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Dangerous Reunion

Produced By Ian Paisley and Jenna Jackson

This story originally aired March 10, 2007. It was updated on Aug. 10, 2007.

In River Oaks, Texas, in 1982, the only thing more shocking than Retha Stratton's murder was the fact that Wesley Wayne Miller did it. "He's not the kind of person that if you see him walking down the street, you're gonna cross to the other side of the road for your safety," explains prosecutor Joey Robertson.

But as correspondent Susan Spencer reports, Robertson will try to convince a jury at a hearing that if he's simply freed, Miller will kill again. It's a fear that has driven Retha's sister Rona and her best friend Lisa Gabbert to fight for two decades to keep Miller locked up.

It all began when Rona and Lisa were just two small-town girls. In 1981, Lisa was a senior at Castleberry High; Wesley Wayne Miller was a pal and captain of the football team, voted best all around during his senior year.

As always in high school, the cheerleaders were at the center of everything; Lisa and her good friend, Retha Stratton were both on the squad.

Like Wesley Miller, Retha Stratton is all over the yearbook, beaming in the cheerleaders' official picture, a picture that over the next year would take on a grim significance.

On January 23, 1981, a girl seen just below Retha in that very yearbook photo, Susan Davis, was sexually assaulted.

"I'm standing there, and he walks in and with a stocking over his head, his face, no shirt on, jeans, with you know, his zipper open. And at that point I realized that something really bad was about to happen," Susan remembers.

She was 16 at the time and home alone. "My instincts took over and I just ran. And he caught me. And at that point, he began to threaten me," Susan recalls.

Her attacker, Susan says, told her to shut up and be quiet. "Don't scream or I'm going to hit you. It became physical, hitting me in the face, ripping my panties off…going at that point it was sexual. I prayed to God, you know, 'Watch over me.' And then at that point, he got up and walked away," Susan remembers of the ordeal.

Having failed to actually rape her, the attacker fled. At the time, Susan says she didn't know who had attacked her.

The man was probably someone she knew, police said, but with no physical evidence or suspects, the case stalled. For them, that was that, but not for Susan. "I had to go back into cheerleading. And I was paranoid all the time about, 'Is this person in the stands watching me?'" she wondered.

At Castleberry High, life went on. Lisa and Retha graduated that May, and then that November, a man raped another young woman in the nearby town of Saginaw. Again, the victim was alone, and like in the Davis case, the rapist wore a mask. He left a fingerprint but police couldn't identify it. In River Oaks, the case got little attention.

"It's just very much that teenage mentality that 'It doesn't affect my world. That can't happen to me,'" Lisa explains.

But on Dec. 7, 1981, it did, and the attack is as vivid when she visits the vacant house today, as it was back then. Lisa, who was just 18 years old at the time, was awakened when someone opened her bedroom door.

"And when I looked over I saw that someone was standing in the doorway with a mask and a red ski mask and panty hose over the mask," she remembers. "And he leapt on me. And we struggled. There was some choking. And then he tore back the covers. Opened my robe. And we struggled some more. And so he proceeded to rape me."

Lisa was sure her attacker knew her, because he didn't give a second thought to walking right past her ailing mother, who was an invalid.

"And you've always thought that was important, that the person who did this to you knew that your mother who was sitting here a few feet away couldn't move?" Spencer asks.

"Absolutely, because anyone else would have seen her as a witness," Lisa explains.

Still, she had no idea who the attacker was. Robert Lynn Hicks, then a rookie patrolman, interviewed Lisa that day. He distinctly remembers one telling detail. "She stated, 'If you'll find someone that looks similar to Wesley Miller, it would be, you know, a good place to start as far as looking for a suspect,'" Hicks recalls.

Lisa says she thought of Miller because the attacker was built like the football player and had similar arms.

The very next day, another rape happened just across the street from Lisa's house and the circumstances were strikingly similar. The victim was the sister of another cheerleader, Roxy McDonnell, who just happened to be dating Wesley Miller.

"And we had just said to the dad, 'Well, he's built like Wesley. And has arms like Wesley's.' And he says, 'Wesley, come here.' And he said, 'Let me see your arm.' And he pulls his arm over. He said, 'You mean it look just like this?' And we're like, 'Yeah,'" Lisa recalls. "And Wesley yanked his arm back and went upstairs. Without saying a word."

Even Roxy had doubts.

Officer Hicks had reported what Lisa had said, but no one connected the dots. "And it was a situation where if I think if we ignore it, it will go away. That was the impression that I got," he remembers.

Police had a sketch of a man seen fleeing the neighborhood after attacking Lisa. Inexplicably, the police never showed the composite to the victims.

Officer Hicks, at some point, had even made a telltale notation at the bottom on that composite: he wrote "Believed to be Wesley Miller." But Hicks says no one ever questioned Miller.

Then again, Wesley's friends, and not even his victims, could imagine he had anything to do with these crimes.

Amy Moody went to Castleberry High with Retha Stratton, a pal since childhood. The longtime friends graduated in 1981, ready to take on the world. "And we couldn't wait for that day that we graduated so that we could be on our own," Amy remembers.

They moved into a small house, blissfully unaware that a rapist in the area was targeting one-time-cheerleaders, although they had heard some rumors about the rapes.

Amy and Retha changed the locks on their new place, but six weeks had passed since Lisa and her neighbor were raped. Nothing had happened and fears faded.

"Everything got quiet again and that week was the first time that she had started comin' back home by herself again," Amy recalls.

But on Jan. 21, 1982, Amy came home only to make a horrendous discovery.

"She was on the floor. Like maybe he had pushed her in the closet and the closet door opened so she fell out. And she was completely bloody. The knife was still, he had left the knife stickin' in her chest. He had slit her wrists. Her panties were wadded up in her mouth," Amy remembers.

Fort Worth Police Detective Dennis Timmons was first on the scene. "You could follow the blood trail easily out of the living room into the hallway and into Retha's bedroom, and into the closet, and where her body was found," he recalls.

Retha had been stabbed 38 times with a kitchen knife. "She had a look on her face as if to say, you know, 'Vindicate me. I wasn't supposed to die this way.' And I'll never forget that," Timmons remembers.

It took the detective only five hours to zero in on his one and only suspect: Wesley Miller.

A neighbor had seen Wesley's pick-up near Retha's house at the time of the murder. Police determined that Retha was killed in the late afternoon, between 5:15 and 5:30 p.m. Shortly after that, Wesley showed up at his girlfriend Roxy's house nearby.

"She lets him in the house. He goes to the bathroom, and she can hear him lock the door. And she said that was unusual for him to lock the door," Timmons explains.

Even more unusual, Wesley asked Roxy to wash his jeans, which had blood on them. "He had told her that he had been playing touch football with some of his friends and brothers friends and one of the boys had gotten a nose bleed and bled on them," Timmons tells Spencer.

But after they heard of Retha's murder, Roxy's parents turned the jeans over to the police.

Within 48 hours, police charged 19-year-old Wesley Miller with the murder of Retha Stratton. At first, he denied everything. But then, when confronted with the evidence, he abruptly confessed.

"I said, 'Why did you cut her wrists so bad?' 'Oh, I wanna make sure she's dead.' And a big light went on in my brain, then when he told me that," Timmons recalls of his interview with Miller.

There was no evidence Retha had been raped, but, within days of his arrest, police matched Wesley's fingerprint to one from the unsolved rape case in Saginaw.

Horrified, Lisa and the other victims began putting two and two together. Miller was suspected of committing four rapes and one attempted rape, but prosecutors only charged him with two of the rapes, including the Saginaw case, while they investigated the others. But their immediate concern was Retha's murder. Miller's trial began in October, 1982.

"He looked more like a scared 15-year-old kid than … a savage murderer," remembers Wesley's attorney, Jack Strickland.

But Wesley faced the possibility of life in prison; the trial lasted less than two weeks.

Assistant District Attorney Pam Lakatos wasn't worried for a second. After all, Wesley Miller had confessed, and in fact the jurors took less than an hour to find him guilty.

They then spent more than twice that time deliberating his sentence. Since he was only on trial for the murder, the jury was not allowed to hear anything about the rape charges.

The sentence was a shocker: Miller got just 25 years. Retha's sister Rona was horrified. "Not even a year for every time he stabbed her," she remembers.

Apparently, the jury decided Wesley Miller, football star and "best all around student," deserved a second chance.

"Did the D.A. assure your family that, 'Okay. You didn't get the sentence that we thought on the murder. But there's still these rape charges that we're gonna get this guy on?'" Spencer asks Rona.

"'We will take him to trial to get additional time,'" Rona remembers.

It didn't happen. Back then, there was no DNA testing and in the end, prosecutors only went forward with the most air-tight case, the Saginaw case where police found his fingerprint. All the other cases, including those involving the girls from Castleberry High, never went anywhere.

The decision completely devastated Lisa. "To find out that they wouldn't make a case out of this. That they didn't do something," she says.

Not only that, prosecutors agreed to a plea deal – 20 years to be served concurrently with the murder sentence. Bottom line: Miller got no additional prison time.

Pam Lakatos acknowledges that decision had enormous ramifications. "But, I don't think anybody could have foreseen it back then," she tells Spencer.

Especially not Retha's grieving family, who would be devastated to discover how soon Wesley Wayne Miller would be up for parole.

Miller, sentenced to 25 years for murder, was up for parole after only two years; his request was denied before Rona and Lisa even knew about it.

They were only in their 20's and couldn't imagine back then this would become their life's work, but when they found out Wesley Miller would now be up for parole every year, they had to do something.

Rona and Lisa bombarded the parole board with petitions. "I think we ended up with, probably about 5,000 signatures before we were done," Rona remembers.

The petitions contained information about who Retha was, and what Wesley Miller had done to her. Rona also included some of the gruesome crime scene photos.

That worked for awhile, but soon Rona and Lisa had new problem: Texas, it turned out, had a mandatory release law, passed to ease prison overcrowding.

With enough credit for good behavior, inmates would be released early, and by 1991, Wesley Miller qualified. "Which meant it didn't matter whether they saw that he wasn't really a good candidate to be released on parole or not. He was getting out," Lisa remembers.

When the time came, they did manage to make sure he didn't get out in River Oaks, then got him banned from 13 other counties. His release finally was to a halfway house in Houston, 260 miles away. But it wasn't far enough for Rona and Lisa.

Their protests forced the board to move Miller three times, finally to Wichita Falls.

His adversaries got there first, remembers District Attorney Barry Macha. "They just wanted me to know that that was the kind of individual who was comin' to our community on parole," he recalls.

Macha filed that away. Then, one summer night about a year later, a woman named Laura Barnard was startled by a stranger, running toward her, as she was unloading her groceries.

Laura was not hurt and her husband Charlie raced outside to confront the guy. "I told Laura to go get the keys to the car. So I run and jump in the car, and we take off down the street," Chalie remembers.

The stranger headed for his truck. The attacker got away, but Laura got his license plate number, and wrote it on her grocery list. The next morning, Charlie, an attorney, called his pal the District Attorney Barry Macha.

The pick-up was registered to a Morris Miller, Wesley's father. But after looking at a photo line-up, Charlie Barnard had no question who was driving. "It took me three or four seconds to ID him. And I'll never forget his eyes. He had very piercing, evil eyes," Charlie remembers.

The district attorney charged Miller with attempted assault and even prosecuted the case himself. A guilty verdict in the Barnard case landed Miller back in prison for five more years, but in 1998, the same old story happened and he was released again.

This time, thanks to Rona and Lisa, it wasn't much of a release: they got officials to force him to wear a GPS monitor 24 hours a day, even though he was housed in the most secure location they possibly could come up with, the Tarrant County Jail.

Having someone paroled from state prison to a county jail was a first for Sheriff Dee Anderson.

Anderson says Miller spent 23 hours a day in his cell, which was "grim by design, grim by necessity."

So grim, Miller even held a press conference claiming he was being treated unfairly. Not only did his parole board disagree, it ordered him to take sex offender counseling, which for Miller was the most unfair requirement of all. "I refuse because I've never been convicted of a sex crime," he said in 1998.

True, no jury convicted him, but remember that after his murder trial, Miller did plead guilty to that one rape, the one where police found his fingerprint.

Why does Rona think he refused? "That acknowledges that all those crimes that he thinks he got away with. Like Lisa's and the rest. That he was never even charged with. That it associates him back with those," she reasons.

Over the years, his steadfast refusal to go to sex offender classes has cost him dearly, since it always means returning to prison, where he insists he doesn't belong.

"I've done whatever's required to do, by law. And I've done my time. And there's no reason to be afraid of me," Miller has said. "I would hope to just be able to get out and to live a normal life, and spend some time with my family."

Rona and Lisa concede they've taken great satisfaction in thwarting that homecoming. "Knowing that we were the ones doing this to him. That was sweet. That was the best thing ever," Lisa says.

But now the clock is ticking – the state soon will have set him free, with no strings attached, unless his two adversaries succeed in a last extraordinary move to stop it.

Wesley Miller's 25-year sentence was about to end, but Chief Prosecutor Joey Robertson was determined Miller wouldn't simply walk out of prison.

"My job is to prove that Wesley Miller is a sexually violent predator," he explains.

Because if Miller meets that legal definition, the state can put him under what's called civil commitment, so that when he finally is released, he'll be subject to the same intense monitoring as the worst sex offenders.

Rona was instrumental in getting this law passed. The law they helped pass requires two convictions for sex crimes, before someone can be committed.

Miller's rape plea counts as one. Now prosecutors must convince a jury that, even though Retha wasn't raped, her murder was a sex crime as well. If they succeed, Wesley Miller will be the first murderer ever civilly committed. If they fail, he'll soon simply walk out of prison, and they say, strike again.

Miller's lawyer Bob Mabry refused to discuss his strategy, and in fact went to extraordinary lengths to refuse. He even convinced the judge to close the actual hearing to cameras.

Before it starts, Lisa and Rona take seats just a few feet from Miller, who certainly knows that they are the main reason his freedom may be denied.

Wesley Miller never was charged with assaulting Susan Davis, but she is sure he did it, and has come to face him for the first time since high school. "When I saw him, I looked him straight in the eye. And just thought you know, 'What an awful person you are for all these things that you've done,'" Susan says.

Robertson argues that Retha's murder was simply the last barbaric act of a serial rapist, one who, as the famous cheerleader photo shows, picked his victims carefully.

But Miller denies it, both in his testimony and in this earlier deposition, shot by the state.

Retha's murder, Robertson continues, is the very definition of a sex crime. Robertson even enlarged the very gruesome crime scene photos of Retha to show the jury. "I had to. It's important those are her own blood-soaked panties that are stuck into her mouth," he explains.

On the stand, Miller admitted that he was sexually attracted to Retha. Miller claims that he went to Retha's house for sex but that when they fought, she attacked him.

"We argued and it just led to her going to grab for the knife," he claims.

When it comes to the details of the actual murder, Miller's memory fails him; he told the court he couldn't recall Retha's stabbing.

"I refer to it as a very convenient amnesia," says Dr. Randall Price, a forensic psychologist hired by the state to evaluate Wesley Miller. "He can remember the details. Up until the point that the details become, those that would add to his culpability. And then, he blacks out."

Dr. Price says he doesn't buy that story "at all."

"I think he was there to commit a sexual assault on her. To rape her. And he lost control of the situation," Dr. Price tells Spencer.

And, Dr. Price says, Wesley wasn't used to that. "He was Mr. Castleberry High. He was football star. I think there was a certain sexual entitlement that he had. That he thought that he was, you know, in some way entitled to have sex with the popular cheerleaders of the school," Price explains.

Asked what he thinks is wrong with Wesley Wayne Miller, Dr. Price says, "I think he's a psychopath. I think he's a sexual psychopath."

And how does popular high school football star morph into a sexual psychopath? Are there clues in his childhood?

The oldest of three, his father Morris says he was athletic, and a good kid. He also idolized his dad, who worked for the railroad. "I was proud of Wes because he was a go-getter, and he tried to be number one all the time," his father explains.

Morris says when he was injured in a terrible train accident during Wesley's junior year, Wesley took it very hard. "I had my right leg cut off. And extensive brain damage. They say I'm lucky to be even talking to you right now."

Speaking to prosecutor Joey Robertson, Wesley Miller told him his father's accident affect his home life drastically.

"I knew it mentally, it hurt my son Wes. As much as it did me, if you know what I mean. It seemed like he cried a lot," Morris remembers.

The accident also took a toll on the Miller's marriage. "It seemed like my family –slowly—started drifting away," Morris says.

But he has no idea if the resulting family chaos somehow led to murder. "No matter what he's done, he's still my son. And I'll love him forever," Morris tells Spencer. "I feel like Wes has paid his debt to society. I believe he should get out, not one day more than the 25 year sentence at the most.

Back at the hearing, the defense argues just that, bringing in an expert witness, Dr. Jason Dunham, who tells the court he finds nothing, including those photos, to prove this was a sexual crime.

Wesley Miller surprisingly agrees with the prosecution on one thing – his 25 year sentence, he says, was too light. "It wasn't fair because I was guilty and it's a very bad crime," he said.

And, when prompted, he says he's sorry for what he did and asks for forgiveness.

Testimony lasted four days; soon the jury will speak. 25 years ago, sympathetic jurors gave Wesley Miller the break of his life and this jury could set him free.

The jury is deliberating Wesley Miller's future and prosecutor Joey Robertson is tense.

His biggest concern? "The burden that is put on us. To prove the motivation of a murder that happened 25 years ago," he tells Spencer.

And he says that with Miller's sentence about to end, the stakes are huge. "If Wesley Miller is walking around unsupervised, Texas is a little more dangerous place to live."

Pam Lakatos helped prosecute Miller for Retha's murder 25 years ago, but she is now a defense attorney, and generally, not happy with civil commitment.

"What do you say to the idea that you know what? This guy served every minute of what a jury of his peers said he should. And he has paid his debt to society, leave him alone?" Spencer asks.

"I would agree with that. I use that argument quite frequently," Lakatos says.

But not even she hastens to add, when it comes to Wesley Wayne Miller, "If you were talking to me about somebody else besides Miller, it'd be different. All right? If I didn't feel so strongly, it'd be different."

Win or lose, Rona and Lisa say they're grateful this trial finally showed the world the real Wesley Miller and all he did.

"We might not win it, but it was all said in court. It's all wrapped up and that's up to that jury to decide that," Rona tells Spencer.

And in a little under two hours, the jury had decided. Anxious to hear the verdict, Lisa and Rona join Susan Davis in court.

On question one, whether Wesley Miller is a repeat, violent, sexual offender, jurors ruled "Yes."

And there was more vindication to come for these three women, whose lives Miller altered forever 25 years ago.

On question two, jurors agreed that Miller suffers from a behavior abnormality, that makes him likely to engage in a predatory act of sexual violence.

The ruling states that Miller is a sexual predator and means that the minute he walks out of prison he'll be subject to strict supervision.

While Rona feels relief, Lisa says, "It's such validation. He really was there to sexually assault her…and murder her, and she didn't ask for that. And I was raped, and I did know it was him, and now he has to answer for that."

Susan Davis, too, is enormously relieved. "This whole week has been hard for me, I mean it's been, I've had to listen to everything over again—and, this, I feel like I got some answers."

Through it all, Wesley Miller remains apparently un-phased; he is fingerprinted and dons prison garb for his return to prison.

So what is life like under civil commitment?

"When he is released, he'll be released to a half-way house. He will have GPS monitoring. He will have required counseling sessions that he's to attend. And he'll be closely supervised," Robertson explains.

He'll be monitored 24/7 and have to abide by more than 40 restrictions: no alcohol, no driving a car, random drug tests and polygraph exams.

Under the new rules, Miller will be re-evaluated every two years, but one violation, like again refusing sex offender treatment, and he could be back in prison for life…

That would be fine with Rona and Lisa.

"Does a day go by when Wesley Wayne Miller doesn't cross your mind?" Spencer asks.

"No. Not mine," Rona says. "And the sad thing is, the really sad thing about all of that is maybe a day goes by that Retha doesn't."

But it is the memory of what happened to Retha Stratton and all the others that has made this decades-long struggle worth it.

Wesley Miller was released from state prison on March 9, 2007. Miller is housed within 25 miles of Rona and Lisa.

Since 2001, two sex offenders in Texas have cut off their monitors and disappeared. Only one has been captured.

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