Former police officer, college professor want to reopen case

Mock trial being planned in Mississippi to dispute murder-suicide conclusion

July 04, 2010|By Don Markus, The Baltimore Sun

A year ago, Vincent Hill was like many others in Nashville caught up in watching and reading news reports on the death of former Tennessee Titans and Ravens quarterback Steve McNair. But as details emerged about what police called a murder-suicide that also took the life of McNair's 20-year-old mistress, Hill became suspicious.

"There are too many coincidences in this case for it to be a murder-suicide," Hill, a former Nashville police officer, recalled thinking.

There was the manner in which police say McNair was shot. Two of the shots were fired into McNair's temples, a sign of an execution rather than a crime of passion, Hill thought. When police said that the murder weapon — a 9 mm handgun — had been purchased by Kazemi a few days before the murder from an ex-convict named Adrian Gilliam, Hill suspected a cover-up.

"An ex-con would not sell a gun to a woman he didn't know, because she could have been an undercover cop or an informant," Hill said in a recent interview.

Police quickly closed the investigation, but Hill continued his own. An interview on NBC's "Dateline" led Hill to be contacted by several of McNair's family members and friends, as well as Kazemi's, and eventually to Hill's publishing a book on the murder. One of those Hill interviewed was Dr. Alvin T. Simpson, an Alcorn State professor who had known McNair since his career was launched at the small Mississippi university.

"Nothing ever made any sense," said Simpson, the interim chairman of the school's psychology department.

Though Hill and Simpson seem to differ on why McNair was shot, both believe Kazemi didn't do it.

In a joint statement released last month, police and prosectors stick by the murder-suicide conclusion.

"Detectives with decades of cumulative homicide investigative experience worked hundreds of hours to develop the facts surrounding the circumstances of these deaths," Nashville Police Chief Steve Anderson said. "Without any doubt, I remain confident in the murder-suicide conclusion."

Davidson County District Attorney Torry Johnson said Hill's conclusions are not backed up by facts.

"As these theories have been suggested, any necessary police work has been done to follow up," Johnson said. "But each time, those views have proven to be wholly without merit or contained a misrepresentation of the facts."

While denied by the grand jury, Hill and Simpson are trying to stage a mock trial to see where the evidence takes them. A confluence of text and taped messages between McNair and Kazemi in the days leading up to the murder — and Gilliam's phone records — will lead to a different conclusion, Hill said.

Hill said he was also suspicious of the fact that police said McNair was found with only $7 in his wallet at his downtown condominium; family members and friends told him that McNair often carried large sums of money on him.

Simpson recalled the question he asked members of McNair's family the day after the murder, when he went to the Mississippi ranch where McNair's mother and some other relatives lived.

"Steve was a sworn police officer in the Greenville [Miss.] Police Department and a little careless with his weapon. The first question I asked them was, 'Was he killed with his gun?'" Simpson said. "They didn't know at the time, but a few days later it was determined that he was not killed with his gun. That confirmed my theory that if she wanted to kill Steve, she had plenty of opportunity to use his gun."

McNair's gun, a Glock, was recovered at the condo, an indication to Simpson that there would have been no reason for Kazemi to buy a gun from Gilliam. McNair's brothers told Hill that McNair never slept without his own gun within arm's reach and that Kazemi was aware of where he kept it.

Hill said hours of Internet conversation between Kazemi and her sister who lives in Australia, as well as text messages between McNair and Kazemi the night before the murder, were never released by police.

Ultimately, the grand jury in Nashville considered Hill's request to reopen the investigation, but in the end decided to keep it closed. A police spokesman has characterized Hill as a disgruntled former officer who was dismissed from the force and is now trying to restore his reputation.

Hill said prosecutors are trying to protect the reputation of former Police Chief Ronal Serpas, who is now in the same position in New Orleans. Serpas did not return telephone calls from The Baltimore Sun.

"He's all about stats and numbers," Hill said. "What would you rather sell: two unsolved murders, one of them being Steve McNair, or just put it on her, close the case and pacify the world? A month ago, Chief Serpas came under fire for how he's been falsely reporting stats and handling homicides like this. I worked for that administration, and I know what goes on there."

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