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It was unimaginable. A man of the cloth accused not only of sins of the flesh, but also the deadly sin of murder. News of Nick Hackney's arrest spread through his community and his church, much like the fire that killed his wife, dawn, almost four years earlier. Annette Anderson was stunned.


It was terrible.


I can't imagine that kind of thing at all. That's just impossible for most people to come up. You know, I can look back on a lot of things, and that fits.


Dawn's mother learned from police that her former son in law had been arrested the day they told her happened to be September twelveth, 2001. This was like, the day after 911.




So like everybody in the world, certainly everyone that you knew, was thinking about something else and dealing with this fresh horror.




And then suddenly police say, and by the way, we need to talk to you about whether or not your daughter was actually murdered.


Yeah, they hit me with this news and it was like.


Because you don't want to admit that that actually happened to dawn.




That she was a murder victim.




And not just the victim of an.


You know, that's not the Nick that I knew. That the Nick I knew couldn't have done something like he supposedly did.


Nick Hackney's trial would unfold like no other, with testimony about religion, about prophecy, and about those many extramarital affairs. And there was one voice that would get a lot of attention at trial that belonged to God. In the end, a jury would have to decide if Nick was a wolf in sheep's clothing who murdered his wife or the victim of a flawed investigation and the false words of a self proclaimed prophet. In this episode, you'll hear how Nick's arrest affected his flock.


It shook my faith, not in God, but in the church. Definitely shook my faith in man.


You'll go inside his trial and the case against him.


I think he liked his life with all of these women fawning over him. And divorce was frowned upon and what.


Nick's defense had to say about the state's star witness, sandy glass.


I argued that she saw the world through prophecy colored glasses, that she couldn't distinguish between what God had told her and reality.


I'm Josh Mankiewicz, and this is Mortal Sin, a podcast from Dateline, episode four, so help me God. On November 4, 2002, trial got underway at the Kitsap county courthouse, a 15 minutes drive from Bremerton. Judge Anna Lori took the bench, the american flag over her right shoulder, the Washington state flag over her left. The courtroom was not an ornate affair. No murals of the scales of justice or anything like that. Just plain blonde wood paneling, warm enough to be pleasant, but bland enough to be the canvas on which the story of Dawn's death would unfold in images, testimony and arguments, Judge Laurie called in the jury and asked the panel to turn its attention to prosecutor Claire Bradley. By the end of the case, the prosecutor told them, you are going to be satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty of premeditated murder and the defendant committed arson in the course of that murder. When I spoke with her recently, Bradley described the case as beyond unusual. You ever have a stranger case than this?




Oh, you answered that very quickly.


Yeah. No, never.


Bradley is no longer a prosecutor. Today she's the presiding judge in Kitsap county. Raised in Connecticut law school. Brought her to Seattle after graduation in 1997, she joined the prosecutor's office. Bradley knew this was going to be a big case and also a big challenge because she'd been dealt a lousy hand on the evidence.


We didn't have a lot of the pictures. We didn't have a lot of the evidence that we would have had it had this been deemed even just undetermined at the time. But since it was deemed an accident, then we were kind of out of luck in terms of a lot of the evidence that would have been collected.


It was just all gone. Everything was gone. Which allows essentially anybody to argue any theory.


Correct. You can drive a Mac truck through that.


Bradley was also stuck with the original official determination that Dawn's death was an accident. The forensic pathologist who made that call back in 1998 was now prepared to testify that it was actually homicide. A guarantee was that jurors would wonder why four years later, he suddenly had a different opinion. That experience was not going to be pleasant for the prosecutor.


At best, it's really uncomfortable to have to call them to the witness stand and have them admit I was wrong. At best, it's uncomfortable. At worst, it's very messy.


From the witness stand, the forensic pathologist said it was Sandy's statement to police about what Nick had told her regarding Dawn's death that had swayed him.


He was able to amend his opinion based on new information that he received and changed the manner and cause of death.


Now, the pathologist testified Don Hackney's death was homicide by asphyxiation.


We were able to say, did you have the full picture of what was happening at the time? No, I did not. And now, if you knew what you now know back then.


Well, I would never have said that back.




As for the fire, it was Nick Hackney, who early on told investigators that propane tanks he'd had in the bedroom must have leaked and accidentally fueled a fire. Bradley called experts to refute that theory.


In the history of the manufacturing of those propane tanks, none had ever failed and leaked.


So whatever fire did kill Don Hackney, propane was not a factor. It was not, as we often mention on Dateline, prosecutors are not required to offer or prove a motive. At the same time, Claire Bradley knew juries like to hear one. She argued this murder was mostly about the women.


I think he liked his life with all of these women fawning over him. And it gave him a sense of power, it gave him a sense of purpose. And this particular church divorce was frowned upon. If he were to get a divorce, he might be even excommunicated from the church. And that was just not going to be an option for him either because of his belief systems and also because of where he wanted to be in this church. He wanted to be a leader in this church.


In addition, Bradley said Nick stood to collect some money in the event of Dawn's death, though maybe not as much as he thought.


Yeah, so she had actually bumped up her insurance. But what he didn't know is that the insurance policy didn't go into effect until January 1. And so that bigger policy was not payable. But he had the life insurance that she had through her credit union, which was a fairly substantial amount, and then the homeowner's insurance. And so it was a pretty substantial amount of money. I think that was gravy. I don't think that was at all the motive. I think that was just an added bonus.


Prosecutor Bradley told me the youth pastor had yet another potential motive. Sandy Glass.


I think in his own way, he thought, I can free myself up to be with Sandy glass. I mean, I think it started with glass. And because they got each other, like, engagement rings.


And that was before died?


Oh, yeah, yeah. That was in the summer and fall before she died. And so I think it started with Sandy that I want to be with this woman. And then he started marital counseling, and he had a veritable buffet of particular women that he could then kind of manipulate. And I think he enjoyed that. And it morphed, I think, from I want to be with Sandy, and I can't get a divorce to I like my life. It's good to be the king.


Sandy Glass was the most important witness for the prosecution, and this case would turn on her credibility. As you'll hear, her testimony would add some haunting details to the confession she says Nick made to her, the prosecution essentially threw its arms around Sandy Glass, church secretary, self described prophet, and also the woman who had an affair with Nick, then predicted his wife's untimely demise. I mean, if I'm the defense attorney, I'm like, why are you believing anything that comes out of this woman's mouth? I mean, she says she heard it from God. Well, what's the proof of that? That she says it, right?


Well, luckily, she wasn't the only one. Luckily, this was a very faithful church. It was an apostolic church that believed in the word of God, whether it comes through visions or dreams or whether it comes through speaking in tongues. This is an entire church who had that belief system.


Jurors, however, had not been part of that church. So prosecutor Bradley knew she would need corroborating evidence. She offered some, starting with that phone call Sandy said Nick made to her in which she said he claimed to have killed dawn himself.


The testimony was that that morning she was at home and she got a phone call. He called and said, it's done. And she didn't ask any follow up questions, and he didn't offer any follow up. And at that moment, one of the congregants called her. Call waiting clicked in, and so she went to the other line, and the congregant told her that dawn had perished in a fire that morning.


The reinvestigation had identified that caller that.


Congregant did call at that time, that morning that at least the phone call from the congregant was made. This was before cell phones really were such a big, you know, we didn't have any of the phone records, but we did have that one piece corroborating that that person did call her.


At that time, Bradley's star witness was Sandy glass. And there was something new about the evidence that Bradley wanted the jury to hear. When Sandy took the stand, Bradley questioned her about the story. Nick later told her as to how the fire had started.


The testimony from Sandy Glass was that he told her that he put paper around the bed and started the fire and left. So what pictures we did have did absolutely kind of corroborate that story because there were newspapers all over her, around the bed. And it certainly was clear to the fire investigators that the fire did start in the bedroom.


This wasn't wrapping paper spontaneously ignited. The jurors heard it was kindling with that. Prosecutors had laid out their case for premeditated murder. Now it was time for the defense. Aaron Talney, one of Nick Hackney's public defenders stood to face the jury. He'd been an attorney for a decade and he believed there were serious flaws in the prosecution's case. In his opening statement to jurors, Talney talked about the problems with the state's case and he referred often to Sandy Glass. We know he told the jury that the autopsy finds that this should be an accidental fire and that nothing changes those findings scientifically. We know that the only change is the statement by one person, Sandy Glass. And when you look at all of this evidence in this case, you're going to find there's reasonable doubt and you're going to find that Nick Hackney is not guilty.


You know, when you watch television shows, I think one of the great myths of forensic evidence out there is that it's actually based on science and medicine.


That's Aaron Talney, who sat down with me recently.


And much of it is just human judgment call. So my argument was this wasn't a medical decision. You have medical degrees, you're serving as a medical examiner to evaluate this evidence. But there was no medical fact that changed from one to the other. There was no new research done, there was no new article. It was merely the statement of another individual.


So this really does hinge on Sandy, you think?


Absolutely, 100%.


So Talney targeted Sandy's story. He argued to the jury that the facts did not fit. There was no evidence, he said, of strangulation on Dawn's neck and that the elevated level of Benadryl in Dawn's system had been artificially exaggerated by changes in her body following death. Perhaps most importantly, Hackney's defense counsel told the jury that Sandy Glass was simply not reliable.


I asked her in an interview and I asked her on the stand months later about how could she tell the difference between just sitting around and feeling, I'm hungry, I want a hamburger, and God telling her to eat a hamburger. And she was like, I don't know what that difference is.


So Nick confessing murder might have been just a feeling.


Well, she was the one that was having prophecies that their spouses would die. So she was the one that God was talking to about these people dying. And then all of a sudden she comes forward and is claiming that Mr. Hackney committed this crime.


To defense attorney Talney, it all seemed a little too convenient. He questions Sandy Glass's motives for coming forward to police. Remember, she went to police after Annette Anderson's husband, Craig had called for a meeting with church founder Bob Smith in which Craig planned to blow the whistle on Nick's behavior. That would have left Sandy open to shaming and maybe worse, from other church members.


Basically, at the time she disclosed her affair was about to be exposed, and she then became a victim, as opposed to a perpetrator of any wrongdoing by accusing Mr. Hackney of this heinous crime, all of a sudden, her role had completely flipped in the eyes of everyone.


Perpetrator. I asked Bradley about that Sandy Glass. Sometimes when you want somebody's testimony against someone that you want to convict, you got to let that first person go. Is that what happened with Sandy Glass? Could she have been charged with something absent an immunity?


Know, we did a lot of due diligence investigation. After she gave us her proffer, she seemed to have a lot of information about how the fire started. So it doesn't take a genius to go to the next level there and say, okay, well, maybe she was part of this whole plan and maybe she was an active participant in it. And so we did a lot of investigation to check that out, and there was absolutely no evidence that we could find that she would have been actively involved. She had an alibi for the morning of the fire. She was home with a whole family.


Just as prosecutors had. Tellney focused on the fire at the Hackney home. He told the jury it was spontaneous, not intentional, and that there was no evidence to prove Nick was at the house when the fire started. Tellney told me Nick had left to go hunting far too early to have started the blaze.


I don't believe there's any question that Mr. Hackney could not have started that fire, that he would have been gone on his hunting trip at the time that the fire was lit.


To back up Hackney's story, Talney called a witness who'd studied how fires behave and who testified about the rate at which this fire had burned.


Our fire expert determined that he believed that it had burned for about 20 minutes, that the fire would have started about 07:00. And by then, he was long gone on his hunting trip.


He would have had to have been gone for how long?


I would say at least an hour.


So your contention is Nick couldn't have set the fire and gone on the duck hunting trip?


I don't think there's any way that that's possible.


Prosecutor Bradley disagrees. She says Nick Hackney actually left home much later than he'd told anyone, allowing him to set the fire and be on his way by the time his neighbors first saw the flames at his house. Maybe the biggest hurdle the defense faced was Nick's behavior with women, including his own mother in law. How would his lawyers explain that? In this podcast, we've heard from women who described Nick acne as a man who used God to seduce them soon after his wife dawn died. This was probably not the best look for someone later accused of murdering her. His attorney, Aaron Talney, asked the judge to keep testimony about Nick's love life with church members out of the trial. Clearly, Nick's conduct, and I'm not surprised that you wanted to get it excluded, is not the kind of thing that endears a defendant to a jury.


Clearly not. I mean, there's obviously court rules that try and prevent a person from getting smeared with poor character, and so those were the basis of our arguments. The judge obviously didn't see it our way and allowed all that testimony in, and you can't look it up in the law books. But the reality is lots of trials are determined on how a jury feels about you. Do they like you? Do they not like you? Are you a sympathetic figure? Are you a hated member of society? That triggers a lot of how obviously they look at the evidence.


You spent some time during your case trying to kind of rebuild Nick's reputation as the youth pastor and as a man of God and as a good guy. And that's very hard to do when there was so much evidence that he'd been having affairs with multiple members of his own congregation. So this was one of those cases in which things that the defendant wasn't accused of and which aren't crimes ended up working against him, do you think?


Well, I certainly argued that this was a trial of innuendo and gossip. It is amazing how people's memories and interpretations of everyday events might change when.


You'Re accused of murder, you didn't deny that Nick had been involved with multiple members of the congregation?


No, we had not.


Of all the women Nick had affairs with, perhaps the most disturbing was his relationship with Diana Parmoley, Dawn's mother. His mother in law. Prosecutor Bradley called her to the stand, but the judge limited her testimony to dawn and Nick's relationship and what dawn had said the night before she died. Bradley told me she had already decided she did not want Diana to get into her own relationship with Nick. That she said would have been risky.


We, as prosecutors, we decided we're not going there because it's just too prejudicial to him. And you elicit that and they're going to sit back in their chairs and they're going to not listen to anything else because they're just going to think he's a creep.


Okay, well, you do think he's a creep, but you didn't want the jury to think that because what, that's an appellate issue.


You don't want them to be like, oh, hey, I heard that he seduced his mother in law, and now I think he's a horrible person. So of course he's guilty because he's a horrible person. If we had tried to elicit that and it was allowed, it would be a big appellate issue.


Claire Bradley says she had another reason to not go there.


Part of it, too, know, just out of mercy for, like, can you imagine trying to put her on the stand and have her have to recount that in front of a packed courtroom?


In the state's closing, assistant prosecutor Neil Wachter addressed the jury. It was December 20, 697. He said, don Hackney was taken from us not by fate, not by happenstance, not by a bizarre combination of physical phenomena, but rather by him, he said, pointing at Nick Hackney, who was sitting at the defense table. He went on, behavior demonstrated by Mr. Hackney was inconsistent with that of a grieving man, inconsistent with innocence. And then he leaned into Sandy's testimony, telling the jury that she was credible because she put her life and her own indiscretions out there for everyone to hear. Prosecutors believed they had proven Nick's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. In his closing argument, defense attorney Talney focused on Sandy Glass, Nick's accuser.


I argued that she saw the world through prophecy, colored glasses, that she couldn't distinguish between reality and fiction, what she was dreaming about, or what God had told her and reality.


And he attacked the prosecution's theory about Nick's motive.


He was having supposedly an affair with Sandy Glass before his wife's death, so why would he kill her for that? The subsequent relationships, how could he have ever known that he was going to have them sometime in the future? So how could that be a motive for murder, for something that you have no idea that's going to happen in the future? And I think it's unfair to cast aspersions about what a normal reaction might be after your spouse dies. Some people handle that better than others.


Both sides had argued their cases. Jurors filed out of the courtroom to deliberate for Diana parnally the death of her daughter, then the arrest of her son in law, then the trial accusing him of her murder. All had a profound effect.


It shook my faith, not in God, but in the church, in the religious institution of church, but not in God. In man definitely shook my faith in man.


Now, it may be that only God knows just what happened the day dawn died here on earth. Those twelve mortals were about to provide an answer of their own mortal sin.


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


Did anyone from that church come forward at the time after dawn died to say, here's something you should know?




And a stunning legal twist.


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


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.