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Judge excludes Marine veteran’s ‘downward spiral’ evidence from murder trial

A judge's gavel. (Dreamstime/TNS)

A judge prohibited Everett Miller’s defense attorneys from presenting evidence of his “abnormal mental condition” Thursday after his lawyers argued the Marine Corps veteran was in a “downward spiral” before he shot and killed two Kissimmee police officers in 2017.

Miller, 47, faces the death penalty in the first-degree murders of 26-year-old Officer Matthew Baxter and 36-year-old Sgt. Richard “Sam” Howard. Prosecutors say Miller killed the two cops in a “cold, calculated and premeditated fashion due to anti-government beliefs.”

During opening statements at the Osceola County Courthouse last week, defense attorney J. Edwin Mills told jurors his client had been in a “downward spiral” since 2013 because he could not adjust to civilian life and suffered from depression, anxiety and nightmares. Miller was also homeless and had been involuntarily committed a month before the shooting, his attorney said.

Mills told the jury his client was not guilty of a premeditated killing and asked them to return a verdict of second-degree murder.

Ocala-based State Attorney Brad King argued Thursday that evidence is “irrelevant” because it does not rise to the level of legal insanity. A defense of an abnormal mental condition is inadmissible in Florida unless the evidence proves the defendant was insane at the time of the crime, the prosecutor said.

“What they’re trying to do is avoid his guilt by arguing an illegal defense,” King said.

But defense attorney Roseanne Eckert argued it would not be fair for prosecutors to present evidence of Miller’s anti-law enforcement posts on social media as a motive while ignoring his mental condition at the time.

“They can’t have their cake and eat it, too,” she said.

Circuit Judge Greg A. Tynan sided with prosecutors.

“You can’t put on evidence that’s related to some type of mental breakdown just to refute premeditated intent because that is not legal defense in the state of Florida,” he said.

The jury heard Thursday morning from officers who responded to the intersection of Cypress and Palmway streets where Howard and Baxter were killed.

Baxter was conducting a routine check into three suspicious people the night of Aug. 18, 2017, when a witness said Miller suddenly drove up and started asking, “Why the [expletive] you messing with my peoples?”

Baxter called Howard to the scene after Miller asked to speak with his sergeant. Police say Miller told the two officers he had a license to carry a concealed weapon and feared for his life before shooting them in the head.

He fled to a bar on Orange Blossom Trail, where he was later arrested.

His family and friends told the Orlando Sentinel the veteran struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder after coming home from a two-decade military career.


© 2019 The Orlando Sentinel