When a two-day partying and gambling binge left five Atlantans broke and out of drugs, a mission to replenish their stash and an off-kilter moral compass triggered a deadly and chaotic sequence of events — one that culminated in a home invasion and the execution-style murder of two Swain County residents.
A rash decision to leave Atlanta in the middle of the night to hit Harrah’s Cherokee Casino, eventually running out of money to get back home, a chance meeting in a Walmart parking lot with local boys — had the deck been stacked differently leading up to the ill-concocted robbery, the chips may not have fallen like they did.
Since the murders three years ago, exactly what played out on that fateful night has been a mystery, known only to detectives, the young Atlanta thugs and the two murder victims, Scott Wiggins, 33, and Heath Compton, 34.
That changed this month, when one of the suspects was brought to trial in Swain County, offering the first public dissection of the fatal course of events.
Of the six suspects charged in the murders, three had pleaded guilty. Another committed suicide in jail. The last two had held out, denying their involvement and claiming to be mere bystanders.
One of those, Tiffany Marion, 29, was on trial for three weeks, ending with a guilty verdict Monday. (see related article.)
The following account is a combination of testimony that played out in court in recent weeks. The story begins with two friends, Tiffany Marion and Jada McCutcheon, on their porch in Atlanta just before climbing in a van for a joy ride with friends.
Both Marion and McCutcheon, who was 19 at the time, met attending the Everest Institute in Georgia for massage therapy.
While smoking cigarettes outside McCutcheon’s apartment one night, her then-fiancée Jason Johnson pulled up in a gold mini-van and the two girls hopped in. Marion was introduced for the first time to Jeffrey Miles, who would later become the chief perpetrator and triggerman in the murders.
McCutcheon called Miles ‘papa’ because he cared for her. She said she would do anything he told her to.
After cruising around the Atlanta-area smoking weed and taking ecstasy, Miles suggested that they go to a casino, Marion said.
It was well after midnight when McCutcheon, her boyfriend Johnson, Miles and the recently introduced Marion, and a fifth guy known as Freak set out on the more than 150-mile trip to North Carolina — a drive that Miles apparently had made many times before.
During her testimony, Marion said she agreed to go to a casino but did not know that the group was referencing Harrah’s Hotel and Casino in Cherokee.
“I thought it would be fun,” Marion said. “They never mentioned what casino or where.”
The decision was rash judging by what Marion brought on the trip — nothing but a small Coach purse. Before leaving Georgia, the group had not made plans to stay in North Carolina overnight.
Marion and Miles entered Harrah’s Casino just before 8 a.m. Tuesday, according to a time-stamped security tape. Marion was sporting a white shirt, white skirt and once inside the casino, donned Miles’ black jacket. Miles was similarly dressed in a white t-shirt, white basketball shorts and a black and red baseball cap. The video showed the two sitting at a Blackjack table.
Although Marion said she did not know how much Miles won, it was in the thousands because he gave her a $1,000 chip, which she promptly cashed in.
“He said it was mine. ‘This is yours to keep,’” Marion said.
Miles’ winnings totaled about $2,700, according to the casino’s records. A female worker at the casino approached Miles and spoke to him as if she recognized him, Marion said. She told Miles that he had played enough to earn a three-night stay in one of rooms in Harrah’s Hotel — room 942.
By this time, the rest of the group — McCutcheon, Johnson and Freak who were not old enough to enter the casino — had rented a room across the road at the Days Inn where they stayed that night. Marion and Miles took advantage of the free hotel room offered at Harrah’s. Miles repeatedly returned to the casino to gamble. And, at one point, he lost what money he had won and asked Marion for the $1,000 he had given her.
Marion had stated in a previous interview with law enforcement officials that Miles and she were never intimate. However, on the stand, Marion said that she and Miles had sex in the room two or three times Tuesday and Tuesday night.
At some point the next day, Johnson, McCutcheon and Freak all packed into the complimentary room Miles had at Harrah’s, where the “chilled,” watched TV, took ecstasy and smoked marijuana.
By Thursday, their second day in Cherokee, the money and drugs started to run out. That day, “the guys were in and out,” McCutcheon said.
Some time Thursday, Johnson and Miles drove to Walmart in Sylva and scouted the parking lot, eventually encountering two local boys, Mark Goolsby and Dean Mangold. Exactly what Johnson and Miles told them isn’t clear, but there was some talk of drugs, and later that night Mangold would eventually lead them to Wiggins’ house where the hit went down.
When Miles and Johnson showed back up at Harrah’s, the two white boys were with them and joined the party. Marion and McCutcheon said they had never seen the two boys before and did not even know their names until after the crime took place. McCutcheon simply referred to them as “the white boys” most of the time.
“They seemed like they were cool, whatever,” McCutcheon said.
Goolsby and Mangold hung out in the hotel room with the five Atlantans, partaking in the ecstasy and marijuana.
While in the hotel room, the group talked about “hitting a lick,” which means “to go to somebody’s house and take their shit,” McCutcheon said.
One of the white boys told them about a good house to rob, she said. It was about 20 minutes away, heading out of Cherokee and into rural Swain County, down a windy country lane and then a gravel road where Wiggins’ house was set in the woods.
That is when everyone, the two white boys and the Atlanta crew with the exception of the boy known as Freak, piled into the van and left the hotel for Wiggins’ home.
Taking direction from one of the white boys, Miles stopped the van in a wooded area a short distance from the house but well screened from anyone who might be inside. It was a well thought-out move, as the house was equipped with a closed-circuit security camera, a live feed trained on the driveway.
Miles grabbed and loaded a sawed off shotgun from the van, and Johnson had an unloaded gun that McCutcheon said looked like a machine gun. They then huddled around the van and planned out how the robbery would go down, exactly who would do what once they got inside, before heading up the hill to the house with their guns and empty black duffel bags in hand.
Grab and go
McCutcheon, Johnson, Miles and Mangold walk up to the house while Marion and Goolsby stayed in the van. However, Mangold stopped before they reached the house, McCutcheon said. Either Johnson or Miles kicked in the front door to the house. Then, pointing their guns at Wiggins and Compton, the invaders corralled them in an office-type room. Compton was shoved into a recliner-like chair, and Wiggins was told to lay face down on the floor.
“We don’t want no problems,” McCutcheon said, recalling the victims’ words.
McCutcheon said her job was then to collect anything valuable. She began grabbing items and putting them into the black duffel bags that they had brought with them. While in the other room, McCutcheon said, she heard what she thought was a shot and returned to the room where her accomplices were holding Compton and Wiggins, only to find Compton still seated in the chair with a bullet hole in his forehead.
“He (Miles) felt like he had to do it,” McCutcheon said.
McCutcheon once again began gathering valuables from throughout the house, including guns, ammunition, a flat screen TV and cash, and tossing them into the bed of Wiggins’ white Ford truck in the driveway, which they also planned to steal.
It is somewhat unclear how long after Compton’s death Timothy Waldroup, who knew the victims, stumbled upon the scene. Waldroup, a drug addict, reportedly told his sister that he was going to Wiggins’ house to buy crystal meth. However, he soon found himself held captive as well. At some point, he was ushered into the bathroom and told to get in the tub.
While Miles watched over Wiggins and Waldroup, Johnson decided to sit in a black Ford truck in the driveway and make sure no one else disturbed them.
At some point, McCutcheon was outside packing the white truck with stolen goods, and she heard another shot. McCutcheon went back into and saw Wiggins with “a big ass, fucking hole in the back of his head,” she said.
Then, Miles handed her the sawed off shotgun that had killed both Compton and Wiggins and told her to watch Waldroup who was sitting in the tub while he finished up. Miles grabbed a silver pistol from the house, McCutcheon said, and when he returned from packing the truck, he shot at Waldroup three or four times as he remained in the tub.
Miles told McCutcheon to cover the house in flammable cleaning supplies so they could torch the house, she said. As she did so, Waldroup stumbled from the bathroom and fell into the aquarium in the living room. He pleaded with them not the burn Wiggins’ home, McCutcheon said.
At some point during the crime, the two local “white boys” Mangold and Goolsby ran away on foot. Marion walked up to the house, found Johnson sitting in the black truck and told him to hurry up, that the white boys had run off and they should all get out of there. Marion said she then went back to wait in the van.
Eventually, a calm McCutcheon returned to the van alone and told Marion that they needed to meet Miles and Johnson back at Harrah’s. Miles jacked the white truck with all the stolen goods and headed to the hotel. Johnson, meanwhile, drove away in the black truck but soon ditched it on the side of the road, perhaps due to mechanical problems.
That left Johnson on foot, not far from the scene of a deadly robbery, a black man from Atlanta in the nearly all-white countryside of Swain County.
He walked from house-to-house, knocking on neighbors’ doors asking to us the phone. One of the residents called the sheriff’s office to report the suspicious character and a deputy soon cruised by. He found Johnson walking down the road — but unaware of the crime that had just been committed, the deputy gave him a courtesy lift back to Cherokee.
When McCutcheon and Marion get back to Harrah’s, they pulled up alongside Miles. Marion jumped into the stolen truck he’s driving to ride back to Atlanta with him.
McCutcheon refused to leave without her fiancée Johnson, who had yet to make it back. McCutcheon went back up to the Harrah’s hotel room to wait, where Freak had stayed that night, and fell asleep. When she awoke, she found Johnson waiting in the lobby of Harrah’s. By 11 a.m. or earlier, the remaining three had left for home.
It wasn’t until 11:30 a.m. Thursday morning that the crime was discovered. One of Wiggins’ neighbors had spied Waldroup in a ditch along the road, slowly bleeding to death. Waldroup had managed to stagger from the living room to the road the night before, but hadn’t made it far before collapsing. Police arrived at the scene and soon realized that Wiggins and Compton were murdered.
At first blush, the case seemed cold. A robbery and murder with no leads. Except one: the out-of-towner who was given a lift to Harrah’s in Cherokee by a deputy in the early hours of the morning. Shannon Ashe, an agent with the State Bureau of Investigation, was assigned to follow-up the lead.
Unfortunately for law enforcement officials, the maids had already cleaned the hotel room that the suspects stayed in — room 942. And, there was little to no evidence to be collected.
“With it being cleaned and everything, it looked pristine,” Ashe said. “There was nothing unusual found within Room 942.”
Luckily, the casino has state-of-the-art surveillance, and investigators quickly pieced together descriptions of their suspects.
Two days after the murders, police found the gold Honda van at an apartment complex in Decatur, Ga. Johnson was inside, but they knew he couldn’t have acted alone.
The next day investigators found Marion and McCutcheon in the living room of her apartment with a light tan Chihuahua in their lap that had belonged to the murdered Wiggins and Compton.
Also in the apartment were black trash bags of stolen goods from the robbery, including a Radio Shack scanner with Wiggins’ name written on the front, prescription pill bottles in either Wiggins’ or Compton’s name and a Visa card belonging to Wiggins.
Officials separated the two suspects and began asking questions, while others searched the bags that sat on the living room floor.
After about 45 minutes, they received information that fellow suspect Jeffrey Miles was only three miles away at a Wendy’s. They quickly concluded their search of the apartment, arrested Marion and McCutcheon, and left to apprehend Miles.
A long road to justice
It’s been three and a half years, but the prosecution and victims’ families have received little respite. The arrest of the players, a jailbreak, a trial, two suicides and three guilty pleas have punctuated the years.
• Waldroup survived despite being shot multiple times, and he quickly became the star witness for the prosecution. But, before the case came to trial, he died of a drug overdose, an apparent suicide, while being held in jail on unrelated charges.
• Miles briefly escaped from jail in Swain County thanks to an inside job. He befriended and wooed a female jailer, Anita Vestal, who helped him escape in March 2009. Swain County residents were on high alert keeping an eye out for the escaped murderer. The two made it all the way to California but were eventually caught after a month or so.
In late 2010, Miles pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree murder, attempted murder, two counts of robbery with a dangerous weapon, three counts of first-degree kidnapping, attempted first-degree arson and escape. He received two consecutive life sentences followed by a minimum of 189 months.
• Mangold, one of the “white boys,” pleaded guilty to attempted murder, three counts of first-degree kidnapping, two counts of second-degree murder and two counts of robbery with a dangerous weapon. Mangold received a minimum of 12 years and 7 months.
• His compatriot Goolsby will be tried later this year and faces the following charges: two counts of first-degree murder, attempted murder, first-degree burglary, two counts of robbery with a dangerous weapon, three counts of first-degree kidnapping and 9 counts of accessory after the fact.
• Johnson and McCutcheon were supposed to get married the Monday after they were arrested. But, instead, Johnson eventually pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree murder, attempted murder, two counts of robbery with a dangerous weapon, three counts of first-degree kidnapping and attempted first-degree arson. He was given two consecutive life sentences and a minimum of 189 additional months.
• McCutcheon hanged herself in 2009 while awaiting trial in prison.
“Every time I close my eyes, I see two freaking dead people that somebody shot,” McCutcheon said.