Thursday, May 20, 2010

MAY 20, 2010

Testimony: Co-defendant warned man killed
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May 20, 2010 2:35 AM
A co-defendant in a nearly four-decade-old homicide testified Wednesday against a former local police chief accused of being the triggerman in the shooting death of a Camp Lejeune Marine.

Former Cape Carteret police chief George Hayden, his ex-wife Vickie Babbitt and Rodger Gill face first-degree murder and conspiracy charges in the 1972 shooting death of Sgt. William Miller.

Hayden, 58, is the first of the three defendants to stand trial. Babbitt, 58, and Gill, 56, are free on bail. Hayden and Gill lived with Babbitt, who was married to Miller at the time of his death. All four were Marines.

SBI Special Agent Cecil Cherry testified Wednesday that Gill told him during a 1998 interview that Hayden and Babbitt were living as man and wife in 1972 until Miller returned from Japan, beat up Hayden and tossed him out of his Piney View Street home.

Babbitt followed Hayden, taking her and Miller’s 1-year-old daughter. More than three and a half decades later, the couple’s daughter, Wendy Miller-McGee sat in the courtroom Wednesday listening to testimony against her former stepfather.

Miller-McGee passed Hayden in the courthouse hallway Tuesday, coming within three feet of the man she suspects killed her father. She called the experience surreal and said she cannot think about her mother’s upcoming trial.

Granted testimonial immunity by the court, Gill, of Athens, Ill., told the jury Wednesday that Hayden told him in the days leading up to Miller’s death that he had stolen an M-16 from the military while on a deployment aboard a Navy ship. Gill also said he warned Miller about Hayden.

Investigators testified Tuesday to finding two M-16 ammunition magazines in Hayden’s Chevy Nova the day after Miller was found gunned down on a remote section of Western Boulevard in September 1972.

Hayden’s attorney, Jacksonville lawyer Billy Joe Morgan, spent Wednesday morning shooting holes through testimony from state ballistics experts who tried to link shell casings found at the scene of Miller’s death as being consistent with an M-16 assault rifle.

Under Morgan’s cross-examination, SBI crime lab experts said they could not definitely say what kind of rifle was used to fire bullets into Miller’s head and spine. Morgan rattled off more than a dozen types of bullets to which the shell casings could have belonged, leaving experts to agree each was a possibility.

Morgan also blasted witnesses from the SBI crime lab in Raleigh about an ongoing investigation by the state attorney general into how agents presented evidence at certain past trials.

But after lunch, and Gill’s testimony, prosecutors began to pile circumstantial evidence high at Hayden’s feet. Federal and state cold case investigators who worked the case in the late-1990s testified about the alleged use of Miller’s credit cards by Hayden and Babbitt while Miller was in Japan.

Cherry testified that Hayden admitted to signing Miller’s name on checks and credit card receipts, although Morgan pointed out that according to handwriting experts none of the recovered receipt samples matched Hayden’s signature.

Cherry also testified about photographs of Babbitt and Hayden engaged in sexual activity that Miller had given, along with other documents concerning Hayden’s alleged identity theft, to a lawyer for safekeeping.

Hayden’s wife and son sat quietly during Cherry’s testimony.

High school sweethearts in Ohio, Hayden and Babbitt met again while stationed at Camp Lejeune, but Babbitt was married to Miller. When she was discharged from the Marines with the birth of her daughter and Miller shipped out to Japan, Hayden moved in, according to court records.

Hayden and Babbitt married four months after Miller’s death. They later divorced, but kept in contact. Hayden told authorities in 1998 that he would have married Babbitt sooner had Miller given her a divorce, according to testimony from Sam Worth, a special agent with Naval Criminal Investigative Service.

Today, the state may call more investigators who worked the case. Also on the witness list is a 1972 Miller neighbor who has told authorities he heard Hayden threaten Miller with an M-16 the day Miller kicked Hayden out of Miller’s home.

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