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Crime News Dateline

Texas Man Claims He Shot Wife After Mistaking Her for Intruder — What Really Happened?

Was Lars Itzo a grieving husband who made a horrific mistake when he shot wife Debbie Kelly in the chest or a calculated killer? 

By Jill Sederstrom
Lars Itzo featured in Dateline

When Lars Itzo fired a shotgun into the dark hallway of his San Antonio home, did he believe he was taking out an intruder or did he know he was really firing a deadly shot at his wife? 

How to Watch

Catch up on Dateline: Unforgettable on Peacock or the Oxygen App.

That is the question that plagued the investigation into Debbie Kelly’s death after the successful healthcare executive was found dead in her home in the early morning hours of Oct. 16, 2009, according to Dateline: Unforgettable.

Lars insisted the shooting was a terrible accident that took the love of his life, while investigators began to suspect Debbie’s death had been a cold-blooded murder by a man desperate to hold onto a love that was slipping away from him.

The conflicting versions of what happened in those pre-dawn moments would ultimately be left to a jury to sort out.

“Perception is a funny thing. You and I can see the exact same thing differently and that’s what makes this story one I’ll never forget,” Dateline reporter Andrea Canning explained. “So much of who you believe in this case hinges on what you think you can see right in front of your eyes. As you’ll learn there’s no question about who killed Debbie Kelly, but the mystery was why and the possible motive? One of the most bizarre I’ve ever heard.”

Who was Debbie Kelly? 

Those who knew Debbie Kelly described her as a fun, fiercely independent, and driven woman determined to make her mark in the world. 

“[She] always wanted to be a career woman,” her mom, Anne Kelly, recalled. “She spent many, many hours traveling and many hours working overtime.” 

Lars Itzo featured in Dateline

Her dedication allowed Debbie to quickly rise through the ranks of the corporate ladder as a healthcare executive. By her 40s, she had a busy life filled with friends, regular tennis matches, and a fulfilling career, but the petite yet powerful executive had yet to find her match in romance. 

Aside from a brief ill-fated marriage in her 20s, Debbie’s romantic life had taken a back burner to her demanding career — until she met contractor Lars Itzo while fixing up her new home. The sparks between the two began to fly and just a year later they were engaged.

After getting married in a beautiful Arkansas chapel, Debbie and Lars started their new life together, often spending their free time enjoying the outdoors, visiting with family, and sneaking off to romantic getaways.

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“He was happy. I’ve never seen him that happy,” Kristi Itzo, Lars' sister, recalled. 

How was Debbie Kelly killed? 

But just two years into the marriage, Debbie’s friends started to see cracks in the union. Debbie had recently gotten a big promotion at work that took her away from home more often. 

She complained to friends that Lars’ laid-back nature may not be a good fit for her more driven personality. Friends also said Debbie was frustrated that construction projects around the house were never getting completed, and she seemed less eager to get home after girls nights out.  

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Then just after 4 a.m. on October 16, 2015, Debbie was killed by a shotgun blast to the chest.

Lars would later tell police he thought there was a burglar in the house and grabbed the shotgun to investigate. In the pitch black darkness, he said he saw movement in the hallway outside the bedroom and opened fire. 

“I thought my wife was in bed with me,” he insisted to officers who arrived at the scene. 

Was Debbie Kelly's death an accident or murder? 

Lars’ family insisted he was ”shattered” by the shooting and was virtually inconsolable in the hours that followed the fatal shooting.

“He was broken,” brother Ken Itzo recalled. “He really wasn’t talking.” 

But investigators weren’t so sure about Lars’ story.

“We never for a second believed that he didn’t know who that was standing in front of him,” prosecutor Karl Alexander told Canning.

They pointed to Lars’ changing story about what happened that morning. On the 911 call, Lars said he had “seen a light” or “flashlight” that woke him up and got him out of bed. 

“I want you to walk over to her and make sure that she is still breathing,” a 911 operator instructed him.

“Oh, I don’t think she is, dammit,” Lars calmly replied. 

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Yet, when officers arrived just minutes later, he told them he got up and went to the door before seeing a “flash of light” coming from the front of the house and saw “people running.” 

“I heard the dog growling,” he said. 

At the police station, Lars told police he woke up after hearing a “door squeaking” and the dog growling. 

Although the 911 operator had instructed Lars on how to perform CPR, one of the first officers at the scene would later testify that Lars “was clean” and “didn’t have any blood on his body.”

Investigators also questioned Lars’ claim that he couldn’t tell it was his much shorter wife in the hallway, even though she was shot from a distance of just three feet away. There were other troubling details as well. Lars failed a polygraph test shortly after the shooting and during the interrogation, requested his favorite drink, a Dr. Pepper. 

“I enjoy Dr. Pepper every now and again, but I don’t want to drink a Dr. Pepper when my hands are covered in my wife’s blood,” Alexander said of his behavior shortly after the shooting. “He doesn’t even seem to take notice of that.” 

However, at other moments during the interrogation, Lars was seen pacing, moaning, and crying.

Just 11 days after the shooting, Lars was arrested for manslaughter and, months later, also charged with murder in Debbie’s death.

Although there was no financial motive — most of Debbie’s investments listed her father as the beneficiary — Alexander believed Lars wanted Debbie to spend more time with him and adopt a more traditional role as wife. When she refused, Alexander alleged Lars killed her. 

 “I think it really has to do with: He loved her more than she loved him,” he said. 

Was Lars Itzo convicted in Debbie Kelly’s death?

When the case went to trial in December of 2016, Lars’ attorneys argued that the shooting had been nothing but a tragic accident. Lars testified that the marriage was “bliss” and claimed Debbie had been “the best thing that ever happened to me.” 

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A jury would land somewhere in the middle. While Lars was acquitted of the murder charge against him, he was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 15 years in prison.

From behind bars, Lars told Canning he carries around a photo of Debbie every day tucked into the pocket of his prison uniform. When recounting her final moments, this time he told Canning he saw a door closing that night and saw “movement” before opening fire. 

“My wife was everything,” he insisted. “She was great in every sense of the word.”