By Jennifer Bucholtz, Faculty Member, Criminal Justice
Editor’s Note: This is the 11th article in a series reviewing and analyzing the facts and evidence related to the murder of Rebekah Gould. Start with the first article to learn the facts of this case. You can also listen to developments in the case on AMU’s Break the Case podcast, Season 1.
For 16 years, family members, friends and followers of the unsolved murder of Rebekah Gould have had few answers to the countless questions surrounding her death, which occurred on or about September 20, 2004.
On November 7, 2020, an arrest was made in the case. William Alma Miller was questioned and later arrested by Mike McNeill, an investigator with the Arkansas State Police (ASP). Miller’s arrest was only the beginning of a nearly two-year judicial process, consisting of his extradition to Arkansas, appearances before Izard County Judge Tim Weaver and months of waiting on a mental competency exam.
Finally, on August 24, Miller appeared during a suppression hearing, where the court saw Miller’s polygraph and confession video [for details, listen to EP 09: William Miller Suppression Hearing]. This was followed shortly by a pre-trial hearing on October 3, which revealed never-before-seen autopsy and crime-scene photos [listen to EP 10: William Miller Pre-Trial Hearing]. The official trial was scheduled to begin on October 31, 2022.
However, Rebekah’s alleged killer will never face these accusations directly in court and her family may never know what truly happened to her.
A Plea Deal was Reached
On October 14, I received notice from Rebekah’s father, Dr. Larry Gould, that the prosecuting attorney assigned to Miller’s case, Eric Hance, was considering offering Miller a plea deal. Hance called Dr. Gould—who is Rebekah’s legal next of kin— to discuss the proposition and obtain his input.
Since Miller’s arrest, Dr. Gould told me multiple times that he wanted Miller to stand trial in front of a judge and jury.
“My top priority is to learn all the details about Rebekah’s death. I want to know Miller’s motive for killing her. I want to know if he sexually assaulted her. And I want to know if anyone helped him kill her, clean up afterwards, or dump her body in the woods,” he said.
Dr. Gould also wants to know who wrote the anonymous letter that he received in 2016 and if anyone has had knowledge of William’s involvement for these last 16 years and never came forward with that information.
Like most people who have followed Rebekah’s case, he was convinced there was much more to the story than what Miller described in his confession.
Dr. Gould said that during his conversation with prosecutor Hance, he explained his unwavering desire to know these details and that he still supported going through with a criminal trial. However, he also acknowledged Hance’s concerns about seating an unbiased jury in a county with so few residents as well as the monetary strain such a trial would have on the county, particularly due to the cost of transporting and housing so many out-of-state witnesses.
While Hance disclosed he was very confident the prosecution could achieve a conviction, he reiterated that he could never guarantee the outcome of any trial; there was always a possibility Miller would be acquitted and no one would ever be held responsible for Rebekah’s murder.
Miller Appeared in Court for a Plea Hearing
On October 18, 2022, nearly two years after his arrest, Miller appeared in the Izard County Jail courtroom and stood before Circuit Court Judge Tim Weaver. Miller was handcuffed in the front and clad in a protective vest and orange jumpsuit. His posture was slumped and his voice soft and barely audible.
Judge Weaver asked Miller if he understood the first-degree murder charge being brought against him, whether he’d had adequate legal representation, and whether he was taking the plea deal voluntarily. Miller responded in the positive to all questions. Judge Weaver then asked Miller to explain what he’d done that justified the state bringing a first-degree murder charge.
Miller stated that on September 20, 2004, he hit Rebekah twice and “dumped her body on Highway 9.” He continued on, saying he threw a suitcase, which contained bloody sheets from the crime scene, on the side of a road. Judge Weaver asked him if anybody else assisted him in the crime or whether anyone else knew of his actions against Rebekah. “No one else ever knew before Mike McNeill,” Miller said. McNeill was the investigator from the Arkansas State Police who ultimately elicited Miller’s confession.
Rebekah’s Father Finally Addressed his Daughter’s Killer
Dr. Gould was provided the opportunity to give a victim impact statement before the court. While staring down Miller, he gave insight into how the loss of his daughter permanently changed his life, how he searched relentlessly for Rebekah the week she was missing, only to discover that Miller had “dumped her like a bag of trash.” He recalled the promise he’d made to Rebekah, while standing over her casket in 2004. “No matter what it takes, I will find out who took your life,” he sobbed.
Addressing Miller again, “Had you not been sick, you might have had a nice life,” Dr. Gould continued. “Mike McNeill brilliantly used your arrogance against you. You have two more counts to face: the prison system and God himself.” Miller appeared to be crying as he listened to Dr. Gould speak.
Dr. Gould finished his statement by referencing his previous promise to Rebekah. “Today, I look to heaven and whisper, ‘Promise made, Rebekah.’”
Miller Addressed Rebekah’s Family
Judge Weaver asked Miller how he felt after listening to the family’s impact statement. Miller responded saying he was sorry.
Judge Weaver told him he needed to address those family members. Miller turned around, not looking at anyone in particular, and said “I’m sorry for what I’ve done. I know you’ll never forgive me for what I’ve done, but I wish I could go back and change what I did.”
Upon delivering Miller his 40-year sentence, Judge Weaver sternly told Miller, “I hope you serve every day of those 40 years. I won’t be sitting here when you come up for parole, but if I was, I’d write a letter opposing it. In my opinion, you are remorseless and cold.”
Details of the Plea Deal
Ultimately, Dr. Gould agreed to the plea deal with certain stipulations. Miller was sentenced to 40 years in prison in exchange for a guilty plea. He will be eligible for parole at the 30-year mark.
However, Miller’s potential parole could be revoked if further information is ever uncovered proving he lied to authorities during his confession. It could also be revoked if evidence arose that Miller enlisted the help from others during the commission of the crime or aftermath, and if those persons lied on his behalf, or helped cover up Miller’s involvement.
As part of agreeing to the plea option, Dr. Gould also requested a full copy of the investigative case file. He explained that having those documents may help answer many of the lingering questions about Rebekah’s murder. Finally, he requested an in-person meeting with Hance once the plea deal was finalized.
After Judge Weaver officially sentenced William Miller to 40 years in prison, Hance made a statement to the court stating investigators had found the missing suitcase after Miller told them its location. Hance continued, saying the state had ample physical evidence to corroborate Miller’s statement that he killed Rebekah.
How to Stay Updated
We will continue to publish articles and podcast episodes as further details and information emerge about Rebekah’s murder and the case against William Miller. Those interested in following events in real-time should join the Facebook group (which Miller was an active member of), Unsolved Murder of Rebekah Gould. This group has worked tirelessly to uncover the truth about Rebekah’s murder. For greater details about our reinvestigation into this case, including expert analysis and insight, be sure to listen to Season 1 of the investigative podcast Break the Case (also available on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, or Stitcher – be sure to subscribe).