ABILENE, Texas — UPDATE (11:35 a.m.): Johnnie Miller has been sentenced by a Taylor County jury to serve 14 years in prison.
Miller and his son, Michael, both stood accused of the Sept. 1, 2018, murder of neighbor, Aaron Howard. Michael Miller was found not guilty late Thursday.
Howard was shot three times after an argument over a box spring ensued in an alleyway on Abilene's Don Juan Street.
The trial began Tuesday morning and the jury reached their verdict Thursday evening. Friday morning, after closing arguments from both sides, as well as witness impact statements, the jury deliberated on Miller's sentence for less than two hours.
He faced five to 99 years or life in prison, with a possible fine of up to $10,000. Ultimately, no fine was imposed with the 14 year sentence. Johnnie Miller will have to serve seven years before he is eligible for parole.
Miller's defense team filed an appeal of the verdict after the sentence was read by Judge Thomas Wheeler. The Sparks Law Firm also requested to withdraw as Miller's counsel for the appeal. The request was granted, meaning Miller will have to obtain a new legal team for his appeal.
Miller was taken into custody by Taylor County Sheriff's Office deputies to begin serving his sentence.
UPDATE (10:30 a.m. Jan. 27):
The jury found Miller guilty late Thursday in the case. His son, Michael Miller, was found not guilty by the same jury.
There were no opening statements from either the defense or the prosecution in the sentencing phase.
Howard's former girlfriend, Kara Box Montean, was called to the stand to talk about the meaning of Howard's loss to her.
"When you lose a partner, absolutely everything in your life changes," Montean said. "I lost my best friend. I didn't know how to navigate this new normal. It's still difficult."
Montean said she suffers fom PTSD from the shooting and still has nightmares. She said she takes medication daily as a result.
She said Howard was able to attend his son, Tim's, graduation, but not his daughter's and he will never meet his grandson.
"We'll never get married...we were engaged," she said. "I can't even take the trash out at my own house."
Montean said she misses Howard every day.
"Aaron could be aggressive, but that's not all he was. He was loveable. He was kind and he was funny."
Tim Howard, Aaron's son, took the stand next and described his relationship with his father in the years leading up to his death.
Tim Howard said his father had started taking more medication and was getting more help. He noted Aaron was making amends with people he had hurt in the past.
Tim said he spoke Friday because he wanted Aaron to have a voice.
"I wanted people to know he was changing for good."
Defense attorney Justin Sparks asked the court to recognize that Johnnie Miller has not had a single bond violation in four years.
Sparks had Johnnie Miler's wife of 40 years, Laurie, stand in the courtroom and said she wants her husband to get out of prison one day.
Before resting, he had family and friends stand and spoke about the support they have for Miller.
Wheeler then read the jury instructions on their options for sentencing which can range from five to 99 years, or life, and a possible fine of up to $10,000.
In final closing arguments, Sparks thanked the jury for its service and said Miller thanked them for their decision for Michael.
"He's continued to say he's sorry for four and a half years. Yesterday, he became a convicted felon. Johnnie is 71 years old. Five years is what we're requesting. Any more than that and he may die in prison," Sparks said.
Dan Joiner presented the State's final closing argument for the sentencing phase.
Joiner said that while murder has an obvious victim, Howard's death also had a ripple effect.
"It affects people like Kara. It affects Tim who no longer has his father," Joiner said. "Murder is theft. Murder means you stole something...stole everything that comes with growing old."
Joiner said Johnnie Miller is going to prison and he brought that on himself.
"We're not asking you to put some kind of value on human life. Human life is priceless. We can value what he stole. We're not asking for five."
The jury is now deliberating Miller's sentence.
This is a developing story. More information will be posted as it becomes available.
UPDATE (7:50 p.m. Jan. 26):
A Taylor County jury found Johnnie Miller guilty in the Sept. 1, 2018, murder of his neighbor, Aaron Howard.
Miller's son, Michael Miller, who was also charged in Howard's murder, was found not guilty.
Both verdicts were unanimous.
After the verdicts were read, Michael Miller bowed his head in reaction to both decisions and a few audible gasps were heard in the courtroom.
When the jury was dismissed by the judge, Johnnie Miller addressed his friends and family saying, "There's nothing to cry about. I'm 70-something years old, there's nothing to worry about. Go home and get some sleep. Thanks for coming."
Johnnie Miller tried to give a statement to the media in the courthouse lobby after the verdicts, but attorney Graham Norris said he could not at the time.
The punishment phase for Johnnie Miller will begin at 9 a.m. Friday.
UPDATE (3:30 p.m. Jan. 26): It began with an argument over a box spring in the alley of Abilene’s Don Juan Street on Sept. 1, 2018.
Tempers flared in the alleyway leading to a father and son to stand trial for killing a neighbor that most described as a hothead and aggressive.
Johnnie and Michael Miller were charged with the murder of Aaron Howard.
A court case that was initially expected to last weeks lasted only three days with the Millers’ defense team resting its case early Thursday morning.
After Judge Thomas Wheeler read the charges against Johnnie and Michael Miller, closing arguments began with the prosecution defining legal terms such as deadly force and serious bodily injury for the jury telling the panel, "You heard that in their statements, they intended to cause serious bodily harm."
The state acknowledged Aaron Howard was swinging a baseball bat, but contends it was never within striking distance of the pair.
"Someone getting in your face and saying they're going to kill you... it's not enough. Is there other options they could have taken? Michael Miller never had to come outside."
The jury was asked to review the evidence and watch the statements given by both Millers.
"This was an incident of a neighbor they didn't like and they were frustrated and they were done dealing with it."
"They go outside and take that stand. That's not justified and because that's not justified both Michael and Johnnie Miller are guilty of murder."
The defense team said this is the most important day of the Millers' lives, then pointed to the gallery showing the number of friends and family present to support the father and son. All stood, then were asked by Judge Wheeler to remain seated.
Defense attorney Justin Sparks said the only science in the case was the medical examiner's report, then spoke about Howard's aggression and history, saying it's important to remember those facts.
"The reason it's important to you is to get into the Miller's shoes. You heard this from others...his character of violence and aggression. The government has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt... 'I don't know' equals not guilty. You have someone's lives in your hands."
"We've waited a long time for this day. Don't let them wait a day longer."
Graham Norris, defense attorney, repeated some of this arguments from Wednesday, saying Howard "was coming and they had to shoot him. They didn't want this to happen, but it did."
Norris said after the bat was thrown, Michael Miller had to shoot.
"He was defending his father against a man who everyone agrees is always the aggressor. They're asking you to send them to the penitentiary as murderers."
Prosecutor Dan Joiner countered with "these two guys are murderers."
"Sept. 1, 2018, was a very important day for Aaron Howard. It was his last day and he didn't know it... on that day, Johnnie Miller had an agenda. Whatever the reason, that day he decided he'd had enough."
Joiner said Johnnie Miller was not going to hide in his house and be run over and his goal that day was not a productive conversation.
Joiner replayed the video recorded by Kara Box Montean, where Howard was heard telling the Millers to put their guns away and go back inside.
"The only responsible adult in the situation was Aaron Howard," Joiner said. "You don't lose your right to self-defense because you're a victim."
Joiner said Howard was not charging them, rather he was just standing there because he'd just been shot.
"He was not in a stance, he wasn't coming forward. He was executed. In Texas, everyone matters, I don't care who you are. We take every life seriously. He didn't deserve to die that way. Both of them are guilty of murder, neither are entitled to self-defense."
The jury received its instructions to deliberate the case Thursday afternoon.
We will update this story as we receive information.
UPDATE (8:30 a.m. Jan. 26): The defense has rested its case in the murder trial of a father and son accused of shooting their neighbor to death in an alley in 2018.
Closing statements will be made by both the prosecution and defense, then the case will go to the jury.
UPDATE (5 p.m. Jan. 25): Arguments and testimony will continue Thursday in the murder trial of Johnnie and Michael Miller, who both pleaded not guilty in the Sept. 1, 2018, shooting death of Aaron Howard.
The defense gave its opening statements Wednesday afternoon asking the jury to find their clients not guilty in the case.
After restating the events that led up to the father and son shooting Howard, defense attorney Graham Norris said, “It’s important to know that this is what Aaron does. It’s who he is. What’s important to know that Michael Miller was defending his father. He was in fear for his father’s life.”
Norris asked, “Who was the aggressor and who was acting in self-defense?”
The first witness for the defense called was United States Postal Service mail carrier, Angel Montelongo. Just days before Howard was killed, he confronted Montelongo who was delivering mail, accusing him of “looking in his daughter’s window.” The confrontation escalated to the point where Montelongo locked himself in his mail truck and called his supervisor, who could hear Howard screaming and threatening him.
Montelongo described Howard’s behavior that day as “very loud, very angry.”
Several other witnesses were called and their initial testimony was heard outside the presence of the jury based on an objection from the state.
Officer Jimmy Woods, a 114th District Court bailiff, who was an APD officer in 2018 and tasked with keeping Howard’s ‘brother’, Justin Campbell, in the backyard after the shooting testified about the events of the day.
Neighbors from Don Juan Street testified about incidents they witnessed while Howard was living at the Don Juan home including a physical fight between Campbell and Howard and one between Howard and former girlfriend, Kara Box Montean.
City Marshal Bill Whitley testified about Howard’s confrontation with Josh Mares, the code compliance officer Howard had previously threatened. Whitley said at the end of one telephone conversation he had with Howard about the incident, Howard thanked him for the call and asked him to apologize to Mares.
Former Code Compliance employee Megan Baker told the court about harassing calls from Howard in 2014, where he made threats towards code officers, but not directly at her.
Sweetwater resident, Christina Enriquez, told the court about an encounter she had with Howard at a retail store that led to Howard’s subsequent arrest.
Campbell was recalled to clarify a statement he made to police the day of the shooting. While he confirmed that when he watched the body cam video with Norris and confirmed what was heard on the recording, Campbell said he does not recall saying Howard was swinging the baseball bat and “the dude pulled the [explicative] trigger.”
The final defense witness for the day was Michael Miller’s former boss, City of Abilene Construction Manager, George Votow. Votow said Michael was hired as an engineering tech for the City and that in 2018, Michael had been with the City for approximately 10 years.
“Mike’s a quiet guy, a mild-mannered guy,” Votow said. “I always enjoyed working with Mike. Mike kept to himself. He did his job, very professional.”
Votow testified that Michael Miller “dealt with people well” and said he doesn’t even remember ever hearing Miller curse once in the time he’s known him.
Following Votow’s testimony, the judge called a recess until 8:30 a.m. Thursday.
ORIGINAL STORY: The prosecution in the 350th District Court of Taylor County has rested its case in the murder trial of Johnnie and Michael Miller.
The father and son pleaded not guilty in the September 2018 shooting death of their neighbor, Aaron Howard, after an argument in the alleyway of Don Juan Street.
The state called former City of Abilene Code Compliance Officer Josh Mares to the stand Wednesday morning to recount his 2018 encounter with Howard. Mares testified that initially, Howard was calm and cooperative, then his demeanor changed when Mares started addressing a "junk vehicle" in the driveway.
Mares said Howard began raising his voice and got defensive saying, "Get the [explicative] off my property. If you come back, you'll be shot without warning."
A neighbor, later identified as Johnnie Miller, came out and tried to defuse the situation, Mares said. He said he told Miller sometimes it was just better to walk away.
When Mares returned to follow-up on the violation, it had been remedied, so the case was closed. He later found out Howard had been charged with threatening a public servant.
Abilene Police Department Sgt. Jordan Brown was called to the stand mid-morning. Although he worked in the fraud division of the department, Brown said he was called to investigate the Howard shooting because he recalls at least three homicides happening in the city within 48 hours, meaning other detectives were working those cases.
Brown said when he arrived at Don Juan Street, there were several people detained in separate patrol units. After gathering basic facts from the scene, the decision was made to take the Millers back to the APD headquarters for interviews.
He said he found out there was a video of the incident before he left the scene and obtained permission from Kara Box Montean for the video.
Brown was assigned to interview Michael Miller, while Frank Shoemaker was assigned to interview Johnnie.
"I briefly introduced myself, then left to speak to a supervisor and watched the video again," he said. "As a detective, you want to know all you can before you go in and talk to someone."
Michael Miller told Brown that less than a month after Aaron Howard moved in next door to the Millers, someone called code compliance on him - "the guy who got shot - Aaron."
Michael said about a month after the code compliance call and confrontation with Mares, Howard and Justin Campbell "were slugging it out" in their yard. At that time, Michael said Howard threatened the neighbor across the street for calling the police.
Moving to the September 2018 incident, Michael told Brown that Johnnie went out to the alley and found a mattress against their gate.
"My father came back inside and said 'get my gun and grab your gun.'"
Michael said as he was headed outside, he heard his father say, "Back off, back off" several times and then saw Johnnie finally pull his gun out of his holster. He said he thinks "the brother" called the cops.
Less than two minutes later, Howard told Campbell to go get the gun. In previous testimony, it was determined that the gun referenced had been pawned, so Campbell gave a baseball bat to Howard.
"Aaron started threatening my father with that bat," Michael told Brown. "He kept running his mouth. He came within inches of my father and threw the bat, so my father shot again and I shot again."
Both Millers told police the first shot was not fired until Howard threw the bat at Johnnie.
Later in the interview, Brown asked Michael, "Why didn't you call the police?"
Michael said because "they had already called the police."
"Why did you fire?" Brown asked.
"I wasn't sure if my father was going to do it again."
Michael told Brown he was in fear for his father's safety and said he wasn't sure if Johnnie had actually hit him the first time, "and I just wanted to end the threat before it escalated again...my father is a 67-year-old man. I didn't want my father hurt."
After cross-examination by the defense team, Brown was excused and the state rested its case.
The defense will begin its arguments Wednesday afternoon.