One night in October 2011, an unnamed killer invaded the Indiana home of a beloved professor and his wife and brutally attacked them as they waited for their teenage children to return home after a fanfare.
James Miller, a 58-year-old biology professor at Goshen College, has died from blunt wounds and stab wounds after running to his wife’s rescue. Linda Miller, who was stabbed 23 times as she prepared for bed, survived the assault.
But police did not name a suspect until 2018, when they arrested Winston Earl Corbett, who was 16 at the time of James’ murder.
Now Corbett is on trial for murder and attempted murder, but the motive for the disturbing incident and how Corbett knew the Millers remain uncertain. A probable cause affidavit detailing the case has been filed under seal and prosecutors declined to provide details ahead of this week’s trial in Elkhart County Circuit Court.
Linda Miller shared a heartbreaking account of the attack on Tuesday. And on Wednesday, the jury heard from a doctor who treated Linda, the medical examiner who performed the autopsy on James and a detective who attended the scene.
According to medical examiner Joseph Prahlow, James had 25 stab wounds and fractures to his nose, cheekbones and skull from blunt trauma. When Miller was stabbed in the head, a piece of his skull was chipped, Prahlow said.
Meanwhile, Linda arrived at the hospital with life-threatening injuries, including cuts to her head and scalp, a fractured forehead and a punctured lung, ABC 57 reported.
“I was in great physical distress. It was just awful enough. I instantly screamed for Jim, ”Linda said Tuesday, according to the Goshen News, a daily newspaper in the city of about 33,500 residents near the Michigan border.
Linda said on the night of the attack she left the front door and garage open to let in an unusually warm fall air for the season. Around 1 a.m., while washing in the master bathroom, Linda noticed that the door had opened before someone hit her on the head. Linda said the alleged murderer started stabbing her face, back and shoulders.
“He was a great teacher. He was tough. I mean, if you had a C in your class, it was like getting an A in any other class.“
In a 2012 interview, Linda said the attacker opened her bedroom window and entered the house around 1 a.m. When the door to her bathroom opened, she thought that his dog, a shih-poo named Frisky, had entered inside. “I never even looked,” Linda said of the killer. “He started stabbing me before I saw him.”
At the time, Linda told the Goshen News “The suspect’s eyes sparkled and he smiled at me.” She added, “We believe he was on methamphetamine. We don’t know, but we believe it. He had such strength.
A few days after the robbery later, Goshen police had no suspects but assured the public that they had received an avalanche of tips. Cops also released a sketch of the murderer, who Linda described as a “clean” young man, at least 5ft 10in and in his early to mid-20s.
Linda recalled that James had rushed into the bedroom, where the intruder had stabbed him. “He’s in deep distress,” Linda said this week. “He’s screaming for help.” She said she swung the suspect with a lamppost while her husband was lying on the floor.
Then Linda and the killer met their eyes as she contemplated her next move. The man wore a plaid coat and a hood covering his bangs, which were tucked to the side. “I remember thinking, and I used the word ‘twinkle’, her eyes were twinkling a bit,” Linda said.
She testified that the mysterious man smiled at her but did not hear him speak, the Goshen News reported. She ran to the bathroom and dialed 911, as James and the attacker continued to struggle in the hallway. She said she was disconnected twice before reaching emergency personnel.
Goshen Police Lt. Jeremy Welker said he arrived at the Miller Residence at around 1:15 a.m. following a call about an ongoing robbery. Former officer Brandon Miller arrived at the house around the same time.
Welker saw streaks of blood on the door of the house, as well as a tuft of bloody hairs on the doorknob. He said officers followed bloody footprints from the living room to the bedroom, before discovering Linda in the adjoining bathroom.
“I was trying not to look at her,” Welker said. “I didn’t want her to see my face, my shock, looking at her. Linda was covered in blood, Welker said, with a large gash on her face.
After the backup arrived, Welker and a sergeant spotted James lying near the house mailbox near the sidewalk. They covered his body with a sheet.
Linda said she did not learn that her husband had died until she was admitted to hospital. She said after police showed her a photo of Corbett in 2018, she was not entirely sure the 25-year-old was her attacker. But when she held Corbett’s gaze in a hearing after her arrest, she recognized him as the killer, the Goshen News reported.
In his opening statements, Assistant District Attorney Don Pitzer said cops arrested Corbett after investigators matched his DNA with blood found at the scene using a company that combines DNA analysis and genealogical research.
Police had gathered evidence, which included a mix of DNA profiles, from the front door and driveway, as well as a large drop of blood on a plinth near the entrance to the house. “These samples waited seven long years to find their owner,” Pitzer told the jury.
Pitzer said after investigators were taken to Corbett, they rummaged through his garbage to collect DNA samples from items such as beverage containers, chewing gum and a plane ticket , according to WNDU-TV in South Bend. When questioned by detectives, Corbett denied ever visiting the Millers’ home, Pitzer said.
For his part, Corbett’s lawyer Peter Britton argued that collecting his client’s DNA did not prove the young man had committed a crime. Britton also said Corbett had no motive to attack the Millers, the Goshen News reported.
“The evidence will show absolutely no connection between the Millers and the Corbetts,” Britton told jurors. “And during that six or seven year gap, Winston Corbett’s name was never part of this investigation.
“I never even looked. He started stabbing me before I saw him.“
In 2012, authorities considered a convicted serial burglar to be a “person of interest” but determined he was not involved. The following year, Goshen Police enlisted investigators from the Indiana State Police to assist in the investigation.
Corbett pleaded not guilty in November 2018 and was held without bail. Britton fought to suppress the DNA evidence in the case, claiming the police had wrongly obtained it and that the advice that put investigators on Corbett’s trail was based on ‘hearsay’.
Bristol Police Officer Steve Priem, who questioned Linda in hospital on Wednesday, told jurors she described the suspect as a clean-shaven young white man with a “baby face” and may -be in high school.
After talking to Linda, Priem returned to the house and spotted an open window with the screen cut off, as well as footprints in the grass.
Priem said cops took a look at the couple’s friends, family and acquaintances, as well as college and an Ohio basketball club that James was involved with. Linda also had to be ruled out as a suspect, Priem said, according to ABC 57.
The suspect’s initial police sketch was credits, Priem said, adding that the design looked like singer Justin Bieber. Priem said cops received more than 200 crime tips, but many were too vague to lead to a breakthrough.
The Millers’ house was a few blocks from Goshen College, a private liberal arts school affiliated with Mennonite Church USA and where James worked for 30 years. “He taught students who went on to become doctors, nurses and veterinarians who went to work here and across the country,” a spokesperson for Goshen College said. “He touched countless lives and made a commitment to his students, who knew him and called him by his first name.
He is remembered by students as a generous and passionate instructor who inspired them to excel. “He was a great teacher. He was tough. I mean, if you had a C in your class, it was like getting an A in any other class, ”one student recalls.
“He just pushed us, and you could tell he really wanted us to succeed.
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