because the police did and dusted and there a plastic storage bins and police photos inside the comic shops storeroom where Barber was found seemed to show a lot of clutter blocking that back door. How could Michael George have gotten in or out past all of that? Does that look like the room when you saw it in the back showing a photo?
The former lead detective didn't know how to read that junk, apparently in the way I was actually leaning up against the door.
I really can't tell the perspective here. I it's hard to tell.
The defense felt it had already raised enough reasonable doubt to secure a not guilty verdict. And even though they in no way had to, the lawyers wanted to offer the jury other possible murder suspects to consider in a scenario of a robbery gone bad. The defense calls Mr. Thomas Quinten. The defense put on a witness who told a story about being with two friends outside a comic book shop in Flint, Michigan, some 50 miles away from Michael George's shop. A sinister looking guy, he said, was peddling what appeared to be hot comics.
A man approached us in the parking lot and asked us to take a look at some old comics that he wanted to sell.
This new defense witness said he came forward only after watching the first comic book murder case on Dateline. He testified that the then teenagers didn't trust the seller and bought nothing from the vibe that the gentleman was giving us. Told us no way, the witness said.
That encounter took place July 14th, 1990, significantly the day after Barbara Georgia's murder.
But his friends, called by the prosecution, contradicted him and said it actually happened weeks early and we were walking towards the building. But the defense wasn't out of alternative suspects. One of the store customers who'd initially come upon barber George Thomas Ward recounted seeing a suspicious man lurking about when he got the comics world a little after 6:00 p.m., it appeared that this individual was looking, trying to gaze into the store, quite focused and quite focused fashion.
Ward said he remembered the man because of his distinctive hat a Greek fisherman's cap, black cap, a cap like this.
We're going to show you defense exhibit five, and that's pretty similar to that. And still, another new witness testified that in 1990, she briefly dated a guy who wore a short brimmed hat like that, a guy who carried a gun and was up to no good when it came to the comic book stores they frequented.
I realized after we left these comic book stores that he was stealing these comic books.
These were all possible suspects, the defense claim. But on the top of its list of curiosities was someone who became known as the bearded lady we were coming around. Witness Joe Gray, a friend of the Georges, came to the store before six o'clock to drop off supplies for Michael's birthday party. Gray was with a friend who'd gotten a gander of something strange, and he said it looked like a woman in a fake beer, really thin guy with, like, womanly hips or something.
Gray and his friend were so concerned about this weird bearded lady out front, they even warned Barbara George to be on the lookout. It didn't feel right.
Why would somebody be wearing a fake beard? I think maybe somebody was coming to the party as a joke or maybe they were trying to rob the place.
It was Joe Gray's friend who helped police make a sketch of the so-called bearded lady. I believe that the person with the fake beard and mustache is the killer. That's your solution to this? That's right. It's a fake beard and mustache on a July day with no little theater productions or Halloween parties. This is just too suspicious. In these circumstances. That person is the killer. What would twelve fresh jurors believe this time? The comic book murder case, volume two and one final chapter left.
The comicbook murder was a grueling case in search of an ending. Barbara George had been shot to death in 1990. Her husband was arrested in 2007. His first trial ended in a guilty verdict that was later overturned. And now after a six week retrial in 2011, a second jury was behind closed doors deliberating 21 years in jail. And once again, Michael George hadn't testified, as was his right. His lawyers had put him through a mock cross-examination that sprang leaks.
They said his memory was faulty.
After all that time, I put together a pattern of cross-examination questions where he had to say, I don't remember about 20 times in a row and we have two solid alibi witnesses. It's almost malpractice to put him on the stand.
But the prosecutors believe his reluctance to testify was more about him not being able to stand up to the grilling he would have faced in a real cross-examination.
My wife was murdered. That's the most important day of my life. And I forgot what happened that day. It's because maybe I talk myself out of wanting to remember. I wanted to hear what he had to say.
These jurors said the entire panel was disappointed that it didn't hear the story from Michael George's own mouth.
I think you can see a lot about a person when when they talk about themselves.
Dateline, talk to 10 of the 12 jurors. And they told us their first straw vote revealed a split, seven guilty, five not and you're not guilty is what needed to be persuaded.
Or it was the robbery equation. Yeah, ratification, this clarification. And a couple really had an idea that maybe the robbery did happen.
The central question for each juror was which story to believe the comic book collector who said he talked on the phone to Michael George in the shop just before the murder or the defendant's mother, his alibi witness that he was napping on her couch across town at the same hour. To me, ultimately, it came down to Michael Renard's testimony in the phone call that he made that placed Michael George at the scene of the crime.
And so did the defense damage Mike Renard's credibility by attacking him as a marijuana smoking, beer guzzling college kid to this jury?
I think they were just trying to personally attack him to get us to all believe that, of course, he couldn't remember anything because he was a drug abuser.
And several jurors questioned the mother's recollection of events. I'm not saying she would lie for him, but. I mean, would you stick up for your kids? The jurors talked it through for three days and finally took a vote.
All right, gentlemen, we have a verdict. Their job was done all right for a jury.
Michael George cried quietly. His wife, Renee, remained stoic on the benches across the court.
Barb's brother hope for justice from a second jury. It's 12 people. You don't know what they're thinking. The foreperson read the verdict.
First degree premeditated murder of Barbara George, guilty of first degree premeditated murder, guilty of murder in the first degree and guilty on the other counts as well.
Felony firearm and insurance fraud insurance. Michael George didn't break down this time and closed his eyes and seemed to talk to himself behind him. His wife Ronnie buried her head. Barb's brother contain his joy out of respect for his nieces who had lost their mother and now their father. It's a little bit bittersweet.
I mean, they still have to come to the realization that their father is a murderer.
The prosecutors quietly congratulated each other on the conviction. It was a huge relief to know that finally the family is getting what they deserve, but getting the justice they deserve.
Michael George was led out of the courtroom to begin the rest of his life in prison. No possibility of parole, a terrible injustice as his staunch defense attorney saw it.
They've lived with this case for four years. And I just don't see any evidence that he was there committing the crime. And I've prosecuted killers and I've defended killers. This man is not a killer.
I don't know why God has put us through this. I do know he loves us.
Six weeks after the verdict, Michael George did finally speak out.
But as a convicted murderer at his pro forma sentencing hearing, the catastrophe of putting people away that are innocent has not started with me and will not end with me before this. I've never been accused of any crime, no domestic violence. I have no police record, no problems with drinking or drugs. I can only hope and pray that the lives that are destroyed by people being overzealous in the police community will find mercy in God above. Barb's brother Joe expected nothing and said he got it once again, no apology.
He thinks he's better than everybody else and he thought he was going to get away with it.
And as Barb's family sought since 1990, he did get away with murder until County Attorney Eric Smith's cold case unit finally made him pay. You still talk to Barbara? Yes. Did you talk to her in the courtroom that day? Yes. Would you say that I love her, you know, that we miss her and that we finally got them. Hopefully you can rest in peace and you know, we can move on.