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Murder trial begins for father and son in Abilene

Johnnie Miller and his son, Michael, have both pleaded not guilty in the shooting death of neighbor Aaron Howard.

ABILENE, Texas — Opening statements and testimony began Tuesday morning in the murder case of a father and son accused of shooting their neighbor to death after a dispute over a box spring.

John Miller and his son, Michael Miller, are on trial at the Taylor County Courthouse for the Sept. 1, 2018, murder of Aaron Howard in an alleyway on Abilene's Don Juan Street.

The Millers pleaded not guilty in the case.

Neither the prosecution or the defense argued against the fact that Howard was a man with an "explosive temper," but both noted Howard was taking medication for his anger issues.

Asst. District Attorney Dan Joiner said Howard had previously threatened a City of Abilene Code Enforcement officer and a postal worker.

"We will not dispute, Aaron had an explosive temper, there's no denying that," Joiner said.

He then detailed the morning of Howard's murder, which started with unloading a trailer of scrap metal to the shooting in the alleyway behind the home Howard shared with several other people.

Howard had placed a box spring in the dumpster in the alley behind their home and "someone kept removing it." He put it back in the dumpster, then his roommate Justin Campbell and Howard's girlfriend, Kara Box Montean, then heard him tell someone to "put it back."

This led to John Miller producing a handgun and the argument ensuing.

Police were called to the alleyway.

The first witness called was APD Officer Anthony Joeris, who was the first officer on the scene after the shooting.  Joeris described Howard's condition when he arrived in the alleyway saying part of his skull was missing and his brain was exposed and said Howard appeared incoherent.

Joeris "didn't think he [Howard] knew what was going on."

The next witness was a former APD forensic specialist who described the crime scene and positively identified evidence from the scene.

Howard's former girlfriend, Kara Box Montean, took the stand before the court recessed for lunch.

She said she knew Howard since she was a teenager and they dated briefly in 2013. They then became a couple in 2017, when Montean said she was getting out of a bad marriage that Howard helped her through.

The couple lived on Ambler with Campbell, his children and Montean's mother before moving to the home on Don Juan.

Montean testified that she started recording the argument between the Millers and Howard because she was afraid something bad would happen. 

Tarrant County Deputy Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Tasha Greenburg testified after the break and confirmed the cause of death for Howard was his wounds from the gun and shotgun.

Greenburg detailed the trajectory of the bullets that struck Howard in the arm and chest, and the head wounds from the shotgun. She confirmed both the chest and head wounds were "sufficient to cause death".

Howard's best friend who he often referred to as his "brother", Justin Campbell, was called to the stand to detail what happened that day in the alley. Campbell said Howard was aggressive, but also very loving and caring and kind of intimidating. 

He said although Howard told him to go get a gun from the house, it wasn't possible because the .38 Special that had previously been in the home had been pawned weeks prior.

Campbell said he was the one who provided Howard with the baseball bat the Millers said he threatened them with in the alley. 

APD Det. Frank Shoemaker, who interviewed Johnnie Miller on the day of the murder was the final witness of the day. 

In a recorded interview, Johnnie Miller told Shoemaker he found an old "mattress" by his back gate and moved it more than once. On Sept. 1, 2018, Miller said Howard came out into the alley "whooping and hollering" about the box spring. Miller told Shoemaker he told Howard multiple times to stop getting near him.

Johnnie Miller also told the detective he told his son, Michael, to get the shotgun and in the interview told Shoemaker Michael did not fire a shot. He said after the first shot he fired, Howard turned around and came back towards him and said he would kill him.

He stopped shooting because his gun jammed, he said.

At one point in the interview, Johnnie Miller asked Shoemaker about Howard's condition. It wasn't until later in the interview that he was informed that Howard was dead and he would be charged with murder.

When asked why he told Michael to bring the shotgun out, Miller said it was in case Aaron overpowered him. He referenced recent cataract surgery and not wanting to damage the repair.

"When you're dealing with this ole boy, you don't just deal with him without a face-to-face confrontation," Miller said.

Shoemaker asked him why he didn't call the police.

"I don't remember phone numbers and I don't call 911."

At this point, Shoemaker tells Miller that Howard is dead.

"Well, I'm sorry he's dead. I'm sorry for his family. If you think I don't feel bad about this, you're wrong," Miller said.

The trial is expected to resume at 9 a.m. Wednesday at the Taylor County Courthouse.

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