Renaldo McGirth, left, and Jarrord Roberts are shown at a hearing in Ocala last week. They were to stand trial on murder and other charges beginning this Monday.
BY MABEL PEREZ
OCALA - I was just before noon. James Miller walked out of the shower. He had a haircut appointment at 12:30 p.m. The 69-year-old man was putting on underpants when he heard a knock.
A man with a small, silver gun grabbed him and took him into a bedroom inside Miller's home in The Villages.
Miller was startled. Then he saw his wife. She had been shot in the chest.
"I lost it. She was covered from head to foot in blood," Miller would say later when telling lawyers what happened on that day in July 2006.
Diana Miller was still conscious. "Don't say anything, Jim. I'm all right. I can handle it," she told her husband.
Minutes later, James Miller was on his stomach and on the floor. His wife was also on the floor, near his feet.
James Miller was shot in the head. He didn't lose consciousness when a second shot was fired, this one at his wife's head. Diana Miller stopped moving, and her husband heard a "gargling" sound. She had been killed.
He waited quietly until the men left. Then he made a run for it.
"I got up, rolled up the shade and busted out the screen and climbed out the window and ran over to my neighbor's house," James Miller said later in his deposition.
Throughout the robbery, James Miller told lawyers, his daughter, Sheila, was nowhere to be seen.
TRIAL POSTPONED TO JANUARY
Renaldo McGirth, 19, Theodore C. Houston, 18, and Jarrord M. Roberts, 21, are charged with first-degree murder with a firearm, attempted first-degree murder with a firearm, robbery with a firearm, kidnapping with a firearm and fleeing police in connection with the case.
The state is seeking the death penalty for McGirth and Roberts. Their trial had been scheduled to start with jury selection on Monday, but it was continued until January.
Houston's trial is set for December.
Candace Hawthorne and Brenda Smith represent McGirth. Henry Ferro represents Roberts. Lake County lawyer Michael Graves represents Houston.
State Attorney Brad King and Assistant State Attorney Bob Hodges allege that the three defendants went to the home at 9262 Wesley St. to visit their friend Sheila Miller, 40, who is James and Diana Miller's only child.
They ostensibly were bringing her a gift. But prosecutors say robbery was the real reason for the visit.
The state says Roberts taped Sheila Miller's mouth, face and hands.
Diana Miller, 63, was fatally shot in the chest and head, and James Miller was shot in the head.
The men are accused of stealing the Millers' 2000 maroon Ford Windstar and kidnapping Sheila Miller. They drove to the Oaks Mall in Gainesville. The men wheeled Sheila Miller around the mall, visiting four stores and stopping at several ATM machines. After a high-speed car chase through Reddick and Martin, the men were apprehended.
Last week, Circuit Judge Brian Lambert denied defense requests for additional time to prepare. Defense lawyers want to further investigate Sheila Miller and hire death penalty mitigation experts.
"This is not a simple case in the sense that you have multiple stories," Ferro said.
At the same hearing, the lawyers foreshadowed their strategy: attack Sheila Miller.
There are only two witnesses to The Villages murder: Sheila Miller and her father, who survived that gunshot wound to his head. The daughter was living with her parents because she was recovering from a car accident. She was in a wheelchair and was suffering from a broken pelvis and hip, among other injuries.
Jurors will have to rely on their accounts to determine who is responsible for the crimes.
In their sworn statements, Sheila and James Miller agree on one thing: Three men entered the home that day. After that, their stories vary sharply.
Sheila Miller said McGirth was the shooter. James Miller said he doesn't know who fired the gun.
Sheila Miller says she was a victim. Her father says she was in on the robbery.
JURY MAY HEAR FROM DEFENDANTS
The 12-member jury might hear from the defendants themselves, through police interviews. McGirth, Roberts and Houston all talked to police investigators about the incident. It is not clear what each defendant told police because the state, as allowed under Florida law, has not released their statements.
James Miller has said his daughter wanted to collect $750,000 in assets and life insurance payouts. The father's testimony, which has been taped in advance because of his health condition, might just help the defense.
In his deposition, James Miller testified his daughter has a history of drug and alcohol use, and fraud. He said she once obtained a credit card in her mother's name and charged more than $7,000.
"I assume things because, knowing my daughter, she's a conniver and when he - when they shot my wife, why did they have to shoot me? Well, they had to shoot me because she was a beneficiary for all of our goods," James Miller said.
"Until the day I die, if I live that long, I just think she was involved in this murder and I can't think of any other way because of her, because of her methods of doing things."
Hawthorne and Ferro planned to use that theory to cast doubt on Sheila Miller's credibility. In the hearing last week, Hawthorne called the daughter the "mastermind" in the robbery and murder plot. The lawyer claimed the daughter wanted her parents' life insurance money.
Hawthorne also told a judge about an Internet blog that has comments about the crime and suggests Sheila Miller apparently got the idea to have her parents killed from an ex-boyfriend, who is serving prison time in Michigan for murder in an insurance fraud scheme.
The defense asked the judge for permission to question Sheila Miller without restrictions. "It may make a difference between life and death and the kidnapping charges," Hawthorne argued. "She was not kidnapped. She went willingly and planned this robbery."
Hodges asked a judge to limit some questioning in regard to Sheila Miller. In the state's eyes, she is a victim.
Lambert granted the state's request. Sheila Miller can't be questioned about the former boyfriend who is in prison.
Mabel Perez may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 867-4106.