This story first aired on Oct. 1, 2022. It was updated on June 3, 2023.
When investigators entered the McLean, Virginia home of millionaire mother, they discovered the bodies of Pam and her youngest daughter Helen, who was found with a rifle. Hours later, police told the family her wound looked self-inflicted. Did Helen shoot her mom and then take her own life? The crime scene suggested to some that she could have pulled the trigger with her toe. And her older sister, Megan, told investigators Helen had been struggling emotionally. How did Pam and Helen Hargan die? And why?
WHO ARE THE HARGANS?
On Friday, July 14, 2017, at about 5 p.m., Fairfax County Virginia Police visit the next of kin to deliver awful news: 63-year-old Pam Hargan and 24-year-old Helen Hargan are dead.
Det. Brian Byerson: Pamela was shot twice — in the mudroom.
Lead detective Brian Byerson says police are recording and whispering to avoid being overheard, when they give Pam’s ex-husband, Steve, more painful details about Helen.
OFFICER: She had a gunshot wound that appears to be self-inflicted … I’m really sorry.
Det. Brian Byerson: There was a thought that went around that it might have been a murder-suicide.
Hargan soon summons his other two daughters: 32-year-old Ashley and 34-year-old Megan.
MEGAN HARGAN (to her father): What is happening? What is? … What happened?
They react with equal parts pain and panic.
MEGAN HARGAN (to her father): Oh God, what are we gonna do? Jesus, what are we gonna do? I don’t know. …
ASHLEY: Our mom took care of everything! …
MEGAN HARGAN: I just don’t even understand. We were at the freaking house!
Megan Hargan tells authorities she and her 8-year-old daughter, Molly, have been living with Pam and Helen while her husband is in the military. She says she’d left the home with Molly at about 1:30 p.m. that day, adding that there’d been an argument between her mother and Helen, who had been upset.
MEGAN HARGAN (to police): Helen has been so angry, like, just so angry all the time.
And struggling emotionally.
MEGAN HARGAN: I knew that Helen was depressed, but, like, to do this … I can’t wrap my head around this.
Peter Van Sant: Is it true that she once threatened suicide?
Det. Brian Byerson: I think that is possibly true, yes.
In fact, sister Ashley would later tell authorities Helen had thoughts about self-harm.
ASHLEY: I know my sister was depressed.
POLICE: Right. … Has she ever talked about hurting herself?
But Megan also suggests her mother and sister could have been attacked, by offering a potentially important clue — something she reports she’d seen the day before.
Det. Brian Byerson: Two suspicious males … casing the neighborhood … And … she later tells us … those particular guys are the reason why she ends up bringing this rifle up to the main floor of the house.
It’s the .22 Ruger rifle found with Helen’s body, and it belongs to Megan’s husband. She says her mother had allowed her to store it in the house until the couple moved into their own place in West Virginia.
MEGAN HARGAN (to police): My husband and I literally just closed on our new home yesterday. My mom bought it for us.
Steve and Pam Hargan divorced when the children were young. Pam took them and moved around, before ending up in Potomac, Maryland — next door to Tami Mallios.
Tami Mallios: Megan was very upset about the divorce.
In the next few years, Mallios got to know Megan and her little sister Helen, and often saw them across the backyard fence.
Tami Mallios: The girls were out in the yard all the time with the dogs, that sorta thing, so.
Mallios says she always knew there was sibling rivalry.
Tami Mallios: Megan did bring that up a lot … saying that Helen was the favorite.
But she remembers that for the most part, the Hargan sisters seemed to get along fine. Pam was proud of them.
Tami Mallios: She talked highly of her girls whenever I did speak with her.
Michelle Sigona works for CBS News. She’s been covering this story for nearly four years and says the other love of Pam Hargan’s life was her job. Pam had spent decades climbing the career ladder to become a vice president of aerospace giant, Lockheed Martin.
Michelle Sigona: Pam Hargan … poured her life into those kids … She had built an $8 million estate. … But she didn’t keep it for herself. She was constantly giving to those around her, specifically to her children …
Helen seemed to have her mother’s ambition — double majoring in math and management science at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. That’s where Erin Roughneen met her in 2014.
Erin Roughneen: When I first met her, I was extremely scared of her, because … she didn’t laugh or smile … She’s kind of like an onion … You have to peel the layers off. And you really get to know the kind and genuine person underneath there.
Roughneen says they became close friends.
Peter Van Sant: It’s been said that Helen may have suffered from depression. Did you ever see any of that?
Erin Roughneen: I did not at all.
Roughneen says her friend spent a lot of time studying. Though Helen did have a job at a nearby restaurant.
Michelle Sigona: She was … working as a waitress.
There was a 30-something named Carlos Gutierrez working in the restaurant too. They fell for each other in short order.
Michelle Sigona: And they had plans to move in together.
Pam had started building a house for Helen in Northern Virginia. So, in the spring of 2017, Helen had moved back home from Dallas.
Michelle Sigona: According to Carlos … he hadn’t asked her to be his wife, but he was working towards that.
But Megan tells police, Pam hadn’t approved of Helen’s relationship.
MEGAN HARGAN (to police): She … believed that Helen was going to try to move Carlos into the house and my mom didn’t want him being there.
Still, Helen had been moving ahead … planning for the future.
Michelle Sigona: It was just a matter of figuring out her career path. It takes a little while to figure it out, but she was going to get there.
But Helen Hargan never got there.
911 DISPATCHER: Fairfax County Police and Fire. How may I assist you?
CARLOS GUTIERREZ: Yes, I have an emergency.
On the day of the shooting, it was Carlos Gutierrez who had first alerted authorities that something in the Hargan house was dreadfully wrong.
CARLOS GUTIERREZ to 911: I’m in Dallas, Texas and my girlfriend lives in McLean.
He says he and Helen had spoken earlier that morning. Now, he can’t get in touch with her and he’s worried.
CARLOS GUTIERREZ: My girlfriend won’t answer the phone … and I’m thinking my girlfriend’s life is in danger.
911 DISPATCHER: OK, sir. What I need you to do then is contact your local jurisdiction, file a report with them, and tell them that Fairfax County requires a teletype in order to do a welfare check.
Det. Brian Byerson: I feel really bad for Carlos, because … he’s bounced around all over the place just trying to get someone to listen to the fact that he thinks … his girlfriend’s life is in danger.
CARLOS GUTIERREZ: I think this is, like, life or death, like, I think someone might be dead.
Carlos Gutierrez would later testify about why he was so concerned. He would also tell a jury, he felt authorities were giving him the runaround that day — even when he called back later with something explosive to add; something Helen had told him.
A FATAL DISCOVERY
It’s 1:44 p.m. on July 14, 2017. Carlos Gutierrez, Helen’s boyfriend in Texas, is having a hard time with 911 dispatchers in Virginia.
911 DISPATCHER: Fairfax County Police and Fire. How may I assist you?
CARLOS GUTIERREZ: Yes, I have an emergency.
CARLOS GUTIERREZ: Like, I think someone might be dead.
911 DISPATCHER: Right, sir. Contact your local jurisdiction, file the report …
The call ends without a promise of help. So, 15 minutes later, Gutierrez calls again.
And this time, he makes a startling revelation about something he says Helen had told him on the phone that morning.
911 DISPATCHER: Fairfax County Police and Fire. How may I assist you? …
CARLOS GUTIERREZ: My girlfriend told me that her sister killed her mom. … Now, my girlfriend won’t answer her phone.
Megan Hargan had murdered her mother, or at least that’s what Carlos said Helen had told him.
911 DISPATCHER: OK. Well, this was out of the blue? … Your girlfriend is sitting in a house with a dead woman?
CARLOS GUTIERREZ: Yes.
Why was Gutierrez — who was more than a thousand miles away — calling 911? Why didn’t Helen call herself? What was going on in that house?
CARLOS GUTIERREZ: I reported a murder earlier and I didn’t have the address. Now, I have the address.
When police arrive around 3 p.m., they find Pam is dead. But they discover Helen’s body, too. Gutierrez had offered authorities a possible explanation for Pam. But Helen was a mystery. Megan Hargan told police something interesting: her mother and sister had been arguing that day.
MEGAN HARGAN (to police): This morning, my mom let Helen know that she was canceling the contract on the house she’s building her, because she truly believed that Helen was gonna try to move Carlos into the house.
And when middle sister, Ashley, hears that Gutierrez is accusing Megan of murder, she makes it clear she doesn’t believe him.
ASHLEY: She would never do that ever. Never. OK?
Megan Hargan’s friend, Rebecca Wolfe, agrees.
Rebecca Wolfe: I do not believe that Megan killed her mom, Pam, or her sister, Helen. No piece of me believes that.
Wolfe and Megan met in 2015 when they both were volunteering in a program to find homes for dogs rescued from war zones. Wolfe says that Megan always had a passion for animals.
Rebecca Wolfe: She is very compassionate. Generous heart. … She is just a really good person.
And Wolfe says Megan often talked about her family: her generous mother —
Rebecca Wolfe: Megan admired Pam’s wisdom, her career … She always spoke very lovingly of her.
— and her sisters, especially the baby of the family, Helen.
Rebecca Wolfe: Megan talked about Helen struggling with things and feeling depressed. But I never got the impression that it was insurmountable.
Wolfe says that Megan called her on the day of the shooting and sounded like a woman who’d lost everything.
Rebecca Wolfe: Very distraught … And she did not give me details of what had happened. She just said, “We’ve lost Mom and Helen.”
By 8 p.m., police had told the media what they had told the Hargan family: this looked like a murder-suicide.
But, Det. Byerson says the more he saw of the crime scene, the less he thought so and the more he wanted to take a closer look at Megan Hargan. That night, he had officers test her hands for gunshot residue and photograph her.
Peter Van Sant: Does she become a person of interest at that moment?
Det. Brian Byerson: She’s certainly a person of interest, because we know that she was in the house.
Police knew the house probably held answers. Crime Scene Detective Julia Elliott, who had joined Det. Byerson at the scene, spent the evening combing for evidence.
Det. Julia Elliott: I was shown Pamela’s body first.
One thing that caught her attention was Pam Hargan’s cellphone.
Det. Julia Elliott: It’s lying on top of the pool of blood and the blanket.
Peter Van Sant: Was it unusual to see the cellphone in this kind of position?
Det. Julia Elliott: Yes. … It certainly wouldn’t fall on top of the blanket and on top of the blood once you were already covered up.
Peter Van Sant: And what does it suggest that the cellphone is lying on top of this comforter?
Det. Julia Elliott: That suggests to me that it was placed there by someone.
Elliott says the Helen Hargan shooting scene was next.
Det. Julia Elliott: She had a lot of blood on her face.
So much blood that it was impossible to see an entry wound and there was more on the floor. But there was a lack of blood where investigators expected to see it.
Det. Julia Elliott: The rifle itself had very little blood on it.
The rifle was leaning against Helen’s body, the butt was on the floor between her legs, the barrel was pointed up towards the ceiling.
Det. Julia Elliott: You would expect that if the rifle had been sitting there as she bled so heavily, it would also have blood on it.
Peter Van Sant: And was there anything on this gun from Megan?
Det. Julia Elliott: No.
Peter Van Sant: What about fingerprints on this rifle?
Det. Julia Elliott: None … that were usable.
There was DNA found on the trigger, but it wasn’t Megan or Helen’s.
Peter Van Sant: Is it true that Helen’s DNA was found on the rifle case.
Det. Brian Byerson: Yes, that is true.
But Byerson says only on the tip of the case. Megan’s DNA was on the case handles. It’s part of the reason police believe Helen Hargan never touched the gun that day.
Det. Julia Elliott: As she died, someone else was there to place it on her.
She says Helen’s phone was telling as well: there was almost no blood on it. And although Helen had used it that day to talk and text with Carlos Gutierrez, there were no fingerprints either.
Det. Julia Elliott (in lab) What we found was what looked like swipe marks, as if someone had taken their hand and wiped off the front of the screen.
Though it would take time to learn exactly how the Hargan women died. In the basement, Det. Elliott saw an immediate opportunity to learn how they had lived.
Det. Julia Elliott: I got a little, uh, nosy. And I wanted to see what my victims may have looked like in life … So, I pulled out one of the center photo albums to look at it and open it up.
Tucked away in that album of family photos was something that seemed out of place: Documents, Megan’s bank statement — Pam’s too, and a spreadsheet full of passwords and security verification details to unlock all of Pam Hargan’s accounts.
Peter Van Sant: Well, that’s interesting. Were you able to analyze the paper?
Det. Julia Elliott: So, at the time of us locating that, financial documents were not on our search warrant.
So, Det. Elliott photographed the documents and left them in the house. But when she entered with the properdays later…
Det. Julia Elliott: They were not there.
Peter Van Sant: They were not there.
Det. Julia Elliott: They were not.
The house had been returned to the Hargan family’s custody the day after the shooting. And something else had happened that day: The medical examiner delivered her report on Helen Hargan’s autopsy, casting doubt on the murder-suicide theory.
WHO PULLED THE TRIGGER?
A police spokesman was calling the Hargan shootings a murder-suicide, but the next day when Det. Brian Byerson saw Helen’s autopsy report, he was certain it was something else.
Det. Brian Byerson: The gunshot wound on Helen Hargan was in the top of her head.
The rifle bullet had traveled downward into her neck.
Det. Brian Byerson: She would have to hold it straight up and be able to reach the trigger to accomplish this. I’ve never seen that before, and I’ve worked a lotta murders.
Peter Van Sant: Well, what does that tell you … when you learn that information?
Det. Brian Byerson: It tells us that someone else pulled the trigger.
As Det. Byerson arrived to work two days later on Monday, July 17, there was a clue waiting for him — a clue that Byerson was able to take all the way to the bank.
Det. Brian Byerson: That Monday morning … I have a message on my desk phone from Capital One.
The bank had some startling news. Bank employees had seen reports of Pam Hargan’s death and wanted him to know about some strange activity on her account.
CAPITAL ONE BANK (phone call): Could you tell me your name, please?
CALLER: Pamela Hansen Hargan.
Someone claiming to be Pam Hargan had called the bank the day before the shooting with a request.
CAPITAL ONE BANK: What can I do for you today?
CALLER: I was … told that I could do a wire transfer.
Whoever it was was trying to transfer money — more than $400,000 — out of Pam’s account, to a real estate settlement company in West Virginia.
CAPITAL ONE BANK: Oh, you’re going to buy a house?
CALLER: Uh, for my daughter. Yes.
The caller was able to successfully answer Pam’s security questions.
CAPITAL ONE BANK: All right. … You aced the verification. Great job.
Det. Byerson discovered that the transaction hadn’t gone through, so the caller had tried again the next day — on the morning of Pam’s murder.
CALLER: Uh, yes. We attempted to yesterday and there was a bit of a mix-up. So, we would like to do it again now.
CAPITAL ONE BANK: OK. …
CALLER: They need it today.
Peter Van Sant: Somebody’s trying to perhaps steal Pam’s money.
Det. Brian Byerson: Yes.
And Byerson believed he knew who that “somebody” was.
Det. Brian Byerson: That is Megan Hargan, pretending to be her mother.
Peter Van Sant: Pretending.
Det. Brian Byerson: Pretending.
He decided it was time for him to get Megan Hargan on the phone.
DET. BYERSON: Megan. How are you holdin’ up?
MEGAN: I am really not OK.
Megan claimed the attempted wire transfers were just an innocent mix-up at the bank. But by now, Byerson was suspicious of everything she said. He began to think Megan Hargan had been trying to confuse police all along.
MEGAN HARGAN: I realize there’s a lotta confusion here.
Megan had stressed Helen’s depression and anger issues with investigators.
MEGAN HARGAN: Helen has been so angry, like, just so angry all the time over everything.
But Megan told Byerson her sister never would have killed herself or her mom.
MEGAN HARGAN: I can’t imagine my own baby sister doing that at all.
She repeated her story about two strange men in the neighborhood.
MEGAN HARGAN: I had to call the police about — these two guys. … Other people had called them, apparently.
But Byerson says that tip went nowhere.
Det. Brian Byerson: The only call that’s made about these guys in the neighborhood is from Megan Hargan.
He had run down every lead, every alternative theory. There were no other suspects. But there was a motive: the money. And the person who had needed it, couldn’t stop talking.
Det. Brian Byerson: She demanded to come in— and get an update on the case.
So, on July 19 — five days after Pam and Helen’s deaths — Det. Byerson brought Megan in.
MEGAN HARGAN: My mom…
He says that once Megan started —
MEGAN HARGAN: Just unimaginable.
— she wouldn’t stop.
MEGAN HARGAN: Everything. I could ask her for anything.
Det. Brian Byerson: We just can’t get her to leave!
MEGAN HARGAN: This is you.
She stayed for more than four hours.
MEGAN HARGAN: Long story short, the point I’m making …
Det. Brian Byerson: We would ask her questions that we knew the answer to and … she would either pivot to something else or just outright not answer the question.
MEGAN HARGAN: I don’t know what you want me to say.
DETECTIVE NEEDELS: We want you to tell the truth. The truth.
DETECTIVE BRIAN BYERSON: Oh, I just want you to answer the question.
At first, Megan insisted it was her mom who had made those calls to the bank.
DET. BRIAN BYERSON: I’m gonna play the call for you.
But when Byerson played the tapes for her …
DET. BRIAN BYERSON: Who — is that on the phone?
MEGAN HARGAN: It is me.
DET. BRIAN BYERSON: It’s you, right?
Detective Byerson says she finally admitted to lying to him about the wire transfer.
DET. BRIAN BYERSON: 06:23:55;00 Why in the world would you do that?
MEGAN HARGAN: (whispers) ‘Cause I knew how it would look.
DET. BRIAN BYERSON: No, no. It’s not how it would look. You knew that if we knew about this, that would shine a whole new light on you.
Still, she was adamant that she hadn’t shot anyone. So, it was truly bizarre, when halfway into the interview —
MEGAN HARGAN: Just blame me.
DET. BYERSON: Just answer the questions and explain it —
MEGAN HARGAN: Just blame me, just blame me, just blame me. … My family’s been through enough. … Just blame me so they can move on from this, OK?
Det. Brian Byerson: It seemed like she was acknowledging that we knew that she did it … without … openly giving us a detailed confession.
MEGAN HARGAN: This is not happening.
Though inadmissible in court, she readily agreed to take a polygraph.
Det. Brian Byerson: She … failed … three times.
Byerson says it was all adding up — he was sitting across from a killer.
Det. Brian Byerson: It becomes very obvious to us … it is exactly who we think it is and it’s Megan Hargan.
But despite everything, police let Megan leave that day.
Det. Brian Byerson: So, murder investigations can be extremely complex. … You not only have to be sure, you have to be right. And that decision is not — does not just rest on me. … I have to be on the same page as the Commonwealth Attorney’s Office. … So, in consultation with them, we decided to wait.
Law enforcement may not have moved, but Megan Hargan did. Though she never got Pam’s money, she and her husband used a VA loan to buy a different house in West Virginia.
Det. Brian Byerson: We kept an eye on her. We knew where she was.
Byerson methodically kept building his case. Evidence kept trickling in, including the results of Megan’s gunshot residue test, which showed she had it on both hands. And on November 9, 2018, almost a year-and-a-half after the deaths of Pam and Helen Hargan —
POLICE PRESS CONFERENCE: This morning, at approximately 7:40 a.m., detectives from our Major Crimes Bureau … stopped and arrested Megan Hargan near her home in West Virginia…
As Det. Byerson takes Megan Hargan in, investigators search her home and find yet another important clue: that missing password sheet to Pam Hargan’s accounts.
Peter Van Sant: Do you have any doubt … that Megan … was the person who pulled that trigger?
Det. Brian Byerson: I have no doubt at all.
Matt Troiano: What the defense would say is that there is doubt all over this case.
Megan Hargan’s defense will include a specific theory of how Helen could have killed herself.
Matt Troiano: She puts her head down and then she’s able to utilize the trigger … probably with her toe to be able to … discharge the weapon.
But will the jury agree?
Matt Troiano: Even the experts said it’s possible.
THE “TOE ON THE TRIGGER” DEFENSE
More than three years after her arrest for the murders of her mother and sister, Megan Hargan is going on trial.
Prosecutor Whitney Gregory: I think she’s pure evil.
Whitney Gregory and Tyler Bezilla are prosecuting the case.
Prosecutor Tyler Bezilla: Megan is a pathological liar. … That’s what she is.
The Commonwealth of Virginia opens by arguing Megan tried to steal more than $400,000 from Pam for a new house and got so desperate for the cash that she killed her. Then, she killed Helen to keep her quiet and staged the scene as a murder-suicide.
Tyler Bezilla: This is an individual who murdered two of her closest family members for money.
The defense argues Helen was the killer— mentally unstable and furious at her mother, who had offered her a new house, but, the morning of the shooting, announced there was one devastating condition: Helen had to break up with the man she had hoped to marry — Carlos Gutierrez.
Peter Van Sant: What is your greatest challenge with this jury?
Whitney Gregory: Proving it wasn’t a suicide.
To do that, they begin by calling Carlos Gutierrez and Helen’s sister, Ashley, who testify that on the day she died, Helen seemed “normal” and “fine.”
Peter Van Sant: Did Helen have a diagnosis of depression?
Tyler Bezilla: No.
And she didn’t take her own life, says Det. Julia Elliott.
Det. Julia Elliott: It’s a homicide.
Detective Elliott tells the jury about the bloodstains and position of the rifle.
Det. Julia Elliott: She did not have … an arm span long enough to pull the trigger.
Iris Graff: Her fingers are not reaching the trigger.
Crime scene reconstructionist Iris Graff agrees.
Peter Van Sant: What’s on the screen?
Iris Dalley Graff: OK. This is a forensic animation … a virtual model.
Prosecutors hired Graff to use photos and measurements from the house to create a digital model.
Peter Van Sant: She can’t reach that trigger?
Iris Dalley Graff: Right. … We still need another five inches.
Peter Van Sant: So, based on your scientific analysis, was the wound that killed Helen self-inflicted?
Iris Dalley Graff: Within the context of this scene, it’s not possible that she can self-inflict that wound.
Gregory says that’s just common sense.
Whitney Gregory: (pointing at the top of her head) Did the tooth fairy put the gun hole here?
Helen’s wound isn’t the only evidence pointing at Megan. Megan’s conduct in her police interview is damning too, and so are those phone calls to the bank.
CAPITAL ONE BANK: Thank you for calling Capital One Bank … Could you tell me your name, please?
MEGAN HARGAN as PAM HARGAN: Pamela Hansen Hargan.
CAPITAL ONE BANK: I understand you wanna complete a wire transfer with us today?
MEGAN HARGAN as PAM HARGAN: Uh, yes. …
CAPITAL ONE BANK: That wire –
MEGAN HARGAN as PAM HARGAN: They need it today.
Tyler Bezilla: Megan’s panicking, because she still owes that money on the house.
Prosecutors reveal Megan lied to police about Pam buying her a house, saying the reality is that Megan was trying to buy that West Virginia property with her mother’s money. Turns out, Megan still owed more than $400,000 — due the day of the shooting. The prosecution contends she’d secretly substituted her name onto Pam’s bank statement as proof of funds.
Pam was apparently totally in the dark until the day before the shooting when the bank called the real Pam.
CAPITAL ONE BANK: Hi. Who am I speaking to?
PAM HARGAN: Who am I speaking to?
CAPITAL ONE BANK: My name is Jeff with Capital One.
PAM HARGAN: OK, this is Pamela Hansen Hargan.
A bank officer had called her to authenticate the attempted wire transfer.
CAPITAL ONE BANK: Somebody tried to do a wire out of your account for 400-and-some-odd-thousand-dollars.
PAM HARGAN: What? … I did not do that!
Matt Troiano: The defense would say … that there is doubt all over this case.
Matt Troiano is an attorney with decades in court. He didn’t try this case, but because the defense declined to be interviewed “48 Hours” hired him to review the file. To help prove reasonable doubt, he says the defense contends Helen was the suspicious one that day.
Matt Troiano: Helen … doesn’t call 911. She … doesn’t run out of the house for safety. She … tells her boyfriend, “Do not call for help.”
Peter Van Sant: Why didn’t Helen call 911?
Det. Brian Byerson: That is one of the pieces to the puzzle that we’ll never have. That’s a question that came up during the trial. Why didn’t she just leave? Why didn’t she call 911? We don’t know.
There’s a lot authorities may never know for sure about the roughly two hours they say lapsed between Pam’s and Helen’s deaths. If Megan killed Pam, why did she wait so long to kill Helen? And why on earth hadn’t Helen made a run for it? Testimony suggests she was worried about 8-year-old Molly, who was home at the time. Not a good enough explanation, says Troiano.
Matt Troiano: For hours, Peter! … She allowed what is claimed to be a murderer run loose in a home with a rifle without seeking help … without barricading her into a room.
He says Helen’s body showed no definitive signs of a life-and-death struggle.
Matt Troiano: Why wouldn’t she have fought back?
And how credible are the witnesses against Megan Hargan? Troiano says the defense wants the jury to believe one may not be credible at all — her sister, Ashley.
Matt Troiano: Her story has changed …
When she’d spoken to investigators soon after the shooting, Ashley told them Helen had once been in emotional turmoil.
ASHLEY: I know my sister was depressed.
POLICE: Right. … Has she ever talked about hurting herself?
But once on the stand, Ashley testified she doesn’t remember ever saying that.
Matt Troiano: She says 150 times thereabouts that she doesn’t remember certain things. There’s two ways to look at that. Number one is that she doesn’t remember. Right? Number two is that she doesn’t want to say things that are not helpful for the prosecution.
Peter Van Sant: Ashley testified — that she couldn’t recall more than 150 times … why was that?
Det. Brian Byerson: Anytime you’re dealing with a victim of trauma … there are always going to be aspects — that she … can’t recall.
Whatever the jury thinks of Ashley, the defense wants to explain to them how Helen could have pulled the trigger on that rifle. And they have a theory: with her toe.
Matt Troiano: She puts her head down … and then she’s able to — utilize the trigger, probably with … her toe, to be able to discharge the weapon.
Peter Van Sant: Her toe?
Matt Troiano: She’s gotta figure out some way. And the — the critical question is: “Could it have been done?”
Even the prosecution’s expert witness concedes, while very unlikely, it is possible.
Peter Van Sant: Can her toe reach the trigger?
Iris Graff: Yes, her legs are long enough that her toe could reach the trigger.
Either way, the judge thinks Iris Graff’s digital reconstruction isn’t necessary, so he prevents the jury from seeing it. And though Megan Hargan never testifies —
Tyler Bezilla: Every shred of evidence shows that Megan Hargan was the one who committed these murders.
In closings, prosecutor Bezilla argues there’s no evidence Pam Hargan was actually going to cancel the contract on Helen’s new house. And he urges the jury to compare Helen’s behavior around the time of the shooting to Megan’s. He says Megan’s actions speak for themselves.
Tyler Bezilla: She’s doing all these things that a murderer would do.
But the defense insists there’s reasonable doubt in this case. They argue the prosecutors’ forensics are inconclusive, and the “toe on the trigger” theory cannot be ruled out.
Matt Troiano: It’s possible. And if it’s possible, that then lends itself to doubt.
Rebecca Wolfe: Megan Hargan is innocent.
Megan’s friend Rebecca Wolfe spent about five years working for the Justice Department. She knows her way around a criminal trial and has been at this one almost every day.
Rebecca Wolfe: I would not be comfortable sending someone to prison for the rest of their life without knowing … beyond a shadow of a doubt in my mind that they did it.
On March 24, 2022, almost five years after the shootings, the jury gets the case.
Peter Van Sant: Based on your review of this case, as the jury is heading into deliberation, could this go either way?
Matt Troiano: Sure.
Peter Van Sant: As the jurors come back into the room, they have a decision, are you looking at their faces?
Prosecutor Tyler Bezilla: Yes.
After a three-week trial, it takes the jury less than two days of deliberations to reach a verdict.
Tyler Bezilla: I thought my legs were gonna go weak ’cause we were standing up, and it had been just, like — months of our lives that this is all we had done.
Megan Hargan is guilty: two counts of first-degree murder for killing her sister Helen and mother Pam.
Peter Van Sant: How did Megan react to the verdict?
Whitney Gregory: Least for me as a prosecutor, I don’t wanna look over at that table. I think it’s not very classy. I’m just sort of in the zone, trying not to pass out.
Det. Brian Byerson: I think weight lifted off of everybody.
Tyler Bezilla: It was a very emotional moment.
The jury recommends a sentence to the judge of life in prison on each murder count.
Rebecca Wolfe: I thought for sure that I would be gettin’ a phone call and comin’ to pick her up, 100%.
Megan’s friend Rebecca Wolfe thinks this jury was short-sighted.
Rebeccca Wolfe: I thought … they were gonna see through all of this, they were gonna look at all the evidence, they were gonna ask the right questions. They were gonna do their job!
Det. Brian Byerson: This job is difficult …
Det. Byerson thinks there are parts of authorities’ conduct in this case that he would have changed if he could: how 911 dispatchers responded to Carlos Gutierrez and how quickly the Fairfax County Police Department went public with the murder-suicide theory.
Det. Brian Byerson: I don’t find it helpful to kinda make a blanket statement about what we think it is ’cause it doesn’t matter what we think it is. It — it only matters what it turns out to be.
Peter Van Sant: Was justice served in this case?
Matt Troiano: Depends on what justice is. Right? You’re never bringing back the two lives that were lost.
Det. Brian Byerson: The domino effect of tragedy from what happened is immeasurable …
Though the trial is finally finished, waves of grief still wash over the surviving Hargan family.
Det. Brian Byerson: It’s just immeasurable grief.
And ripples still reverberate in the lives of people they touched. Like Pam’s former neighbor, Tami Mallios.
Tami Mallios: I was just … devastated. I mean just … I didn’t have any words. It was unbelievable.
And Helen’s friend Erin, who had moved abroad after graduation and had to hear about her death from “48 Hours.”
Erin Roughneen: I was in shock. I had no idea that happened to her.
Peter Van Sant: You’re convinced … if Helen were alive today, she’d be on the road to some great success, some great career?
Erin Roughneen: Absolutely. She’d be a trailblazer.
Peter Van Sant: How would you want your friend, Helen, to be remembered?
Erin Roughneen: For being kind and compassionate, driven and caring … just a very caring person.
On Nov. 9, 2022, a judge overturned Megan Hargan’s double murder conviction, citing juror misconduct. The ruling came after a juror tried to re-enact Helen Hargan’s shooting using a rifle, and during deliberations told other jurors that the defense’s theory of the case was not possible. Hargan’s retrial is scheduled for Sept. 5, 2023.
Produced by Josh Yager and Lauren A. White. Michelle Sigona and Sara Ely Hulse are the development producers. Jud Johnston, Grayce Arlotta-Berner and Diana Modica are the editors. Peter Schweitzer is the senior producer. Nancy Kramer is the executive story editor. Judy Tygard is the executive producer