Colleagues, corrections officers paint Everett Miller as decorated Marine, model prisoner

Miller convicted of murder in deaths of 2 Kissimmee officers

Everett Miller was emotional in court Thursday as witnesses testified during the penalty phase of his trial.

KISSIMMEE, Fla. – During the penalty phase of Everett Miller's trial, jurors got a glimpse of Miller's life as a United States Marine, years before he became a convicted cop killer.

The jury convicted Miller in September in the fatal 2017 shootings of Kissimmee Officer Matthew Baxter and Sgt. Sam Howard.

On Thursday, the defense called several of Miller's colleagues from his time when he enlisted as a private in 1989 to the time he retired as a master sergeant at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa. 

"He was just a terrific Marine," testified retired Maj. Clarence Newton France. "His constant attention to detail, his uniform was immaculate, his troops. The people who worked for him -- his civilians and throughout the command -- looked up to him." 

Miller was emotional during the testimony, using tissues to wipe away tears after hearing his former boss, Capt. Tom Leech, testify. Leech told the jurors he pushed for Miller to get promotions and the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, which, according to the United States Air Force, is "awarded for noncombat meritorious achievement or service that is incontestably exceptional and of magnitude that clearly places the individual above his peers."

"He advocated for his people every day, every day," Leech said. "He came in and he assumed more responsibility than what was expected to. He did it well, and he did it well every day."

The defense also called on Aubrey Land, a consultant for the Department of Corrections, and another Department of Corrections officer currently overseeing inmates at the Orange County Jail, where Miller is being held. Both testified that Miller is a model prisoner. 

"If I were a warden, I (would) want him on the compound," Land said. 

The defense is hoping the jury decides to give Miller life in prison over the death penalty. 

Late Thursday afternoon, Miller's father, Rufus Miller, took the stand. Miller was seen blowing kisses to his family before lunch. After lunch, Rufus Miller took jurors through pictures of Everett Miller's life with his family, his kids and his uniform decorated with medals. 

On Wednesday, the defense called Miller's cousin, Devona Barnes, to the stand. She said Miller had a happy childhood but his demeanor changed after he left the military, when he started showing signs of post-traumatic stress disorder.

"He was depressed and began to have some issues and going in a downward spiral," Barnes said. "His demeanor began to change, and he became more depressed and remorseful about what he had done, and it started to take a toll on him."

Psychologist Steve Gold testified Wednesday that Miller appeared to be showing signs of PTSD and depression at the time of the shooting. Gold said the fact Miller had been laid off from his job, broke up with his girlfriend and was homeless before the murders made things worse. 

"He was feeling remorseful for his involvement in killing people in the military, so there were a lot of tough circumstances weighing on him at the time," Gold said. 

Jurors will soon recommend if Everett Miller should face life in prison or the death penalty.

Earlier this week, prosecutors said Miller killed the officers in a premeditated, cold and calculated manner. 

Baxter’s widow, Sadia Baxter, said Tuesday that she continues to cope with her husband's death.

"How can I rest, knowing that I am the sole provider to my girls because their father was taken?" she said. "Never in a million years would I have thought my husband, Matthew, would be shot and murdered. On top of Matthew being taken from me, I also lost my friend and Sgt. Sam Howard."

The state rested Tuesday during the penalty phase of Everett Miller's trial.

Sadia Baxter is raising the couple's three young daughters.

Matthew Baxter's sister became emotional while reading her impact statement. 

"I wish that he was here. I miss him so dearly, and I wish that he was here," Elizabeth Sawyer said. "He was the most amazing brother. I’ll never forget the impact he had on my life."

About the Authors:

Daniel started with WKMG-TV in 2000 and became the digital content manager in 2009. When he's not working on, Daniel likes to head to the beach or find a sporting event nearby.

Jerry Askin is an Atlanta native who came to News 6 in March 2018 with an extensive background in breaking news.