ATLANTA — On July 16, 2011, Nique Leili's body — naked, decomposed, covered with leaves — was found near the entrance to her family's Lawrenceville-area subdivision, setting a years-long cycle of suspicion, discord and mystery into motion. Her parents and siblings would wage battle against her husband, fighting for her remains, her children and her estate while simultaneously lobbying for him to be charged in her death.
On Thursday, Feb. 4, Matthew Leili was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole Thursday for the 2011 murder of his wife.
In February 2012, Matthew Leili moved to Londonderry, Vt., taking his daughters with him and, according to Nique's sister, eliminating all communication with other family members. On March 4, 2015, after years of inertia, Gwinnett County police suddenly announced they had charged Matthew Leili with murder and eavesdropping. He was arrested following a court hearing in Atlanta, during which he was lobbying for the payout from his wife's life insurance policy.
Police attributed the arrest to evidence recovered during a new forensic examination of computers seized from the Leili's Londonderry home. Detectives always suspected Leili in the death of his wife, but four years passed before the "right evidence" to file charges emerged.
According to a press release from the Vermont State Police, Gwinnett County's lead investigator, Sergeant John Richter learned Leili's daughter mentioned having access to her father's computer, which she said contained data and surveillance clips of her mother. Richter requested in April 2015 that the Vermont State Police seek a search warrant for the computer because it contained information of evidentiary value to the homicide investigation.
Richter also told State Police investigators that he had been monitoring recorded jails calls that Matthew Leili had been making, while incarcerated, involving him giving directions to his daughter to hide cell phones that were in the Londonderry) house and to remove some data from storage devices and computers.
Detective Sergeant Michael Dion, Vermont State Police, Bureau of Criminal Investigations, worked with Windham County Deputy State's Attorney Steven Brown and authored a search warrant for the 57 Mansfield Lane address. During the execution of this search warrant, several Vermont State Police Detectives seized a voluminous amount of evidence, which was mostly data storage devices, cell phones and computers in nature. Investigators from Gwinnett County traveled to Vermont and took custody of the evidence and conducted their forensic analysis the items back in Georgia.
The evidence was key in obtaining a conviction and was the end of a long and winding trail in seeking justice for the deceased and her family.
"It was just the right combination of software and personnel in 2014 and they were able to get things off of that computer that they never were before," Cpl. Jake Smith said. "We always had some evidence. We just didn't have enough."
Smith said the right forensic examiner and the right software finally enabled police to recover evidence from a seized computer that made detectives comfortable they had evidence to charge Leili with murdering his wife in 2011.
Matthew Leili took two days to report his wife missing after her mysterious 2011 dissapearance. He took another two days before filing for divorce on the grounds that 44-year-old Dominique Leili deserted her family. She had not been seen for more than a week when family and friends gathered to search for her in July 2011. Minutes after beginning the search, a co-worker discovered a decomposed body under a piles of leaves in the neighborhood where the couple have lived nearly 12 years.
The trial started Jan. 25 and finished Jan. 29. Judge Randy Rich sentenced Leili of malice, aggravated assault and three counts of eavesdropping.
Even four-and-a-half years later, the case remains littered with unanswered questions. The road to Gwinnett County Superior Court has been a complicated one.
Two days after his wife's July 8, 2011, disappearance, Matthew Leili reported her missing. The then-42-year-old filed for divorce two days after that, telling officials Nique had deserted her family.
Soon after a search party found Nique's body, Gwinnett County police publicly named Matthew as a suspect and seized the network of computers and surveillance cameras he'd set up around the family's home. Friends and family painted an unhappy picture of the couple's marriage, and authorities pointed to a recent 911 call in which Nique told a dispatcher that Matthew wouldn't let her leave the house.
Matthew was not, however, arrested. Before the end of July, Matthew and his wife's family were battling over her remains and custody of the couple's young daughters, ages 9 and 12. Two separate funerals were ultimately held.
Around the same time, Matthew released through an attorney what remains his only public statement.
"Contrary to the allegations as reported, Mr. Leili cooperated with police and provided every known fact and circumstance regarding his wife's disappearance," the statement said. "Mr. Leili has done nothing wrong, and as such, is refusing to respond to allegations reported in the media."
Nique Leili's death certificate was released in December of that year. The medical examiner ruled the cause of death inconclusive but did not exclude homicide by strangulation or asphyxiation.
On May 27, a Gwinnett County grand jury returned an indictment charging Matthew with murder, two counts of felony murder, two counts of aggravated assault and three counts of unlawful eavesdropping and surveillance. One of the aggravated assault charges alleged that he "(made) an assault upon the person of Dominique Leili, with intent to rape."
A cause of death, however, remains a mystery — the indictment alleged that Matthew Leili killed his wife in a "manner unknown to the grand jury."