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Despite the fact that he’s sitting in a prison cell for the December 1994 murder of millionaire entrepreneur Bill McLaughlin, Eric Naposki refuses to admit that he committed the crime.
“Since the early ’90s, my decision-making has just been poor. Not violent, just impatient — bad choices and no threshold for certain behavior by others,” Naposki told Sports Illustrated for a February profile.
These sentiments come almost eight years after the former NFL player was found guilty of the murder of McLaughlin, in a case that involves millions of dollars and a fatal love triangle with a femme fatale at its center.
On Dec. 15, 1994, McLaughlin, a 52-year-old who made his millions making medical devices, was found gunned down in his home in Newport Beach, California. His son, Kevin, found him dead in the kitchen with six gunshot wounds puncturing his body. Shell casings from a 9mm handgun, as well as two house keys, were discovered at the scene of the crime.
A few hours later, as police were sweeping the house for more clues, his girlfriend, Nanette Johnston, arrived home from her kids’ soccer game to find McLaughlin dead. She appeared devastated at the time.
But as police surveilled Johnston while she lived at McLaughlin’s other nearby beach home, it became apparent that she was seeing Naposki, who at that time was working as a bouncer at a local nightclub, while she was engaged to McLaughlin.
Naposki was younger and bigger than McLaughlin — he was, after all, a former professional linebacker — and police became extremely suspicious of him just over a week after after the crime, when he was stopped in his car for an outstanding traffic warrant.
Investigators soon discovered McLaughlin’s license plate number etched in the page of a notebook found in Naposki’s car.
“This was key evidence and obviously everybody’s eyes started turning toward Eric Naposki as being more and more important as a potential suspect in this murder,” David Byington, a former investigator with the Newport Beach Police Department, says in the most recent episode of the Oxygen crime series, “In Ice Cold Blood.”
As police questioned Naposki about his relationship with Johnston, he consistently changed his story, as if to mess with investigators: First, they were “pretty close;” later, he admitted the two “were dating.” It was later revealed that, according to Byington, Naposki was shopping around for an engagement ring for Johnston a month and a half following McLaughlin’s murder.
Naposki also misled authorities about his gun ownership: According to Matt Murphy, the senior deputy district attorney at the Orange County District Attorney’s Office, Naposki initially told investigators he didn’t own any guns. Later, he admitted to owning a 9mm handgun, but then couldn’t account for its whereabouts.
Police also searched Naposki’s home, but found nothing of substance.
However, despite the lack of a murder weapon, DNA, fingerprints, or an admission of guilt, the more police pieced together what evidence they could, the more it seemed Johnston and Naposki conspired to kill McLaughlin for his money.
Johnston, who was found out to be the beneficiary of a $1 million life insurance policy taken out in McLaughlin’s name, was also discovered to have forged McLaughlin’s signature on a few large checks.
But while Johnston was found guilty of grand theft in 1996, it would be years before she or Naposki would go down for McLaughlin’s murder.
Facing no charges in the aftermath of the initial murder investigation, Naposki tried to make a comeback as a professional football player.
A one-time player for the New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts, Naposki told Sports Illustrated the then-St. Louis Rams offered him a contract in 1995, but quickly revoked it due to the investigation; he also tried to return to the World League in Europe.
However, in 1996, the Barcelona Dragons, a team active from 1991 to 2003, signed Naposki. His final game with the team would come in 1997 after a World Bowl championship.
Former Dragons coach Jack Bicknell told Sports Illustrated he asked Naposki about McLaughlin’s murder.
“I said, ‘Eric, what’s that all about?’ And he said, ‘Coach, it’s something that happened over there, but believe me, I wasn’t a part of it.’ And I didn’t pursue it. I just said, OK,” he said.”
After his tenure in Europe, Naposki moved back to the United States and settled in Connecticut — the location of his alma mater — with his second wife and two children. He took classes at UConn and opened a gym.
“I had a great wife and a great bunch of clients and friends from the gym,” Naposki told Sports Illustrated. “Life was good.”
But by 2009, the McLaughlin cold case had been reopened, and a former neighbor of Naposki’s in California named Suzanne Cogar spoke to investigators. Cogar told investigators Naposki, who was under the impression McLaughlin was only Johnston’s business associate, believed he was sexually harassing her.
“He said it with such focus and such seriousness in his demeanor, that it was scary,” Cogar says during “In Ice Cold Blood.”
In May 20, 2009, Naposki’s past caught up with him, and he was arrested in Greenwich, Conn. for the 1994 murder of Bill McLaughlin. Two years later, in July of 2011, Naposki was found guilty of murdering of McLaughlin. In May 2012, Johnston was also found guilty for her role in the crime.
Even after he received the maximum sentence of life without parole, Naposki has still maintained his innocence.
“Look me in the eye,’’ Naposki told the Boston Globe in 2011. “I swear on my children’s lives that I didn’t shoot anyone. Absolutely, positively, not.’’
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