A MARINE COLONEL FATALLY WOUNDED IN IRAQ: AUTHORITIES SAY IT WAS A SUICIDE, BUT HIS WIFE SAYS IT WAS MURDER
"48 Hours" Investigates in "Widow's War"
Saturday, March 30, 10:00 PM
Peter Van Sant and 48 HOURS investigate the death of a decorated Marine colonel in Iraq and his wife's decade-long quest to get it labeled a homicide, in "Widow's War," to be broadcast Saturday, March 30 (10:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network.
In July 2008, Colonel Michael Stahlman was found in his quarters in Iraq with a gunshot wound to his head. He died about two months later in the hospital.
The military's medical examiner called it a suicide. But his wife, Kim, and daughter, MacKenna, have maintained that the man they loved would never have killed himself.
"Someone shot him... " Kim Stahlman tells Van Sant. "I have no doubt."
"I don't ever recall him being upset or sad," says MacKenna Stahlman.
It's the emotional story of a family's quest to change the medical examiner's finding in a way they say reflects the truth - and protects the legacy of a Marine and father of two, who they say gave everything to his country.
It is also a case that tests convincing and competing forensic theories.
To some, an email Kim Stahlman received just hours before the shooting reads like a suicide note: "Kim, sorry about what you're about the [sic] find out. I love you and always will. You and the girls are the best thing that ever happened to me. Love, Mike."
But was it actually a suicide note? Or a cryptic message about something else?
Stahlman says she was suspicious about what authorities had told her from the start, beginning with the fact that her husband, a righty, had been wounded in the left temple.
Poring over the case file, Stahlman learned he had been found on his back and one first responder noted her husband's 9mm Beretta appeared to be wedged between him and the mattress. Investigators had arrived within hours. They collected evidence and interviewed co-workers and first responders.
But Stahlman believes authorities rushed to judgment. And as her frustration turned to anger, she made several important alliances: Cilla McCain, an author and advocate for bereaved military families; Stuart Bowen, who had been President George W. Bush's special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction; and Michael Maloney, an internationally known forensics expert.
"This is a homicide," Maloney tells Van Sant. "There was someone else in that room."
Stahlman believes investigators never did a full forensic analysis. But 48 HOURS discovered it's not quite that simple. More than three years after the shooting, authorities brought in blood stain pattern analysis expert Mark Reynolds to examine the case, including Michael Maloney's report. Like Maloney, Reynolds examined photos and documents from the file.
"All the scene indicators Mr. Maloney has raised are either equivocal or wrong," Reynolds says. Later, he adds, "I see no evidence of homicide in the materials provided to me whatsoever."
Michael Maloney stands by his conclusions.
But in a statement to 48 HOURS last summer, authorities maintained they thoroughly investigated the Stahlman case and stand by the military medical examiner's suicide finding.
"If this was a suicide, I would have to accept it," Stahlman says. "But it's hard when you know that's not what it was."
Van Sant and 48 HOURS report the story through interviews with the Stahlman family, forensic experts and more. 48 HOURS: "Widow's War" is produced by producer Josh Yager. Emily Wichick, Dena Goldstein and Elena DiFiore are the field producers. Richard Barber, Gregory McLaughlin and Kevin McLaughlin are the editors. Peter Schweitzer is the senior producer. Nancy Kramer is the executive story editor. Judy Tygard is the executive producer.
Follow 48 HOURS on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Listen to podcasts at Radio.com.