Murder of Leah Freeman,15, remains a mystery: Boyfriend Nicholas McGuffin was wrongfully convicted

Leah and Nick pose for a school dance
Nicholas McGuffin was wrongfully sent to prison for the murder of 15-year-old Leah Freeman. Pic credit: Family photo

20/20 on ID is investigating the tragic murder of schoolgirl Leah Freeman, who’s dead body was discovered in 2000 in her hometown of Coquille, Oregon, east of Coos Bay.

Her boyfriend, Nicholas McGuffin, spent nearly a decade in jail for the crime before a judge ruled an admission of evidence had led to a wrongful conviction.

On June 28, 2000, Leah was hanging out with her friend, Cheri Mitchell, when the pair had an argument over how much time Leah was spending with her boyfriend, McGuffin. Leah became annoyed and left Cheri’s home on foot.

Unfortunately, the 15-year-old was not seen alive again. That same night she went missing, a mechanic found one of her gym shoes near a cemetery. There was no other trace of the teenager to be found.

A week later, her other shoe was found just outside town with blood on it. Another three weeks passed before Leah’s remains were discovered behind a steep embankment. She’d been strangled to death.

There was suspicion surrounding Leah’s older boyfriend, McGuffin, who was due to collect her that evening. He claimed to have spent the evening looking for Leah with another friend, Kirsten Steinhoff but went home when he decided she must have gone home.

A lack of evidence hampered the police, and the case went cold. However, in 2008 the town got a new police chief who decided to reopen the case and review it. McGuffin would later say how he was pleased with this new development and hopeful that they would catch the killer.

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Nicholas McGuffin arrested for Leah Freeman’s murder

Then in 2010, McGuffin was arrested for Leah’s murder. The police hinged their case against him mostly because he was Leah’s boyfriend, and they relied on several witnesses who say they saw him with Leah after he claimed to have last seen her.

McGuffin’s case and character were further damaged when Steinhoff claimed that he had tried to have sex with her the night Leah disappeared. McGuffin admitted to kissing Steinhoff but denies forcing himself on her. He also admitted to taking drugs that evening.

A jury subsequently acquitted McGuffin of murder but found him guilty of manslaughter, meaning he was sent to jail. He spent the next nine years languishing behind bars until new evidence finally emerged that seems to exonerate him.

DNA evidence recovered from Leah’s bloody shoe did not match either McGuffin or any of the investigators. A judge ruled that had this evidence been revealed in the initial trial, it could have led to a different verdict. McGuffin was now free to go.

The murder of Leah Freeman remains a mystery, but McGuffin has said he’ll do all he can to help the authorities bring justice to the killer.

More from 20/20 on ID.

Follow the links to read about more murders profiled on ID.

Liam McAtasney murdered his old schoolfriend Sarah Stern so he could steal her inheritance. Their mutual friend Preston Taylor helped him dispose of the body but then told the police all that had happened.

Amanda “Mandy” Stavik was kidnapped, raped, and murdered as she went jogging near her home in rural Washington state. The case grew cold for 30 years until her neighbor, Timothy Bass, was finally arrested for the crime.

20/20 on ID airs at 8/9c on Investigation Discovery. 

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