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Jurors held pastor Nick Hackney's freedom in their hands. The question was whether they were prepared to convict him of murder based not just on some newly discovered forensic science, but also on the word of church prophetess Sandy glass. In this episode, the. The verdict and the damage the case.


Did, I think without question, it left kind of scar on the community, how.


It drove some from the church.


I would say you can't walk into any organization, church included, without your head screwed on. You can have a direct relationship with God. You don't need it to go through another person.


The court ruling that no one saw.


Coming, don's family was there. There were members of the congregation. They were upset by this.


And what Nick Hackney is doing these days.


I understand that he's done some pretty amazing things with worm farming.


Yes, you heard that right. Worm farming. I'm Josh Mankowitz, and this is mortal sin, a podcast from DateliNe. Our final episode, the Worm dude. After Nick Hackney was charged with his wife's murder, there was quite a bit of soul searching among the members of Christ Community Church and in the wider community of Bremerton, Washington as well. Remember, Apostle Robert Byley said he'd had suspicions about the youth pastor years earlier, back in 1997, when dawn died. Byley told me others in the church had felt the same way.


People mentioned their suspicions to me. I also had suspicions, but there were many people that were very much rallying around him to support him in a tragic event. And I was not sure, despite my suspicions, that what I thought may have happened actually happened. So I was observing and waiting. I didn't feel it was appropriate to be telling people, I've got this suspicion. I was trying to ascertain the truth of it.


We're all talking after the fact here. I mean, this wouldn't necessarily have kept on alive, but if you'd gone to the police that first day and said, this fellow who's acting so bereaved was improperly involved with at least one person in the church that we know of, and we had to speak to him about it, and I just feel you should have that information. Would that have been breaking some rule, some covenant in the church?


Well, I don't know. Not at all. I think that was something that the general leadership council would have had to decide. It was not something that I would have done unilaterally.


Why not? You're a citizen. You're allowed to talk to the police just like I am or anybody else.


Well, suspicion is not the same thing as really evidence. And to throw that into the mix would have been potentially valuable at the time or not? It's hard to say.


I asked Detective Sue Schultz about that. Did anyone from that church come forward at the time after dawn died to say, here's something you should know?




Would that have made a difference for.


Me at the time if I had been an investigator and someone had said, I'm concerned because of this? You bet, I might have turned around and taken a second look at that investigation.


Well, no one said anything. And that second look didn't happen until Sandy Glass decided to spill. Why was so much mist back then? Keep in mind, this was 1997 and therefore before the flood of stories, notably the Boston Globe's Spotlight series, in which catholic priests stood accused of reprehensible crimes against children, with church elders simultaneously accused of covering them up. So maybe the reputation generally of men of the cloth at that time helped. Nick acne author Greg Olson suggests the goodness of so many at Christ community Church may also have blinded them to Nick's true nature.


They were trusting because they looked at everybody the way their own hearts were. They were decent, kind and worthy of trust. And they found through this whole ordeal that it's just not so.


None of this is exactly the best commercial for organized religion.


Well, it's religion. You know, when man gets involved and decides to rewrite the rules, then they're going to be problems. And that's what happened in that church over there in Bainbridge. Definitely.


Justice delayed is allegedly justice denied. Five years to the day after Dawn Hackney died, her husband ultimately did have his day in court. It was December 26, 2002, when jurors announced they had a verdict. They'd spent just a few hours deliberating their verdict. Guilty of aggravated first degree murder. Annette and Craig Anderson had no doubt the jury got it right.


I believe that he's a murderer. I believe that that makes sense for everything I saw him do and heard him say and his attitudes and his extraordinarily huge ego.


We always thought he was innocent until we found out the whole story and shows that he had motive, he had plans. The motive was to be with Sandy or to be with Sandy in a succession of other women, Dawn's mother, Diana Parmelee.


Knowing that he murdered Dawn, I have a tremendous amount of guilt knowing that I could have done what I did.


I don't know if it's possible to even count the number of times Nick betrayed you.


I know that now.


But you still blame yourself for what I did.




You going to get over that?


I don't know. A part of me won't. But I just need to keep going back to the fact that I know dawn is still alive.


She means alive in heaven. Nick Hackney was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. He appealed that conviction. Now, as you know, most appeals go nowhere. This one would be very, very different.


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I think, without question, it left a kind of scar on the community.


Josh Farley is now an editorial writer for the Seattle Times. But when Nick Hackney's appeal was working its way through the courts, Farley was a reporter covering it for the Kitsap sun newspaper. He says the proceedings surrounding the appeal reopened some old wounds from the case.


I think there was some mistrust that was created by someone who we put in our faith leaders so much confidence that they are the most righteous, that they follow a moral compass, that they're.


Better than the rest of us, that they're maybe more righteous and more moral than the rest of us because they're giving us those lessons. And then what? When they let you down, it's is.


It is.


Nick Hackney's appeal was unusual. Remember, he'd been convicted of aggravated murder. The jury found the aggravating factor was nix, having set the fire in the course of killing dawn. And that's why he was given life without parole. In his appeal, Hackney did something kind of astonishing. He used the same evidence that had convicted him, the lack of soot in Dawn's lungs, to argue that the murder was over before the arson began. Nick's argument at appeal was essentially, the fire was just the COVID up. It wasn't part of the murder. She was already dead by the time the fire started.




In 2007, the Washington state Supreme court agreed with Nick Hackney and overturned his life with no parole sentence.


In this case, the state supreme Court ruled that because the arson didn't have anything to do with Dawn's death, that is, sadly, she was already dead. She'd already passed away. That that could not be used as an aggravating factor. And when the jury did that, it was incorrect.


That meant Nick would have to be resentenced and he would now have the opportunity to walk out of prison someday. Eleven years after he was convicted, Nick Hackney once again walked into Judge Anna Laurie's courtroom for resentencing. Reporter Josh Farley attended the hearing.


Don's family was there. There were members of the congregation. They were upset by this, that he would have a chance to leave prison. Mr. Hackney did not say anything at resentencing, but I remember that he wrote a letter to the judge and continues to profess his innocence. It's my understanding. Yeah.


In that letter, he said, I am not guilty. Whatever else I may have done, I did not murder my wife. So he's simultaneously arguing, well, she was already dead by the time I started the fire, but I didn't do it. I don't quite get that.


Yeah, there seems like a disconnect there. What he wants to communicate to the judge is what he communicates, and it's.


Not really part of the case. You can say that in a letter to the judge, and it doesn't really fight the argument that your lawyer just made.


Exactly. I remember sitting in Kitsap county superior court, the wood paneled walls, and she's coming to make her decision on how to resentence. She believed that he committed this crime and that she had an obligation to go with the harshest sentence possible under the law. And it's going to be a finite sentence. He's not going to have a life sentence without the possibility of parole anymore. The likelihood he will get out of prison becomes clear.


And the chance that you're going to encounter Nick Hackney on the sidewalk or in a pulpit just got a lot bigger.


Certainly there is that. Know that is part of the correction system is that most people will get out. Most people do not have aggravated life sentences. Most people do receive finite sentences this time around.


Judge Lori sentenced Nick Hackney to 26 years and eight months. By now, he's already served a lot of that time. He'll likely serve even less time than that I talked with former prosecutor Claire Bradley about why that is. Nick's appellate victory had the effect of shaving some years off his sentence. And he might actually get out here among the rest of us one of these days.


Yeah, I think it's 2025, which is right around the corner in Washington state. We have standard range sentencing and the judge has to sentence within that range. We don't have parole in Washington, but we have what's called earned early release. And so if he is good in prison, he gets an automatic 15% off of the sentence. And so he's behaved in prison and so he's going to get that earned early release for sure.


And then what happens? Maybe you'll be surprised or maybe you had a prophecy this was coming.


I also understand that once he's released, he wants to go back to the ministry.


Well, forewarned is forearmed, correct? Now, wait until you hear what Nick Hackney has been doing in prison.


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It's now been more than 25 years since Don Hackney died. Christ Community church no longer exists. The congregation split, and what remained of Nick's flock then collapsed under the weight of their pastor's misdeeds, both moral and legal. The building that once rang with Nick's voice was put up for sale for some of the former congregants. The pain is all that's left.


They accepted him into their homes. And all the while, while he's doing all of this stuff with women, not to mention that he murdered his wife.


That's former prosecutor Claire Bradley.


Once everything came out and he was charged, I think it was really a slap in the face and really a very bitter pill for people to swallow that they had supported Nick Hackney and believed him when he said nothing was going on.


Life has moved on. For the people in this story, Pastor Bob Smith passed away in 2021. He was 73. Robert Byley now leads a church in Gig Harbor, Washington. Sandy Glass and her husband Jimmy divorced in 2002. She has since remarried. And what about Nick? Well, listen to this. In March 2014, Nick acne, convicted murderer and disgraced former pastor, walked on stage at the Monroe Correctional complex in Monroe, Washington. He was wearing gray prison garb and a blue apron with the name Nick on it, along with a cartoon image of a worm. Nick Hackney has aged. It looks like he's lost a lot of his hair and shaved down what's left. Now he has a goatee, and he still has that gift of gab. As you can hear in this recording of the Ted talk Nick gave that day, he called himself the worm dude.


So I imagine right about now, some of you might be asking yourself, how exactly does a prisoner become known as the worm dude? Well, I'll tell you, 13 years ago, when I came into the prison system, I wasn't looking for one of those cool, tough guy handles like Spike or mayhem. But I'm pretty sure if I could have chosen a name, it wouldn't have been the worm dude.


Nick was talking about what he's made his prison mission, preaching the benefits of using hungry worms to compost the food waste generated by the correctional facility that is now his home.


Now, not a lot of guys in here today are going to brag to you about the food, but the worms absolutely love it.


He explained to a literally captive audience that he's trying to train his fellow inmates in what he calls sustainable principles. Nick Acne says he wants to help prisoners feel their lives and actions count for something.


The sustainable prison would have a mechanism for identifying those individuals whose continued incarceration is no longer a benefit to society and redirect resources to those inmates who need more tools to be successful.


He's also become an activist and writer advocating for criminal justice reform, writing pieces on topics including post incarceration reentry, prison recidivism, and free speech in prisons. And as you can hear, this former preacher can still hold a crowd's attention.


This is going to sound weird, but every morning the bars to my cell open and I go out to the worm farm. I feel like I have 6 million worms counting on me every single day.


Nick is currently housed at the Washington Corrections center in Shelton, Washington. And here's something you might find interesting. Remember Nicole Matheson, the church member Nick pursued? He proposed to her, and they got married in 2005. While Nick was locked up, they divorced in 2011. Annette and Craig Anderson are still together. They told me their experience at Christ community, as brutal as it was, taught them some valuable lessons.


I would say you can't walk into any organization, church included, without your head screwed on. You cannot abdicate yourself over to people, no matter who they claim to be, and that you can have a direct relationship with God. You don't need it to go through another person. Those are the lessons that I take away.


And the moment somebody else starts interpreting what God wants and telling you that you need to follow along that line.




Be suspicious.




When I interviewed him, Craig Anderson told me he forgave his wife. Their marriage, he said, was too important to throw away. And there's something else they held onto as well. Maybe the most amazing thing out of all this to me, is that the two of you didn't lose your faith.


Right on.


The Andersons now live in Oregon. Former prosecutor Bradley told me she has stayed in touch with them.


I went down to Oregon, actually, to talk to them before the trial, just to kind of give them a heads up of what trial is going to be like. And they invited me into their home. They were just absolutely lovely and really open about the troubles that they were having and how they were able to turn it around. And I was just, like, in awe of them being able to put that behind them and be so strong.


Now, when I talked with her after the trial, Dawn's mother, Diana, who went through so much, was philosophical about it all.


My belief is that we as christians are not supposed to know everything. God's ways are not our ways, and it's not God that does the evil in the world.


In this case, it was man.


It was man. And also, I believe it's Satan. There is God. There is also a devil.


And this was the devil that does.


The bad in the world. Yes.


And she said she had found comfort after all of the hardship.


The comforting fact that I know that dawn is still alive, and I do sense your presence is just the wonderful support system that I have. These are happy chairs now, the support of the wonderful man that God blessed me with. I truly believe, because God, God was the one that told me that I loved the man I'm with now. And I questioned that at first. I said, are you sure? But he definitely is the right one. It's my soulmate.


As this final episode of our podcast drops, it's about to be Christmas again in Bremerton, Washington. That makes it 27 years since Dawn Hackney headed for bed, trusting her husband, Nick. That turned out to be a mistake. But she also trusted God, and she said as much to her father before she laid herself down to sleep. She was ready, she said, for whatever was going to happen. Dawn Marie Hackney was buried among the evergreens at Cherry Grove Memorial park. Her tombstone reads, forever dwelling in God's arms and in our hearts. Mortal sin is a production of Dateline and NBC News. Jessica Knoll is the producer. Brian Drew, Kelly Laudine and Marshall Housefeld are audio editors, Carson Cummins and Keanu Reed are associate producers, Adam Gorfane is co executive producer, Liz Cole is executive producer and David Corvo is senior executive producer. From NBC News. Audio sound mixing by Bob Mallory and Catherine Anderson Bryson Barnes is head of audio production.