Craig Hilburn, the Willingham’s next-door neighbor, said that he went to the couple’s home to pick up his neighbors’ newspaper since he believed they were out of town visiting relatives.
Hilburn said that as he was approaching the Willinghams’ front yard, he saw a slender man in a hooded sweatshirt run away from the home. He chased the man but could not catch him. Hilburn then went back to the Willingham home and found Don Willingham dead in the entryway. Don’s wife Helen was also found with stab wounds.
No one would be officially charged for another two years.
Three days before the 79-year-old Willinghams were murdered, Jose Huckleberry, 23 at the time, was baptized. He attended a Saturday service but was not seen on that Easter Sunday at church.
Gail Saltzman, the mother of Huckleberry’s then-girlfriend Kayla, said Huckleberry was staying at her residence during the month of April. She believed that Huckleberry did not stay over the night of April 24th, 2011, and that he returned to the residence at about 10 or 11 a.m. on April 25th, 2011. Kayla said Huckleberry was in bed with her at the time of the killings.
In 2013, Jose Huckleberry was charged for fatally stabbing Don and Helen Willingham.
On January 15th, 2016, almost five years after the crime, the trial for the Willingham murders began. Helen Willingham’s 911 call was played for the jury to hear.
Huckleberry’s whereabouts were in question as he claimed he was sleeping at his girlfriend’s bed the morning of the killing. The Greene County medical examiner also testified stating knife wounds to the chest were the cause of death to Don and Helen Willingham.
Forensic evidence is presented to the jury including rugs, washcloths, two knives, and DNA found underneath Willingham’s fingernails.
The defense called in their only witness former girlfriend Kayla Saltzman to take the stand.
The jury listens to a 7-hour interview between the police and Huckleberry, where he confesses to the crime.
Day 5 – The Verdict
Huckleberry was sentenced to life in prison for two counts of second-degree murder, and 15 years for burglary.
Despite everything that occurred, Don and Helen’s children have already forgiven Huckleberry.
Ozarksfirst.com spoke with Don and Helen Willingham’s daughter Donna Willingham Fedor earlier this week.
“My feelings haven’t changed and I believe my brothers still feel the same. I still would like to meet with him and offer him forgiveness in person,” says Willingham Fedor. She has been asking to speak with him for a while now but has been denied because he was still filing appeals. “I think he’s all out of appeals now, so I should check again. He would have to agree to it as well.”
Willingham Fedor, who now lives in Illinois, does jail ministries.
“There’s something about talking face to face. I want to share with him the love God has for him. I suppose I feel if he would believe in Jesus, the deaths of my parents would have had a purpose. I know God has brought a lot of good things out of a horrific situation already, but that would be the icing on the cake for me.” says Willingham Fedor.