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tv   Dateline  MSNBC  May 15, 2021 2:00am-3:00am PDT

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inspirational. >> i'm ready to roll. i got plans for this eyesight. i'm craig melvin. >> and i'm natalie morales. >> and this is "dateline." >> she's the little girl who won the heart of a big city. >> they call you the miracle baby. why do they call you that? >> shot in the head at point blank range, a crime scene that shocked even hardened police. >> dora the explorer pillow, and it had blood on it. the. >> as she fought to live, this detective vowed to catch whoever left her to die. soon, he turned up a promising lead.
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>> bells and whistles go off in my head. >> in the hospital, she battled back. >> to know that she had survived was a pretty powerful moment. >> not just her body, but her mind. >> they would come in the daycare and erica would say don't let them hurt me. >> she handed investigators what would be a vital clue, but would it be enough to crack the case? hello and welcome to "daylightline." i'm craig melvin. it all started with a crime that not even police could believe. a little girl, just a toddler, shot in the head deliberately, left for dead by a killer who then disappeared. but a detective vowed to crack this case no matter how long it took. here is hoda kotb.
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>> one of the biggest attractions at the louisville zoo was a floppy eared baby, named scotty, cute and kind of cuddly, at least for an elephant. >> he has hair. >> he has hair is right. >> on this day, he shared the spotlight with another media celebrity, a spunky girl named erica, whose infectious laugh and incredible story captivated a city. >> that girl is a miracle child. >> why do you think they call her that? >> because she's been through a lot. >> we have a 2-year-old who was shot twice and lived. >> does she have an understanding of what happened to her? >> she knows she's been shot. >> if you would see her, you would say there's no way this child could possibly make it. >> louisville, the home of churchill downs, is famous for its big horse race, the kentucky derby. so, it knows a thing or two about long shots. but in betting parlance, the
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odds of this story ever finding a happy ending were off the board, virtually impossible. would a little girl ever gain the strength not only to recover, but to come back whole? and would a dedicated detective not only crack his biggest case, but keep the emotional promise he made? erica's story began in a neighborhood in louisville in this brick house on wilson avenue. a 2-year-old, wild about dora the explorer, erica lived here with her mom, earon harper. on may 18th, 2006, police got a frantic 911 call. when they arrived at the house, the man who made the call flagged them down. what was his state of mind? >> he was really hysterical. >> what was he saying? >> there's a little girl in there. there's a little girl in there. >> detectives tom bart and officer larry riley rushed into the house and found a horrifying
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scene. a woman, almost certainly dead on the floor. >> you just see a big -- like a pool of blood. >> the officers had to step over the woman to get to the back room, where, on the bed, they saw the little girl, motionless. >> when i first seen her, i thought she was -- she was dead. >> was she saying anything or doing anything? >> no. and, eventually, i touched her and she pushed my hand and said leave me alone. >> tell me about the emotion you felt at that moment. >> she was alive. >> but barely. the officers could see that the little girl had been shot in the head. dried blood was everywhere. they could tell that she had been left there for a long time. >> she had very labored breathing. very labored breathing. >> did you ever see anyone who was breathing like that who had made it? >> no. no, i had not. >> there was no time to wait for an ambulance. a sergeant at the scene barked the order for a police car to take her to the hospital. but first the officers had to get her to the car. >> i've got to tell you, from
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the house to the car it seems like a long way. what did it seem like when you were sprinting? >> it felt like we were running to the hospital. >> you're holding her head and you're holding her legs. were you like this, do you remember? >> pretty much just like this. >> when they finally reach the car, they handed her to two ems firefighters in the backseat and another officer jumped behind the wheel. >> go as fast as you can go. he said go! >> kelsey gunned it for the three-mile trip to the hospital in downtown louisville. >> i kept driving and i'm thinking about my own kids. it could have been any of our children. we're all fathers. >> the nbc station, wave tv, captured the dramatic final moments of the high-speed motorcade as it made the left turn toward the hospital with traffic, officer kelsey said the ride can take up to 15 minutes. >> how long did it take you? >> about two, three minutes. >> across town, another part of the story was unfolding inside this house. all day long, harold harper and his wife, judith, were wondering why they couldn't reach their daughter, earon, and their
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2-year-old granddaughter, erica. harold, a retired factory worker and judith, a homemaker, talked to their daughter nearly every day. so, the silence was strange. then the tv news flashed on. >> first here at 7:00 -- >> it said there had been a shooting down on wilson avenue, where she lived. and we thought oh, my god. >> he and judith picked up earon's oldest daughter, ebony, and drove down to the house. >> there was a whole bunch of people standing outside and it was taped off and it was a mess. >> so, you knew that something was up? >> yeah. and then i just -- >> freaked out? >> yeah. >> it wasn't long before judith and harold's worst fears were confirmed. >> the jewelry she had on, they brought it to me. i knew it was earon then. >> their daughter, earon harper, 42, was dead in the doorway. >> when you saw that jewelry, you knew it was your daughter, what went through you, judy?
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>> i lost a son in '78 in a car wreck. he was already gone when i got to the hospital. i could have shed a few tears, went on about my business, but this was different. my son was 21. he had no children. >> the loss of earon, a mother of four, was devastating. but now the family had to deal with what happened to baby erica. finding out in the most impersonal way. >> i knew she was hurt by the police rushing her down the street that i saw on tv. >> and later, they learned how badly hurt. she had been shot in the head. >> why, in the name of god, would somebody do that? >> it was this man's job to find out. >> now, in your experience, how many times have there been babies who were victims? >> there's never been a case where a baby's been shot that i've worked. >> a lifelong local, once promising pitching career at the
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university of louisville, now detective rick arnold knew this would be a high profile case. he just didn't know this would be the case of a lifetime. >> today's date is may 18th, 2006. >> a video camera rolled as detective arnold processed the crime scene, honing in on clues. >> the victim's body, a shell casing. >> the harsh reality of death lays side by side with the everyday images of young life. earon's body in a pool of blood, near a red kitty wagon. a shell casing in front of a box of diapers and the bed where erica once jumped for joy, was now covered in her own blood. >> blood on the sheets, pillows and pillowcases. >> detective arnold noticed something on the bed that would burn in his memory throughout the investigation. >> the first thing that immediately hit me was the dora the explorer pillow. and it had blood on it.
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>> what was the emotion when you saw that? >> anger. >> with two young kids of his own, this case had already hit rick arnold hard. on the spot, he made a promise to erica's grandmother. you said we're going to find who did this? >> yes. >> that's a lot to promise somebody, isn't it? >> yes, it is. >> coming up, a glimmer of hope from baby erica. >> i was rubbing her hand and she opened her eyes. >> when "against all odds" continues. also, samsung's connected appliances. we love the hgtv home by sherman-williams everlast. and a top pick, this exclusive new line of flex power tools. to see what else made the lowe's visit lowe's.com. lowe's. home to any budget. home to any possibility. super emma just about sleeps in her cape. but when we realized she was battling sensitive skin,
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detective rick arnold admitted it, little erica's shooting made his blood boil. that's why he guarantee judith harper he would find out who killed her daughter and shot her 2-year-old granddaughter. >> why did you make that promise? >> that was probably a little emotion spilling over. there was a baby that had been shot as well as an adult that was killed and we were expecting at that point for the baby to die. >> erica had practically flat lined as her high-speed caravan delivered her to the hospital. she was rushed into the emergency room where doctors and in yours worked frantically to stabilize her. >> her vital signs were barely measurable. >> a pediatric neurosurgeon, seen here during a recent operation, performed surgery on
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the gunshot wounds to erica's head. these were cat scans of her skull and brain pre-op. >> this one you can see part of the bullets and broken bone. >> the surgeon's life-saving mission was to clean the fragments from erica's head, repair the wound and preserve brain function as soon as possible. erica was lucky in one way. the angle of the bullet wasn't straight through the brain, but downward, exiting through her chin. >> what a blessing as opposed to the bullet going through and damaging and destroying everything. >> dr. moriarty was relieved that it only struck the brain's frontal lobe, which can absorb injury better, especially in the very young. >> less than 3 years old, the brain's ability to repair is truly remarkable. >> after a delicate 3 1/2 hour surgery, he was encouraged by comparative scans of erica's brain. the bullet and brain fragments in the pre-op image were gone. despite the repair, brain injuries are unpredictable and dr. moriarty urged caution. >> next few days in the icu would be critical. >> shell casing. >> at the crime scene, detective
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arnold continued to sift through clues. more leads came in to focus. a bloody footprint. three big red soda cans and two cigarette butts by the bed. >> the second one had an ash about an inch long. someone had left that cigarette and rushed out of there. >> detective arnold ordered dna testing on the cigarettes and cans. the detective was also learning about earon and the more he found out shall the more he was drawn in. mostly by herself, earon was raising four children, including erica, the only one home the night of the shooting and ebony, the oldest at 16. >> instead of like mother and daughter, we're more like sisters. >> you're like friends, huh? >> yeah. we did everything. she was the best mom. >> and fun to be around with a boisterous, oversized personality. >> she would do anything, a dare
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devil. i miss her so much. she was everything to me. >> she loved her kids. she tried to her best to take care of them. >> earon worked at churchill downs meeting celebrities like actor jason priestley. she had to go on disability because of ms and a painful condition known as fibromyalgia. she often took pain medicine to manage her symptoms. >> she was, to put it bluntly, a heck of a woman, as far as her fighting spirit and everything is concerned. >> her parents were concerned by the crowd she sometimes ran with. she was with some guys you weren't fond of? >> that's right. >> even so, her parents couldn't have imagined who would have shot her or little erica or why.
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and that just ramped up their own fears that the shooter or shooters might come back. >> i was scared to death. i thought, my god, what if they don't catch these people? >> at the crime scene, detective arnold was searching for answers, combing the house for more clues. >> closet that contains a safe. >> some contents apparently missing. >> the first thing that popped in my head was some type of robbery. >> next to that is a cell phone. >> one of the first things we do is check cell phone records. >> phone records show that earon received two phone calls, both from a family friend hours before the shooting. james quisenberry had known earon for years and called her aunty a. police brought him in to see if he had any information that could help the investigation. >> one of the very last people to call her or talk to her by phone was you, which is why we want to talk to you. >> was me? >> uh-huh.
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>> quisenberry offered to assist police in any way he could. >> help you find whoever did it. >> back at children's hospital, erica was now in the icu, holding on for life. her heartbroken grandparents and big sister stood daily vigil. >> it was like a horror movie, really. i don't know who that was on that bed. that wasn't erica. >> ebony took it very hard. 14 years older, she had been like a second mother to erica. in fact, erica actually called her mommy. by day four in the icu, erica's family was seeing signs of hope. doctors believed erica was strong enough to remove her breathing tube. now it was time to see how she would do on her own. >> i was rubbing her hand and she opened her eyes like a little bit and she said mommy! and everybody was like, oh, my goodness, she's speaking. >> while erica had taken the first small steps toward recovery, there was a big sign of life in rick arnold's
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investigation. it was a mystifying discovery that would turn out to be crucial. >> why is this with all these personal effects of earon harper? >> doesn't make sense, does it? >> made zero sense. >> coming up, an unlikely car, a cadillac, leads to an unlikely clue. >> i was able to find stuff, automobile insurance card.
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>> with a name? >> judith was the most religious one in the family. and a week after surgery, her prayers and unshakeable faith were answered. erica's condition was upgraded from critical to fair. >> she looked real bad but i never dwelled on she wasn't going to make it. >> now the family had to turn its focus to the one who did not make it, erica's mom, earon. on may 25th, 2006, a week after she was gunned down, earon's family gathered for her funeral. and the man who delivered the eulogy was none other than the officer who had raced erica to the hospital, steve kelsey, who also served as a minister in a local church. >> and it was so moving and
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personal, because he had been on the scene. >> but for jesse halladay, crime reporter for the louisville journal, what elevated this story was simple, erica. >> the public concern from the very beginning was always that there was a 2-year-old involved. >> after nearly two weeks in the hospital, erica was well enough to move to nearby frasier rehabilitation institute, but the hard work was just beginning. the brain injury had damaged her ability to walk and talk. what had been second nature to her had to be relearned. running, talking back and forth and just being a playful kid again. erica's sister, who knew her best, was worried. erica had lost sight in her light eye forever and ebony was afraid she would never be her old self again. what was different? >> she didn't run and play and talk as much. she was kind of quiet.
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>> with still no idea why her sister and mother were shot, ebony and her grandparents remained fearful. >> you must have been worried, like who did this? and where are they? >> yeah. i was just thinking about the safety of the kids and me so i didn't go out much. >> back at the police station, detective arnold was trying to figure out his next move when his investigation caught a lucky break. a 75-year-old neat nick spotted some of earon's things in a rain-soaked ditch three miles from earon's house and phoned police. there were empty prescription pill bottles, credit cards, i.d. cards and personal papers and something else that did not belong. >> tell me about what this thing is. >> this is a cadillac manual. >> cadillac owner's manual. it stood out because it didn't seem to fit with the rest of the muddy mess. so, why was the car manual there? and whose was it? rick arnold tried thumbing through it but the pages were soaked together. >> the front and back cover were
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soggy to the point where i started to look through this the very first time and flip through, pages were still sticking together. >> days later, rick could separate a few pages, but was still frustrated. >> was the third time and i was really thinking this will be at last time -- if i don't find something now i'll be out of luck. i licked my thumb and forefinger and went through it page by page. >> the third time was the charm. >> i was able to find stuck all the way down in the binding of the book an automobile insurance card. >> with a name? >> with a name, most importantly. >> working days turned into working nights. detective arnold typed the name, a man's name, into the computer and it spit out 15 matches. one of them lived in southern indiana, just across the river from louisville. around 11:00 pm, rick call the
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man. >> asked him if he knows why his manual would have been in a drainage ditch in louisville, kentucky. >> what did he tell you? >> he said i don't know, but my car was broken into at work last week. >> his cadillac. the break-in happened on the night of may 17th, just a few hours before earon harper was found dead. >> i asked him, where do you work? and he said he's a pharmacist at a walgreens and bells and whistles go off in my head. he works in a drugstore where they sell prescription drugs. it hit me immediately that there was a reason that manual was with this stuff now. >> detective arnold had a working theory you now and it went like this. someone broke into a shiny cadillac parked outside an indiana walgreens. it happened to belong to the store's pharmacist. for no apparent reason, the thief grabbed the owner's manual from the glove compartment and tossed it into his own car. he then went to earon's house, where she and erica were shot and earon's prescription pills and credit cards were stolen. then, according to rick's theory, the person rushed away from the house, threw the pill
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bottles and credit cards into the getaway car and drove off. a few miles away, whoever was in the car got rid of the hot property, tossing earon's empty pill bottles and credit cards out the window along with the manual. that's how everything ended up together in the drainage ditch. >> i think they were just grabbing stuff and they thought we don't want to have this. she's dead. >> rick asked the pharmacist if he knew who broke into his car. >> he said i don't know for sure but i have a pretty good idea. >> the pharmacist remembered and store security cameras confirmed that a man in a baseball cap and another man came into the walgreens at 9:30 pm may 17th just hours before earon was shot. >> and he said they didn't look like they were regular shoppers at our walgreens. most of our prescription customers are regular customers. he went on to tell me they had come back to the pharmacy and tried to obtain prescriptions using bogus names. >> and on the security tape,
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rick looked closely and saw the man in the baseball cap leaning through the window of the enclosed pharmacy section, seemingly checking out names from pill bottles. over and over detective arnold stared at the grainy walgreens tape. the man in the baseball cap looked familiar. >> one person looked like quisenberry. >> as in james quisenberry, family friend who phoned her minute before the murder. earlier, he told the detective how much he wanted to help the investigation. >> find whoever it is. >> rick wasn't buying any of it now. quisenberry had become a prime suspect, though rick wasn't ready to arrest him. not yet. not until he had the other man. but that wouldn't be easy. although there were two suspects in his sights, the mystery man was not in focus. >> how clear is the image of the second guy? >> it's not very clear. >> turns out it was an image that was all too clear to little
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erica. >> there was a guy that come in the daycare and they had braids in their hair and erica said don't let him hurt me. >> when "date line" continues. >> when "date line" continues. go with simparica trio it's triple protection made simple! simparica trio is the first and only monthly chewable that covers heartworm disease, ticks and fleas, round and hookworms. dogs get triple protection in just one simparica trio! this drug class has been associated with neurologic adverse reactions, including seizures. use with caution in dogs with a history of these disorders. protect him with all your heart. simparica trio. protect him with all your heart. ♪
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hello, i'm dara brown. for the first time in over a year, fully vaccinated adults may leave their home maskless. and more than 120 million people across the country have been fully vaccinated, according to the cdc. and violence persists in gaza after days of fighting between israel and hamas killed 119 palestinians and 8 israelis. now back to "dateline." welcome back to "dateline."
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i'm craig melvin. detective rick arnold identified one man, now a suspect for murder, on security video. but there was another person in the picture, too. would detectives track him down before it was too late? once again, hoda kotb. just 27 days after being shot in the head, erica was released from rehab and met officer and pastor steve kelsey and her other rescuers. it was nothing short of a miracle. >> that is beautiful. that is beautiful. >> to see the looks on those faces and know that she had survived was a pretty powerful moment. >> erica laughed, cried and acted like a 2-year-old. reporter jesse halladay was amazed by her progress, but also concerned about long-term brain damage. >> i didn't feel like at that point i could say for sure she was going to be okay. >> but even getting this far had beaten the odds. erica was going home. >> just great to have her there,
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you know, and to get her home from the hospital. >> it was a home she already knew. grandparents, judith and harold harper, both 69, were waving good-bye to their carefree golden years. they were full-time parents again. >> i agreed from the first day that i would take care of her, not knowing what kind of shape she was going to be in, not knowing what mental state she would be in. >> erica's father had never been a big part of her life. so, a court granted judith and harold full custody of erica and her baby sister. >> you worked your whole life. >> yeah. >> this is supposed to be your time. >> yeah. >> to kick back and put your feet up. that's not for you? >> that doesn't bother me for a bit. i admit me and my husband are a bit different. >> it didn't turn out exactly how i thought it was because -- well, you know the reason, the children and stuff. >> harold had retired from his long-time meat packing job, expecting to ride his harley into the sunset. >> i had a california trip. i've been into canada, most everywhere. well, that had to stop.
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>> he knows that i couldn't maintain these children without him. >> i don't want her to. and i love those little kids. >> i love my grandparents. they're the best grandparents ever. >> do you think they sacrificed a lot to do this? >> yeah. my grandpa loves his harley. >> but, you know, people do what they have to do, you know, what's in their heart to do. >> together, they gave erica a secure home. day by day, she was gaining strength. but things were not normal. >> erica was so afraid of balloons. >> balloons? >> balloons, the popping. and she was afraid of firecrackers. >> loud noises and everything. she's like this. >> she was scared when it rained, when it thundered outside. >> because that sounded like gunshots? >> yeah. >> but there was something else that terrified erica and it was harder to understand. >> there was the guy that come in the daycare to pick his child up and had braids in his hair. and erica started running and
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crying to the teacher and said, don't let him hurt me. >> judith told detective arnold about erica's new fear, men with braids. and there, on the walgreens video, detective arnold saw it, the man coming in with james quisenberry, the mystery man, had braids. but the image was still too fuzzy to figure out. rick circulated a freeze frame of the man who hoped someone could identify him. then he waited. eight months later, rick got some promising news. a detective thought he recognized the walgreens guy from another shooting. >> and i might want to check him out. >> his name? kenneth williams. rick compared several williams' mug shots with the walgreens video? and you think boom we've got our
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guy? >> the video is not real good but i start focusing in on him. >> then rick's investigation got lucky again, an unlikely witness came forward with information about that same kenneth williams and the night that erica and her mom was shot. he was charged with murder himself for which he would later plead guilt toy manslaughter and was also gravely injured in a shooting. >> he's on his death bed. he thinks he's going to hell and he has something he needs to say. >> week's later, turner's health improved enough to talk to rick arnold. >> james and kenneth williams. they supposedly had hit a lick on some lady. >> what does that mean? >> slang for a robbery. >> robbery that quickly escalated to murder. >> he knew things he couldn't have known. he knew things that weren't in the media. >> there are things he couldn't have known some of this stuff. >> what kind of things? >> that there were pills involved. >> a long, frustrating, 15-month investigation. but rick was finally close to
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the answers he had promised erica's grandmother. what kept you going during some of those times where you might have felt like i'm hitting a dead end? >> 2-year-old baby, erica hughes. >> detective arnold was ready to bring in quisenberry and williams for tough questioning. rick had enough on quisenberry to arrest him earlier, but he wasn't ready yet. he wanted more, both men from the walgreens video, so he could play them off each other in dueling interrogations. and now he had them. >> you've been waiting and waiting patiently so it's time to do your thing, right? >> now it's time. >> coming up, the detective moves to get each suspect to implicate the other, not knowing he was nearly out of time. you didn't know you were playing beat the clock? >> no, no idea at all.
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i'm pretty cynical. so, i was not really sure what the long-term effect was going to be. >> one year after erica was left for dead, reporter jesse halladay made a house call to erica's grandparents' house, a checkup of sorts. >> with erica being so young and with her grandparents raising her, and there was so much interest to begin with, we wanted to go back and see how she was doing. >> erica had jesse at hello. that's all it took for the now spirited 3-year-old to win over the cynical reporter. >> she was trying to write with
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my pen. she wanted to color on my notebook. i was struck by her curiosity. >> erica lost all sight in her right eye and also had a small scar on her chin where the bullet in her head had exited. >> i think people still wonder how she survived. i still wonder how she survived. >> louisville and erica's family were still consumed by two questions at the heart of it all. who could commit such a horrifying crime and would the shooter ever be caught? but judith harper had faith all along that justice would be done. most of all, faith in detective arnold. after all, the promise he made to solve the case was to her. >> he is going to see that these people are found. if it had just been earon, it would have been just maybe another death. but since erica was involved in that, he wasn't going to let up
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on it. >> judith didn't know it yet but down at police headquarters, detective arnold was close to getting answers from the men he had been pursuing since their starring roles in the walgreens video. james quisenberry, the family friend who made the last phone call to earon, and kenneth williams, who admitted to a witness he was part of a robbery that turned deadly. now it was time to bring both men in and interrogate them. >> i'm a little apprehensive but not nervous, no butterflies just because it was something i had planned on and prepared for for such a long time. >> you were ready? >> i was ready. >> 15 months after the shootings, quisenberry and williams voluntarily came down to headquarters. each knew the other was there. >> i wanted both of them to understand that if they didn't tell us the truth, the other guy
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may be. >> as a tactic, detective arnold even walked williams past a monitor that shows quisenberry being interrogated in another room. he needed both suspects to admit they were in the house when the shootings went down. that would back up murder charges against both of them, no matter who pulled the trigger. quisenberry was interviewed first and said he knew nothing about the crime. as the interrogation wore on, he started blaming the man in the other room. >> why don't you tell me why you killed her. and how he did it. >> i wasn't there. but i know he did it. >> but detective arnold knew something quisenberry did not. he had scooped up his smoked down marlboros for dna testing. bingo, they matched a cigarette butt. >> he claimed he wasn't there but you have dna. >> i collected those cigarette butts and they had your dna on it. >> the one has my dna on it? >> the one has your dna. that's exactly what i'm saying. you were in that house. he was backtracking, getting scared.
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>> i never told you i wasn't. >> i know. that's my point. >> i be over all the time. that's what i'm saying. >> now he admitted he had been visiting earon that day but insisted he left before anyone was shot. rick sensed that his story and quisenberry were crumbling so he demanded that he come clean, and it worked. >> i saw him go in there and i was behind him and pow, pow, pow, i heard more gunshots. >> he saying he was in that house was critical. >> detective arnold now had admission number one. the interview nearly over, quisenberry had a request, one of the strangest rick had ever heard. >> i know this is hard to ask police this [ bleep ] i need to smoke a blunt. >> a king-sized marijuana joint. >> we can't do that.
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>> now it was time to interrogate williams. he proved to be a tougher nut to crack. >> first impression? >> he is hard core. >> i didn't shoot that lady. i didn't do nothing to her or her baby. >> he also denied everything and blamed the man in the other room, quisenberry. >> did he have a gun? >> yes. >> what color was it? >> black. >> williams kept insisting he was not even in the house. but rick needed to get him inside, as he had with quisenberry. >> i wanted him in the house, not outside by the car, not down the street by the stop sign. >> and he needed it fast.
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although, he didn't realize how fast at the time. >> so, you didn't know you were playing beat the clock? >> no idea at all. >> detective arnold saw an opening and pounced. first you'll hear williams finally admit to coming inside. then listen closely as rick asks a rapid-fire follow-up about his location in the house, giving him no chance to think or change his story. >> after i heard the gunshot, i ran in to see what was going on. >> what room were you in when that happened? what room? >> i was in the back room. >> that was music to my ears. >> rick had him right where he wanted, inside the house. and none too soon. >> you got an attorney now. >> an attorney who immediately stopped the interview. >> just under the wire and just in the knick of time. >> detective arnold placed williams and quisenberry under arrest and then he wasted no time making the one phone call he had waited 15 months to make, to erica's grandmother. >> i literally got done making the bathroom and made that phone call from the bathroom. >> what was it like, making that phone call? >> it was an echo, because it
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was in the bathroom but i promised judy harper that i would get the suspects and now we had them. >> what did you think? >> just relieved. i had confidence they would find them sooner or later because they couldn't get away with it spl. williams and quessenberry you would stand trial for the attempted murder of erica. an eye for an eye, the death penalty hung over both of them. >> coming up, an emotional try and a little girl who not only survived, but thrived, when "dateline" continues. thrived, w "dateline" continues yardwork... teamwork... long walks.... that's how you du more, with dupixent, which helps prevent asthma attacks. dupixent is not for sudden breathing problems.
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how you doin'? on the carousel of life in louisville, it was what everyone had been asking, how was erica, the miracle baby, doing? how you doin'? but through it all, other questions swirled, too. what happened in the house on wilson avenue? and would the men involved in the shootings pay for their crimes? >> okay, we are on the record. >> reporter: those answers would come three years later, april, 2009, in a louisville courtroom, where james quessenberry and kenneth williams stood trial for the murder of erin harper and
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the attempted murder of little erica. for harold harper, facing the defendants was simply too much to bear. >> i couldn't look him in the eye without rage. and i was just afraid that i would mess everything up. >> reporter: it was an emotional trial. prosecutor mark baker with two young daughters himself cried in his opening statement. >> once he determines they're still alive in that little body, you can imagine what the officers did there at the scene. >> reporter: prosecutors maintained that the defendants came to steal erin's pills and money, but then williams changed the plan after erin fought back, according to key witness, rashon turner. >> he told me that he snatched the purse from her, but she wouldn't let go of her purse, so he shot her. >> reporter: turner's testimony also helped fill in another piece of the puzzle. why quessenberry and williams were in the house that night. it appears that after erin became too ill to work, she
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found way to supplement her income, selling her prescription medicine. she had invited her friend quessenberry to buy pills before, but this time the deal deteriorated into robbery and ultimately murder when williams came along with his gun. >> i had no idea that they would go in the house and kill you over a bottle of pills. >> reporter: the trial took just one week and there was little doubt that quessenberry would be convicted of some crime. he got manslaughter and a maximum 45 years in prison. as for williams -- >> we the jury, find the defendant, kenneth williams, guilty. >> guilty of murder and then a life sentence with no possibility of parole. spared the death penalty only because one holdout juror would not vote for it. >> do you think that he should have gotten the death penalty? >> no. i can't go around the talking or acting with hate in my heart, because if i do that, then my
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children, they're going to be thinking, it's all right for them to do it. >> reporter: rick was gratified that he could make good on his promise to erica's grandmother. but he also got something back from her. >> i drew a lot from judy's strength, because she told me from the get-go that things would work out, and that's a sign of her faith. >> reporter: out of the tragedy, the harper family had pulled together. with her grandparents as her guiding lights, erica's future looked bright. when i caught up with her, she was a playful 6-year-old. we went to the zoo where she briefly stopped her fun and games to talk. they call you the miracle baby. the miracle baby. why do they call you that? >> i'm a special girl. >> a special girl. why are you special? >> i know everything. >> you know everything? what do you know? >> i know about, like, when bananas are rotten, you don't eat them.
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>> what else do you know? >> reporter: erica's struggles from the brink of death became blockbuster news in her hometown. >> hi, i'm erica. >> reporter: and the miracle baby became the media celebrity, as the familiar face for a community leader's campaign to keep the children of louisville safe. >> please help us fight crimes against children. >> she is still the miracle baby, but she is also a great advocate for fighting crimes against children. >> erica, what do you want to be when you grow up? >> a nurse and a teacher. >> and why a nurse? >> you get to help people. >> erica, come here. yay! >> like the nurses and doctor that saved her life. >> we're so glad to see you! >> more than three years later, they celebrated erica's recovery with a red carpet reunion. >> taking it all in, surgeon thomas moriarty, proud and pleased that he could give his miracle patient a clean bill of
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health. no brain damage, whatsoever. >> she's wonderful. she's perfect. she is this little flower that has grown. >> he left her with a good brain and that's very important. >> smart cookie. >> yeah. she's going to need it throughout life. >> when you look at erica, do you see any of your mom in erica? >> yes. >> what parts? >> the main thing i see is her loud mouth. >> is that right? >> yes. erica's loud and she's got the raspy voice just like my mom had. >> where is your mom right now? >> up in heaven. >> do you think about her a lot? what kind of things do you think about? >> i think about her coming down. >> and what happens when she comes down? >> she will still be my mama. >> so it's like a constant reminder that your mom is with you? >> and there's one other shared trait. and that's what kept erica's alive in her darkest hours. her mom's fighting spirit.
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>> i guess to battle what she had to battle, i guess she did have erin's fighting spirit to pull through all of that. you know, so thank god for that. >> that's all for this edition of "dateline." i'm craig melvin. thank you for watching. first up on msnbc, mask confusion. some states are waiting to drop their mandates, despite the cdc saying fully vaccinated americans can ditch their face coverings in most situations. congresswoman liz cheney refusing to go quietly after getting kicked out of the republican leadership position. her new criticism for donald trump and the stunning claim that she made about why some of her colleagues voted against his impeachment. plus, developments in the matt gaetz saga. new daily beast reporting

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