Friday, January 2, 2009


Trial set 36 years after Marine’s slaying

By Trista Talton - Staff writer-Marine Corps Times
Posted : Sunday Dec 28, 2008 8:51:26 EST

JACKSONVILLE, N.C. — Sgt. William Miller was home barely a month from a yearlong deployment to Okinawa when motorists found his body on a roadway not far from Camp Lejeune, N.C., in September 1972.

He had been shot with an M16 — once in the head and once in the back — and left there to die. Authorities made no arrests in his murder.

But 36 years later, a story in a local newspaper highlighting cold cases in the Jacksonville area prompted a witness to come forward. In early September, authorities in North Carolina and Oregon arrested two former Marines in connection with Miller’s death: his widow and the man she later married.
Vickie Lynn Miller Hayden Cooper Babbitt, the mother of one of Miller’s three daughters, and her alleged accomplice, George Hayden, a former police chief once married to Babbitt, face charges of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder.
Babbitt, 58, was arrested at her home in Bend, Ore., and extradited to North Carolina, where she remained in jail until Dec. 9. She was released on a $400,000 bond. She agreed to turn over her passports and submitted to electronic monitoring. Hayden, 57, was arrested at his home in Belhaven, N.C., and released from jail Nov. 7 on a $350,000 bond.
Both now await trial, but dates have not been set. Miller’s family, meanwhile, hopes justice will soon come full circle.
“The anticipation now is driving me crazy, and to think we have to wait now for a year or however long — you never have closure,” said Miller’s sister Sharron Aguilar, who lives in Houston.
To his family, Sgt. Miller, born in January 1945, was “Billy.” He spent the first 10 years of his life with his five blue-eyed, blonde-haired siblings in Weyerhaeuser, Wis., a small, remote town about 60 miles east of the Minnesota border.
He was a typical boy, his sister said. He enjoyed riding his bike, fishing, climbing trees, playing with his brothers and picking on his little sisters. When Miller was in his early teens, the family moved to Herreid, S.D., where he worked for free on a horse ranch in return for his love of riding.

At 17, Miller convinced his father, a former Marine, to sign the papers allowing him to join the Corps. The elder Miller, who was in poor health at the time, hoped his oldest son would realize his dream of working in a top-secret position that required the highest level of security clearance. He died before his son’s murder.
Billy Miller divorced his first wife Janice, with whom he had two daughters, and eventually married Babbitt, a fellow Marine who would give birth to Miller’s third daughter. Aguilar said she doesn’t remember how her brother met Babbitt, but she remembers the first time he brought his new girlfriend home to Wisconsin to meet the family.
“You talked to her, and she’d barely answer,” Aguilar said. “She acted kind of shy.”
While in Okinawa, Miller wrote letters to home saying he was eager to bring his wife and new daughter to Wisconsin to introduce the baby to his mother and two older daughters.
“He had no idea that there was any problem in the marriage,” Aguilar said. Babbitt “didn’t give him a clue. His letters were positive about coming home and seeing his daughters. He was just excited."

Parting words:
Miller anticipated a happy reunion with his wife, but when he came home from Okinawa in August 1972, he found Hayden living in his trailer with his wife, Aguilar said.
“I can’t even imagine the pain he felt when he found George there,” Aguilar said. “Naturally, he wanted George out. ... Billy called me, stating what he had found and that he wouldn’t be coming home because he was using his furlough time to find an attorney. That was the last time I spoke to him."
About a month later, on Sept. 16, his car was found on the shoulder of Western Boulevard, according to a report in The Daily News of Jacksonville, N.C. The engine was running, the lights were on and a turn signal was blinking. A pistol was on the seat.

“When he was murdered, Vickie called my mother in the middle of the night and stated, ‘Billy got shot and he is dead,’ and she hung up,” Aguilar said.
The family searched for answers. Aguilar called local authorities and her brother’s command. Neither would give her information.
Babbitt and Hayden attended Miller’s funeral at Arlington National Cemetery, but she “wouldn’t speak to us and we couldn’t figure out why,” Aguilar said.
Authorities questioned Babbitt and Hayden after the murder, but could not link them to the crime.
Aguilar eventually contacted her congressman, who helped her obtain a Judge Advocate General’s report about her brother’s death.
Relief, not sadness:
Babbitt and Hayden married three months after Miller’s death. They had a son together and were later divorced.
Hayden went on to become police chief in two small towns in eastern North Carolina. In March, several months before his arrest Sept. 8, he was fired from the Belhaven Police Department in an unrelated matter, according to media reports.
Babbitt has been living on a small orchard with her husband in Bend, Ore., said her attorney Scott Jack. At the time of her arrest Sept. 9, she was working as a bookkeeper for a local business.
Authorities say they got the evidence they needed to arrest Babbitt and Hayden in August. A witness came forward after The Daily News ran a story about Miller’s unsolved murder.
Hayden’s lawyer, Bob Coxe, could not be reached for comment.
Babbitt took a polygraph test in 1972 and passed, her attorney said. Authorities questioned her again about 10 years ago.
“She told them she knew nothing about her husband’s murder then, and that’s what she told them in 1972,” Jack said. “She absolutely has maintained her innocence for 36 years.”

Aguilar said she and Miller’s other siblings, as well as his daughters, plan to be present when Babbitt and Hayden are put on trial.
“It’s very hard to explain our feelings,” Aguilar said. “The feelings are not of sadness; it’s relief that this is finally coming to a head. Losing a brother or any sibling is devastating. We are a very close family so it took a lot out of us.

“We’ve been waiting for this for a long, long time.”

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