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NARRATOR: A wealthy socialite died after falling down stairs.
Was it an accident?
Or was it ***?
The laws of physics and an accident reconstructionist
provided the answer.
NARRATOR: The Lucas family was well-known in Tyler, Texas.
The family patriarch, Baker Lucas,
owned a successful real estate business
specializing in residential home sales.
CONNIE CASTLE (VOICEOVER): He owned
a lot of real estate properties.
He had a large real estate business.
And he was so respected by the community
that they did ask him to run for the position of mayor.
He accepted and he was our mayor from 1970 to 1978.
NARRATOR: The family donated generously to charity
and was so active socially that Bette Lucas was
known as the First Lady of Tyler.
JUNE JONES (VOICEOVER): She was quite social.
She liked parties, belonged to a garden club and literary club.
And Symphony League when it began,
she was one of the first members, I'm sure,
that was in it.
NARRATOR: But the family fortunes changed dramatically
in 1985, when Baker Lucas was killed
in an automobile accident.
Vo: It was a very traumatic time for her,
because for Bette Lucas, her husband was her life.
He was her connection to everything in Tyler.
JUNE JONES (VOICEOVER): He waited on her hand and foot,
and she was very much loved him.
You know, she was going to be by herself,
and that was a real blow, because they'd
been together all these years.
NARRATOR: Steven, the Lucas's son,
took over the family business.
But things were never the same.
DAVID DOBBS (VOICEOVER): In fairness to Steve,
his father was such a charismatic, well-liked person
that it would be very difficult for him
to step fully into his father's shoes.
I think that probably this is something that was not lost
on him, and he attempted to manage the business,
but not as well as Baker had
NARRATOR: Three years later, there
was more bad news for the family.
Bette Lucas fell down a flight of stairs in her home
and was rushed to the hospital.
Sadly, she never regained consciousness.
VANESSA CURRY (VOICEOVER): She was
in on life support for at least a day.
She was taken off that and she died,
and she was buried the next day.
It happened very quickly.
Even those people who were close to her
did not find out about the funeral till the last minute.
NARRATOR: At the time, no one saw the need for an autopsy.
JUNE JONES (VOICEOVER): Nobody would
have expected her to die like that.
We'd had plans for what we were going to do in the rest home
when we got to the rest home together.
And it was such-- just unbelievable
that she would be gone.
NARRATOR: Two people witnessed Bette Lucas's fall-- her son
Steve and his 20-year-old daughter, Stefani.
Steve said his mother, a frail woman,
started to carry a VCR up the stairs.
He said he tried to carry it for her, but she wouldn't let him.
MIKE ANDREWS (VOICEOVER): This was one of the early VCRs,
and it was large and very heavy.
32 pounds is just tremendously heavier
than what we normally think of now as a VCR.
NARRATOR: At the top of the stairs,
Steve said he made one last attempt to carry it.
VANESSA CURRY (VOICEOVER): And in the process of him trying
to take that from her, she *** away,
and the motion of her jerking away
propelled her over the staircase banister.
NARRATOR: She landed on the lower flight of stairs
and slid to the bottom.
The VCR left a dent in the molding,
and the painting on the wall was askew.
But after Bette's funeral, the ambulance crew
told police that Steve Lucas behaved suspiciously
when they arrived at Bette Lucas's home.
CONNIE CASTLE (VOICEOVER): They said
that Steven Lucas was standing outside.
He was not even in there with his mother when they rolled up.
So Mrs. Lucas was laying there on the floor,
dying, if you will, all alone.
We received several anonymous calls at the police department
telling us that we needed to investigate the death of Bette
Lucas, that it really was not an accident
and that perhaps it was a homicide.
NARRATOR: So investigators decided
to look further into Bette Lucas's death.
Bette Lucas, the millionaire socialite of Tyler, Texas,
was dead after a fall down a flight of stairs.
Her son Steve described the fall as an accident,
but not every one in the community believed it.
DAVID DOBBS (VOICEOVER): A call came in telling the sheriff's
department that they really needed to take a hard look
at the case, because this person who was a friend of the Lucas
family's thought that Steve had killed his mother.
NARRATOR: Since there had been no autopsy,
investigators petitioned the court
for permission to exhume Bette's body.
JUNE JONES (VOICEOVER): And the fact that they brought her
back out of the ground, that was hard, to take, too.
But we were happy that they did, if they were going to find
some proof of what had happened.
-I think the town very quickly formed two different camps.
One camp thought that Steve was a rich guy who
was going to get away with ***.
The other camp thought it would be unthinkable for someone
in that social class to be prosecuted.
NARRATOR: The medical examiner found
six crescent-shaped lacerations on the back of Bette's head.
Nothing on or around the stairs could
produce these types of wounds.
Toxicology tests for drugs and alcohol were negative.
But x-rays of the body provided even more surprises.
VANESSA CURRY (VOICEOVER): It found that there's
no broken bones of a 66-year-old woman.
There's no-- any major bruising on the rest of her body.
It's very suspicious in a story about a fall down the stairs.
-No one knows what the actual *** weapon was.
One of the things that the pathologist speculated
might have been used was a candlestick,
because the base of a candlestick
would fit the shape of an object that he envisioned could cause
the curvilinear lacerations on her head.
NARRATOR: And investigators found
similar circular indentations on the hand railing
in between the seventh and ninth steps.
Forensic scientists analyzed a pair of candlesticks that
were on the mantle of the Lucases' home.
One of them was dented.
But forensic testing found no traces of blood.
Investigators were also surprised by the lack of blood
at the scene.
DANNY ALEXANDER (VOICEOVER): Three
of us went up and down that first flight of stairs
on our hands and knees and with laser lights,
looking for tears, blood, fibers-- anything
on that runner and that carpet, or anything on the carpet
or on the post that held up the hand
railing, that would have been out of place.
NARRATOR: But they found nothing-- and soon learned why.
Members of the ambulance crew said that Bette's granddaughter
Stefani, along with a neighbor, were cleaning up blood
in the foyer when they arrived.
And neighbors said it looked like Steve had cleaned up, too.
DAVID DOBBS (VOICEOVER): Just after the body left,
some of the neighbors reported his shirt being wet.
And his neighbor across the street
said it was actually his-- the chest area was wet.
NARRATOR: So investigators sprayed leucomalachite green
onto the foyer floor, which revealed a 4-foot area
of blood that had been cleaned.
DANNY ALEXANDER (VOICEOVER): Then we
interviewed the daughter, Stefani, who was supposedly
in the home at the time, and her story did not
match with his story, as far as placement of where struggles
took place, where certain things occurred.
So all that began to add it to-- something is not right here.
NARRATOR: But if Bette had been murdered, what was the motive?
According to friends, Bette and her son Steve never got along.
DAVID DOBBS (VOICEOVER): Best we could determine,
Bette was somewhat ashamed of Steve because of the fact
that he was never able to achieve the type of things
that Baker was able to achieve.
And Steve just did not like his mother.
Talked about her, made fun of her,
the way she looked in her clothing-- just very much
did not like her.
NARRATOR: And the two had financial disagreements,
Steve borrowed close to a half million dollars from his mother
and hadn't bothered to repay it.
DAVID DOBBS (VOICEOVER): Bette hairdresser, Patsy Denman,
told the authorities that Bette had told her
in the days leading up to the ***
that she was very fed up with Steve's inability to hold a job
and to represent the family well,
and that she was going to cut him out of the will
and she was going to tell him about it.
NARRATOR: But Bette died before she ever changed her will,
and her son Steve and his family were
the beneficiaries of her $4 million estate.
So now investigators faced a dilemma.
The victim's son and granddaughter
both claimed Bette's death was an accident, yet
the preliminary evidence suggested otherwise.
VANESSA CURRY (VOICEOVER): The problem
with this case is you have two witnesses who have reasons
to lie, and you have no one else, except forensic science,
to support the claim that it was a *** and not an accident.
NARRATOR: The problem was, investigators
didn't have much forensic evidence.
To find out what really happened to Bette Lucas,
investigators asked accident reconstructionist Alan
Weckerling and physicist Mike Andrews to compare the crime
scene to the witnesses' statements.
The victim's son, Steve, and his daughter, Stefani,
both gave the same basic account of what happened-- that Bette
walked up the steps carrying her VCR while Steve trailed
behind her, trying to carry it for her.
At the top of the stairs, Bette refused his help,
pulled away from him, lost her balance,
and fell over the railing, landing
on the lower flight of stairs.
Weckerling found a gouge in the molding near where
Steve said she landed with the VCR.
But a closer look revealed an inconsistency.
ALAN WECKERLING (VOICEOVER): I had the piece
of wood and the VCR-- we brought that back to Dallas--
and examined it under a stereomicroscope.
And with close-up photography, was
able to show very clearly how that dent had
gone from the bottom to the top.
We had the orientation and the direction of force.
NARRATOR: If the VCR fell down the stairs, as Steve claimed,
it would have struck the molding in a downward direction,
And Weckerling was confused by what
he found at the top of the steps,
where this incident allegedly took place.
Steve and Stefani both claimed that Bette fell over
the 3-and-1/2-foot-high railing.
But Bette Lucas was 5'5", which meant that the railing was
higher than her waist, higher than her center of gravity.
ALAN WECKERLING (VOICEOVER): The center
of gravity on this case is important, because you can't
get a body, be it a human or a physical object,
to go over something else unless you have the center of gravity
go above that.
NARRATOR: In addition, when Bette fell over the railing,
she did not fall straight down to the foyer floor
through this 3-foot gap.
Instead, she traversed the gap and landed on the stairs.
ALAN WECKERLING (VOICEOVER): That come in
at a high enough angle that she doesn't
hit the banister of the stairs and break that.
-Well, the laws of physics, when an object falls it gets
pulled towards the Earth.
So any time an object falls, it's
going to fall directly towards the Earth
in a vertical direction.
NARRATOR: In other words, for Bette to have flown
over this gap, she would have had to pull the VCR towards her
at about 30 feet per second to carry her backwards
at sufficient speed to traverse the 3-foot gap.
MIKE ANDREWS (VOICEOVER): She was actually lower
than the banister, so she had to go up and over the banister.
So she had to jump up, so to speak.
The landing point and the actions of the falling body
just didn't make sense.
NARRATOR: Furthermore, Bette's friends did not
believe she would have carried the VCR
up the steps in the first place.
DANNY ALEXANDER (VOICEOVER): There
was a lot of people who said Bette
would have never picked up a VCR.
She would never have carried anything.
-She wouldn't pack a purse if it was too heavy.
So we knew that just didn't make any sense,
that she had packed that thing.
DAVID DOBBS (VOICEOVER): One of the most ridiculous concepts--
and many women will understand this-- Bette was
in a long nightgown and the theory is that she picked up
a VCR and marched up the stairs.
Any woman knows if you were holding a VCR
and you were going up a staircase
with a long nightgown, you would step on the nightgown
and fall on your face.
NARRATOR: But of all the inconsistencies,
prosecutors were most impressed with the molding
on the side of the stairs, where Steve said the VCR hit.
If the dent was made from the bottom up,
it proved that the scene had been staged.
DAVID DOBBS (VOICEOVER): It completely refuted the theory
by Steve Lucas and his defenders that the VCR somehow tumbled
over the railing and caused damage to the chair rail--
to the railing on the stairs, going up the stairway.
It just doesn't make any sense.
NARRATOR: In April of 1991, Steve Lucas
was arrested and charged with his mother's merger.
The grand jury did not indict his daughter
Stefani due to the lack of evidence.
DAVID DOBBS (VOICEOVER): I don't know whether Stefani witnessed
the ***, whether she participated in the ***,
or whether she was simply out of the room when
the *** took place.
NARRATOR: But the question remained--
was there enough evidence to convince a jury?
Prosecutors believed that the death of millionaire socialite
Bette Lucas was no accident.
They knew that her son, Steve, was
in serious financial trouble and owed close to a half million
dollars to friends and financial institutions.
VANESSA CURRY (VOICEOVER): He was borrowing money from family
friends and failing to pay that back.
Banks had threatened to foreclose on him,
and he was reaching a desperation point
where it was all going to come tumbling down.
NARRATOR: And prosecutors had witnesses who said that Bette
knew all about her son's problems
and planned to cut him out of her will, an estate
worth approximately $4 million.
On the day of the ***, Steve went over to his mother's house
with his daughter, Stefani, to return her VCR,
which they had borrowed.
Prosecutors don't believe that Bette
tried to carry it up the stairs.
Instead, they think there was some kind of argument,
possibly over money.
As Bette started to walk upstairs,
prosecutors think that Steve lost his temper,
grabbed a nearby object, and hit his mother
on the head six times.
As she fell, Bette grabbed hold of her own portrait.
Some of the blows missed and struck the hand railing.
Steve cleaned the blood from the *** weapon and his clothes,
then tried to make it look like Bette
fell while carrying the VCR.
To support his story, he created the gash in the molding.
ALAN WECKERLING (VOICEOVER): I think
he thought he had it made.
He didn't think anybody would ever-- would ever
be able to go back and look at the mark on the wall
and say that it came from the wrong direction.
NARRATOR: The defense submitted an animation to prove that it
was theoretically possible for someone to fall over
the railing backwards and land on the second set of stairs,
the way Steve Lucas described.
MIKE ANDREWS (VOICEOVER): That's another big issue in this case,
was how you get her body and the very heavy VCR
both moving up and over.
I assume she's carrying it down a little bit low,
and so she's got to bring it up and over, along with her body.
And if you're saying that the VCR drags her
over the banister, then you have to throw the VCR pretty hard
in order to get it to carry you over the railing.
NARRATOR: Both prosecution experts say that Bette Lucas
would have struck and damaged the banister,
had she fallen this way.
But the banister showed no damage.
ALAN WECKERLING (VOICEOVER): The lack
of the breaking of the handrail made me feel that the defense's
story didn't hold water at all.
It wasn't true.
There was-- the physics didn't back it up.
NARRATOR: Surprisingly, after a week of deliberations, the jury
couldn't reach a verdict.
VANESSA CURRY (VOICEOVER): The first trial ended in a mistrial
because the jury was divided eight to four.
NARRATOR: But prosecutors didn't give up.
Steve Lucas was retried three years later.
This time, prosecutors put far more emphasis
on the forensic evidence and stressed the significance
of the molding, which supported their view
that the crime scene was staged.
DAVID DOBBS (VOICEOVER): You really
have to have the railing to understand how important
the damage to the molding is to Steve's story.
I think that having the stair railing actually
in the courtroom for the second trial
was very important to allowing the jury
to draw the picture of the VCR and the path of the VCR
as related by Steve.
NARRATOR: Prosecutors also presented experts
to corroborate the findings of the medical examiner.
DAVID DOBBS (VOICEOVER): The other thing
that is important to know, when you deal
with a forensic testimony of the pathologist,
is that opinion was corroborated by Dr. Charles
White at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical
School, who's the director of the neuropathological unit
And he was very clear that it was homicide,
once he saw the forensic evidence.
NARRATOR: Steve Lucas took the stand in his own defense
but was unable to convince the jury.
-Go up the stairs, of course, to the landing,
around on the upstairs.
DANNY ALEXANDER (VOICEOVER): When you're
able to scientifically and forensically say
with a high level certainty-- no, this is how this was made.
This is how this indention was made.
It was made from this angle-- your suspect
no longer has a leg to stand on.
NARRATOR: In November of 1994, Steve Lucas
was found guilty of his mother's ***
and sentenced to 35 years in prison.
VANESSA CURRY (VOICEOVER): I sat through two trials.
I heard all the evidence.
The forensics made a difference in this case
to me, because they-- the defense
could not come up with any logical reason
or any logical evidence to support some
of the forensics that doesn't lie.
NARRATOR: Steve Lucas created a story
about the death of his mother and tried
to convince a jury that it was true.
But forensic science proved it was not true
and that Bette Lucas was murdered by her own son.
DAVID DOBBS (VOICEOVER): Without the science,
I believe it would have been an acquittal.
If we did not have an objective proof which would discount
the story that Steve told, I believe that a jury would have
been very hesitant to convict him.
Science was key in this case.
-With the science and the physics and the forensics,
it proved-- it was his downfall.