No verdict yet in Miller case

LISBON – Although they deliberated for more than three hours Tuesday afternoon, jurors in the Christopher Miller aggravated murder case were unable to reach a verdict.

Columbiana County Common Pleas Court Judge C. Ashley Pike requested the jury go home Tuesday, stay away from media accounts, get a good night’s rest and try again this morning.

With the aggravated murder charge, Miller is facing a possible life sentence with the possibility of parole after 20, 25 or 30 years. The murder charge carries a possible sentence of 15 to life.

Jurors were sent to begin deliberating about 11:30 a.m., but chose to go to lunch almost immediately. They returned at about 12:40 p.m. and began discussing the three charges. They next asked the bailiff a question at 2:30 p.m., which the judge showed to both teams of attorneys along with the judge’s response and the answer was returned to the back room where the jury was still deliberating.

At 4 p.m., a note was sent from the foreman to Pike and in court, she confirmed, “I do not believe we will be able to come to a unanimous agreement.”

Before letting them go for the day, Pike urged them to give it one more go in the morning, noting they were a carefully chosen group and the court believes it would be hard to find a more capable or intelligent group to which the case should be presented.

The jurors had been asked to decide the case after nearly two hours of closing arguments were given by both assistant county prosecutors Tammie Riley Jones and John Gamble, as well as defense attorney Jennifer Gorby.

Jones went first, laying out all the places and people Miller went to go see on Oct. 25 and Oct. 26, 2013. Bailey was killed on Oct. 26. Jones also reiterated points of the three different stories Miller gave when he asked to be questioned by detectives on Oct. 27 and Oct. 28 and then was interviewed a third time on Feb. 4.

“Those stories were as different as the colors I printed the summaries in,” Jones said, referring to her chart of the three stories color-coded by interview. “They were lies. They were attempts to avoid responsibility, attempts to blame it on everybody else.”

Jones and later Gamble went on to poke some holes in each of the three stories. Jones questioned how Miller was able to use Bailey’s cell phone when according to his stories he had fled the scene to get away from “the dude” and the girl he had said were also there when Bailey died.

She also questioned why Miller’s blood was not found on the back of the driver’s seat if he had fled as he had told detectives. He had a large gash on the back of his head at the time and Jones said he would have needed time to wipe the blood from it or blood evidence would have been found.

Gamble gave some examples of more holes which caused Miller to change his story. He also called the third story the most ridiculous because Miller will not even let his girlfriend, Patti Colon, drive the Explorer, so why would he allow Bailey to take it and leave him behind.

During Jones’ remarks she reiterated one of the statements Miller had made to investigators – “It’s not that complicated. You don’t have to make it that hard.” Prosecutors used that statement to try to convince the jury the case also is not that complicated.

While Jones noted there was a lot of evidence and exhibits given to the jury, she also offered the reasoning was not to impress them with quantity over quality. Jones said each piece was just a part of the whole puzzle jurors would have to look at in the case. Jurors were given more than 140 exhibits in the case and testimony took more than three full days.

Jones also pointed out there was a reason the prosecutors were not able to offer a witness to the murder or a murder weapon. She said only Miller and Bailey were actually there and it was Miller who not only got rid of the weapon, but also his clothes and other blood-covered evidence to the crime. She compared the description Miller had given of the dude to his own physical appearance and introduced Miller to the jury as actually “dude.”

Jones also said Robert Barrett, who knew Miller mostly from the time they spent together at the county jail, heard the confession of Miller. She pointed out Barrett told the truth and it was “unrefuted.”

Gorby during her statement challenged Barrett’s story, noting he was making a deal with the prosecutor’s office so additional charges would not be pressed against him. She also said she believed most of Barrett’s details about the case came from newspaper accounts of the case and not what he heard Miller say in jail.

As for motive, Jones said it was based around drugs and money to buy drugs.

“The defendant is a heroin addict,” Jones said. “As such he has one primary goal, to feed his addiction. To feed his addiction he needs money – money and or drugs. Matthew Bailey died on Oct. 26 because he didn’t give the defendant what he needed.”

Jones went over some of the other ways Miller attempted to get money during the 24 hours surrounding Bailey’s death. She noted Bailey was Miller’s last chance to get Colon’s money back before he had to meet her at 10 a.m.

Gorby also focused part of her closing argument around the money. She noted Miller took the time to chat with people he went to see or called. He did not demand money from Wanda Bender and Merve and Gayle Hilliard. Gorby also questioned why if Miller was so desperate for money, why he left jewelry on Bailey’s body instead of taking the items to Cashland in Alliance, where he was known to pawn other items.

Gorby challenged that blood evidence in the case was poorly collected without following the recommended protocol on the chemical manufacturers’ own literature. She also argued the items where Bailey’s blood was found, there was only one test performed, but on items where no blood evidence was found multiple tests were done.

She talked about the blood on the boots being found only six inches from the ground on the boots and should have been all over them if Miller bludgeoned Bailey. Gamble later countered it was because Miller’s pantleg may have been covering the top of his boots and then he burned the pants he was wearing. Gorby had claimed there was no evidence of the clothes being burned.

Additionally, Gorby pointed out there was a second pair of boots in the Ford Escape if Miller had wanted to get rid of his blood-stained boots too, but he did not.

She also questioned why investigators did not interview two people they found who looked like the two people Miller had described or shown him photos of the two people they had found to see if he could recognize them. Instead she said they told Miller the two people were “ghosts” who did not exist.

When it came to proving the aggravated murder charge, which meant the jury needs to believe Miller planned the event, Gorby said the prosecution had not proven anything close to a plan. She noted it was a drug deal in a field in the daylight, where hunters were possibly in the area to see what happened. She noted at that time of year it was possible to see the home of Todd Flickinger, who was the first to discover the body.

She pointed out there were more secluded places near Miller’s home in the Butler Mobile Home Park, such as the woods at the back of the property or the swamp to the east. She asked why someone would not choose a gun or another weapon, a murder method which would not lead to them being splattered by blood.

Gamble noted such a method of killing someone is more personal. He also challenged Gorby’s assertion that Miller, a drug addict himself, was not the type of person who would be sent out to deal with those who had drug debts. Gamble questioned if it was more probable for a drug dealer to call a local collections attorney like Geoff Goll of Salem, who could file a collection case against them in county municipal court.

“How ridiculous is that,” Gamble said. “(Drug dealers) go to people who are in debt to them, who are beholden to them.”

Although no murder weapon was found, Gamble speculated it could be a common hammer with a claw in the back for pulling nails. He demonstrated how Miller could have stood over Bailey and swung the hammer down on him and made the two types of marks in Bailey’s head. He also demonstrated how the back of the claw could have caught Miller in the back of the head while he was swinging it, which would explain Miller’s laceration.