A man from Oregon who spent nearly ten years in jail for killing his high school friend says he only wants “truth” in his first interview, since a judge ordered his release from prison.
Nicholas McGuffin, now 37, was found guilty of manslaughter at the death of 15-year-old Leah Freeman, who was killed in 2000 at the age of 18.
He was found guilty of manslaughter and imprisoned in 2011 – but released last year after a judge ruled that undisclosed evidence was found on the scene of another man’s DNA, which could have led to a different judgment.
McGuffin has maintained his innocence for almost 20 years and hopes that someone with new details about Freeman’s death will come forward.
“I want people to come up with the truth. I just want the truth. I want to know what happened, “he said in his first interview with ABC 20/20, which was broadcast on Friday.
“[We] now have a chance to clean the slate to make it right. I mean, I’m pretty sure many people would want that. I know Leah would do that. I know her family wants that. I want the truth for them. What else can I ask for? ”
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Nicholas McGuffin, now 37, was found guilty of manslaughter in the death of 15-year-old Leah Freeman in 2011
McGuffin was a high school senior when he started dating the freshman in the small town of Coquille, Oregon.
“I asked Leah if she would go to the ball with me,” he said. “She had a beautiful white dress, she had her hair done perfectly … I’m glad we took the pictures we took together.”
On June 28, 2000, McGuffin dropped off Freeman at the home of her friend Cheri Mitchell and was planning to come by later for a double date.
It is said that Mitchell and Freeman had a fight about how much time the teenager spent with her boyfriend, causing the 15-year-old to leave the house on foot.
McGuffin was a high school senior when he started dating the freshman in the small town of Coquille, Oregon
Freeman was strangled and dumped over a steep dike a month after she went missing. The case became cold for almost 10 years due to a lack of evidence
McGuffin came to pick up Freeman at 9 p.m., but heard she was gone and drove around for hours looking for her.
“I probably went back to Fast Mart five or six times,” he said. “There were different people there every time … They didn’t see Leah. I haven’t seen Lea. ”
McGuffin says he was stopped twice by the police that night because he broke the headlights. Then he and a friend – Kristen Steinhoff – drove around and started looking for Freeman.
“I dropped Kristen off. … I think it was around 2:00 [in the morning], probably. I decided to go see Leah again, “McGuffin explained. “I saw a glare on her window, thought it was her TV. … It was 2000. It’s not like she could send me a text. She couldn’t call me on a cell phone. So I thought she was home, and then I went home. ”
When he searched for her, McGuffin announced that he stopped “five or six times” at a local Fast Mart (photo).
McGuffin says he was stopped twice by the police that night because he broke the headlights. Afterwards he and a friend – Kristen Steinhoff – drove around and went looking for Freeman (photo with McGuffin and her)
McGuffin and Freeman’s mother – Cory Courtright – went to the police and reported her missing. The same night she was reported missing, a mechanic found one of her sneakers at a cemetery. A week later the other shoe was found outside the city – with blood on it.
Freeman was strangled and dumped over a steep dike a month after she went missing. The case became cold for almost 10 years due to a lack of evidence.
“It was as if my world was over,” McGuffin said when he heard the news.
“I collapsed. That is the saddest moment I have ever experienced. “
McGuffin claimed to have been extremely cooperative with the authorities, and even voluntarily went to be interviewed by the police.
“[I] I tried to give them all the information that I knew could be useful, “he said.
But when the case got cold, McGuffin said that his public perception made it “difficult to go out in public.”
“You actually look over your shoulder to try to figure out who’s coming, who’s going to yell at you,” he said.
McGuffin was admitted to the hospital shortly after due to anxiety. He also tried to commit suicide at some point.
“It was just a buildup … It’s like a tea kettle is boiling and it starts to hum, that’s how it was, you just get an overload,” he added.
McGuffin tried to continue his life, go to the culinary school and start a career as a chef. He married and had a daughter in 2007.
The police interviewed Steinhoff (photo) and heard that she and McGuffin had used drugs at home. She told the police that he was trying to have sex with her, something that McGuffin denies
“I was very excited to be a father,” he said. “My daughter helped me a lot.”
The case was reopened in 2008 after the city got a new police chief. Researchers struggled with reviewing all the evidence because some had found their way to London. Hundreds of witness statements were also completed, including McGuffin’s
“When they reopened the investigation … I thought the truth would come out and the real person or people would be found. And yes, yes. I mean, I haven’t seen anything coming, “McGuffin explained.
The police then interviewed Steinhoff and heard that she and McGuffin had used drugs at home. She told the police that he was trying to have sex with her, something that McGuffin denies.
McGuffin was arrested in 2010. Investigators have rooted their case in being the victim’s friend, heavily dependent on witnesses who knew Freeman and claiming they had seen her and the man after telling the police that he had told her dropped off
He admits kissing her and using drugs.
“The things that Kristen and I did that night when we kissed were wrong.” I accept that, “McGuffin said 20/20.” “It doesn’t just mean that I did that … I didn’t care [Leah]. It is not easy to deal with. “
McGuffin was arrested in 2010. Investigators have rooted their case in the fact that he was the victim’s friend and relied heavily on witnesses who knew Freeman and claimed that they had seen her and the man after telling the police that he had deposed her.
The following year he was acquitted of murder after the jury had not reached a unanimous decision, but was found guilty of manslaughter with a non-unanimous 10-2 verdict.
Steinhoff died five years after the conviction of McGuffin.
McGuffin was released from prison in 2019 after Judge Patricia Sullivan ruled that previously undisclosed evidence of another man’s DNA could have led to a different judgment.
In building the case for the defense, Janis Puracal found new evidence – male DNA found on a pair of bloody shoes from Freeman at the crime scene that did not match the suspect or one of the investigators. She took up his business in 2014.
“Finding that relieving DNA on the shoes was a huge moment for our business,” Puracal said. “That was a game changer for us. We were looking for DNA that would tell us who committed this crime. And here was another man’s DNA on the victim’s blood-stained shoe … and never reported. That has changed everything for us. ”
The DNA was not presented to the jury in the first test because the sample was so small that the state crime laboratory did not report it.
“At the time, we used interpretation guidelines that could not necessarily distinguish or distinguish very low levels of DNA,” Chrystal Bell, director of Forensic Services Division at the Oregon State Police. “As a result, the analysts at the time opted for a very conservative attitude and chose not to actually recall that potential male DNA because they could not decide what it was. So she did not make any conclusions or statements about that DNA because it was at a very, very low level. ”
However, Judge Patricia Sullivan of the Malheur District Court ruled that if the evidence had been disclosed during the first trial, it could have changed the entire outcome, and finally decided that the McGuffin conviction should be annulled on November 29.
“However, without the DNA evidence, Trial Counsel was limited to demonstrating that (Nick McGuffin) could not have committed the crime and failed to provide evidence of an alternative theory,” Judge Sullivan wrote.
However, the DNA evidence is too small to find a match.
“[The sample] is not suitable to place in the FBI database for forensic samples and convicted offenders, “Bell added:” The quality of the DNA was not good enough in 2000, it was not good enough in 2010 and it is still not good enough. ”
Coos County District Attorney Paul Frasier decided not to seek a new trial for McGuffin because the teenager’s mother expressed the wish that it would not go ahead.
Coos County District Attorney Paul Frasier decided not to seek a new trial for McGuffin because the teenager’s mother expressed the wish that it would not go ahead
“She just told me,” I can’t handle the excitement of a new process. I can’t, “and she asked me not to try again,” Frasier said. “That was probably the biggest factor.”
Mark Dannels, police chief of the city, added: “Nick has already served 97 percent of his sentence. So we go back, put this all together again, try again. You brought the family through this again. For what? To say we were right? ”
MCGUFFIN MURDERFALL: TIME LINE
June 2000: Leah Freeman, 15, is reported missing in Coquille, Oregon
July 2000: Freeman’s body is strangled and dumped in a ditch
August 2010: Nicholas McGuffin, Freeman’s boyfriend at the time of her murder, is arrested
July 2011: Jury finds McGuffin guilty of manslaughter and has been sentenced to 10 years in prison
2015-2016: Layers at the Forensic Justice Department take over the McGuffin case and reveal previously undisclosed DNA evidence
August 2019: McGuffin gets a trial after conviction
November 2019: Judge believes the DNA evidence could have altered the outcome of the original McGuffin trial if it was announced to the jury
However, Judge Sullivan claimed that the overthrow proved no innocence for McGuffin.
“There have been cases in the United States where the evidence clearly shows that the person in prison or prison did not do it and that that person must get out. That’s an exemption in my book, “said Frasier. “What happened here was [McGuffin] was ordered to [get] a new test. I have decided not to proceed for a new process. I still support the investigation of this case … There is evidence in this file to find this suspect guilty. But for various reasons we have decided not to continue now. It is not that I believe he is not guilty or innocent, I think it is not appropriate to continue. “
McGuffin’s lawyer was disappointed “keep saying Nick is guilty in this case.”
“The Justice Department could have appealed the court’s decision and they have chosen not to,” Puracal said. “It’s important to recognize where the DNA is found. The DNA was found both in Leah’s shoe and outside of Leah’s shoe. And it is found in and around blood stains on her left shoe. That is important to know. “
She and McGuffin have called for state responsibility.
“[The] D.A., law enforcement, a crime lab … should have some responsibility for what they did, “McGuffin added. “I’m just asking for accountability and that they do their job well.”
McGuffin was released from prison in 2019 after Judge Patricia Sullivan ruled that previously undisclosed evidence of another man’s DNA could have led to a different verdict
However, Judge Sullivan claimed that the overthrow proved no innocence for McGuffin in the murder of Freeman (photo)
“There aren’t enough markers to put it in the database to see if we can identify someone like that,” Frasier explained. ‘If we have a suspect, we can send a DNA sample from them and have it compared. And that is what we did with the other potential suspects in the case. And they all came back as not the donor of that DNA. “
McGuffin struggles to return to his life and finds it difficult to find a new job. He is currently working on building a relationship with his daughter, who is now 12.
“I look at her with the strength she has at her age, I think that helps me,” McGuffin added.
“It’s not an easy achievement. The stigma, even now, is trying to get a job. … I want to work. I am passionate about my career, “McGuffin. “I remain an innocent man. That is not going to change. ”
He often thinks about Freeman and where her life would be now.
“She should be 35 now? … She would have had a family, “he said.
View the full story on ’20 / 20 ‘Friday, February 28 at 9 p.m. ET on ABC.