Teen mom murder: Alleged killer heads to court

Relatives of a former private school student whose life ended in a Charlottesville trailer park had hoped to find justice in a court case on December 9, but at press time lawyers for the case said the preliminary hearing for the teen's alleged killer was likely to be delayed until the new year.

A former student at the Covenant School, 18-year-old Azlee Keller Hickman was found dead nine months ago in a Carlton Avenue mobile home. Although an autopsy revealed signs of strangulation, and Hickman's March 13 death was ruled the City's first homicide of 2004, no arrests or suspects were immediately announced.

It wasn't until late August, when new eyewitness testimony surfaced, that police arrested and charged William Franklin "Billy" Marshall Jr. with second-degree murder. The 38-year-old tow-truck driver had been a friend of the victim.

"We believed he was involved all along," says Azlee's aunt, Lisa Hickman, who is married to local developer Tom Hickman.

Marshall's attorney, Charles Weber, says his client will plead not guilty when his preliminary hearing takes place, likely in January.

Azlee's father, Henry Hickman, lives in Glenmore, an east-of-town subdivision where house prices often reach seven figures. The teen's well-to-do background raises the question: How did a life with such promise end in a trailer park?

The victim's aunt says another tragedy– the death of Azlee's beloved stepmother, Sarah, several years earlier– set her niece on a downward spiral.

"Life was not easy after Sarah died," says Lisa Hickman. Although Azlee remained a "very thoughtful" teen who always remembered her cousins' birthdays with small gifts, she began running with a wilder– and older– crowd, including the 38-year-old Marshall.

By 17, Azlee had dropped out of Covenant, a private Christian academy, and in September 2003, she gave birth to a baby girl. She and the child were living in the Carlton Avenue trailer with the father of her baby, another tow-truck driver Hickman declines to name.

Having a baby, though difficult for a teenager, proved to be a positive turning point for her niece, says Hickman.

"That was her calling," she says. "She just loved being a mother, loved that little girl."

Determined to turn her life around, Azlee completed a pharmacy training program and secured a full-time job at the Barracks Road CVS, winning friends among her coworkers.

"She was a sweet girl," says one employee who requested anonymity because the store's policy prohibits employees from speaking to the press. "We all miss her."

While Azlee enjoyed her CVS job, Hickman says, she was planning to continue her education and wanted to become a Certified Nursing Assistant.

"She was just determined to pull herself up," Hickman says. "She realized she had people who loved her."

In fact, Hickman says, Azlee had been planning to move out of the trailer on the day following her death.

Commonwealth's attorney Dave Chapman declined comment on the specifics of the case, and Detective Jim Mooney– whom Hickman praises as "working tirelessly on the case"– did not return the Hook's calls.

The family hopes the trial will help bring some closure, says Hickman, who's putting together an album to help Azlee's daughter remember her mother.

"We miss her a lot," she says.

Azlee Hickman in a school photo taken her junior year
Photo courtesy Hickman family

William Franklin Marshall is charged with second degree murder in Azlee Hickman's death.
Courtesy Charlottesville police