Colorado man convicted of wife's murder gets a second shot at freedom

A bombshell legal twist in a case "48 Hours" has been covering for more than a decade

Produced by Susan Mallie  

Michael Blagg was convicted in 2004 of killing his wife. Jennifer Blagg and the couple's six-year-old daughter, Abby, went missing in 2001. Michael Blagg called police when he returned home from work and reported finding a bloody bed and his family gone. 

On the outside, the Blaggs appeared to have a perfect marriage. After his wife and daughter vanished, he begged people to come forward with information. Meanwhile, investigators were learning not everything was as rosy in the Blagg household as believed.

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Jennifer Blagg, left, Michael Blagg and Abby Blagg

CBS Denver

Investigators found Jennifer's body seven months later in the county landfill mixed with garbage from her husband's employer. Abby Blagg still hasn't been found.

Michael Blagg and his family steadfastly maintain he's innocent. But, in 2004, without taking the stand at his trial, he was convicted of murder and sent to prison. Since then, Blagg's attorneys have filed appeals, which were denied.  However, in 2014, there was a surprise twist in the case that even Blagg couldn't have expected.

In the high desert on the Rockies western slope, the mesas tower over Grand Junction, Colorado, almost as if to protect the town from the outside world.

But late on the afternoon of June 4, 2002, Grand Junction saw the unearthing of its own shocking secret at the local landfill.

Investigator Steve King: It was surreal. I mean you couldn't script it in a movie like that.

The movie plays over and over in the mind of Mesa County Sheriff's Investigator Steve King.

Investigator Steve King: ...the scoop is -- this bucket is coming out of the ground, this tent rips, and this leg drops out of this tent ... as everyone is standing there watching. 

It was the decomposed body of 34-year-old Jennifer Blagg -- wrapped in a red and black plastic tent.

Medical Examiner Dean Havlick [to reporters]: There was a gunshot wound as a cause of death, manner of death, homicide.

Jennifer Blagg and her 6-year-old daughter Abby had been missing for seven months. Abby has not been found to this day -- not in the landfill, nor in the desolate mesas nearby.

Until one day in November 2001, the Blagg family lived in a comfortable house in a quiet cul-de- -sac. The mystery of what really happened inside those four walls still haunts the town. The Blaggs, after all, seemed so happy, so normal, so very nice.

Michael Blagg: I had everything. I was on top of the world. I had a great job, wonderful family, incredible wife and daughter. Everything was going perfect for me.

The Reverend Art and Rhonda Blankenship got to know the Blaggs in 2000, through their small evangelical church.

Rev. Art Blankenship:  They're kind of a poster child sort of a family. …A photographic studio would probably have their picture up on the wall somewhere.

Rev. Art Blankenship: They just looked like an ideal couple. They were friendly, open, talked … and everybody seemed to like them a lot.

Both Michael and Jennifer were enthusiastic born-again Christians. Extremely spiritual, they organized personal prayer groups for the congregation.

Rhonda Blankenship: It was definitely an integral part of their lives.

Susan Spencer: If you had had to pick a couple to whom-- this would be the most unlikely thing to happen.

Rev. Art Blankenship: This would probably be it – probably the most unlikely, yes.

Susan Spencer: How did you meet Jennifer?

Michael Blagg: Oh, it was a wonderful love story…I was in the Navy.

Michael and Jennifer Blagg

Michael and Jennifer Blagg

The Blaggs had met 10 years before in California. She was in college.

Michael Blagg: I realized there was something special about her.

He was a decorated Persian Gulf War veteran -- a helicopter pilot.

Marilyn Conway: I liked Mike from the beginning. He was a very personable young man.

Jennifer stayed close to her mother, Marilyn, even after she married Michael in 1993.

Marilyn Conway: They seemed happy.  I thought they were happy.

This, agrees Michael's mother, Betsy, was a "fairy-tale couple."

Betsy Blagg: In every letter, she would tell me how much she loved Michael. …and he was absolutely in love with her.

Susan Spencer: What was she like? If she walked in this room, now what kind of a person would I meet?

Michael Blagg: You would meet someone that would light up the room better than these lights do in here right now.  She could talk to a fence and make it smile.

Betsy Blagg: …and that little girl meant everything to the two of them.

Abby arrived three years after they married.

Betsy Blagg: You'd have to see Abby to appreciate how precious she was. She was just so full of life.

Michael Blagg:  Abby was a miniature Jennifer. She was just wonderful in all aspects. Wake up singing in the morning and go to bed singing at night.

And her parents seemed to dote on her.

Mother and daughter were still asleep, Michael says, when he headed out the door at 6'o'clock that November morning.

Michael Blagg: The normal routine for me is to kinda slide out of bed 'cause Jennifer's still asleep.

Off to his job as operations manager at a local manufacturing plant, the Ametek Dixson Company, around seven he called home. There was no answer.

Michael Blagg: It rang through to the answering machine, which isn't terribly unusual. Sometimes, you know, they're in the bathroom, they're doing other things.

MICHAEL BLAGG ON ANSWERING MACHINE: Good morning, gorgeous, it's me just calling to see how you and Abby are doing?

He says he called again mid-morning:

MICHAEL BLAGG ON ANSWERING MACHINE: Hey, where are you? Just calling to see how you're doing.

Then he called again at noon:

MICHAEL BLAGG ON ANSWERING MACHINE: Hello my beautiful bride, hope you're having fun, you're out and about doing all kinds of cool and nifty things.

Michael Blagg: Now I'm starting to get a little worried. I haven't heard from her. She hasn't called me back on any of these calls.

Michael Blagg: And the next time I get a chance to call's around three-something that afternoon.

MICHAEL BLAGG ON ANSWERING MACHINE: Man! Where are you guys? Hey I hope everything's going  OK. I love ya. I miss you and uh…

Around 4 p.m. he left for home. Later, he told police he had sensed something was wrong the second he walked in.

Michael Blagg [to police]: … there in front of me is the open back door…she wouldn't just leave a door or window open.

But he says nothing prepared him for the horror of what he saw in the bedroom.

Michael Blagg [to police]: I can see there was a large dark spot on the bed … I think that maybe she's rolled off the bed and is on the ground on the other side, and so I go to the other side of the bed and there's more blood … And so at this point I … I know I have to call for help.

911 DISPATCHER: 911, where's your emergency?

MICHAEL BLAGG: Oh my God, it's in my house.

The 911 dispatcher told him to check the garage. The couple's minivan was still there.

911 DISPATCHER: Does your daughter go to school?

It was not until the dispatcher asked about his daughter that Michael finally thought to check Abby's room.

MICHAEL BLAGG TO 911: …Her school clothes are still laid out waiting for her, her bed is messed up.

Abby was gone.

MICHAEL BLAGG TO 911: Where could they be?

The story of a bloody bed and of a missing mother and child rocked the town of Grand Junction. But the more the police looked at that crime scene, the more questions they had for Michael Blagg.

Investigator Steve King: I'm not sure anybody knows Michael Blagg. I mean not who he really is.

THE SEARCH FOR JENNIFER AND ABBY

Jennifer Blagg's older brother, David Loman, has no idea how many hours he's spent combing the mesas around Grand Junction searching for his missing 6-year-old niece, Abby.

David Loman: You just don't do it to a baby … you just don't do it … you just don't do it … You always want to hope.

He says it's the least he can do for his little sister.

David Loman: We were best friends. We had an agreement that we never ended any conversation or goodbye even for a few minutes without saying "I love you."

Susan Spencer: Really?

Dave Loman: Yeah.

Susan Spencer: So the last time you talked to her?

Dave Loman: "I love you."

Not long after that last "I love you," Jennifer and Abby Blagg were reported missing.

Sheriff's investigator Steve King was trying to make sense of a bloody and bewildering crime scene.

Investigator Steve King: At the time walking out of there you're sort of scratching your head saying, "Well … this doesn't look right and this doesn't look right and this doesn't look right…"

There was no Jennifer, no Abby, no bodies and no sign of a struggle.

Investigator Steve King: How did this quantity of blood get here and yet you don't have any sign of what would be a normal attack situation?

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Michael Blagg to 911: I just got home from work and there's blood all over the bed and there's stuff all over the floor. 

On the dresser was Jennifer's purse, the contents spilled out, including her keys to the van.

Also in the purse, an email from Blagg -- an apparent apology: "I would love to take some time to talk through the problems we are having" it reads …"do not give the devil a foothold."

And near the blood-soaked bed, on the carpet was Jennifer's empty jewelry box.

Investigator Steve King: You're struck by the fact that there was all sorts of other things there that someone that is in there purely for monetary gain would have taken with them … So I'm saying, "You know this crime scene doesn't look right. It looks like it was staged."

Susan Spencer: What in the world did you think had happened?

Michael Blagg: I had no idea what had happened. … I just knew that it was bad. Whatever it was, was bad.

Which was exactly what Blagg repeatedly told Steve King and other officers that night in an intense five-hour interview with no lawyer present:

MICHAEL BLAGG TO INVESTIGATORS: I have no idea… but I saw a lot of blood…a lot of blood…

Investigator Steve King: That first interview we very much looked at Michael Blagg as the victim of a violent crime.

In measured tones, Blagg conceded the couple had had some rocky times, but he said his marriage was solid.

Michael Blagg [to police]:  You won't find anyone who loves each other more than we do … it's a wonderful marriage…

King found Blagg's manner -- composed and collected -- strangely unsettling.

Investigator Steve King: In fact I said to him if my wife and my child were missing I would probably be at St. Mary's hospital being medicated at this point because of the fact that it's so stressful.

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Over the next few days, the community reached out to Michael Blagg.

Rhonda Blankenship: At the beginning, everybody was very supportive. …the church really rallied around and they made little tags with ribbons that said "Hope: Jennifer and Abby."

And Jennifer's mother was right by Michael's side as they addressed reporters:

Marilyn Conway: If you know how to pray to the heavenly Father, pray to him. Ask him to bring these precious people home.

Michael Blagg: Just allow them to come home. That's all I can ask. Please, allow them to come home.

The appeals were heartbreaking, but investigators were beginning to have their doubts about Michael Blagg.

For one thing, the blood evidence was puzzling. DNA tests confirmed that the blood in the bed was Jennifer's. But strangely, there was no trace of her blood anywhere else in the house.   Even more striking was the one other place where her blood was found. It was in the family van, parked in the garage: small traces of Jennifer's blood on the door and inside.

As more questions arose, King began meeting with Blagg informally, slowly zeroing in on the Blagg's "fairy-tale" marriage.

Susan Spencer: You talked to him in the car, in restaurants …

Investigator Steve King: He needed information about the case and I needed information about him and his life and his family.

Investigator Steve King: I was pushing him on that. It's like, "Boy, you paint a really nice picture, that just sounds too good" … was when he started saying, "Well, let me tell you about, you know the darker side. Let me tell you about the embarrassing side…"

In late November, Michael Blagg -- publicly so devout -- privately admitted to King he was addicted to hard core pornography and that when Jennifer found out, she had been very upset.

Susan Spencer: I could imagine that would be a fairly heated conversation.

Michael Blagg: It was, yeah.

Susan Spencer: Like, "what are you doing?"

Michael Blagg: Yeah, we talked very much like that.

But then, Blagg says, his equally devout wife decided to join him online.

Michael Blagg: …she told me, "I don't want you to be doing this, but if you are going to be doing this, then we should be together with this."

They used hardcore porn sites, he says, purely as an "educational" tool.

Michael Blagg: This was during a time after Jennifer's hysterectomy, and she knew we were gonna have to find other ways of satisfying each other. …we were looking at it more as experimenting, looking for alternate things that we could do.

Investigator Steve King: In the back of my mind I'm thinking …"OK, that just doesn't play right…"

For King, the explanation hardly fit the profile of a once hard-partying Navy pilot.

Investigator Steve King: Why would you think that I wouldn't realize that based on your life experience you probably didn't need to go to the internet as an educational tool on oral sex?

Susan Spencer: At what point did it begin to dawn on you that they were thinking of you as a suspect?

Michael Blagg: February fifth.

Three months after Jennifer and Abby disappeared, the investigators brought Michael Blagg back in for questioning, again, with no lawyer present.

Michael Blagg: They proceeded at that point to interrogate me for over 10 hours.

By now the FBI was involved, which meant that this interview, unlike the first, was not taped.

Michael Blagg: They were telling me that, you know, "we know you did it. You're the one. … Why don't you just tell us where they are?" These were the people, by the way, that I was trusting to find my wife and daughter and to bring them home to me, putting their finger in my chest and "you're the one, you're the one, I know you killed them just tell us." …I lost hope that day.

Police found him, the next morning.

Investigator Steve King: I saw Michael Blagg lying in the tub, with blood.

Michael Blagg: I tried to slit my wrists.

Investigator Steve King: He had a picture of Jennifer and Abby, and he had a Bible and it was open.

Michael Blagg: The next thing I remember was waking up in the hospital.

Investigators also found a suicide note in which Michael Blagg insisted he was not a murderer.

Susan Spencer: You had nothing to do with any of this.

Michael Blagg: Absolutely nothing to do.

Susan Spencer: You know nothing about anything at all having to do with their disappearance or with Jennifer's death?

Michael Blagg: All I know is what I saw when I came back to the house that horrible afternoon.

But for some, Michael Blagg's suicide attempt was a clear sign of a guilty conscience.

Rhonda Blankenship: people for some reason take that as a, "Oh, well, that's what I thought."

Rev. Art Blankenship: …kind of a community defining moment or something.

Now even Michael's mother-in-law, Marilyn Conway, was beginning to have questions. She agreed to help in investigators by leaving Blagg a series of phone messages demanding he come clean:

Mike, it's Momma. I would like it if you pick up the telephone…

Mike, will you help me out with Jennifer and Abby?

I would appreciate it Mike if you would give me any information that you feel in your heart that you can possibly give me as to where my girls are…

Blagg never responded, but Investigator King is sure he could have.

Investigator Steve King: Michael Blagg murdered his wife and his daughter.

The problem may be in proving it.

A BREAK IN THE CASE

Five months after Jennifer and Abby disappeared, volunteer searchers fanned out over the highlands and rivers around Grand Junction.

Investigator Steve King: Two-hundred volunteers, working for 11 days, searching 45 miles around the Blagg residence.

But Michael Blagg was not among them -- a fact duly noted in town.

MALE RADIO CALLER: I don't ever remember him ever putting out pictures of his daughter or sending a big search party … like a lot of parents would completely do.

Blagg protests that it wasn't his choice.

Michael Blagg: They said as a potential suspect in this … they just thought that it would be bad for me to be out there.  And so I was barred from being able to search for my daughter and my wife.

Susan Spencer: They told you specifically, "You cannot go on this search?"

Michael Blagg: That's correct

Susan Spencer: And you wanted to go on the search.

Michael Blagg:  Absolutely.  I wanted to go on that search.

By spring of 2002, no bodies had been found, but Blagg certainly was a suspect and Investigator King had a working theory:

Investigator Steve King: He shoots his wife. My belief is that he went upstairs and suffocated his daughter, put them both in the van and went to Amatek-Dixson, and put both of them in the trash receptacle there.

Susan Spencer: One person could do that and not leave any blood through the house, no drag marks, you know, nothing like that? 

Investigator Steve King: One committed, motivated person could do that. One that has thought about this in a cold, calculated, lean manufacturing type of way, yeah.

But If Blagg had put Jennifer's body in his company's dumpster, then her remains should have ended up somewhere in the sprawling county landfill -- but where?

Susan Spencer: Did you honestly expect to find her when you came out here at first?

Investigator Steve King: I think that you hope to find her…

Using global positioning technology and landfill logs, they set up a grid system – much like an archeological site-- zeroing in on quadrants where investigators believed they'd find trash from Blagg's company -- trash dumped the previous November.

Investigator Steve King: There are people that I know that were out there when it was 104 degrees … when every bag it seemed like that you were opening up was a dead deer or elk carcass, and that site, that smell … would cause you to wretch and just want to drop you to your knees.

blagg-landfill.jpg

Using global positioning technology and landfill logs, investigators set up a grid system – much like an archeological site-- zeroing in on quadrants where investigators believed they'd find trash from Blagg's company -- trash dumped the previous November.

Finally, on day 16, they found Jennifer Blagg.

Investigator Steve King: The odds of that happening like that have to be astronomical … if you are a person of faith you start saying it was meant to be that way.

Authorities wasted no time. Two days later, they arrested Blagg at his mother's home in Georgia.

Susan Spencer: Has there ever honestly been a moment when you said to yourself, "Could this possibly be? Could any of these things that they're saying about him be possibly so?"

Betsy Blagg | Michael's mother: Well, if we're talking about have I thought for a second he might have murdered his wife? Not for one second.

Still, Betsy Blagg is worried.

Betsy Blagg: I just don't think Michael can get a fair trial here.

Susan Spencer: What do you think happened?

Michael Blagg: At some point, while we were out as a family, somebody saw us and decided that they liked Abby and wanted to take her …after I had left, they broke in through the back,  shot Jennifer, grabbed Abby -- and why they took Jennifer at that point I don't know, unless it somehow was to control Abby.

Susan Spencer:  Why would someone who wanted to kidnap your child, take your wife's body, and have it end up at the landfill?

Michael Blagg: I can't explain why they took Jennifer. It's just -- I know that it happened.

Blagg's sister, Claire Rochester, arrives in Grand Junction just as the jury is seated. She, too, wonders if a fair trial is possible.

Claire Peterson: The people in this town need to understand that all of this time and this money … that the police and the D.A. have devoted towards accusing my brother … has been wasted. …And I think it should frighten the public that there is somebody out there who committed this crime.

But public defender David Eisner, Blagg's lead attorney, says the cops never even considered that.

David Eisner| Public defender: …from the get-go, they chose Michael Blagg as their number one suspect and they latched onto him and never let go.

District Attorney Frank Daniels will prosecute the case.

D.A. Frank Daniels: It's a question of putting together all the pieces of evidence and being able to form a picture at the end.

Michael Blagg is free on bail until trial, now just days away. He starts each morning with church, then goes to his lawyer's office to help prepare his own case.

Otherwise, the Blagg family rarely goes out – there's too many stares. None of them is from Grand Junction, and in this town, they have few friends. So they hole up in a hotel and wait.

Claire Peterson: He did not kill his wife. He did not do anything to harm or take his daughter.  It just didn't happen.

MICHAEL BLAGG ON TRIAL  

D.A. Frank Daniels: I think we have sufficient evidence to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

As the murder trial of Michael Blagg begins, Jennifer's mother, Marilyn Conway, is no longer defending her son-in-law.

Marilyn Conway [to reporters]: We've waited for this for a long time. And I'm ready.

Reporter: What is you belief in regards to his innocence or guilt?

Marilyn Conway [to reporters]: I won't go there right now.

Claire Peterson: Both families are suffering, both families are mourning and are feeling an enormous loss … I can't help but empathize with Marilyn for what she's going through…

Marilyn Conway [to reporters]:  I've lost my only daughter and her only child. … And I can't tell you how badly we miss them. The pain of not being able to talk to them is horrendous.

Claire Peterson: I did want to hug her, and I did want to support her …and what I said to her was "We're all praying for the same thing, that the truth will come out during this trial."

But the families of Michael and Jennifer, once very close, now find themselves on opposite sides of the courtroom.

Claire Peterson: I don't understand why Marilyn is not openly sitting on our side with her arm around Michael.

The prosecution lays out its case.

D.A. Frank Daniels:  It was an ordinary day in the neighborhood, the evil was done in the dark of night.

Daniels argues that that fatal weekend began with a fight on Friday -- a fight Jennifer noted in one of her religious books:

Paulette Campbell | Mesa County Sheriff's Office evidence technician [reading]: "Loving God With All Your Mind" … there's a little note that says "fought with Mike on Friday…"

The weekend ended, says Daniels, with Jennifer's murder sometime late Monday night.

D.A. Frank Daniels:  That night, as Jennifer lay in bed, Michael got his gun, he loaded a round into the chamber and he shot Jennifer in the face.

As to why Michael Blagg would murder his wife, Daniels suggests his addiction to internet pornography had split this once solid marriage.

D.A. Frank Daniels: Right here there's a note… typewritten with a signature at the bottom…

He shows the jury the "apology" e-mail from Michael.

D.A. Frank Daniels [reading note]: "I'm sorry if I've given the devil a foothold."

The devil, says the prosecution, was lurking in Blagg's computer, details of which were too much even for the judge.

D.A. Frank Daniels: And do you remember how many pornographic photos you found?

Investigator Mike Piechota: There were 668 images … of the same theme or fetish …

Judge David Bottger: Excuse me.  I don't think this is necessary. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury have the idea what these exhibits show…

Susan Spencer: Pornography is going to play a big part in this from the prosecution's standpoint. How do you see that?

David Eisner|Public defender: A cybersex addict does not a murderer make, you know?

But this sex addict is a murderer, the prosecution insists, and the jury is spared no details of this crime.

Medical Examiner Dean Havlick: There was a bullet in her skull...

D.A. Frank Daniels: Would that wound be consistent with having been fired more or less straight down into her head if she had been lying on the bed with her head on a pillow?

Medical Examiner Dean Havlick: With her head on a pillow? That would be consistent, yes.

After killing Jennifer, the D.A. continues, Blagg transported her body in the family van, which explains the blood traces found inside. The defense has more trouble explaining it.

Susan Spencer: How did it get there?

David Eisner: You're asking me? I don't know -- they don't know how it got there.

Susan Spencer: Well, if I'm the juror I'm wondering.

David Eisner: Who knows? The one on the steering wheel and the one on the brake pedal are minute, and the only ones in the back of the car where the body would have been are right around the trim, there's nothing on the interior part of the car, and there's no evidence of clean-up.

Susan Spencer: This is the challenge -- to explain why there's any blood there at all? 

David Eisner: Sure -- If it weren't a challenge, we wouldn't be here.

In court the defense maintains that finding Jennifer's blood in her own van proves nothing. In fact, Eisner insists the prosecution's whole circumstantial case fails the test of reasonable doubt. He points out that no murder weapon ever has been found, and he says there's simply no believable motive -- no reason why this caring husband suddenly should morph into a ruthless killer.

Judge David Bottger: Cross examination… Mr. Eisner

David Eisner: Judge, the defense will call Wendy Holgate…

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Jennifer, Michael and Abby Blagg

Family friends take the stand to praise Michael's marriage and his character.

Wendy Holgate: He was always very cordial, very pleasant, just a happy, pleasant person to be around.

David Eisner: How did Michael Blagg treat Jennifer Blagg?

Lee McElfresh: He treated her like she was a gift God had given him -- the guy was an immaculate representative of what a husband should be.

And says sister Clare, Michael was devastated after the disappearances.

Claire Peterson [testifying]: We all hugged each other, we cried, Mike cried, my mom and I cried, uh Marilyn was there – she hugged us, it was just a very emotional time.

But the defense has a problem making that portrait of Blagg convincing -- in that first taped interview he seems rather detached:

INVESTIGATOR: Where could somebody put a body around your house?

MICHAEL BLAGG: Well, there's an open field back behind the house…

David Loman: There is no emotion, there is no passion, there is no "Where is my wife and daughter?" It's not there, it doesn't exist.

Claire Peterson: It's not true that he is cold or he lacks expression… we're the kind of people who like to help other people, we're nice people, we're good guys, and it's pretty hard being one of the good guys and being seen as an absolute horror.

But more damaging for Blagg's case than his demeanor is some surprise testimony from his mother-in-law. It shocks the defense:

Marilyn Conway [testifying]: Michael hurt her in Corpus.

David Eisner: He hurt her in Corpus?

Marilyn Conway: He hurt her in Corpus, yes he did.

And it even shocks the D.A.:

D.A. Frank Daniels: Mrs. Conway, you said Michael hurt Jennifer in Corpus Christi, Texas? 

Marilyn Conway: Yes sir.

D.A. Frank Daniels: What do you remember about that?

Marilyn Conway: She called home one night and said that Mike had cornered her in the bedroom and obviously he was drunk …I understood that he … was trying to choke her.

She says it happened 10 years ago, an incident apparently forgotten until now.

David Loman | Jennifer Blagg's brother: It shocked me as much as it did anybody else in the courtroom.

Susan Spencer: It was new information to you as well? 

David Loman: Sure.

Marilyn Conway [to Spencer]: I wasn't even aware it was gonna come out of my mouth… It just came out.

David Eisner [to Spencer]: She got on the stand and lied … I think she saw the D.A.'s case faltering. And I think she felt she would do whatever she could to help that case out. 

David Eisner [in court]: You ever report this to an officer in this case some time before today? 

Marilyn Conway [in court]: Oh, I'm sure that I did, but I may not have.

Susan Spencer: You think she lied outright?

David Eisner: Yes.

Susan Spencer: This assault never happened? 

David Eisner: I don't believe it ever did.

Susan Spencer: But she just made it up? 

David Eisner: She made it up.

As the defense deals with this setback, it also has a big decision to make. Will Michael Blagg try to save himself on the witness stand?

A SURPRISING DEVELOPMENT 

Michael Blagg has decided against telling the jury his own story. Instead, his lawyer, David Eisner, uses Jennifer's words to show the couple's devotion -- or at least her devotion:

"My dear husband, the love of my life, there's no words to tell you how I feel about you, I adore you …  "I love you. I enjoy getting to spend my life with you…we've had a good almost 10 years of marriage together. ...I'm your beloved wife, who adores you…"

Betsy Blagg [to Susan Spencer]: How could anyone read that letter and not think Jennifer was desperately in love with her husband? 

David Eisner: You look at these pictures, you look at these documents, and you decide. Is the Michael Blagg that's in this case -- is he really the cold-blooded killer they want you to believe or is this what he really is? [holds up photos of Blagg with his wife and daughter]. …You've got to decide.

The jury does decide -- in just over 24 hours:

Judge David Bottger: As to count one, we the jury find the defendant, Michael Blagg, guilty of first-degree murder. Mr. Blagg, anything you'd like to say before your sentence?

Michael Blagg: I can tell you your honor that I am innocent of these charges and I have nothing further to say…

Judge David Bottger: For the offense of first-degree murder, which is a class one felony, the defendant is sentenced to the Colorado Department of Corrections for the remainder of his natural life.

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Michael Blagg reacts after hearing the guilty verdict

Unless he wins an appeal, Michael Blagg will serve life without the possibility of parole. 

D.A. Frank Daniels [to reporters]: He's a narcissistic pig as far as I'm concerned and deserves the sentence he got….

David Eisner [to reporters]: We out-tried them every step of this trial…I guess the jury just didn't have the courage they needed…

Betsy Blagg [to reporters]: Michael Blagg is innocent of all the crimes on which he has been convicted, he is not guilty…

David Loman [to reporters]: I'm glad it's over [emotional].

Michael Blagg went to prison. Appeals were filed, appeals were denied, and a decade passed. Then, in 2014, there came a development not even Blagg himself probably expected.

Prosecutor Trish Mahre: Michael Blagg's conviction is overturned.

Trish Mahre, the chief deputy district attorney for Mesa County, says the ruling had to do not with the defendant, but with a juror.

Prosecutor Trish Mahre: The defense filed another motion for new trial based on juror misconduct.

That juror was Marilyn Charlesworth, who in 2013 testified at a Grand Junction City Council meeting that she had been a victim of domestic violence for 10 years. The problem? Nine years earlier, during jury selection, Charlesworth said just the opposite.

Prosecutor Trish Mahre: The judge determined she had not been truthful in answering her questionnaire.

In 2014, Judge David Bottger -- the same judge who'd sentenced Blagg to life, threw out the murder conviction, granting Blagg a new trial. He would remain in prison. Charlesworth, meanwhile, was prosecuted for contempt of court.

Prosecutor Trish Mahre: The judge in that case sentenced her to 10 days jail and a $10,000 fine.

A new trial meant new attorneys on both sides of the aisle. Mahre led the prosecution.

Prosecutor Trish Mahre: I was thinking I'm drowning … I don't know if it's the greatest volume on a case we've ever had. But it was enormous and it was hard to even figure out how to go about reading 30,000 pages.

Investigator Lissah Norcross: I just came in and reacquainted myself because I wasn't the lead before, so I didn't know all the pieces of information like you need.

Lissah Norcross, a complex crimes investigator with the Mesa County Sheriff's Office, is one of the few people at the second trial who also worked on the first.

Investigator Lissah Norcross: …it's difficult because you've already done this once. Nobody wants to have to redo it twice.

The trial is moved to the Jefferson County Courthouse in Golden, Colo.

Prosecutor Trish Mahre: Obviously, Michael Blagg had something to gain because he's not going to be tried in a community that probably has some negative sentiment toward him and toward the retrial. So yeah, that's the scary part of the change of venue.

In February 2018, Michael Blagg, now 55 years old, stands trial again for the murder of his wife Jennifer. No cameras were allowed in the court, but there is a new star witness -- one who didn't take the stand 14 years earlier: Michael Blagg himself.

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Michael Blagg during his second trial in 2018

Prosecutor Trish Mahre: We believed he probably would testify in this trial because what's he got to lose? …The worst that's going to happen is life in prison without parole again.

Blagg testifies for two hours. Mahre says he kept his cool, expressing his frustration that he was never cleared as a suspect and emphasizing his devotion to his family.

Prosecutor Trish Mahre: He needed this jury to hear that he loved his wife and daughter. Whether he did or not, he needed to say those words in front of a jury.

Eighty witnesses appeared over five weeks. Cameras were allowed in court for the verdict, reached after 17 hours of deliberation.

Judge Tamara Russell: We the jury find the defendant Michael Blagg guilty of first-degree murder after deliberation.

History repeats itself as Jennifer's mother, Marilyn Conway, listens to her son-in-law, again protest his innocence.

Marilyn Conway [addressing the court]: Those in this room know the devastation that occurred November 2001. …From that time to this, the loss of two children at one time, nothing compares. And I hope no one else in this room ever experiences it.

The loss of two children. Marilyn's granddaughter, 6-year-old Abby, has never been found. Jennifer's brother, David Loman, addresses the court and his brother-in-law.

David Loman: The devastation that one's decisions have on someone else, are incredible. And most of us don't think about that, and that's something that many of us need to start thinking about.

But nothing shakes his family's belief in Michael Blagg's innocence.

Claire Petersen | Michael's sister: We've been here before with the wrong verdict.

Judge Tamara Russell: Mr. Blagg, you have been found guilty of count one first-degree murder after deliberation … I will sentence you to life in the Department of Corrections without parole.

Fourteen years after the first verdict, Michael Blagg has ended up exactly where he started.

Prosecutor Trish Mahre: It's justice that Jennifer was found and buried properly with her family. It didn't happen for Abby. But it's justice for Abby that she's probably buried in the landfill is what I expect. …And so it's justice for her that the man who did this is put away for life again.

HAVE INFORMATION?

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The Mesa County Sheriff's Office continues to follow up on tips about Abby Blagg. If you have information, please call (970) 244-3500.