Vera Elizabeth Guthrie-Nail
Murder for hire cases just amaze me, especially in the time we live in now. I sometimes wonder if I am the only person on earth who knows just how many "hit men" are actually undercover cops or if by chance they get a legitimate hit man that does succeed that they have forgotten that the first person that is looked at are those close to or who have issues with the victim. And we all know the saying.... "Three people can keep a secret, if two of them are dead." I have always wanted to be a lawyer and in fact I have gone to law school to obtain a bachelors degree in paralegal studies (we all know the paralegals are the ones who do the work :) ) and while I stopped just short of obtaining that degree obviously the law and legal findings still fascinate me. This is one of those case in which my husband would remind me just how badly I would be as a defense attorney. In general I probably would not be a good attorney on either side. I simply do not lie well.
Currently I am reading a book on the Jessica McCord case (another case that fascinates me) that I will be blogging about sooner or later. I know the case fairly well, well enough to know that evil does exist but I have to give it to Jessica McCord, she at least took care of her problem (with the help of her husband) and participated in the actions. That is not the case when it comes to Vera Guthrie-Nail. This piece of you know what (I do tend to watch my mouth here most of the time) decided to hire someone to kill her estranged husband, Craig Nail. The kicker here is apparently she expected her 16 year old step-daughter to be in the home at the time also and wanted her killed too. And, well, anyone else that happened to get in the way and while they were at it, make it look like a murder/suicide if you will.
So on the the evening of December 26, 2007 (this seems to be the most consistent year despite some that say a different or even appear differently by their posting dates) Craig Nail was murdered in his home in Frisco Texas. His girlfriend, Therisa Hofman was shot three times but managed to survive as well as get to a neighboring home to call for help. Therisa's account combined with the newspaper accounts (which always seems to differ a bit on things) is a bit sketchy but not really sketchy in the way where we see cases where the survivor tells differing stories. I truly believe that hers was this way due to the stress of the situation as well as the injuries she sustained. Therisa had parked in Craig's garage (it may have been her garage too as I'm not sure if she was living there or they were just dating) and said that she had left the door open because she and Craig were planning to head back out. Where I got a bit confused was where she was when she initially saw or was confronted by the gunman. Some reports seem to indicate it happened just outside the garage door while others indicated it was not until she entered the house that she saw the gunman. Sometime soon she felt a pain in her forehead... a bullet will do that but amazingly she did not instantly die. She said at that point Craig began running towards his bedroom where he kept his guns and until he got just out of reach the gunman alternated in shooting each of them and then chased after Craig. By the time he was done with her Therisa had three gunshot wounds...one to her forehead, one to her ear and one to her arm. She managed to escape while the gunman went after Craig. Once the authorities arrived they found Craig in the closet of his bedroom dead from 10 gunshot wounds, with at least 3 to his head that looked as if they had been administered there and were the "kill shots." Laying next to his body was a black bag that Craig kept his guns in.
So of course, as with every homicide investigation, they had to start with the witness and then look into the life of their victim. What they found was that Craig Nail had been going through a rather nasty divorce and custody fight with his hopefully soon-to-be ex-wife, Vera Elizabeth (known to most as Elizabeth so I will continue with that). The divorce had been filed in May of 2006. All my research on this told me was that Elizabeth had made allegations that Craig had abused their daughter but apparently the courts, nor it seems even her friends, believed this to be true. I was unable to determine just where the divorce and custody sat as far as in the courts or anything that had progressed. Many times you see this sort of thing when one of the parents, usually the mother, is at high risk of losing custody of their child or already has (see the Caren Taylor Pressley-Brown case). Apparently it seems the allegations had been investigated and nothing could be found but Elizabeth still protested. She had even joined a group called Bikers Against Child Abuse (BACA). While Elizabeth, and later it seems both her co-defendants were members of this group I do not necessarily want to say anything bad about them. Sometimes a few bad apples and bad press to go with it can make a good thing look bad. I honestly did not do a lot of research on the group however so if they have a bad reputation already I cannot fully say. It seems that by all other accounts there really was nothing else in Craig's life that was in an upheaval. He had another daughter from a previous marriage who by all account was an excellent student and had a wonderful relationship with her father. She later spoke in court saying that the death of her father shattered her life and she became a drop out and had tried to commit suicide, but prior to this death there did not seem to be any issues. From I was able to gather he worked in the IT business and seemed like your average guy. Craig had met Thersia in a support group for people going through or who had gone through a divorce. They began dating at the end of the summer of 2006 after he filed for divorce and it seems all looked good for them.
Her relationship with Craig was not the only thing that caused eyes, and ears to lean towards Elizabeth. Apparently at least two people called the police after seeing Craig's death in the paper. The first was an old boyfriend of Elizabeth's. He claimed that she had asked him to murder Craig. My research was a bit confusing on this as it indicated that she possibly had been arrested at this point and released on bond only to be arrested again after the second informant called but I cannot confirm this. It would seem odd because the second person that contacted the police was a friend of Elizabeth's, Carol Salvato. She too had read in the paper about Craig's murder and had called Elizabeth up. She indicated that Elizabeth was at her mother's home and invited her over. According to what Carol later testified to the first thing Elizabeth did was lift her shirt to ensure she was not wearing a wire. Carol said that while visiting Elizabeth she had stated that she had not asked or paid anyone to murder Craig but that she knew it was going to happen and that Craig was murdered with his own gun. She had also said that the gunman had watched Craig's home for approximately four months and was supposed to make it look like a murder suicide that included Craig's daughter. When asked why she would want Craig's teenage daughter murdered Elizabeth allegedly told Carol it was because she had been "mean" to the six year old daughter she shared with Craig. One other thing that Elizabeth told Carol was that the gunman had allegedly told her that before he killed Craig he had admitted abusing their daughter. For the record no one, not even Carol believed this. Before she left, Elizabeth gave Carol a box that had some documents in it and she said there were some bullets that probably came from the box of ammunition that killed Craig. According to Carol, Elizabeth wanted her to get rid of the contents. Carol stated she went home and told her husband who insisted that they immediately return the box to Elizabeth to which they did and urged her to turn herself in but she refused. The following day the Salvato's called CrimeStoppers but after not hearing anything back they decided to go to the Frisco police and tell them what they knew. At this point Elizabeth was arrested (or arrested again, I cannot be sure). I can say that at least one of the arrests happened on or before January 11, 2008.
While the information of who met who, who was fully involved and all the plans do not seem to have been fully disclosed (or at least easily found) the following is what the police pieced together as happening. Elizabeth had contacted a man by the name of Thomas Edward Grace. He was the go between for Elizabeth and the gunman, Mark Lyle Bell. Bell had a very long criminal history and obviously had spent some time in jail. Basically all that Elizabeth had told Carol Salvato about the gun, the plan... etc was all true. The gun had been Craig's that was in Elizabeth's possession in some way. She had apparently given the gun to Thomas Grace who in turn had given it to Mark Bell. There were indications also that Elizabeth's mother, Shirley, was involved in the plot also but she was never charged with anything. Apparently it was her pre-paid phone that was used in the plot and later Mark Bell indicated that he was to receive money from Shirley Guthrie.
As the investigation progressed bullet casings matching those from the crime scene were found in Bell's truck as well as his DNA was found on a beer can in a yard across the alley from Craig's house. Elizabeth, Mark Bell and Thomas Grace were all in jail waiting for trials. Apparently in February of 2009 prosecutors had the office of one of Mark Bell's attorney's raided claiming there was credible evidence that he was hiding evidence. In the end both Bell and Thomas Grace took plea deals offered. I was unable to determine what Thomas Grace received. In July of 2011 Bell received life without parole for capital murder but he also got a life sentence for unlawful possession of a firearm by a felon and 10 years for "hindering apprehension of a felon." The last charge was based on the fact that once the police got wind of the plot and started asking questions Bell had hidden both Elizabeth and her mother. Then in September of 2011 Bell gave a recorded statement as to what had occurred and gave details of the plot.
The case against Elizabeth seemed to be pretty cut and dry but still had some twists. For one in August of 2010 she filed to be released from jail because the prosecution had failed to give her a speedy trial. I found this odd, especially since the prosecution produced a waiver signed both by them and Elizabeth's lawyer that had withdrawn the Speedy Trial idea. I am unsure if she had changed lawyers at some point and the new ones had no idea or what the situation was there. At any rate the appeals court denied this in December of 2010. She finally went to trial in February of 2012 but it was abruptly stopped and declared a mistrial citing something with discovery issues (I did not determine exactly what that was). In September of 2012 her trial started again. On the third day Mark Bell was on the stand and it seems that prison had not softened him any. He started out testifying with the jury present but was apparently deliberately vague in areas and claimed not to remember things. At some point it seems he and the prosecutor had words and he basically mouthed off asking the prosecutor what he was going to do... give him another life sentence.. indicating that he could say or do as he wanted because they could not harm him any more than he was. The jury was ordered to leave the court room while Bell continued on the stand. Every time his testimony seemed to indicate something different than his statement in September 2011 the prosecutor played that tape. At one point the defense questioned him and he claimed that at the time of the statement he had been on several medications and tried saying he was not competent when he made that statement. The prosecutors proved that the judge that resided when he had made the statement had ensured that he was in fact competent. Whichever the case, it ended up not making a difference because at some point during his testimony Elizabeth leaned over to her lawyer, who were arguing that Bell acted alone, and stated she wanted to plead guilty. The trial was stopped and a plea was hatched out between the two sides. In exchange for pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit murder and forfeiting the right to an appeal, the prosecution dropped the charge of capital murder and sentenced her to 50 years and allowing her to be eligible for parole in 25 years. Had the trial continued and she would have been convicted which apparently she felt was going to happen she could have received the death penalty.
So as I am doing the research on this case and I am nearing the conclusion I come across an appeal dated January of 2014. As I clicked on the documents I was confused considering that a stipulation in her plea was that she forfeited all appeals. Apparently when the plea and charges were written up in September of 2012 there was a line in which stated "Findings of Deadly Weapon" and on the line it said "N/A." Then in December of 2012 that was changed to "Yes, Firearm" and signed by a judge. This is what is called a nunc ro tunc, and yes I had to search this to see what this was as it was something I had never heard of before. What it basically means is that something is fixed retroactively in an error. Elizabeth's lawyers argued that this was a "judgement" error and not a "clerical" error as the the court later decided. Now, I am uncertain if this was the final ruling and the clerical error ruling was simply upheld from a lower court or if her attorneys have since appeal this ruling. It all just seems silly to me to be honest. The courts ruled that it was a clerical error because the charge of murder indicated that some sort of deadly weapon had been used in the crime... hence the retroactive filing and that it was legal. Unless I do not understand it correctly, even if it was a "judgement" error as Elizabeth's lawyers apparently claimed I do not see where it matters. In the end she still serves the time in which she was sentenced or until paroled, if granted, and she pleaded guilty to a murder. It seems to me that these filing are not only a waste of court room time but a waste of money. I am unsure if she had a public defender or a private attorney who was being paid but someone, somewhere seems to be throwing money away or charging tax payers for frivolous filings in my opinion.
In the end a man's life was taken. A woman almost lost her life yet was left with the fear, the physical injuries and the post traumatic stress of the incident. Two young girls lost their father, one of them lost her mother also. All in the name of revenge.