Murder Suspect Returns to West Tennessee to Face Charges
HENDERSON COUNTY, Tenn.- After 27 years of searching for answers in the cold case murder of Betty Carol Thomas, family members of Thomas, came face to face with her accused killer.
"He looked right at us when he walked in that was just a bad feeling I couldn't even stand it," said Jennifer Hopper. "My heart just went to my feet, I didn't really know how to feel."
John Edward Miller, 47, was transported to Henderson County to face first degree murder and kidnapping charges. Officials held the arraignment in circuit court, away from other general sessions cases to ensure family members had privacy in this sensitive case which has lasted for more than a quarter of a century. Miller who was appointed a public defense attorney, plead not guilty.
"The process is kind of nerve racking," said Hopper. "Don't put us through any more you've already put us through 27 years, you know lets get this over with."
Miller is accused of killing Betty Carol Thomas, 32 of Lexington back in December of 1986. Investigators said Thomas went missing after an unknown male called her residence and asked to meet to meet her at Waugh's Pizza in Lexington. Her family later discovered her 1971 Ford LTD had been abandoned at the pizza parlor. Officials said Thomas was never seen or heard from again. Investigators said hunters found her skeletal remains on December 25 near Pine Lake State Recreational Area south of Lexington. The findings of the medical examiner revealed that Thomas died as a result of a cut to her throat.
Miller was charged after a witness called the Henderson County Sheriff's Department in January with a statement about overhearing Miller confess to killing Thomas with a cutting instrument in March of 1986. Investigators said another witness in February 2013, recalled to authorities overhearing a telephone conversation that Miller made prior to Thomas' disappearance. Authorities said the phone call detailed Miller's plans to kidnap Thomas. Officials said the relationship between Miller and Thomas remains unknown. Family members told WBBJ 7 Eyewitness News that he was a close family acquaintance in the years leading up to 1986. Family members of Thomas said they have not seen or heard from him since the murder. Miller is currently serving a 40 year prison sentence for an unrelated aggravated robbery charge. Authorities said he was out on bond awaiting trial at the time Thomas was killed.
"You just can't give up got to keep on and keep on thinking everyday you're going to find out something new, get more information," said Hopper.
Miller's public defense attorney George Googe told WBBJ 7 Eyewitness News that because this case has spanned over a quarter of a century, the process will need more time and careful consideration of the details to ensure a fair trial.
"We have a case that originated in 1986, so it's going to take some time to look into this and see what the best resolution is," said George Googe, Miller's public defense attorney. "There has to be evidence proved beyond a reasonable doubt to moral certainty in Tennessee to convict somebody of an offense if we didn't have that we would have a lot of innocent people locked away because somebody thought they did it."
Family members said they were disappointed in Miller's not guilty plea, but relieved that the case has finally been set into motion.
"That's all we can do we can pray everyday and have faith and know that justice is finally going to be served," said Hopper.
Miller was denied bond, his preliminary hearing was scheduled for May 8Th in Henderson County.