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Crime News Accident, Suicide, or Murder

An Alabama Woman Was Shot Dead In Her Driveway. Who Pulled The Trigger?

Was Angel Downs killed by her married boyfriend, or did she die by her own hand? "Accident, Suicide Or Murder" dives into the case.

By Joe Dziemianowicz

On May 9, 2010, an urgent 911 call went out after a gunshot pierced the stillness in Gulf Shores, Alabama.

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First responders found Angel Downs, 45, a real estate professional, lying in her driveway with a visible head injury. “It was a fatal wound,” investigators told “Accident, Suicide or Murder,” airing Saturdays at 8/7c on Oxygen.

A handgun was next to her body, said Jeff Dunn, a detective with Gulf Shores Police Department. The bullet had entered her right temple and exited the left side of her head.

Police learned that Angel had attempted suicide with a mix of sleeping pills and alcohol just three years earlier, according to “Accident, Suicide or Murder.” So, was Angel’s shooting death self-inflicted?

Detectives canvassed the area for leads and answers. Witnesses reported seeing a red truck leave Angel’s driveway after the gunshot. Angel’s married boyfriend, Stephen Nodine, a Mobile County commissioner, drove such a vehicle, police discovered. 

Angel Downs featured in Accident, Suicide or Murder

They also learned Angel had called her sister shortly before she was shot, according to Dunn. Angel had asked an odd question: Where would she shoot a home intruder if she encountered one? After the call ended, her sister texted Angel to check on her. Angel texted back, “Stephen Nodine is here.”

That alarmed Angel’s sibling.

“Angel’s sister was very vocal about the fact that Angel wrote Stephen’s name, something she never did,” explained Rob Holbert, a journalist with Lagniappe Mobile Weekly. 

Angel’s text and the witness statements made Nodine a person of interest. He was a celebrity in southern Alabama, according to Quin Hillyer, senior columnist with the Washington Examiner. Nodine had settled in Mobile, where he lived with his wife and family, and was described as a larger-than-life kind of figure. He had risen from city council to county commissioner quickly. But then there was his potentially career-crippling tie to a 2009 drug scandal not long before Angel’s death.

“He was charged with ethics violations for having marijuana in his truck,” Hillyer said. The incident flew in the face of his public persona.

Nodine came to police headquarters with his lawyer around 10 p.m. on May 9. He told investigators how his relationship with Angel began and grew into a six-year affair, as they were married to other people when they started dating. She quickly divorced her husband, but he remained in his marriage, although Nodine worked to keep his extramarital affair out of the public eye in Mobile. 

Nodine told police that he spent May 9 with Angel and other friends at the beach, where they had a good time. He drove Angel home and then left for Mobile, but he returned to her place when he realized he’d left his wallet.

During his drive home he made several stops — at a convenience store, a restaurant parking lot where he changed his clothes in his truck, and another restaurant, where he watched a baseball game. He denied having anything to do with her death.

Investigators were curious: Why did he change his clothes?

At the end of the four-hour interview, Nodine was released, and his truck was impounded by police. Nodine’s sandy clothes were still in the vehicle. A suspected bloodstain on the truck was analyzed at the crime lab and determined to not be blood.

By this point, Angel's autopsy had come back and revealed that she had alcohol mixed with other prescription drugs in her system. The trajectory of the bullet, along with evidence that the gun was pressed to her head when it fired, were consistent with suicide. No useful evidence was found on the gun, and cuts on her couldn’t conclusively be determined to be defensive wounds.

“The medical examiner’s findings were inconclusive, but indicative of a self-inflicted wound,” said Holbert.

Investigators kept searching. They combed through letters collected from Angel’s condo, where Nodine expressed his love and plan to leave his marriage in one, while Angel issued an ultimatum to him to leave his wife in another, according to “Accident, Suicide or Murder.”

Could a disagreement about the couple’s future have led to suicide or, alternately, murder?

 On May 14, Nodine was indicted on ethics violations including misuse of a county vehicle and possession of marijuana. But it wasn't the only indictment he would receive. On May 24, the District Attorney determined that Angel’s death was not a suicide.

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“Two weeks to the day after Angel’s death, a Baldwin County grand jury with nothing other than the bare allegation indicted Stephen Nodine for murder,” John Beck, Nodine’s defense attorney, told producers. 

The rushed indictment was highly unusual, said Dunn, but Nodine was arrested. As the D.A dug further into his background, she turned up his history of drug abuse linked to pain pills for a back injury. Based on evidence of his drug use, Nodine was indicted on a federal gun charge on May 27; Nodine was accused for a statute that prohibits an unlawful drug user from owning firearms. 

“This is a statute almost always used against major drug dealers who were trafficking drugs,” explained Hillyer.

A number of witnesses told authorities that Nodine would allegedly park near Angel’s residence and watch her. On October 13, Baldwin County prosecutors expanded the indictment to include stalking.

Nodine pleaded guilty to the federal charges. But he never wavered in his innocence in the death of Angel, according to “Accident, Suicide or Murder.”

The D.A. alleged Angel was the victim of a volatile boyfriend and claimed that the scene was staged to look like a suicide — but that allegation was shown to be shaky and backfired in court. Suspicions were raised that the case against Nodine was politically driven. 

The jury deadlocked on the stalking and murder charges, but Nodine was convicted of a misdemeanor ethics violation. On April 25, 2011, he was sentenced to 15 months in federal prison. 

Then, in August 2011, while Nodine was behind bars, a newly-elected district attorney took over the case. This prosecutor realized he didn’t really have a case to push for murder. However, in November that year, Angel's family pushed for the appointment of a special prosecutor to help them prove Nodine was directly responsible for her death.

“The theory was that he basically drove her to shoot herself,” explained Beck. “Therefore, it didn't matter who pulled the trigger.”

Nodine was thus charged with criminally negligent homicide.

“Investigators, myself included, did not believe in that theory that Stephen Nodine committed murder,” Dunn told producers.

With a murder conviction unlikely due to the lack of physical evidence, the prosecutor made a deal with Nodine.

On September 7, 2012, Nodine entered a plea of guilty to a much lesser charge of harassment and also a charge of perjury. Murder charges were dismissed.

“I went from being charged with murder, then felony murder and stalking to a criminal negligent homicide charge to having the charges dropped,” Nodine told producers. “I was relieved but I knew I was going to jail.”

Nodine received a 10-year sentence on the perjury charge along with two concurrent one-year sentences on the harassment charge and ethics violation. He served two years for his crimes.

To learn more about the case, watch “Accident, Suicide or Murder,” airing Saturdays at 8/7c on Oxygen stream episodes here.