HIBBING, Minn. — After seeking justice for 36 years, family members of Nancy Daugherty have been asked whether they’ve found closure from the August conviction of Michael Allan Carbo Jr.
“Partially,” Daugherty’s daughter, Gina Haggard, said Friday. “We know who, but will never know why. And no matter what happens here today, she will never come back into my life.”
Family and friends crowded into a Hibbing courtroom Friday afternoon to watch as Carbo, 54, was sentenced to life imprisonment for the 1986 rape and murder of the Chisholm mother of two. Under Minnesota sentencing laws that were in effect at the time, he’ll be eligible to petition for parole after 17 years.
While the hearing was largely a formality — Judge Robert Friday had no discretion in imposing the mandatory sentence — it did allow Daugherty’s loved ones to finally have their day in court.
“I’m trying, but after 36 years there is not enough words to express the suffering, grief, pain and frustration that Michael Carbo has caused in our lives,” said David Oswald, Daugherty’s brother.
“Being a father, I can’t imagine what it was like for my parents to lose their child in such an evil, despicable way. Both my parents went to the grave not knowing who killed Nancy.”
The hearing was not without contention, however, as Carbo maintained his innocence and sought a new trial. Defense attorney J.D. Schmid told Friday in uncertain terms that he was about to “sentence an innocent man to prison.”
“To the kids and family of Nancy Daugherty, I did not kill Nancy,” Carbo said. “I obviously had sex with her but I do not remember.”
But Friday defended his handling of the evidence and the jury’s verdict. And while he said sentencing would do little to quell the family’s hurt, he addressed those whose lives have been consumed by the case for more than three decades.
“On behalf of the system, the court apologizes,” the judge said. “No family should have to wait 36 years for an answer.”
Solved by DNA advances
Daugherty, 38, a nursing home worker and Chisholm, Minn., ambulance service volunteer, was found dead in her home on July 16, 1986. She had been sexually assaulted, beaten and strangled, with police indicating there were signs of struggle both inside and outside the residence.
Authorities said DNA from “well over” 100 suspects were tested over the years, but Carbo was never on the radar until the Chisholm Police Department contracted with a genetic genealogical service to compare crime scene samples against those in privately maintained databases and develop a profile of the suspected killer.
The method — similar to the one that caught the “Golden State Killer” in California — was believed to be a first of its kind in Minnesota, with Judge Friday last fall affirming the constitutionality of the searches.
DNA from several sources at the crime scene, including semen, were conclusively shown to be a match with Carbo. His DNA was also found under Daugherty’s fingernails, and authorities said there were signs of a struggle both inside and outside the house.
Schmid did not dispute the DNA evidence, but maintained that his client engaged in consensual sex with Daugherty before she was killed by another person. While barred from explicitly naming an alternative perpetrator, he strong implied that it was a friend of Daugherty’s, who knew she was alone and became jealous after seeing her with Carbo.
But St. Louis County prosecutor Jon Holets told jurors that Daugherty’s rape and murder were “intertwined,” with no other “credible physical evidence” at the scene to point to a different killer.
The 12-member jury heard five days of testimony from Daugherty’s family, friends and neighbors; law enforcement, and medical and forensic experts. The panel for nine hours across two days before returning a guilty verdict Aug. 16 on two counts of first-degree murder while committing criminal sexual conduct.
Defense seeks new trial
Schmid on Friday asked the judge to reconsider his decision barring the alternative perpetrator evidence and grant a new trial with a different jury.
The public defender said there was ample evidence for the jury to consider whether Daugherty’s friend, Brian Evenson, was actually responsible. Evenson, a key witness at trial, was the last confirmed person to have seen her alive and among the group that found her body the next day.
Schmid cited evidence that Evenson previously had an affair with Daugherty, sent her letters expressing love and frustration and even admitted to an investigator at one point that he pondered whether he had unconsciously committed the murder.
Schmid said courts are institutions and “institutions make mistakes,” citing more than 3,000 documented exonerations.
“I expect that with the benefit of hindsight, the judge in each of those cases wishes they could go back and do something different,” he said.
Carbo himself told Daugherty’s family he was was sorry for her loss, while maintaining he was incapable of committing such an act. He said he was a heavy drinker at the time and had a habit of going to bars to hook up with older women, explaining that he simply had no memory of the night.
But Holets accused the defense of mischaracterizing evidence, adding that Evenson had alibi witnesses and that none of the defense’s allegations placed anyone else at the scene of the crime.
Friday stood by his decision to reject the alternative-perpetrator defense, saying he “followed the law as it exists at this time” — even if an appeals court ends up viewing it differently.
“The court is confident it made the right decisions according to the law,” the judge said. “If it’s overturned, would the court believe it should’ve done something different? The answer is no.”
An anticipated appeal from Carbo would go directly to the Minnesota Supreme Court and must be filed within 90 days.
Daugherty family finds new ‘normal’
Outside the courthouse, Gina and Dave Haggard didn’t quite know how to react. They said they were grateful the case was finally over — barring a successful appeal — but life will more or less go on as normal.
“It’s no different,” Gina told reporters. “The part that is not resolved is not going to be resolved ever. He’s obviously not going to admit to this at all, whatsoever. That’s always going to be hanging out there.”
Daugherty’s murder occurred just as Gina was 18 and heading off to college. Gina, who has now lived without her mother than she did with her, said her mother has missed many family milestones. It’s been a constant source of awkwardness, preventing Gina from getting close to friends or other sources of support.
Dave Haggard never met his mother-in-law, having married Gina in October 1993. But he’s seen the profound impact its had on her, standing by her through decades of efforts to finally see justice.
“This is her normal,” Dave said. “This is what she’s accustomed to. She’s not accustomed to anything else. It happened so long ago. It might take another (36) years for it to finally get some closure.”
Gina thanked the “superheroes” who made the case possible, including former and current Chisholm police chiefs Scott Erickson and Vern Manner, others in law enforcement and the two St. Louis County prosecutors, Holets and Chris Florey.
With DNA technology constantly advancing, the case could bring hope to families of other long-unsolved homicide victims. The family’s motto has been “never give up.”
“Two years ago, we were still in the hoping phase,” Gina said. “It really hasn’t been that long.”
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