Friday, July 10, 2009
Steve McNair...a Classic Homicide by Chester Campbell
The past week in Nashville has been like a primer on police procedure for mystery writers. If you happened to glance away from all the Michael Jackson coverage for a bit, you may have seen where Steve McNair, the retired quarterback for the Tennessee Titans, a former NFL MVP, was murdered in an apartment near downtown in the wee hours on the 4th of July.
McNair had played for the Titans and its predecessor Houston Oilers his entire career, except for his last two seasons with the Baltimore Ravens. After retiring, he returned to live in Nashville with his wife and three children. He was a popular figure, constantly involved in working with kids and other charitable activities.
With such a high-profile figure, the Metro Nashville police went all out to investigate the case and bring it to a quick conclusion. A friend who rented the apartment with McNair found his body on a sofa early Saturday afternoon with two gunshots to the head and two to his chest. On the floor in front of him was a 20-year-old woman. She had been shot once in the head.
Homicide detectives, crime scene techs, a doctor from the Medical Examiner’s staff , and scores of cops converged on the scene. Crowds of fans who had been headed for a riverfront Independence Day celebration gathered behind the crime scene tape. Continuous live TV coverage showed evidence bags being brought out of the apartment.
At 3:30 p.m., Police Spokesman Don Aaron gave media the first official word that Steve McNair was dead, also a female not being identified until next of kin could be notified. When they moved her body, they found a semiautomatic pistol beneath her. Ballistic tests would be conducted at the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation crime lab.
Later that evening, police identified the woman as Sahel Kazemi, originally from Jacksonville, FL, whose mother came from Iran. Police had swarmed her suburban apartment and questioned neighbors. Sunday morning’s newspaper said the 36-year-old former quarterback had been dating her for several months, that she drove a Cadillac Escalade registered in both their names.
On Sunday afternoon, Spokesman Aaron gave another news conference. Autopsies had been completed, and McNair’s death was ruled a homicide. He said Kazemi’s death would not be classified until completion of further investigation.
Police reported on Monday that ballistics tests showed two shots to McNair’s chest and one to his head were fired from three feet away. The other shot to his temple was a contact wound. With the assistance of the ATF, they determined that Kazemi, a waitress at Opry Mills Mall, had purchased the gun Thursday night in the parking lot from a private individual.
At a news conference on Wednesday, Police Chief Ronal Serpas confirmed that Kazemi had shot McNair, probably while he was asleep, and committed suicide. Though McNair had apparently co-signed to allow her to purchase the Escalade, she was responsible for the payments. Conversations with friends and co-workers showed she felt her life was unraveling. She didn’t know how she could pay her bills, and she thought McNair had another girlfriend.
"We do believe there was evidence that she was spinning out of control," said Serpas.
The newspaper gave widespread coverage of the crime and the investigation, including detailed drawings of the crime scene, showing where the bodies were found. It was a classic case of gumshoe work questioning everybody who might have known anything and forensic testing to determine everything about the gun and its firing.
Thousands of fans flocked to memorial services yesterday. Crime writers are tasked with showing the effects of homicide on those around the victim. In this case, those most directly impacted were McNair’s widow and three young children in Nashville, plus an older son living with family in his hometown of Mount Olive, MS. Mechelle (Mrs.) McNair has chosen to remain totally private and has made no statement regarding her husband’s death.
Ironically, Steve McNair had opened a new restaurant, Gridiron9 (his old jersey number), near the Tennessee State University campus two weeks ago.