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Episode 81: Denise Williams Love Triangle Part 2

This episode contains testimony from days 2 and 3 of the Denise Williams trial at the Leon County Courthouse in Tallahassee, Florida. This tight-knit group of Florida couples–all former high school buddies–were entangled together in a complex web of sex and secrets.
First up is Nick Williams, Mike’s brother, who talks about the emotional toll the case has taken on the family. He’s followed by his mother, Cheryl Williams, who’s wheeled into the courtroom in a wheelchair, her gray hair in pigtails. She talks about the eighteen-year search for her missing son, and her quest to keep his case in the news.
Realtor Angela Stafford describes how she went back with Brian Winchester to his house one night, although both were married with children. She says that while she and Brian were having sex, Denise Williams walked into the room, then turned and fled. Brian, pulling on his pants, abandoned Angela and ran after her. Later, he told Angela that the women who interrupted them was his wife, Kathy, but Ms. Stafford testifies that she got a clear look at Denise, and didn’t believe him.
Finally, Brian Winchester’s ex-wife Kathy Thomas takes the stand. She says that she always suspected her husband and Denise Williams were having an affair. She says Brian was a selfish husband who often made her feel excluded. Early in 2018, Ms. Thomas became an informant for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and recorded several calls with Denise Williams. During one of those calls, played for the jury, Kathy refers to her current husband, Rocky. “He’s good and honest,” she tells Denise. “He’s not like us.”

Listen to the episode here.

Episode 80: Denise Williams Love Triangle Trial Testimony

On December 16, 2000, hard-working property appraiser Michael Williams, 31, left his home in Tallahassee, Florida, to go duck hunting. He never returned. Investigators concluded he’d drowned in Lake Seminole, and his body had been eaten by alligators. His widow, accountant Denise Williams, who had avoided media attention during the search for her husband, eventually declared him legally dead, and held a memorial. She was later the beneficiary of a large insurance payment.

The man who helped her with the insurance claim was Brian Winchester,an  old high school friend of the couple who had been very close to Mike. Five months after Mike was declared dead, Denise married Brian Winchester, who moved in with Denise and her daughter, Anslee.

Sixteen years later, Denise filed papers for divorce, claiming that her husband was a “sex addict.” Brian threatened suicide, then kidnapped Denise and held her hostage at gunpoint. He was tried for the crime, and sentenced to 20 years–a long time for assault and kidnapping, but not so long for murder. The police had never believed Mike’s death was an accident, and after tough questioning, and as part of a plea deal, Brian confessed that he and Denise had murdered Mike Williams in order to be together and to collect on the insurance. They had, apparently, been lovers since high school. In May 2018, Denise Williams, now 48, was arrested and charged with first-degree murder. She was found guilty, and is awaiting sentence.

This episode contains Brian Winchester’s testimony in Denise Williams’s murder trial (Denise did not take the stand). In a clear voice, broken occasionally by moments of emotion, Winchester describes how, eighteen years ago, he murdered his best friend Mike while the pair were out duck hunting. Williams has resolved to tell the absolute truth, and the his story is powerful and gripping, a daylight horror story reminiscent of Double Indemnity.

Listen to the episode here.

Episode 79: Sandra Melgar Police Interview

On December 23, 2012, family members arrived at the home of Sandra and Jaime Melgar’s home, in Houston, Texas, to celebrate the couple’s 32nd wedding anniversary. They expected to find the couple preparing for dinner; instead, they found Jaime, 52, in a bedroom closet, dead from 31 stab wounds, and Sandra, 57, tied up in the bathroom. The police were summoned, and Sandra was interviewed at the Harris County Sheriff’s department at 9.45pm the same evening.

Earlier that evening, Sandra, a Jehovah’s Witness who owned a medical billing and coding business, tells police officers that she and Jaime, a computer programmer, had taken a long soak together in the Jacuzzi, drinking wine and eating strawberries. Jaime had got out of the tub, left the room, and hadn’t come back. When she went to look for him, Sandra ways, she believes she was hit over the head, as she had a seizure and passed out. She believes that she and Jaime were victims of a home invasion.

But as the police point out, nothing was taken from the house, and the couple’s dogs did not deter the attacker. During Sandra Melgar’s trial, the prosecutor argued that her motive was financial: Jamie had a $250,000 life insurance policy, and Jehovah’s Witnesses are not allowed to divorce unless the spouse has committed adultery. The prosecutor made the case that Sandra stabbed her husband to death with a kitchen knife and then tied herself up.

Yet it would be very difficult to murder someone then tie yourself up so tightly that two separate people are unable to release you. In the interview, Sandra Melgar seems exhausted, but doesn’t seem to be prevaricating. She maintains eye contact with the detectives, and although she appears shaken, but not melodramatic. There are long pauses; sometimes she even sits in silence for a while.

Sandra Melgar was found guilty of murder, and sentenced to 27 years in prison.

Listen to the episode here.

Episode 78: Todd Courser Audiotape

In this audio recording, secretly taped by his aide Ben Graham on May 19 2015, Republican senator Todd Courser is a desperate man, rapidly drowning but still fighting for air. Courser admits he’s been having an extramarital affair with Republican senator Cindy Gamrat (at the time, both politicians were married with children). The affair has been discovered by an anonymous blackmailer (later revealed to be Gamrat’s husband), and Courser outlines to his dumbfounded aide a harebrained scheme to detract attention from the scandal. He plans to send out a “false flag e-mail” from a fake address alleging that he is a drug user, child molester, “bi-sexual porn addicted sex deviant”, and “gun-toting, Bible-thumping, cock-sucking freak” who has been caught having “male on male paid sex behind a Lansing nightclub”. Courser agrees that the e-mail is “over-the-top”, but tells his doubtful aide that it will “inoculate the herd” because the “real” scandal will be hidden in the ramblings of the anonymous message.

Courser is clearly at the end of his tether, but his refusal to resign makes it difficult to sympathize with him: the man’s egotism is obviously about to take him down. And it did. Both Michigan lawmakers resigned after it was revealed they had been cheating on their spouses and then using taxpayer-funded offices and staff to cover it up.

Listen to the episode here.
Police Report on Extortion Texts
House of Michigan Representatives Report on the Courser Gamrat Affair

Episode 77: Richard Kirk Police Interview

On the evening of April 14, 2014, Richard Kirk, 48, purchased and consumed an unknown amount of “Karma Kandy Orange Ginger” (marijuana-infused candy), began to hallucinate, became delusional, then turned violent. His wife Kristine called 911 and pleaded for help, telling the operator that her husband was ranting about the end of the world and asking her to kill him. Kirk shot his wife Kristine in the head at their home in Denver. When police arrived at the house, the Kirks’ two oldest two sons ran to the patrol car for help. The youngest, then 7 years old, was found in a bedroom near where his mother was lying dead from a gunshot wound to the head.

Later that night, Kirk was interviewed by Denver police homicide detective Troy Bisgard, and still appeared to be out of touch with reality. The first thing he says to Bisgard is, “Are you LDS?”. Bisgard says he is not.

Kirk: You married?
Bisgard: I’m not.
Kirk: You have a mom though?
Bisgard: I do.
Kirk: You know her well?
Bisgard: I do.
Kirk: That’s what I’m trying to help everyone find.
Bisgard: Their mom?
Kirk: And the ones they love.

During the attempt at an interview, which lasts around 20 minutes, Kirk is alternately laid-back and confused. He asks Bisgard a lot of questions about his life and beliefs. Sometimes he makes existential declarations. He seems anxious and paranoid about the camera filming the interview, asking Bisgard, ““Who else is interested in the truth? You or me?” He asks investigators if he can call his wife and three sons to let them know the “blood moon” is causing his erratic behavior. He doesn’t seem to recall shooting his wife in the head.

After reading Kirk his Miranda rights, Bisgard asks, “Do you understand each of these rights that I’ve read to you?” Kirk replies, “I was kind of spaced out. Do you want to go over them again?” Bisgard does so, then he asks Kirk again if he understands. “Not exactly,” he replies.

Kirk unsuccessfully pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, and was sentenced to 30 years in prison.

Listen to the episode here.

Episode 76: Gypsy Blanchard Testifies

This episode presents the testimony of Gypsy Blanchard in the trial of her former boyfriend, Nicholas Godejohn, for the murder of her mother, Clauddine “Dee Dee” Blanchard. In June 2016, Gypsy pleaded guilty to second-degree murder for her own part in the crime, and was given a 10-year sentence.

As Gypsy explains, she met Godejohn on a Christian dating site in 2014, and they corresponded online, often using different names that referred to different aspects of their personalities. Gypsy and Godejohn decided that killing Dee Dee was the only way Gypsy could escape from her mother’s abuse. The couple planned to run away together and get married.

Dee Dee had always claimed that Gypsy, then 24, was disabled, needed a wheelchair, and  had the mind of a 7-year-old. She said Gypsy’s many ailments included leukemia, muscular dystrophy, a seizure condition, and asthma. In fact, Gypsy was perfectly healthy. She could walk, and never had cancer. Dee Dee shaved her daughter’s head and dressed her in childish clothes to help perpetuate the illusion. Dee Dee created her daughter’s imaginary condition for sympathy, attention, and charity money.

When police arrived at the Blanchard home in Big Bend, Wisconsin on June 14, 2015, they found Dee Dee, 48, lying on her bed, dead from 17 stab wounds in her back.

Gypsy Blanchard was sentenced to 10 years in prison after pleading guilty to second-degree murder, and resides in the Chillicothe Correctional Center in Missouri. This week, 29-year-old Godejohn’s own first-degree murder trial took place. Godejohn’s attorney has argued that since his client is autistic with a low IQ, he was unable to hatch the murder plot on his own, and was manipulated by Gypsy, to whom he was devoted. Prosecutors claimed that Godejohn willingly participated in the killing because he wanted Gypsy was his “sex slave.”

Now 27, Gypsy still appears much younger, and speaks in a high-pitched, childish voice. On Friday, Godejohn was found guilty of first degree murder, and awaits sentencing.

Listen to the episode here.

Episode 75: William Kennedy Smith Rape Trial

On Dec 11 1991, William Kennedy Smith was acquitted of rape after a trial in Palm Beach, Florida. Smith was represented by defense attorney Roy Black, who pulled no punches in his questioning of the accuser, Patricia Bowman, and her friend Ann Mercer.

The incident began on the evening of March 29, 1991, when Smith, 30 years old, went to the Au Bar in Palm Beach, Florida, with his uncle, Senator Ted Kennedy, and his cousin Patrick J. Kennedy. Smith met Patricia Bowman, a 29, and her friend Anne Mercer at the bar. The five then went to a nearby house owned by the Kennedy family. When Smith and Bowman went outside for a walk along the beach, Bowman alleged that Smith raped her; Smith testified that they had consensual sex.

In the first excerpt, prosecutor Moira Lasch asks Patricia Bowman to describe the alleged rape. Bowman is then cross-examined by Roy Black. The second excerpt is from Black’s  cross-examination of Anne Mercer. In the third clip, Black questions Senator Ted Kennedy. The final clip is Moira Lasch cross-examining William Kennedy Smith.

Listen to the episode here.

Episode 74: Pastor Timothy Omotoso Trial

Pastor Timothy Omotoso is currently on trial in the High Court in Port Elizabeth, South Africa (though proceedings are on hold until December). Omotoso is a charismatic Nigerian televangelist with a taste for garish jackets who, until his recent arrest, led the popular Jesus Dominion International congregation. Omotoso, 60, along his two co-defendants, Lusanda Sulani‚ 36‚ and Zukiswa Sitho‚ 28‚ is facing a string of charges including rape, racketeering and sexual assault.

Testifying here against Omotoso is Cheryl Zondi, 22, who describes how Omotoso began sexually abusing her when she was 14, and a member of his “Grace Galaxy” singing group. Zondi spent a grueling 3 days on the stand facing intensive cross-examination from Omotoso’s defense lawyer, Peter Daubermann. She is asked the kinds of intimate and probing questions that would be considered inappropriate if asked in a U.S. courtroom. For example, Daubermann repeatedly asks Zondi whether Omotoso pushed his penis against her vaginal lips, or whether it actually penetrated her vagina- and, if so, by how many centimeters?

Under the circumstances, Miss Zondi is remarkably brave, composed, and articulate.

Listen to the episode here.

Episode 73: Bernhard Goetz Confession

On December 22, 1984, Bernhard Goetz was riding a New York City Subway when he was confronted by four teenagers who asked him for money. Rather than being robbed and “beaten to a pulp,” Goetz pulled out a gun he was carrying and shot the boys. All four were seriously wounded.

After the shooting, Goetz jumped out of the train on to the tracks, ran south through a subway tunnel, and went home to gather some belongings. He then rented a car and drove north to Bennington, Vermont, where he burned his blue jacket and dismantled the revolver, scattering the pieces in the woods north of town. He drove around New England for several days, registering at motels under various names and paying in cash.

Nine days later, Goetz returned to New York and turned himself in to the police. During a two-hour interview  Goetz was charged with attempted murder, assault, reckless endangerment, and several firearms offenses. At the trial which followed, Goetz’s confession was used by the prosecution in the case against him.

In his confession, Goetz comes across as confused, angry, defensive, and distraught. He justifies his actions by describing an incident in which he was mugged in the past; he was injured, and the assailant went unpunished. His diatribe against the legal system and the City of New York City is eloquent and passionate, and won him many supporters in court. Goetz calls the justice system a “joke, a sham, and a disgrace.” He says he has no desire to be seen as a hero or a vigilante, but at the same time, he’s unapologetic about his actions, telling police that, “my intention was to murder them, to hurt them, to make them suffer as much as possible… If I had more bullets, I would have shot ’em all again and again. My problem was I ran out of bullets.” Goetz’s defense team described the electronics engineer as a nebbishy weakling who turned on the bullies, refusing to have sand kicked in his face. The strategy worked. The jury found Goetz not guilty of all charges except for one count of carrying an unlicensed firearm, for which he served eight months of a one-year sentence.

Listen to the episode here.

Episode 72: Lee Rodarte Police Interview

On the evening of August 2, 2017, waitress Savannah Gold, 21, failed to show up for her shift at the Bonefish Grill in Jacksonville, Florida. Her unlocked car with a flat tire was found in the restaurant parking lot, her purse untouched inside. Her family received text messages from her phone, saying she had met someone and was running away with him. But the texts sounded uncharacteristic of Savannah, and police began to look closely at chef Lee Rodarte, 28, who had unexplained cuts on his body.

When questioned, Rodarte admitted that he had a sexual relationship with Savannah, though he broke it off because she was using drugs heavily, and because his girlfriend discovered the affair. When police pulled the security surveillance video from the parking lot of the shopping center in which the Bonefish Grill is located, they saw an apparent struggle between Rodarte and Gold inside his car the night she disappeared. On the video, Rodarte’s car was seen shaking, and the rear door opening and closing. After a few minutes, Rodarte walked over to Savannah’s car, took an object out of it and put it in his. He then returned to her car and punctured the front left tire of her vehicle. He returned to his vehicle and after a few minutes, he drove away, with Savannah still in the car.

After the police finished interrogating Rodarte, who denied any knowledge of Savannah’s whereabouts, they left the room. Once alone, Rodarte was caught on tape sobbing and saying “I’m sorry, Savannah.” Later, he confessed to the murder, and told investigators that he had thrown the waitress’s body in a nearby lake. Despite his confession, Lee Rodarte has pleaded not guilty. His trial will begin in February 2019.

Listen to the episode here.