Everett Glenn Miller was feeling “hopeless” and “angry” when he sought medical help from the VA four days before killing two Kissimmee police officers in 2017, an expert witness told jurors Tuesday.
Clinical neuropsychologist Robert Cohen testified the Marine Corps veteran went to the VA several times starting in May 2017 worried he had post-traumatic stress disorder because of his increased anger and irritability.
Records from his last visit on Aug. 14, 2017 indicated he was homeless and had just broken up his girlfriend. He didn’t have access to his medicine and had been involuntarily committed to a hospital a month before, the expert said.
“He went in asking for medication,” Cohen said. “He was hopeless at that point. He was angry.”
Jurors weighing a death sentence for Miller returned to the Osceola County Courthouse to hear Cohen and other final witnesses testify in the trial’s penalty phase before they begin deliberating the convicted cop killer’s fate.
Miller, 48, was found guilty of first-degree murder in the killings of Kissimmee police Sgt. Richard “Sam” Howard, 36, and Officer Matthew Baxter, 26. All 12 jurors will have to recommend capital punishment for the Marine veteran to be sent to death row instead of being sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Prosecutors and Miller’s defense attorneys rested their cases Tuesday. The jury will begin deliberating after attorneys present closing arguments Wednesday morning.
Cohen told jurors he interviewed Miller in jail and evaluated him with a checklist used to diagnose PTSD, which scores the severity of symptoms on a range from 0 to 80, with a score of 33 needed for a PTSD diagnosis.
While in jail on sedatives, Miller scored 24 out of 80 on the checklist, Cohen said. But the night of the shooting, Miller reported symptoms that gave him a score of 56, and VA medical records showed he scored 65 during the time he sought help, the expert said.
Cohen ultimately diagnosed Miller with PTSD, as well as major depressive disorder and alcohol abuse disorder, at the time of the murders.
But Michael Gamache, a psychologist testifying for the state, said the checklist used by Cohen was akin to giving Miller a “menu of all the symptoms.” Gamache told jurors he did not believe Miller suffered from PTSD but was struggling to adjust to civilian life.
“In his frustration and under the influence of drugs and alcohol, he began to gravitate toward extremist views,” he said. “He literally published murderous, violent thinking.”
In the past week, jurors heard from Miller’s family and friends, who said his successful career and life went into a downward spiral after he left his work as a defense contractor. The Marine veteran worked in the private sector targeting enemy combatants with drone strikes and spent some time at an Afghanistan base that was targeted by strikes and suicide bombers, witnesses said.
Miller was the “epitome of a Marine,” military colleagues said.
“Miller was probably one of the finest Marines I’ve ever served with,” retired U.S. Navy Capt. Thomas Leech, Miller’s commanding officer, testified. “He respected everyone. He treated everyone fairly.”
His cousin Devona Barnes said Miller was depressed and expressed remorse about having killed innocent bystanders.
In the months before the killings, he lost his job at a packaging company, became homeless and broke up with his girlfriend. On social media, Miller railed against the government and law enforcement, talked about killing white men and expressed anger about high-profile police brutality cases involving unarmed African Americans — shocking those who knew him as a good friend.
A month before Miller gunned down the two officers, he was involuntarily committed under Florida’s Baker Act for running in the streets with a high-powered rifle wearing only boxers. A deputy testified she visited Miller in the hospital and found him laying in his bed while chanting a military song.
Cohen testified Miller had visited the VA several times for help before and after being Baker Acted. The expert told jurors Miller likely had a mental break when he felt threatened and was in “extreme emotional distress.”
“He snapped,” Cohen said. “He needed to be protected from himself and others needed to be protected from him.”
Gamache testified Miller has a history of losing his temper and grabbing a gun. Miller told him and other experts that he does not remember shooting Baxter and Howard but does recall the events surrounding the crime, Gamache said.
“Mr. Miller is a proud man,” Gamache said. “Seeing himself as a murderer is contrary to who he’s seen himself [as] during the rest of his life.”
Prosecutors have argued the convicted killer was motivated by his hatred of law enforcement, but Miller’s attorneys said the shooting wasn’t premeditated.
The night of Aug. 18, 2017, Baxter was conducting a routine check on three people near the intersection of Cypress and Palmway streets. A witness said Miller suddenly drove up and started arguing with him for “messing with his people.”
Baxter called Howard to the scene. After an argument, Miller ambushed the two cops, shooting each of them in the head and face, prosecutors said.
Miller was arrested at a bar on Orange Blossom Trail.
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