Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Tuesday, June 1, 2010
Chief found guilty of ’72 murder

JACKSONVILLE, N.C. – The “Six Millers” got a measure of justice last week, although one of them received it posthumously.
A North Carolina jury convicted former Marine and Police Chief George Hayden, 57, of murdering fellow Marine William “Billy” Miller almost four decades ago.
Miller’s five siblings, including Hudson resident Georgia McNay, reunited last week to attend what is expected to be the first of three murder trials in the case.
“It was some very good news,” McNay said a day after the jury announced its verdict Wednesday. “It’s so exciting. We’re just so, so happy.”
It has been a long road for Miller’s five surviving siblings – a 37-year-long road.
Miller served two tours in Vietnam after following his father and grandfather into the Marine Corps. He spent a year in Okinawa, Japan, after his tours and returned to Jacksonville, N.C., in August 1972 to find his wife, now Vickie Babbitt, and Hayden living as husband and wife along with Miller and Babbitt’s infant daughter, Wendy, McNay said.
About a month after Miller reportedly beat up Hayden and threw him and Babbitt out of the house, Babbitt allegedly summoned Miller to a remote road to help her with car trouble. Hayden was lying in wait there, prosecutors said, and shot Miller, who was 27, in the back and head with an M-16 rifle.
Passing motorists found his body less than an hour later.
McNay thinks Babbitt was holding the couple’s daughter, Wendy, and that that’s why Miller wasn’t carrying his gun. Police found it on the passenger seat of his vehicle.
Hayden and Babbitt married four months later, but divorced four years after that. Hayden went on to work as a sheriff and then police chief in two small North Carolina towns. Babbitt worked as a bookkeeper in Oregon.
Miller’s murder case went unsolved until one of Miller’s sisters, Sharon Aguilar, contacted a Jacksonville Daily News reporter who was writing about cold cases. The paper ran two stories in 2008, and they are credited with prompting a new witness to come forward. That witness told police that another man, Rodger Gill, had told her about seeing the murder.
The new information breathed new life into the investigation and eventually led to three arrests. Babbitt and Gill are also facing murder and conspiracy charges. Babbitt and Gill were also in the Marines.
The week of the trial was difficult week for McNay and her family and although they avoided looking at any crime scene photos, the testimony of the medical examiner was a trial in itself. He described how Miller was paralyzed by the first gunshot to his back but was likely aware of what was happening until the second shot in the head, McNay said.
“I tell you, the way he described it was horrible. We were all crying. It was awful,” she said. “(Hayden) was a coward. He shot him in the back and then execution style, right in the head.”
Miller was the oldest of three boys in the Miller family. The boys, along with their three sisters, were known as the Six Millers as they were growing up in Wisconsin and South Dakota, McNay said.
“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 comes forward and the evidence, justice has to be done. I just can’t believe that after all this time that this wouldn’t happen.”
Jurors deliberated for three days before returning a verdict, and before they did, they told the judge that they couldn’t make a decision. The judge urged them to keep trying while the prosecutor warned family members to prepare themselves for disappointment.
“It was a little bit hairy there for a while,” McNay said. “We were down at that. We were a little bit nervous, but we all remained optimistic. We all kept saying, ‘It’s not over. It’s not over yet.’ We didn’t let it get us down.”
Hayden’s guilty verdict isn’t the end either, but McNay said two more guilty verdicts seem more likely now that Hayden is behind bars.
“The fear was if he had been found not guilty, everything would have ended, that there wouldn’t have been a trial for (Babbitt) or (Gill),” she said.
McNay said she plans to travel again to North Carolina for Babbitt’s and Gill’s trials, whenever those are.
She said she hopes her family’s experience, even though it isn’t over, is an inspiration to others in similar circumstances.
“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.”
Joseph G. Cote can be reached at 594-6415 or jcote@nashuatelegraph.com. Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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