In September 2008, more than five years after the gruesome killing of four youths in a Houston suburb, a lone defendant finally appeared in court, charged with capital murder.
The identity of the defendant shocked the families of the victims and the community at large. Christine Paolilla, 17 at the time of the murders, had been a high school classmate and close friend of two of the victims, Rachael Koloroutis and Tiffany Rowell, both 18.
On the afternoon of July 18, 2003, Paolilla and her boyfriend at the time, Chris Snider, drove to Tiffany's house in the manicured Clear Lake suburb to score drugs, she told police. Inside were Rachael, Tiffany, Tiffany's boyfriend, Marcus Precella, 19, and his cousin Adelbert Sanchez, 21.
Paolilla told police that at the house Snider got aggressive. He started arguing with Marcus, and shots were fired. When the assailants left, the four youths were dead.
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Acting on a tip, police arrested Paolilla three years later, in a San Antonio hotel room where she lived with a man she had meanwhile married, Justin Rott. Snider committed suicide after learning police were on his trail. Now Paolilla faced the murder charges alone.
Her family blamed the murders on Snider. "She was not capable of doing this," said Tom Dick, Paolilla's stepfather. "There's no doubt in my mind. ... What's happened is a tragedy. She's as much of a victim as these poor kids. She's not the one that did this. The one that did it is gone."
With what remained of a trust fund she'd received at 18, Paolilla hired Mike DeGuerin, a prominent criminal defense attorney in Houston.
"When the case was offered to me, I went and saw her in jail," DeGuerin recently told ABC News. "I saw a scared, frightened little girl, and I accepted the case."
Standing before the court, Paolilla pleaded not guilty.
For the first time the families of the victims come face-to-face with the accused killer.
"I couldn't take my eyes off her," said Ann Koloroutis, mother of Rachael. "I really hoped to see something in her eyes in the way of remorse. And it was unbelievable. You know, she never shed a tear unless it was for herself."
The crux of DeGuerin's defense was that the murders were committed not by Paolilla but by Snider.
"Christine Paolilla never intended for anybody to be hurt," he told the court. "And she didn't even know what Chris Snider was going to do."
After all, why would she want to kill her own friends?
"The person that did the killing was a warped psychopath," DeGuerin told ABC News. "When he came up dead, then they had nobody left except her to prosecute."
Rob Freyer, a former prosecutor for Harris County, Texas, dismissed that argument.
It's a bunch of crap. It's not true," Freyer told ABC News. "It's easy to blame somebody if they're dead. Who knows what he would've said if he were alive. But how convenient. It's what the Germans did at Nuremberg. Blame the dead. Blame the dead guy."
Freyer pushed the argument in court.
"She's going to tell you that she was so scared that he gave her a gun that she never used," he said. "She's guilty of murder. She's guilty of capital murder."
The prosecution's case seemed strong. During a police interrogation following her arrest, Paolilla had admitted to firing a pistol.
"I had made the gun go off," she told police.