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Murder suspect interview released in 1999 cold case

Melissa Jo Schafer pleaded guilty to murder in the 1999 stabbing death of Saad Kawaf. A newly released interview shows Schafer in tears as detectives question her.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla — (Note: The video above is from October 2020.)

The full interview of a woman who pleaded guilty in a decades-old murder investigation was released Friday, more than 20 years after the 1999 stabbing death of Jacksonville convenience store owner Saad Kawaf.

Melissa Jo Schafer was interrogated by police detectives in July 2020. She's accused, along with her ex-husband, in Kawaf's death. 

In October, First Coast News shared the first portion of the interview, in which detectives press Schafer about her time with ex-husband William "Billy" Baer, a former Jacksonville Sheriff's Office homicide detective.

The new portion of the interrogation released Friday includes a large portion of redacted audio. However, there are a few new details that shed light on the investigation into what happened and Schafer's emotional state during the 1 hour and 50 minute interrogation process.

About 20 minutes into the questioning process, Detective Margo Rhatigan gives Schafer the chance to confess.

"Now before I go any further Melissa, this case is 21 years old," Rhatigan says. "I know all the players and thanks to wonderful, wonderful technology I've gotten a lot of great evidence. Before I get into any evidence and before I get into anything about you, this here is your opportunity. This is your opportunity to tell me everything."

Several minutes go by of redacted audio, before the video shows Schafer getting emotional around 27 minutes in. After 30 minutes, Schafer appears to be crying. 

Around the 55 minute mark, Schafer appears to be demonstrating something, making a pushing motion with her hands. 

After 1 hour and 5 minutes, the detectives begin showing Schafer crime scene photos. Schafer points to things in the picture, but the audio is still redacted at this point in the interrogation.

At 1 hour and 13 minutes into the video, the sound comes back as Schafer is advised of her rights for a swab of her mouth to be conducted.

"I am not going to tell you I'm not scared to death, but I can tell you I [redacted]," Schafer says.

The detectives take a swab of Schafer's mouth, then leave the room as Schafer remains, sitting and staring at the table for about five minutes.

The detectives re-enter the room to ask follow-up questions, which again has the audio redacted. However, the video shows detectives showing more crime scene photos to Schafer.

At an hour and a half into the interrogation, Schafer appears to be breaking down into tears and possibly hyperventilating. Her head is in her hands, and she is visibly shaking before placing her head on the table.

Around 1 hour and 49 minutes, Schafer is taken from the room.

Scroll down to see the full video of the newly released interrogation.

Schafer and Baer are accused of murdering Kawaf and duct-taping his wife to a chair before stealing $30,000 hidden in a kitchen cabinet. The case went cold for decades, but prosecutors say DNA from the scene linked Shaffer to the crime via genetic genealogy.

Schafer initially pleaded not guilty, but pleaded guilty to five counts of murder and aggravated battery in December. She faces 31 years in prison, and although she has agreed to testify against her ex-husband, she said she was not promised a lesser sentence to do so.

During the previously released portion of the interrogation, detectives press Schafer about her marriage to Baer -- the second of her four husbands -- and the couple’s financial situation.

"With his divorce, he was needing money?" the detective asks. "Right," Schafer says. "And those aren't cheap?" the detective asks. "Yeah nope," Schafer replies. "He has to pay her alimony and they still had and two kids at the time, so he still paid on that as well."

"Was that stressful during your relationship?" the detective asks. "He didn't really talk about it but it was a little bit," she answers.

At another point in the interview, when asked if theirs was a happy marriage, Schafer says, "The first five [years] were OK. The last five were not so OK."

A portion of the later video appears to show the 51-year-old growing distraught, shaking and at one point, laying her forehead down on the desk for several minutes.

Baer's case will move forward unless he offers a plea deal. Schafer's next court date is March 24.