HIBBING, Minn. — After 36 years of seeking justice, members of Nancy Daugherty’s family were asked if they had found an end to the August conviction of Michael Allan Carbo Jr.
“Partially,” Daugherty’s daughter, Gina Haggard, said Friday. “We know who, but we’ll never know why. And whatever happens here today, she’ll never come back into my life.”
Family and friends crowded into a Hibbing courtroom on Friday afternoon to watch Carbo, 54, be sentenced to life imprisonment for the 1986 rape and murder of Chisholm’s mother-of-two . Under Minnesota sentencing laws that were in effect at the time, he will be able to seek parole after 17 years.
Although the hearing was largely a formality — Judge Robert Friday had no discretion to impose the mandatory sentence — it allowed Daugherty’s relatives to finally have their day in court.
“I try, but after 36 years there are not enough words to express the suffering, grief, pain and frustration that Michael Carbo has caused in our lives,” said David Oswald, the brother of Daugherty.
“As a father, I can’t imagine what it was like for my parents to lose their child in such an evil and despicable way. Both of my parents went to the grave not knowing who killed Nancy.”
The hearing was not without controversy, however, as Carbo maintained his innocence and requested a new trial. Defense attorney JD Schmid said in uncertain terms on Friday that he was about to “sentence an innocent man to prison.”
“To the children and family of Nancy Daugherty, I did not kill Nancy,” Carbo said. “I obviously had sex with her but I don’t remember.”
But Friday defended his handling of the evidence and the jury’s verdict. And while he said sentencing would do little to ease the family’s pain, 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.”
Daugherty, 38, a nursing home worker and Chisholm, Minnesota, ambulance service volunteer, was found dead in her home on July 16, 1986. She had been sexually assaulted, beaten and strangled, with police saying there had signs of struggle both inside and outside the residence.
Authorities said the DNA of ‘well over’ 100 suspects had been tested over the years, but Carbo was never on the radar until the Chisholm Police Department contracted a service of genetic genealogy to compare samples from crime scenes with those from private databases and develop a profile of the alleged killer.
The method – similar to the one that nabbed the ‘Golden State Killer’ in California – was considered a first of its kind in Minnesota, with the judge last Friday last fall upholding the searches’ constitutionality.
DNA from multiple sources at the crime scene, including semen, was conclusively shown to match Carbo. Her DNA was also found under Daugherty’s fingernails, and authorities said there were signs of a struggle inside and outside the home.
Schmid did not dispute the DNA evidence, but maintained that his client had consensual sex with Daugherty before she was killed by another person. Although he was prohibited from explicitly naming an alternate author, he strongly implied that it was a friend of Daugherty, who knew she was lonely and became jealous after seeing her with Carbo.
But St. Louis County District Attorney Jon Holets told jurors that Daugherty’s rape and murder were “intertwined,” with no other “credible physical evidence” at the scene to point to another 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 over two days before returning a guilty verdict Aug. 16 on two counts of first-degree murder during criminal sexual conduct.
Schmid on Friday asked the judge to reconsider his decision barring the author’s alternative evidence and grant a new trial with a different jury.
The public defender said there was enough evidence for the jury to determine whether Daugherty’s friend Brian Evenson was actually responsible. Evenson, a key witness at the trial, was the last person confirmed to have seen her alive and among the group who found her body the following day.
Schmid cited evidence that Evenson once had an affair with Daugherty, sent him letters expressing his love and frustration, and even admitted to an investigator at one point that he wondered if he had unknowingly committed the murder.
Schmid said courts are institutions and “institutions make mistakes,” citing more than 3,000 documented exonerations.
“I expect that in hindsight, the judge in each of these cases will wish they could go back and do something different,” he said.
Carbo himself told Daugherty’s family that he was sorry for his loss, while maintaining that he was incapable of committing such an act. He said he was a heavy drinker at the time and used to go to bars to meet older women, explaining that he simply had no memory of the night.
But Holets accused the defense of mischaracterizing the evidence, adding that Evenson had alibi witnesses and that none of the defense allegations had placed anyone else at the crime scene.
Friday stood by his decision to dismiss the other author’s defense, saying he “followed the law as it stands right now” – even if an appeals court ends up seeing it differently.
“The court is satisfied that it made the right decisions in accordance with the law,” the judge said. “If it’s overturned, would the court think it should have done something different? The answer is no.”
A planned appeal from Carbo would go directly to the Minnesota Supreme Court and must be filed within 90 days.
The Daugherty family finds a new ‘normal’
Outside the courthouse, Gina and Dave Haggard were unsure how to react. They said they were grateful the case was finally over – barring a successful appeal – but life would go on more or less as usual.
“It’s no different,” Gina told reporters. “The part that’s unresolved will never be resolved. He’s obviously not going to admit it at all, either. It’s always going to hang out there.”
Daugherty’s murder happened just as Gina was 18 and heading to college. Gina, who has now lived without her mother rather than with her, said her mother missed many family milestones. This has been a constant source of embarrassment, preventing Gina from getting closer to friends or other sources of support.
Dave Haggard never met his stepmother, having married Gina in October 1993. But he saw the profound impact it had on her, supporting her through decades of efforts to finally get justice.
“It’s normal,” Dave said. “It’s what she’s used to. She’s not used to anything else. It happened so long ago. It could take another (36) years for it to finally end.”
Gina thanked the ‘superheroes’ who made the case possible, including former and current Chisholm police chiefs Scott Erickson and Vern Manner, other law enforcement personnel and the two county prosecutors. of St. Louis, Holets and Chris Florey.
With DNA technology constantly advancing, the case could bring hope to the families of other long-unsolved homicide victims. The family motto is “never give up”.
“Two years ago we were still in the hope phase,” Gina said. “It really hasn’t been that long.”