Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Marie Hilley

Marie on Trial

Authorities brought Marie back to Anniston on January 19, 1983. By now another charge had been added — the murder of Frank Hilley — and Marie's bond was set at $320,000. This time no one stepped forward to pay it. Carol Hilley, now physically recovered from her ordeal, had conflicting emotions but was anxious to see her mother. When Carol visited the jail, Marie cried and hugged her and professed to love her. She missed her terribly during her flight, she claimed. However, she offered no explanation for the poisoning. After that first visit, Marie and Carol saw each other often and spoke on the phone frequently. Carol wanted badly to believe that her mother had never meant to hurt her, which worried prosecutors. They needed Carol's testimony.

Judge Sam Monk presided over the trial. Assistant District Attorney Joe Hubbard was the prosecutor, and Wilford Lane and Thomas Harmon defended Marie. From the beginning it was obvious that the defense was going to sully Carol's reputation, to make her seem unstable enough to poison herself. "We expect," Harmon said, "the evidence to show that Carol Hilley has used drugs extensively," and that "Carol Hilley is, in fact, either a homosexual or has engaged in homosexuality. In addition, we expect the evidence to show that Carol Hilley has, on at least three occasions, attempted suicide." Carol's performance under cross-examination, though, was admirable. Yes, she had smoked pot, but no, she wasn't a drug addict. Yes, she had engaged in homosexual acts, but no, she wasn't mentally unbalanced because of it. Yes, she had tried to kill herself, but the attempt before her mother was arrested was almost laughable—she'd taken a total of five Tylenol. The other attempts occurred as she was trying to deal with the physical and emotional torment caused by the poisoning. Prosecutors needn't have worried—Carol's testimony that her mother had given her mysterious injections during her illness rang lucid and true.

Freeda Adcock's testimony served to establish that arsenic had been found among Marie's possessions. In addition to the pill bottle she had found at Carrie Hilley's home, Freeda later found a bag containing jars of baby food, a spoon, and a bottle of rat poison that contained arsenic. Defense attorneys objected that these items, as well as the bottle Gary Carroll had found in Marie's purse after her arrest, had been seized illegally and should not be allowed into evidence. Judge Monk overruled them.

Evidence (Anniston Star)
Evidence (Anniston Star)

Freeda also testified that Frank Hilley told her that Marie had given him an injection. And Eve Cole corroborated Carol's claim that her mother had given her injections. Still, Marie's attorneys claimed that Carol had poisoned herself, and that Freeda Adcock's testimony was false. Freeda had always hated Marie, the defense claimed, and she would say anything to see her put away for good. But Wilford Lane and Thomas Harmon were in for a shock.

Marie had told her attorneys that Gary Carroll had interviewed her after her 1979 arrest, but she hadn't told them that the interview had been taped. In that recording Marie admitted to giving Carol two injections, saying they were anti-nausea medicine, and claiming to have obtained one from a woman she had met at the hospital. She also admitted that she might be mentally ill, that she might need some help. Marie could not claim she'd never said such things—they were all there on the tape. From that point her defense crumbled. Even Mike Hilley's testimony, which seemed to contradict some of the prosecution's key points, was of no help. On cross-examination Joe Hubbard got Mike to admit Marie's rampant financial difficulties and to his own sudden violent illnesses which appeared to be connected with Marie. His letter to the Calhoun County Coroner, which he had assumed would remain confidential, was brought into evidence. "It is my belief," he had written, "that she probably injected my Dad with arsenic as she has apparently done to my sister." Like his mother, Mike Hilley could not deny his own prior statements.

It took the jury just three hours to come to its verdict—Marie Hilley was guilty of the murder of Frank Hilley and of the attempted murder of Carol Hilley. The following day she received a life sentence for the murder and twenty years for the poisoning. At the sentencing hearing, she again professed her innocence.

On June 9, 1983, Marie entered Tutwiler State Women's Prison in Wetumpka, Alabama. She was assigned a job as a data processor and was classified as a medium security prisoner. Despite reports that she talked constantly of escape and had reportedly made plans for a break out, she was reclassified in 1985 as a minimum security prisoner, which made her eligible for passes and leaves from the prison. In late 1986 her first eight-hour pass was approved. That pass and three others came and went with no trouble; Marie returned to Tutwiler promptly each time, and by February, 1987 she had qualified for a three-day furlough. On February 19, she left Tutwiler Prison for the last time.

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