Sunday, May 23, 2010

Woman travels to NC for trial in brother’s 37-year-old murder

Friday, May 14, 2010 Woman travels to NC for trial in brother’s 37-year-old murder
Staff Writer

Georgia McNay's brother, Billy Miller was murdered in Jacksonville, N.C. Since that day, his case has remained open. Nearly forty years later, McNay and her husband, Jay are driving to N.C. to witness the trial of one of the three people charged in connection to the murder.

HUDSON – It can be hard to organize a family reunion when four of your siblings are now scattered around the country, never mind when a fifth sibling was murdered almost four decades ago.

Yet next week will be close to a reunion for Georgia McNay and her family when they meet in Jacksonville, N.C., for the trial of a man accused of killing their brother 37 years ago.

William “Billy” Miller was 27 when he was shot and left in a roadside ditch one September night in 1972. On Monday, George Hayden, 57, a former Marine and police chief, will go on trial for allegedly shooting Miller twice with an M-16 rifle after Miller’s estranged wife, Vickie Babbitt, allegedly lured him into an ambush.

McNay, 67, and her husband, Jay McNay, will make the 14-hour drive from Hudson to North Carolina this weekend to watch what is expected to be the first of three trials along with McNay’s four surviving siblings.

McNay said officials have said her brother’s 37-year-old murder is the country’s oldest cold case going to trial.

Miller’s life and death

The Millers grew up in Wisconsin and South Dakota. McNay was the second of three girls, Billy the first of three boys. Until late 1972, things were largely normal. The “Six Millers” went to school, grew up and eventually moved away from home to begin living their lives.

McNay finished high school in New Hampshire and around the same time, Miller left school to join the Marines, following in the footsteps of their father, McNay said.

He spent a decade in the Marines and served two tours of duty in Vietnam before being stationed in Okinawa, Japan. The last McNay heard from her brother was a letter he sent just before leaving for Okinawa, she said.

Miller was in for a nasty surprise when he returned to the United States in the summer of 1972. He found his wife, Babbitt, living with Hayden in the couple’s Jacksonville home with their 1-year-old daughter, Wendy. He reportedly beat up Hayden and kicked both of them out. They took Wendy with them.

About a month later, on Saturday, Sept. 16, 1972, court records say Babbitt called Miller and asked him to help her with car trouble. Miller borrowed a car and took his .22-caliber pistol with him. He had told his sister days before he felt threatened.

Passing motorists found Miller’s body near Camp Lejeune less than an hour later. He’d been shot twice.

Prosecutors say Babbitt faked car trouble to lure Miller to a secluded stretch of rural road in Jacksonville. They say Hayden laid in wait with an M-16 rifle and shot Miller in the back and temple. Miller appears to have been surprised: When police found the car, its engine was running, the headlights were on and Miller’s gun was on the front seat.

“It never completely goes away. It’s always there,” McNay said. “To lose one of the six Millers was horrible. That void is always there, always. It’s family.”

McNay and some of her family members have long suspected Hayden and Babbitt. Knowing the people she thought were responsible have been free hasn’t been easy.

“My feeling is that George did it, absolutely, and (Vickie) set it up,” McNay said. “The sad thing is after all these years, you don’t think anything’s going to happen, that they got away with it.”

The crime unfolds

Babbitt and Hayden married four months after Miller’s death and divorced four years later.

Hayden retired from the Marines in 1989 and worked for the Carteret County Sheriff’s Department before becoming chief for the Cape Carteret and Belhaven, N.C., police departments.

Babbitt remarried and worked as a bookkeeper in Bend, Ore.

The search for Miller’s killer eventually went cold and could have stayed that way if not for his older sister Sharon Aguilar, who continued pursuing answers and eventually found a reporter interested in cold cases.

The break in the case came in 2008 and began with a story in a North Carolina newspaper. Lindell Kay, a reporter at The Daily News of Jacksonville, was writing about cold cases and featured Miller’s murder.

It led Bonnie Sharpe, a former baby sitter for Wendy, Miller’s daughter, to come forward with key information. She told police that her former fiance, Rodger Gill, told her about witnessing the shooting, according to news reports.

The tip became a starting point for a new investigation and eventually led to the arrests of Hayden, Babbitt and Gill. All three are charged with murder and conspiracy leading with the start of Hayden’s trial on Monday.

McNay said she is bracing for the pain of the trial, but is keeping faith that justice will be done.

“We have to do this for him. It just upsets me so much that they’ve lived their lives and Billy’s was over at 27,” McNay said. “That’s what’s keeping us together – justice has to happen. I just have to believe that after all this time and a witness coming forward and the evidence, justice has to be done. I just can’t believe that after all this time that this wouldn’t happen.”

McNay said she hopes to be an example to other families whose loved ones’ deaths have gone unsolved.

“I tell people not to give up hope. There’s always a chance,” she said. “I mean, 38 years. It’s just incredible. It’s so important for people who have lost a loved one and all these years go by. It’s so important that after all these years, something happens.”

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