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Defense is short of goal in trial

Using a football analogy, the defense argues a defendant was tormented by addiction during the robbery. The jury finds him guilty.

Michael Tewell, defense attorney, clutched a tube of cleaning solution like a football and told the jurors to picture the courtroom as a playing field.

Envision one end zone as the life John Robert Miller was struggling to reach, he said _ a stable family life beyond the torments of heroin addiction. "I'm making passes," Tewell said, pantomiming a quarterback, "heading toward that goal."

But, like an infamous Minnesota Vikings player from the 1970s, Miller started running the wrong way _ a drug-fueled flight that led him to the PAR rehabilitation clinic with a handgun on Oct. 21, 1998.

"Was it John Miller or the drugs?" Tewell asked the jury during closing arguments of Miller's weeklong trial Wednesday afternoon, saying detox drugs had addled his client's brain. "Your call."

The jury, after about 2{ hours of deliberation, made it: guilty.

Convicted of armed burglary, shooting into a building and discharging a firearm in public, Miller, of Hudson, could face life in prison when he is sentenced March 3.

During the trial, prosecutor Katie Hardgrave argued 28-year-old Miller, far from being insane, knew what he was doing when he went to the Ridge Road PAR clinic, shot out a window with a .380 semiautomatic and climbed inside.

Though no one was hurt, the attack left terrified employees huddling behind a locked door and praying for their lives while Miller banged on the door. A SWAT team entered the building and captured Miller.

Miller had been treated at the PAR drug rehab center and was angry at a doctor over a financial matter.

"He knows what he is doing is a crime," Hardgrave told the jury. "He's not hallucinating."

When the SWAT team ordered him to put down his gun, Hardgrave said, Miller behaved rationally and complied. "He was able to use his mind," she said. "He's got one gun. They've got four."

On the day of the gunplay, Miller had been at Helen Ellis Memorial Hospital in Tarpon Springs for detoxification treatment, and he was in the anguish of narcotic withdrawal when he went to the PAR clinic, which, according to Tewell, ignored his pleas for help. Miller had been a patient there for 10 months, but had fallen behind on payments.

"He got turned around, facing the wrong goal," said Tewell, acting out his football analogy with a tube of cleaning solution kept in the courtroom to wash the hands of defendants after fingerprinting.

"He (wanted) methadone to stop the pain," Tewell said. "They didn't want to give him his medicine."

_ Times staff writer Christopher Goffard covers courts in west Pasco County. He can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6236 or (800) 333-7505, ext. 6236. His e-mail address is goffardsptimes.com.

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