BALDWIN COUNTY, Ala. (WKRG) — A Mobile County Commissioner was accused of shooting and killing his mistress in 2010. During the trial, it was questioned whether or not the victim was murdered or committed suicide. Some still question – Was her death a suicide, or did the elected official have something more sinister to do with her death? This is the story of Stephen Nodine and Angel Downs.
WKRG News 5 is looking back at the crimes that shocked the Gulf Coast. Stephen Nodine’s story is the eighth in the series.
Stephen “Steve” Nodine was first elected to a political seat in 2001 when he beat a two-term official for the Mobile City Council. Then, in 2004, Nodine was elected to another position of political authority when he won a seat on the Mobile County Commission. He was re-elected to the county commission when he ran unopposed in 2008.
It was during Nodine’s first term in the Mobile County Commission that he met Angel Downs. In a 48 Hours episode, her friends talked about her good looks, at one point jokingly calling her “Barbie.” According to people in her life, Angel was happy. She was a 45-year-old real estate agent in Gulf Shores and loved living near the beach.
In 2004, Angel met Nodine while hanging out at the Mullet Toss with some of their mutual friends. In an interview with 48 Hours, Nodine described himself as, “a celebrity mullet tosser.” Nodine had just been elected to the county commission when they met. He was also married, however, he said his marriage was on the rocks. It was around this time that he started his affair with Angel.
It wasn’t a secret that Angel and Nodine were having an affair, as they were always seen out in public, even in front of the media. Jack Tillman, the retired sheriff for the Mobile County Sheriff’s Office said, “Once you meet Steve, he’s such a dynamic personality. I mean he just latches on to you, you know, and you don’t forget him.”
According to people who were close to the couple, Angel didn’t like that Nodine had a wife and she repeatedly insisted he gets a divorce. Nodine had allegedly led Angel to believe that he had already filed for divorce, however, about a year into the relationship Angel kept questioning why the divorce was taking so long to finalize. It was then that Nodine told her he had never actually filed for the divorce.
When asked if he understood why he didn’t get a divorce, Nodine said, “Sure. I wanted everything. I wanted to have Angel. I wanted to have my family life to come back over here in Mobile. I wanted to escape to the beach when I could. Umm.. to live two different lives.”
Their relationship continued for six years until May 9, 2010, Mother’s Day. Pictures taken from that day show what appears to be a very happy-looking Angel. Nodine confirmed that Angel was happy and that it had been a “normal day” for the couple until he dropped her off at home.
In Nodine’s version of the story, he claimed that he dropped Angel off and left before realizing he had forgotten his wallet. He turned around and parked parallel to her house. Nodine said he didn’t see Angel when he came back to get his wallet, he said he went inside, grabbed his wallet and left.
Although Nodine claims to have not seen her when he came back for his wallet, some of Angel’s neighbors remembered a different version of events. Roger Whitehead, one of Angel’s neighbors, told officers, “I think there was a gunshot. Mr. Nodine was still here. And then he got in his truck and left.”
“I did not shoot her. I did not harm her. She took her own life. She’s not here to take responsibility,” said Nodine.
Police in Gulf Shores were required to wear body cameras and they captured the whole scene that night. District Attorney Judy Newcomb said she was called at around 11:30 p.m. that night and was told what happened. Newcomb said she believes they were still trying to figure out if Angel’s death was a homicide or suicide when she got the call.
“It’s someone who’s shot in the head with their own gun, which – statistically would be a suicide. And what everybody’s first impression when they see it is, ‘Oh, someone killed themselves,” said Newcomb. Angel had previously tried to commit suicide by taking an overdose of pills four years earlier, but her family said this time it was different.
Angel’s sister Susan Bloodworth said Angel died with plans for the future. She had appointments scheduled for the next week and a dinner party she was supposed to attend that very night. Bloodworth also said she was sure Angel would not want anyone to find her that way. She believes Angel would have taken pills to go to sleep, not shoot herself in the head.
By the time neighbors arrived to the scene to attempt to help save Angel’s life, Nodine was nowhere to be found. Nodine, who claims to have driven away just before that, said he heard nothing, definitely not the sound of a gunshot.
Officers called Nodine down to the police station to question him about Angel. He told 48 Hours he didn’t feel like officers were treating him like a suspect, but what he didn’t know was that officers didn’t believe the story he told them about what had happened. Nodine told officers that after he left Angel’s home he stopped at a convenience store, where he was caught on surveillance camera. He then stopped at a golf club that was closed and then two restaurants, where he was also caught on surveillance camera.
Things started to move quickly after the initial shooting and just two weeks after, Nodine was indicted and arrested for murder. Nodine’s lawyer noted the timing of the arrest was odd, as it was just days away from Election Day and the district attorney was up for re-election.
“Nobody gets indicted on a murder charge two weeks after the murder. And you put it together with being eight days before the election, it appeared to be not so much going after Steve, but an opportunity to have some high-profile prosecution immediately before the election,” said Nodine’s lawyer Dennis Kinzley.
Nodine was not a new name to the police. Just before Angel’s death in 2009, Nodine had been found with marijuana in his county-issued vehicle. Because of this, he was forced to resign. Nodine not only smoked marijuana but allegedly became addicted to prescription painkillers due to hip pain.
Seven months after he was arrested, the murder trial began. Going into the trial, Newcomb said they didn’t have any forensic evidence to tie Nodine to the scene, but they did plan to use Angel’s friends and family to describe the relationship between her and Nodine. According to her sister, Nodine was controlling and would stalk Angel online and in person. Two of Angel’s friends told the jury that Angel had told them Nodine had beaten her and pushed her many times. The friends also claimed Angel said, “just always know that if you ever find me dead, he killed me.”
The trial started in December 2010, and DA Newcomb said she had plenty of circumstantial evidence to tie Nodine to the murder. “The biggest thing that struck everyone as extremely strange is that Angel’s hair, literally, her hair looked like it had been laid out, as opposed to someone falling back,” said Newcomb.
Angel’s neighbor also testified that as soon as he heard the gunshot he ran outside and saw Nodine’s truck driving away. Nodine claimed that he was not at her home when the shot went off.
One piece of evidence in Nodine’s favor came from the autopsy report. The report showed that at the time of Angel’s death, she had a mix of drugs in her system. Angel’s sister said she wouldn’t have taken drugs because just before she died, Angel had called and said someone was trying to break in.
“No. You – you don’t call and ask where to shoot someone who’s trying to break into your house and then you’re gonna go and take pills and go shoot yourself in the driveway of your home,” said Bloodworth. “I mean, Angel was calling because someone was trying to get into her home. That someone was Stephen Nodine.”
The medical examiner for the state of Alabama went to court to testify for the prosecution. The medical examiner said his findings from the autopsy were inconclusive. The DA brought in another medical examiner from Georgia to review the case. The Georgia medical examiner didn’t examine the body, but through the evidence presented to him, he believed it was a homicide.
Then there was the issue of the gun. The prosecution claimed there was no way Angel could have shot herself with the way the gun was pointed at her head. The defense, however, said it was turned the exact way you would need it to be in order to commit suicide. At the time, no tests were done to determine if Nodine or Angel had gunshot residue on them. There was also no tests for fingerprints on the gun.
After all the evidence was presented, the jury was sent to deliberate. After six hours of deliberation, the jury came back deadlocked on the murder charge. The judge was forced to declare a mistrial.
For four months, Nodine was a free man. Until he had to face a federal gun charge that was “possessing a gun while using drugs.” This put Nodine behind bars for a year. During this time, the newly elected district attorney, Hallie Dixon, was forced to determine whether or not to try Nodine again for murder.
Dixon brought together a new grand jury who determined that Nodine would not be charged with murder again. However, the grand jury did indict him for criminally negligent homicide, meaning that he was partially responsible for Angel’s murder.
Angel’s family was allegedly extremely upset with the decision, so they went above Dixon to the Alabama Attorney General to get a special prosecutor, and they won. A new prosecutor took the case away from Dixon and decided to retry Nodine for murder.
In a shocking turn of events to everyone involved, this time, there was a plea deal. The State of Alabama dropped the murder charge and, in return, Nodine plead guilty to perjury for lying on a legal form. He also plead no contest to a harassment charge after he allegedly harassed Angel with emails and text messages. Nodine was sentenced to ten years but only spent two of them in jail.
During the two years, Nodine would spend nights and weekends in the county jail, but during the day he worked for his lawyer. He did this for a while before he ended up back behind bars for violating his work release program terms. In Oct. 2014, Nodine was released from jail and was reunited with his son.
In 2016, Nodine was arrested again and sentenced to another 60 days behind bars after violating his probation by leaving the state without permission and failing a court-ordered drug test.