2 men could face the death penalty in Diana Miller's death. One knew her daughter, and she blames herself.
Sentinel Staff Writer
October 28, 2007
Sheila Miller shoulders blame for her mother's death in The Villages last year, a slaying regarded as the first-ever murder in the huge retirement community.
"I know my choice of friends, associates or whatever and my lifestyle is why my mother is dead. I live with that," she said in a phone interview Friday. "My mother was my savior. Anything and everything I got into, from abusive boyfriends to being tardy to school, my mother bailed me out."
Miller figures to be the key witness when a trial begins Monday for two men charged with killing her mother, Diana Miller, 62.
The accused triggerman, Renaldo "Pooney" McGirth, 19, came to the home of Diana Miller and her husband, James, with two friends on July 21, 2006, to see 40-year-old Sheila, the Millers' only child, according to police reports.
Detectives say McGirth knew Sheila Miller from drug deals, and she had loaned him money and her truck in the past.
According to a sworn statement by Sheila Miller, the trio lied their way into the home, saying they had brought a get-well present in a backpack. She said they wanted money and McGirth drew a gun.
"How do you think we have money?" her mother asked them.
" 'Cause you live in The Villages," McGirth replied.
Diana Miller, 62, was shot in the head and chest. Her husband was shot in the ear but survived.
Death penalty possible
McGirth and Jarrord Roberts, 21, could face the death penalty if convicted of first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder and other crimes, including armed robbery and kidnapping.
A third defendant, Theodore Houston, 19, is scheduled to stand trial on the same charges in December. Prosecutors decided to try Houston separately because he was 17 at the time and, therefore, is not eligible for the death penalty.
Sheila Miller was not charged, and her only role in the case will be as a witness. Circuit Judge Brian Lambert Friday denied a defense request to postpone the trial.
In a deposition taken Oct. 17 in preparation for the trial, Sheila Miller said she did not know McGirth and his friends' intentions and denied that they came to bring her drugs. She insisted that she, too, is a victim.
She said they forced her from her parents' home at gunpoint and stole her parents' van.
She was with the trio when they wrecked the van and were arrested by Marion County deputy sheriffs. The crash ended a high-speed chase.
In the hours between the shooting and the crash, they shopped at the Oaks Mall in Gainesville, browsing for mobile phones, sneakers and clothing. Security videos show they also visited an automated-teller machine and a Kmart, where, Sheila Miller contends, she had tried to use "facial expressions" to alert a sales clerk about her predicament.
"The guy didn't catch on," she said.
In her deposition, Sheila Miller said she kept quiet in the mall because she thought both her parents were still alive and McGirth had promised to "off" them if she fussed.
About six weeks earlier, she had moved in with her parents in "Florida's Friendliest Hometown" to convalesce after a drunken-driving accident in which she was hurled through the windshield, breaking her pelvis and a hip.
Her parents, retired accountants from Michigan, often argued about their daughter, who described herself in her deposition as a "binger" of drugs and alcohol.
A crack cocaine smoker since age 19, she had been convicted of cocaine possession and DUI, dated a series of younger men with substance-abuse problems and rarely held a job longer than six months, according to the court documents.
She often called her parents in the middle of the night to ask for money or to seek their help in evicting unruly guests from her home.
According to her deposition, she stole her mother's Social Security number to get a credit card and used it to rack up $7,000 in charges.
Though disappointed, her mother paid the bill.
"My mom took care of me and my dad didn't like it," she said.
Sheila Miller has bounced between temporary homes, motels and a shelter for battered women since her mother's death.
In her deposition, she identified her emergency contact as Carol Mykolaitis, the mother of a former high-school sweetheart serving a prison sentence for murder. Kevin Mykolaitis killed an accomplice in an insurance fraud.
Dad, daughter estranged
Sheila Miller and her father were never close and the gap has widened, said Carol Mykolaitis, reached by phone in Michigan. Mykolaitis, who knew the Millers before they moved to Florida in 1999, said James Miller would not even tell his daughter where her mother was buried.
Sheila Miller said she could not remember the last time her father said, "I love you." The father won a court order that forbids his daughter from contacting him.
Both Sheila Miller and her father describe Diana Miller's last minutes as heroic.
Though bleeding from a gunshot wound to her chest, Diana Miller tried to keep her daughter and husband calm and appease the men who ordered her to a computer.
Court records suggest the men wanted her to use her credit cards to make online purchases for them.
"She was covered head to foot with blood," James Miller recalled.
"She said, 'Don't say anything, Jim. I'm all right. I can handle it.' "
Sheila Miller said she was duct-taped and sobbing when the men pushed her in her wheelchair to the van.
"The last thing I [saw was] my mom in the computer room and she said to me, 'Quit [crying]. Everything is all right. Everything is OK, thumbs up and I love you.' "
During his deposition, Miller also said he hasn't spoken with his daughter since the day after his wife was killed.
"She called and said, 'I'm sorry,' " he recalled in his deposition. "I said, 'I'm sorry, too. Goodbye.' "
Stephen Hudak can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 352-742-5930.