Saturday, December 8, 2007

Suspect enters a guilty plea

Theodore Houston, seen in the Marion County Courthouse, pleaded guilty Friday to the 2006 murder of Diana Miller in The Villages. Houston agreed to testify against two others.


OCALA - The youngest of three men facing murder charges in last year's slaying of a Villages woman, the wounding of her husband and the abduction of their daughter, pleaded guilty Friday.

Theodore Clifford Houston, 18, entered the plea for his role in the July 2006 murder of Diana Miller and the attempted murder of her husband, James, in exchange for his testimony for the state.

Circuit Judge Brian D. Lambert accepted Houston's change of plea to the lesser charge of second-degree murder with a firearm. In the five-page agreement, Houston also pleaded guilty to attempted first-degree murder with a firearm, robbery with a firearm and kidnapping with a firearm. Houston now faces from 25 to 40 years in state prison, with a mandatory minimum of 10 years imprisonment. He will be sentenced after the trial of his two co-defendants.

Houston, along with Renaldo McGirth, 19, and Jarrord M. Roberts, 21, are accused of entering the Millers' Villages home on July 21, 2006, and fatally shooting Diana Miller, 63, in the chest and head and shooting James Miller, 70, in the head during a robbery. The three also are accused of kidnapping the couple's only child, daughter Sheila Miller, 40, who was in a wheelchair at the time with injuries from a vehicle accident.

James Miller has recovered from his wounds.

McGirth and Roberts now are scheduled to go to court on Jan. 22, to face charges of first-degree murder with a firearm, attempted first-degree murder with a firearm, robbery with a firearm, kidnapping with a firearm and fleeing police. The trio were arrested after flipping over in the vehicle they were driving during a high speed chase by sheriff's deputies.

As part of his plea agreement, Houston affirmed that a statement he gave to State Attorney Brad King and Assistant State Attorney Robert Hodges on Dec. 4 was entirely truthful.

Hodges said Friday that the court reporter has not yet transcribed Houston's Dec. 4 statement and that the document will not become public record until it is given to the defendants' attorneys as part of the discovery process.

If Houston does not cooperate fully and truthfully with the state, his plea could be set aside by the court and he would go to trial on the original first-degree murder charge, which carries a life sentence. He would not face the death penalty because he was 17 years old at the time of the slaying.

Because the minimum sentence under his score sheet is 33 years in prison, the state agreed it would not appeal if the court departs from the guidelines as long as the minimum sentence is 25 years. Houston also has to pay restitution to the victims or their families in an amount yet to be determined. He also agreed to pay $55,000 in fines.

Family members cried and wiped their eyes while the judge read the plea agreement. At the end of the proceedings, when Houston was being fingerprinted, he repeatedly glanced up at his upset family members, all of whom declined to comment.

"I think it's the best way to go," Houston's attorney, Michael Graves of Lake County, said Friday about the agreement. "It doesn't make it any less painful or sad."

The prosecution, too, was satisfied with the agreement.

"We felt like the agreement was in the best interest of the state of Florida and that's why we made it," Hodges said. "He has to testify truthfully. It's going to have to match up with what we believe the truth to be," he said about Houston.

Graves said a lot of information about "Ted," as he calls his young client, will be presented at his sentencing hearing, things like the lack of a significant prior history of crimes and his learning disabilities. He said Houston, who has sickle cell anemia, had no prior felonies.

"He is an easy kid to get to like," Graves said. "Young folks don't really seem to understand that they bear the responsibility in many cases under the law for what their buddy does. Nobody has suggested it's Theodore Houston who shot Mrs. Miller or Mr. Miller, but he had some involvement in a robbery that we believe absolutely was Mr. McGirth's idea and his doing."

Graves said he will ask the judge at the sentencing hearing to send Houston, who has an 11th grade education, to a youthful offender facility for adjudicated criminals under 26 years of age.

Bill Miller and Camille Concannon, two public defenders who no longer represent Houston, were in the courtroom Friday.

"We just care about him very, very much," Miller said. "He is an incredibly nice young man."

Susan Latham Carr may be reached at or 352-867-4156.

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