Nearly two months after finding Everett Miller guilty of fatally shooting two Kissimmee police officers, jurors will return to the Osceola Courthouse Tuesday to decide whether he should be sentenced to death or life in prison.
Ahead of the penalty phase of the Marine Corps veteran’s trial, a local NAACP branch petitioned the judge not to sentence Miller to death. Miller can only be sent to death row if the 12-member jury recommends it unanimously.
“We realize the seriousness of this tragedy and the grave circumstances experienced by the families,” wrote Deloris J. McMillon, president of the NAACP Osceola County Branch, in a Oct. 14 letter to Circuit Judge Greg Tynan. “We are urgently requesting that he not be sentenced to death.”
Miller, 48, was convicted of first-degree murder Sept. 11 in the 2017 killings of 36-year-old Sgt. Richard “Sam” Howard and 26-year-old Officer Matthew Baxter. Prosecutors said he was motivated by a hatred for law enforcement when he gunned down the two cops, but Miller’s defense argued the shooting wasn’t premeditated and their client was in a “downward spiral” because he couldn’t adjust to civilian life.
Miller’s family and friends have said he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Baxter was conducting a routine check the night of Aug. 18, 2017 when he stopped to talk to Maribel Gonzalez King and two other men who were drinking beers on the curb near the intersection of Cypress and Palmway streets.
Gonzalez King testified Miller suddenly drove up and start arguing with the officer for “messing with his people” and asked to speak with Baxter’s sergeant.
Baxter called Howard to the scene, and Miller argued with the two officers, saying he feared for his life and had a license to carry a concealed weapon, Gonzalez King testified. After Howard ordered Gonzalez King and the men she was with to leave, she heard gunshots as she walked away.
Prosecutors said Miller ambushed the officers with shots to the head, then re-positioned the bodies parallel to each other and fired at the officers’ faces.
Miller fled to Roscoe’s, a bar on Orange Blossom Trail, where he was arrested.
The letter to the judge from the Osceola NAACP branch included more than 260 signatures asking for Miller not to be executed. McMillon, who did not respond to a request for comment from the Orlando Sentinel, emphasized Miller’s military career and pointed out he was involuntarily committed under Florida’s Baker Act a month before the shooting.
“Upon his release from Park Place, Everett’s mother begged the police to keep his gun,” McMillon wrote. “Unfortunately the gun was returned to him.”
In an order addressing the letter, Tynan said he was prohibited from considering communications made outside the presence of prosecutors and Miller’s defense team.
Miller’s trial is being handled by the office of Ocala-based State Attorney Brad King. Former Gov. Rick Scott reassigned dozens of capital cases to King’s office in 2017 after Orange-Osceola State Attorney Aramis Ayala said she would not consider the death penalty.
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