Shooting of Diane Miller, 63, regarded as first murder in retirement community
Sentinel Staff Writer
December 8, 2007
The youngest of three men charged in a killing regarded as The Villages' first-ever murder pleaded guilty Friday, accepting a deal that spares him a life sentence but requires him to testify against his friends.
Theodore Houston, 18, could nonetheless spend 40 years in prison for his role in the slaying of Diane Miller, 63, at her home.
Co-defendants Jarrord Roberts, 21, and Renaldo McGirth, 19, both of Ocala, could face the death penalty if convicted of first-degree murder and other felonies in the armed robbery and shooting July 21, 2006.
"There never has been any charge that Teddy shot anybody or ever meant for anyone to get shot," said Tavares lawyer Michael Graves, who defended Houston, a high-school junior.
But the law makes little distinction between killer and accomplice.
The three friends arrived at the Millers' home on S.E. 179th Wesley Street in "Florida's Friendliest Hometown" on a ruse, saying they had come to visit the retired couple's only child, Sheila Miller, 40, who knew McGirth and Houston by their nicknames, "Pooney" and "Bro."
Miller, who was in a wheelchair and recovering from a broken pelvis suffered in a drunken-driving accident, has said that she was acquainted with them from earlier drug deals.
Once inside the Millers' home, according to an indictment, they robbed the couple, killed Diane Miller, shot her husband in the head and kidnapped their daughter. James Miller, 70, survived his head wound.
While Houston insisted he went along with the crime because he was scared, Sheila Miller pointed out in her deposition that he at times held the gun.
Assistant State Attorney Bob Hodges said prosecutors received James Miller's approval before offering a plea deal to Houston.
"We would not have made the offer if it wasn't something that he agreed with," Hodges said.
Houston, who remains in custody in the Lake County Jail, will be sentenced by Circuit Judge Brian Lambert after the co-defendants' trials, set for Jan. 22.
Hodges said Houston faces 25 to 40 years in prison.
Graves said Houston, who provided prosecutors with a statement this week, did not think Sheila Miller was involved in planning the crimes that killed her mother and further estranged her from her father.
"But to the extent that Teddy thought she may somehow be involved, he thought it would be a drug transaction," Graves said.
Sheila Miller denies that, too.
Graves described Houston as an impressionable 17-year-old who "didn't want to get wrapped up in this" but made a fateful decision to follow McGirth, who had recently been released from state prison.
"Unfortunately for Teddy, that's not a defense," Graves said.
Houston pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, first-degree attempted murder, armed robbery and armed kidnapping.
Because of his age, he was never eligible to face the death penalty.
Stephen Hudak can be reached at email@example.com or 352-742-5930.