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Jenea Chance went from being a single mother working dead-end jobs to an elementary school principal thanks to her intelligence and determination. And according to prosecutors, she used these same skills to try and get away with murder.
Jenea grew up in Bakersfield, California. She married her high school sweetheart but they split up after she learned he was cheating on her, The Bakersfield Californian newspaper reported in 2020. She was pregnant at the time.
At 22, Jenea became a single mother, giving birth to a daughter, Jessica Bullman. While earning a teaching degree, she worked three jobs, including as a cashier in a drugstore. There she met security guard Todd Chance. They were married in 1996, a year after their first date.
“When my mom and Todd got married, while they were exchanging rings, he presented me with a pearl bracelet with my name on it. He was so amazing to me. I mean, he was in every aspect my dad and he never made me feel left out,” Bullman told "Snapped," airing Sundays at 6/5c on Oxygen.
Todd got a job as a truck driver while Jenea finished her teaching degree. After earning her certification, Jenea quickly rose through the ranks, going from teaching to working in administration and ultimately becoming the principal of Bakersfield’s Fairview Elementary School.
Life was good for the Chances. They had two daughters together and with their combined incomes, they were able to afford luxurious family vacations.
But on the morning of Aug. 25, 2013, a farm worker discovered a dead body in a Bakersfield almond orchard, ABC News reported at the time. He notified his boss, who called law enforcement.
Responding officers with the Kern County Sheriff’s Office found a wallet on the victim which identified him as 45-year-old Todd Chance. His cellphone was found approximately 40 feet from his body, according to PEOPLE.
“I located two gunshot wounds to the side of his chest,” former Kern County Sheriff’s Coroner Janelle Malena told producers. “He also had what appeared to be a gunshot wound to his hand at a very close range.”
The presence of Chance's wallet ruled out robbery as a motive. “It was a planned and considered murder,” prosecutor Andrea Kohler told producers.
Investigators notified Jenea and the girls of Todd’s death. Jenea said she had last seen her husband around 7:30 a.m. He had planned to attend a gun show and left in his flashy black Ford Mustang.
Jenea said Todd was a gun enthusiast and collector. When asked to check his collection, she said one of his guns was missing, an old .38 revolver.
“Jenea said that it would be rare for him to take that gun with him and to have it in the vehicle itself with him,” Kohler told producers.
Detectives wondered if Todd had been the victim of carjacking. They were later notified that his car had been found in southwest Bakersfield.
“The first thing that they noticed was that the car was unlocked. Secondly, that there was a key on the floorboard and also visible was the handle of a revolver on the floorboard,” prosecutor Arthur Norris said.
The gun matched the make of the missing .38 from Todd's gun collection. Two spent rounds were found still in the cylinder. The neighborhood where the car was found was known as a haven for criminal activity.
“You have this really nice car with the key right there, nice and visible, and with a gun. The fact that the car was unlocked, it’s almost like a ‘Please steal me’ sign. It absolutely looked staged,” Norris told producers.
Police spoke to witnesses who noted a suspicious person walking in the neighborhood at 9 that morning. One of them had even filmed the person on their security camera.
“The surveillance showed a person of medium height, medium build, fairly well-disguised, wearing a hat, wearing glasses and bulky clothing,” former Kern County Sheriff's Office Public Information Officer Ray Pruitt told “Snapped.”
Further security camera footage captured the suspect entering a Starbucks, according to The Bakerfield Californian. Once there, they entered the restrooms, emerging five minutes later in different clothing. Witnesses described the suspect as a white woman, PEOPLE reported. In reviewing the footage, detectives determined her hair was tucked inside her baseball cap, and her face was obscured.
Security footage from a hardware store across from the Starbucks showed the suspect disposing of her original outfit behind stacked bags of soil. Unfortunately, the garbage was collected and disposed of before detectives could retrieve it.
Investigators searched Todd’s phone and discovered that in 2012, he had begun corresponding with his former fiance, Carrie Williams, on Facebook Messenger. There were flirtatious texts and sexually explicit pictures, according to Bakersfield NBC-affiliate KGET.
“Todd had asked his ex about the two of them getting together but his ex had declined that. I believe her exact words were, ‘No way, married man,'" Norris told producers.
A search of the car revealed another clue. A sole fingerprint was found on the driver’s side door of Todd’s Mustang. It belonged to Jenea, WGET reported in 2020. Her DNA was also found on the gear shaft.
In a prior interview with detectives, Jenea had claimed she never drove her husband’s car.
Jenea was brought in for questioning and denied any involvement in her husband’s murder. When detectives pressed her, she asked for a lawyer, at which point they arrested her and charged her with murder, CNN reported at the time.
Citing a lack of evidence, the Kern County district attorney’s office declined to press charges and Jenea was released from custody after five days, according to a 2013 Los Angeles Times article.
As investigators sifted through evidence in hopes of building a better case, they discovered a photograph of the Chance family visiting an exhibit called “CSI: The Experience” while on one of their family vacations.
“It was basically an exhibit for tourists in Las Vegas at the MGM Grand Hotel dedicated to the show “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” in which people are offered various scenarios to try to solve a crime using forensic techniques,” Norris explained.
One of the scenarios was about a woman who shoots her ex-husband and leaves his body in a deserted area, according to The Bakerfield Californian. Authorities believe Chance learned how to eliminate DNA and dispose of clothing from the exhibit.
Another break came because Chance claimed she was at home on her computer at the time of her husband’s murder. However, an inspection of her computer by the FBI would reveal no computer activity at that time.
It would take three years for prosecutors and police to put together their case. Finally, in December 2016, Leslie Jenea Chance, 49, was arrested and charged with first-degree murder.
At her murder trial in January 2020, prosecutors argued that Jenea murdered Todd after learning about his lurid texts with his ex. Jenea made substantially more money than Todd, and if they divorced she’d have to pay him alimony. They claimed it was cheaper to kill him and cash in on his $250,000 life insurance policy, according to The Bakersfield Californian.
On January 31, 2020, at the conclusion of a four-and-a-half-week trial, the jury found Leslie Jenea Chance guilty of first-degree murder.
Jena Chance’s sentencing would be postponed several times due to illness, the COVID-19 pandemic, and motions for a new trial. She was finally sentenced on Sept. 16, 2020 to 25 years to life in prison with an additional 25 years to life for a firearms enhancement, according to Bakersfield ABC-affiliate KERO-TV.
Jenea Chance will be eligible for parole in 2041 when she is 74 years old.
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