Father, son accused of killing neighbor over mattress used self-defense, lawyer says

A father and adult son accused of killing a neighbor in Abilene during a dispute over a mattress in September 2018 were justified because they acted in self-defense, their attorney said.

Fort Worth attorney Justin Sparks said his clients will be ready to face a jury in Taylor County.

“We are justified to use force in self-defense,” Sparks said Tuesday in a telephone interview. “Texas is a ‘stand your ground’ state. You do not have a legal duty to retreat when you’re threatened.”

Johnnie Miller, 68, and his son, Michael Miller, 32, have been charged with murder in the case.

A Taylor County grand jury indicted the Millers in December.

The Millers only recently walked out of the Taylor County Jail in Abilene after posting $100,000 bail each. The father and son, who returned to homes in Taylor County, made bail on April 30.

The Millers are accused of shooting to death their neighbor, Aaron Howard, 37, on Sept. 1 in an alley behind their homes in the 4300 block of Don Juan Street in south Abilene. Abilene is about 150 miles west of Fort Worth.

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Johnnie Miller and his son, Michael, of Abilene are accused of killing their neighbor, Aaron Howard, during a dispute in September 2018. Courtesy: Taylor County Jail

‘You can’t provoke someone and call it self-defense’

Howard’s common-law wife, Kara Box witnessed the shooting and disagrees with the self-defense claim.

“It wasn’t self-defense,” Box said Wednesday in a telephone interview with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “You can’t provoke someone and call it self-defense.”

The case drew national attention after Box released a two-minute video showing the confrontation and the shooting. She took the video with her cellphone as she stood by Howard.

Box said the Millers’ attorney has tried to have the video thrown out because he said it was misleading. But she said the video shows exactly what happened.

Initially, the Millers were arrested and released after posting $25,000 bond. But they were re-arrested when their bond was raised to $250,000 once authorities saw the video.

Sparks had filed a motion for a hearing to lower the bail, but it was lowered to $100,000 without a hearing.

“We had character witnesses ready,” said Sparks, who has defended many clients across the state on self-defense for the last 10 years. Sparks is a former prosecutor with the Tarrant County district attorney’s office.

Sparks said Howard had threatened the Millers.

Sparks filed a motion in December for evidence favorable to his clients, noting Howard had been involved in 38 potentially assaultive incidents from June 30, 1998, to Aug. 28, 2018, mostly in Taylor County.

Those incidents reported to the Abilene police included disorderly conduct, criminal mischief where he was accused of breaking a car door, several assault calls, sexual assault incidents, harassment where Howard made threatening phone calls to a business employee, and harassment of a code enforcement employee where he left multiple messages threatening to shoot anyone who came on his property, according to court documents.

On May 8, 2018, Abilene police had a report of a terroristic threat to a public servant where a city code compliance officer was threatened at Howard’s home. A witness listed on the report was Johnnie Miller, according to court documents.

Before September 2018, Johnnie Miller had been charged with five crimes since November 1977 in Taylor County, ranging from aggravated assault with a deadly weapon to unlawful carrying of a weapon, according to court records. He had last been arrested in January 1979 on a charge of unlawful carrying of a weapon.

Michael Miller had not been arrested for any crimes in Taylor County before September 2018, according to court records.

Video shows argument that led to shooting

Box said she and her husband moved to their Abilene home in April 2018, but they had never talked to the Millers until the morning of Sept. 1, 2018. The Millers were their next-door neighbors.

“We had thrown out a twin mattress in a dumpster in our alley a few days before the shooting,” Box told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in a September 2018 interview. “You have to have the mattress in the dumpster or they will not haul it away.”

On the morning of Sept. 1, 2018, Box and Howard were in the backyard when they saw the mattress was on their property. Howard tossed it back in the dumpster.

Box said that’s when John Miller came to the alley, pulled the mattress out of the dumpster and tossed it back on Howard’s property.

Howard told Miller to put it back in the dumpster. Miller cursed at Howard and told him he wasn’t going to do that, Box said.

“That’s when John (Miller) pulled a pistol out of his shorts,” she said. Box noted that Howard’s nieces and nephews had been with them in the backyard.

“Aaron goes into papa bear mode,” Box said. “A man has just pulled a gun on his wife, his brother, his nieces and nephews.”

A tense conversation ensues between Howard, who is not armed, and John and Michael Miller, who arrives on the scene armed with a shotgun.

Howard threatens to kill the Millers, and the Millers repeatedly curse at Howard, according to the video.

As tempers flare, Box steps in between her husband and John Miller. Howard’s brother has handed him a baseball bat by this time, but he never swung it, his wife said.

“If you come within three feet of me, I’m going to kill you,” Miller tells Howard. Seconds later, two gunshots are heard. The video also shows Michael Miller firing the shotgun after the first two shots are fired.

Box starts screaming, “No, no, Aaron!” after her husband is shot in the chest and head.

Howard was shot in the chest with the pistol and suffered a shotgun wound to his head, according to the Abilene Journal.

Box said John Miller walked up to her and put the handgun to her head, yelling at her to get on the ground. She said Michael Miller went over to Aaron’s brother, placed the shotgun to his head, and ordered him to the ground.

Abilene police arrived a few minutes later responding to a report of shots being fired in the neighborhood.

Box released the video just days after the shooting to let residents know exactly what happened that morning.

“I don’t leave my house much,” said Box, who still lives in Abilene. “I struggle with it every day.”

A trial date in Abilene for the Millers is pending.

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