Ashley Fallis case: Investigative missteps in death ruled suicide?

By Erin Moriarty

/ CBS News

Death After Midnight

Erin Moriarty is a "48 Hours" correspondent. She investigated the death of Ashley Fallis in "Death after Midnight."

EVANS, Colo. — The first hours after a death are crucial to an investigation. Every death has to be treated as a homicide or important evidence can be lost. Witnesses need to be interviewed before memories fade or stories change. Physical evidence has to be collected before it can be contaminated. That rule wasn't followed in Evans, Colorado, more than four years ago and, as a result, even after a trial, questions remain about what happened in a suburban home in the early hours of New Year's Day 2012.

How and why did 28-year-old Ashley Fallis, the mother of three young children, die?

Ashley died suddenly and unexpectedly after a party in her home. Her husband, Tom Fallis, a corrections officer employed by the Weld County Sheriff's office, made a 911 call at 12:50 a.m., no more than 10 minutes after the last guests left their home.

Tom Fallis' panicked call to 911

Tom Fallis told investigators that he was in the closet when his wife entered their bedroom, got on her knees, pulled out her gun from under the mattress, and then shot herself once in the head.

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Seen during a videotaped interrogation, Fallis is passionate and convincing. Yet, his story didn't explain all the evidence. There were pictures seemingly torn off the bedroom wall. A young neighbor reported that she heard Ashley yell 'get off me'. Her legs appeared to have fresh bruises. And Tom had fresh scratches on his torso that he told investigators that he had caused himself after shaving his chest.

Colorado man questioned by police following wife's shooting death

Ashley's parents, Jenna Fox and Joel Raguindin, insisted to anyone who would listen that their daughter would not commit suicide. They were convinced that Tom killed his wife after she threatened to leave him.

Despite the inconsistencies, and with tests still incomplete, the Weld County coroner ruled the death a suicide and the case was closed in March, 2012. It would have remained closed if not for a young reporter at a local Fox television station, Justin Joseph.

Joseph, a lawyer and a former assistant district attorney, got a tip and decided to re-interview witnesses who lived near the Fallis home. What he uncovered shook the county.

Joseph spoke with neighbors who seemed to tell a different story than what appeared in police reports. As a result, the case was reopened and investigated by two other police departments. In 2014, the death certificate that listed the death of Ashley Fallis as a suicide was changed to homicide. And later, that year, Tom Fallis, who had moved to Indiana with the couple's three children, was arrested and charged with murder. Fallis never spoke publicly, but his attorneys insisted he was innocent.

To try to determine what happened in the Fallis home, "48 Hours" asked a respected forensic animator, using crime scene photos and measurements from the bedroom, to try and reenact the death. But limited by the inadequacies of the initial investigation, he was only able to come up with two possible scenarios, but no one single answer.

Ashley Fallis death: A family's fight for justice 15 photos

In 2016, four years after their daughter's death, Ashley's parents finally got what they hoped for, a trial, but it didn't go the way they expected. Tom Fallis put on a vigorous defense. Jurors heard allegations that Ashley had been depressed and read alleged suicide notes she wrote in the past. Two forensic investigators, looking at the same evidence, reached contradictory conclusions. At the end of the trial, after only a short deliberation, the jurors found Tom Fallis not guilty.

The verdict left Ashley's parents devastated. Would a thorough investigation have made a difference? Maybe not, but errors made and steps not taken leave them with lingering doubts and a grief that will never end.

First published on October 22, 2016 / 11:14 PM

© 2016 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Erin Moriarty Erin Moriarty

Correspondent, "48 Hours"

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