13 UNSOLVED: Guardsman killed days before Christmas and feet from family

PASADENA, Texas (KTRK) -- This December will mark 15 years since James Andrews, 34, was murdered on the front lawn of his Pasadena home, while his ex-wife and children ate breakfast a few feet away. His killer has never been caught.

Now, Pasadena police are giving ABC13 Eyewitness News an in-depth look at the cold case, sharing never-before-seen evidence, suspect interviews and crime scene photos.

The story starts on Dec. 22, 2004. Outside a little red house on Rosemead Drive, plastic candy canes were stuck in the grass. Red ribbon was wrapped around a light pole. The Christmas decorations felt out of place behind bright yellow crime scene tape blocking the street.

Back then, detectives stood around a body under a white sheet. Underneath the sheet was James Andrews dead. He was shot in the shin and through his right eye.

"I saw him laying there and I ran out to him. I remember screaming at the top of my lungs and the neighbors ran out," said Sara Andrews, James' ex-wife.

Fifteen years later, Sara sits in her parents' kitchen, recalling the morning her life changed forever.

When police arrived at their house, an officer took photos of Sara. In the crime scene pictures, she's wearing a yellow fluffy robe with moons and stars up the back. James' blood is on her left sleeve, stained from where Sara leaned on his chest, listening for a heartbeat.

"It seemed like time just stood still."

Sara's daughter, Hailey Andrews, was 9 when her father was killed.

"It took a lot of innocence away," said Hailey.

James' three children were his life. Sara says no matter what happened between them as a couple, he was a good dad. Which is why she let him move back home, despite their divorce. Things were complicated, but it worked for them.

The couple had known each other since high school. The two got married when Sara was 18 years old. Hailey was born a year later. To Sara, James was "Scooter." All their friends called him that. After James became a father, he joined the National Guard, though, Sara says he never liked authority.

"If he put his mind to it, if he wanted it, it was there. He did it. He was going to college. He was doing really, really well," Sara said.

Who wanted James dead? If he had enemies, he didn't tell Sara.

But, months before the murder, Sara says James started acting odd. He was constantly looking over his shoulder. He had trouble sleeping. When she asked him what was wrong, Sara says James refused to talk about it.

"I don't know if it was one specific person, or he was in trouble with a group of people. But he knew something was coming," said Sara. "I remember being angry. If he knew something was going to happen, then why the hell didn't he tell me? We could have fixed it, you know?"

The afternoon after James was killed, Sara agreed to an interview with police. Police gave Eyewitness News some of those recordings, in which Sara can be heard describing what she knew.

"I heard these two popping noises," Sara told a detective. "But, I figured he threw something in the back of his truck or something."

She never saw the shooter. Neither did neighbors. Sara did see a white two-door Mercury Cougar turning off their street shortly after the shots were fired.

Detectives followed up. But never found the driver.

Police chased dozens of leads, hitting dead end after dead end. Detective Chris MacGregor has been on the case from day one.

"This is the jacket James was wearing at the time," MacGregor said, gently tearing tape off a brown paper bag.

In the evidence room in the basement of Pasadena Police Department, MacGregor unfolded a bloodstained navy jacket with white snaps. The jacket hadn't been unfolded in more than a decade. It's the first time police are sharing evidence on this case with the public.

MacGregor opened a second package. Sara's yellow terry robe spills out.

"The emotion attached to it...the crying, the blood...I remember it vividly," MacGregor recalled.

MacGregor believes the murder wasn't random. James wasn't robbed. Someone wanted him dead, someone who knew James left for work every morning at 7 sharp. There were plenty of people to interview. MacGregor tracked down James' friends.

One of those friends was Misti Cartwright, James' ex-girlfriend. The couple had a daughter together and were going through a rough custody battle.

Inside an interrogation room, Cartwright told investigators she was with her new boyfriend when James was killed. She agreed to take a polygraph test to prove she was telling the truth. When asked whether she knew who shot James, Cartwright said no. Detectives said she failed the test. They confronted her.

Detective: "Who shot James Andrews?"
Cartwright: "I have no clue. I may, actually, have an idea who could have but..."
Detective: "Who's that?"
Cartwright: "Well, I've been thinking about this for a while, not that y'all would listen to anything I said..."

No hard evidence ties Cartwright to James' murder. She's not considered a suspect. But, authorities have always thought she knows more than she lets on.

One year after her first interview with police, Cartwright was ready to talk again. In 2005, she told detectives the man responsible for James' murder was her ex-boyfriend, a former reserve deputy. We're not naming the person because he's never been arrested.

"We never really got to interview him because he was ex-law enforcement, he was a law student, he knew how the system worked," MacGregor said.

Cartwright told police her ex bragged he knew how to cover up a crime. He was helping her fight a messy custody battle with James. Would he do just about anything for Cartwright? MacGregor has spent the last 15 years trying to ask him and says the ex-boyfriend refuses to talk about the case. He refused our request for an interview too.

As for Cartwright, she's serving time in a Liberty County jail for unrelated drug charges. We reached out to her too. She declined our multiple requests.

Investigators need something to move the case forward. There's still hope James' murder will be solved. With DNA technology improving, investigators are considering resubmitting some of the evidence.

Sara Andrews and her children have long since moved out of the red house on Rosemead Drive. They couldn't bear to spend another Christmas there.

Hailey is married now with a baby of her own. She says she thinks about her dad every day.

"I miss him a lot. He missed out on a lot," Hailey said. "He didn't get to walk me down the aisle when I got married. He didn't get to see the boys grow up. The boys miss him a lot."

Eventually, Sara learned how to laugh again. How to be whole again. Part of her died that day with James on the front lawn.

"I would love to know why that happened. That changed our lives totally," she said.

She's at peace. But she says she'll never stop looking for answers.

"It doesn't bring him back. But at least it helps put the puzzle pieces in perspective."

If you know anything about the murder of James Andrews, contact the Pasadena police department at 713-477-1221. Your tips remain anonymous.

To watch more in-depth cold case investigations, visit our ABC13 Unsolved YouTube channel by clicking here.

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