One night in October 2011, a nameless 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 from a marching band competition.
James Miller, a 58-year-old biology professor at Goshen College, died of blunt force injuries and stab wounds after running to his wife’s rescue. Linda Miller, who was stabbed 23 times while getting ready for bed, survived the assault.
But police didn’t name a suspect until 2018, when they arrested Winston Earl Corbett, who was 16 years old at the time of James’ slaying.
Now Corbett is on trial for murder and attempted murder, but a motive for the disturbing incident and how Corbett knew the Millers remains unclear. A probable cause affidavit detailing the case was filed under seal, and prosecutors declined to provide details before this week’s trial in Elkhart County Circuit Court.
On Tuesday, Linda Miller shared a harrowing account of the attack. And on Wednesday, the jury heard from a doctor who treated Linda, the medical examiner who conducted James’ autopsy, and a detective who visited the scene.
According to forensic pathologist Joseph Prahlow, James had 25 stab wounds and fractures to his nose, cheekbones and skull from blunt force trauma. When Miller was stabbed in the head, a piece of his skull chipped, Prahlow said.
Meanwhile, Linda arrived at the hospital with life-threatening injuries including cuts to her head and scalp, a forehead fracture and punctured lung, ABC 57 reported.
“I was in great physical distress. It was just pretty awful. I screamed instantly for Jim,” Linda testified Tuesday, according to the Goshen News, a daily newspaper in the city of about 33,500 people near the Michigan border.
Linda said that the night of the attack, she left their front door and garage open to let in some unseasonably warm autumn air. Around 1 a.m., as she washed up in the master bathroom, Linda noticed the door open before someone struck her head. Linda said the alleged killer began stabbing her face, back and shoulders.
In a 2012 interview, Linda indicated the attacker sliced open her bedroom window screen and entered the home around 1 a.m. When her bathroom door cracked open, she thought her dog, a shih-poo named Frisky, had come inside. “I never even looked,” Linda said of the killer. “He started stabbing me before I ever saw him.”
Back then, Linda told the Goshen News the suspect’s “eyes were sparkling and he smiled at me.” She added, “We believe that he was on meth. We don’t know that, but we believe that. He had such strength.”
Days after the burglary later, Goshen police had no suspects but assured the public they received a flurry of tips. Cops also released a sketch of the murderer, whom Linda described as a “clean cut” young man, at least 5-foot-10 and in his early to mid-twenties.
Linda recalled that James rushed into the bedroom, where the intruder stabbed him. “He is in deep distress,” Linda testified this week. “He is screaming for help.” She said she swung at the suspect with a floor lamp while her husband lay on the ground.
Then Linda and the killer locked eyes as she considered her next move. The man wore a plaid coat and had a hood covering his bangs, which were swiped to the side. “I remember thinking, and I used the word 'twinkle,' his eyes kind of sparkled,” Linda said.
She testified that the mystery man smirked at her but she didn’t hear him speak, the Goshen News reported. She ran back to the bathroom and dialed 911, as James and the attacker continued to struggle in the hallway. She said she was disconnected twice before she reached emergency personnel.
Goshen police Lt. Jeremy Welker testified he arrived at the Miller residence around 1:15 a.m. following a call about a robbery in progress. Former officer Brandon Miller pulled up to the home around the same time.
Welker saw streaks of blood on the house’s storm door, along with a bloody clump of hair on the door handle. He said the officers followed bloody footprints from the living room to the bedroom, before they discovered Linda in the attached bathroom.
“I was trying not to look at her,” Welker testified. “I didn’t want her to see my face, my shock, at looking at her.” Linda was covered in blood, Welker said, with a large gash on her face.
After backup arrived, Welker and a sergeant spotted James lying near the house’s mailbox close to the curb. They covered his body with a sheet.
Linda said she didn’t learn her husband died until she was booked into the hospital. She said after police showed her a photo of Corbett in 2018, she wasn’t completely sure the 25-year-old was her attacker. But when she held Corbett’s gaze during a hearing after his arrest, she recognized him as the killer, the Goshen News reported.
In opening statements, Deputy Prosecuting 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 collected evidence, which included a mixture of DNA profiles, from the front door and driveway, along with a large drop of blood on a baseboard near the house’s entrance. “These samples waited seven long years to find their owner,” Pitzer told the jury.
Pitzer said that after investigators were led to Corbett, they rifled through his trash to collect DNA samples from items including drink containers, chewing gum, and an airline ticket, according to WNDU-TV in South Bend. Under questioning by detectives, Corbett denied ever visiting the Millers’ home, Pitzer said.
For his part, Corbett’s lawyer Peter Britton argued the collection of his client’s DNA doesn’t prove the young man committed any crime. Britton also said Corbett didn’t have a motive to attack the Millers, the Goshen News reported.
“The evidence is going to show absolutely no connection whatsoever between the Millers and the Corbetts,” Britton told jurors. “And during this six-, seven-year gap, never once did Winston Corbett’s name become part of this investigation.”
In 2012, authorities looked at a convicted serial burglar as a “person of interest” but determined he wasn’t involved. The following year, Goshen police enlisted cold case investigators from Indiana State Police to aid the probe.
Corbett pleaded not guilty in November 2018 and was held without bail. Britton fought to suppress DNA evidence in the case, saying police wrongfully obtained it and the tip that put investigators on Corbett’s trail was based on “hearsay.”
On Wednesday, Bristol police officer Steve Priem, who interviewed Linda at the hospital, told jurors that she had described the suspect as a young white male who was clean shaven with a “baby face” and possibly in high school.
After speaking to Linda, Priem returned to the house and spotted an open window with the screen cut, as well as footprints in the grass.
Priem said cops looked into the couple’s friends, family and acquaintances, as well as the college and an Ohio basketball club with which James was involved. Linda also had to be ruled out as a suspect, Priem said, according to ABC 57.
The initial police sketch of the suspect was generic, Priem said, adding that the drawing looked like singer Justin Bieber. Priem said cops received more than 200 tips on the crime but many were too vague to lead to a breakthrough.
The Millers’ home was a few blocks from Goshen College, a private liberal arts school affiliated with the Mennonite Church USA and where James worked for 30 years. “He taught students who became physicians, nurses and veterinarians who have gone to work here and all over the country,” a Goshen College spokesman said. “He touched countless lives and was committed to his students, who knew and called him by his first name.”
Students remembered him as a kind-hearted and passionate instructor who inspired students to excel. “He was a great professor. He was tough. I mean, if you got a C in his class, it was like getting an A in any other class,” one student recalled.
“He just pushed us, and you could tell he really wanted us to succeed.”