JUSTICE OF THE HEART

Based on the true events of investigative reporter Shay Holland who uncovered the story of serial killer Cesar Barone.

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A friend sent me a casting notice for a movie about a serial killer based on true events. I never imagined the possibility of auditioning for the role of a TV newscaster would reveal the ending to a real life story I'd broken back when I was an investigative reporter.

Friends have suggested I write books about the murder cases I've covered but the idea never appealed to me -- maybe because there aren't any happy endings. 

"You go on but you can't forget the things you saw," said a friend. 

Can't forget the victims -- or the killers.

I wish it had been only a movie when my TV station sent me to cover the murder of a nurse named Martha Bryant. She had been shot and dragged from her car while heading home from a night shift at the hospital where she worked.  The horrific killing rocked a quiet Oregon town.

I can't forget police describing how the killer tried to rape her: "When he realized she was of no use to him sexually due to her injuries, he executed her."  Shot her point blank in the head in the back seat of his car.

Police began to suspect a soft-spoken family man who lived nearby. My cameraman and I went to the man's house to interview him but workers were tearing it down.  Someone had torched it. 

"Found this," a worker handed me a charred slip of paper. "Don't know if it means anything," he said.

Chills ran through me after one glance. It was a search warrant showing cops were looking for possessions of a dozen women in the man's house.

If my hunch was right, police thought he may have killed before. Many times.

Phone calls confirmed the women listed in the search warrant were either missing or dead. The trail of possible victims crossed the country from Florida to Oregon. 

I went on the air that night with the exclusive report that a serial killer might be at work. Police asked a judge to have me arrested for illegal possession of the warrant because I refused to reveal how I got it.  

Until now.

Cesar Barone eventually went on trial for Bryant's murder and several others. I sat behind him at the defense table every day in court. I wanted to ask him why he killed the women but could never get close enough.

Then one day during a break in the trial, Barone's attorney stepped away from the defense table.  Barone sat alone --shackled under his suit. He turned around and spoke to me for the first time.

"Can you do me a favor?" he asked. "Can you check on my dogs?"

Mocking the victims, the justice system...

I never aired his comment -- seemed too cruel to the victims' families.  Never aired his wife's story either. She'd met Barone a decade earlier through a personal ad.  She'd no idea that she had fallen in love with a serial killer.

EPILOGUE

Today I learned Barone is dead.  Died on death row at 49 still insisting he was innocent.*

I wish it had been a movie and the director would say, "Cut!" There will never be a tidy Hollywood ending for Barone's wife and kids. Or his victims. 

But maybe life scored justice in the end -- Barone died in prison of a cancerous tumor wrapped around his heart.


*Author Anne Rule wrote a book about Cesar Barone but he never gained the notoriety of his former Florida cellmate, Ted Bundy.