Man goes on trial in killing of wife's boyfriend

Published March 22, 1992|Updated Oct. 11, 2005

Robert Miller arrived at the home of his estranged wife looking for a second chance.

By the time he left, one person was dead, two others scared and injured, and the threat of life imprisonment hung over Miller's head.

The fateful day was April 19, 1991, when Miller broke into the home of Sheila Miller.

Robert Miller tied up his 13-year-old son and shoved him in a closet; he repeatedly threatened Mrs. Miller, striking her with a small baseball bat, pleading for her to come back to him, according to her statements and investigators' accounts.

About that time, William "Bill" Sanders walked up to the house. He was dating Mrs. Miller and planned to marry her once her divorce was finished.

According to authorities, Miller surprised Sanders, pumped several bullets into his back and side, then left him for dead on the back lawn.

Miller, 43, of Dade City is scheduled to stand trial this week in Inverness for first-degree murder, armed kidnapping, burglary, robbery and aggravated assault.

Jury selection is slated for Tuesday and testimony should take up the rest of the week. Circuit Judge John Thurman will preside.

If convicted of all charges, Miller could face life in prison. The State Attorney's Office already has agreed not to seek the death penalty.

Court records outline a heated, ongoing domestic problem that boiled over into a slaying. Miller previously had been convicted of beating Sheila Miller and was ordered to stay away from her.

But defense lawyers say the incident was not so simple.

The lawyers point out that Sanders had threatened to kill Miller or have him killed; the two men even scuffled the day before their eventual showdown.

Miller's defense team also says that Miller heard about Sanders' alleged molestation of children, and that Miller feared his own young son may be a victim.

Those elements may give jurors a different impression of Miller _ as a scared, concerned father instead of a cold, calculated killer. Defense attorneys have hinted that they may put forward a "self-defense" argument.

Mrs. Miller, who now goes by her previous married name of Blanchard, is expected to be one of the state's key witnesses. She and her two sons, Chris and Joel, have talked to an investigator and explained what happened the day of the killing.

According to a summary account of their statements, this is what happened:

Chris returned to his home, at 921 Zephyr St. on the outskirts of downtown Inverness, and unlocked the door. Robert Miller was waiting inside; authorities now think that he had been inside the house for hours.

He tied Chris' hands, stuffed a rag in his mouth and shoved him in a closet.

Sanders, meanwhile, had come looking for Chris because the boy had called his mother and said he was unable to get into the house. Sanders, 41, did not see Chris, so he drove away.

Sheila Miller arrived home shortly after 5 p.m. and immediately was thrown onto the floor. Robert Miller threatened her with a .38-caliber handgun, struck her with the bat, and told her he planned to kill Sanders.

According to Mrs. Miller, her estranged husband said Sanders was the reason they could not be together. Once Sanders was gone, he said, everything would be fine.

Sanders arrived at the home about 7 p.m. and approached the front door. Mrs. Miller warned him of the gun, so Sanders ran away. But he was shot several times in the back.

Miller drove away in Sanders' pickup truck and went to pick up his young son, Joel, who then was 6.

Miller and the boy spent the night "camping" in woods near the Deerwood section west of Inverness. They eventually drove to Miller's brother's home off Centralia Road in Hernando County.

In questioning of witnesses and in written pleadings, Assistant Public Defender Billy Nolas has pointed out that Sanders had threatened Miller many times.

Nolas said he questions the diligence of officers who investigated the threats, and the allegations of sexual abuse against Sanders.

Nolas is expected to raise those issues again during the trial; likewise, Assistant State Attorney Anthony Tatti said he will tell the jury about Miller's criminal record.

B=fore the trial gets under way, lawyers are expected to resolve a few legal matters on Monday.

Nolas has alleged that law officers had no right to search Miller's vehicle or home; he will ask Thurman to declare the search invalid and, by extension, throw out any evidence investigators gathered directly or indirectly from the search.