Members of the jury heard closing arguments Wednesday morning during the penalty phase of Everett Miller’s first-degree murder trial. Deliberations began shortly after 11 a.m. and a decision was reached by 4:30 p.m.
Members of the jury unanimously recommended death for the killings of Sgt. Sam Howard and Officer Matthew Baxter, both of the Kissimmee Police Department.
"I’m finally proud to say that I'm beginning close this chapter and me and my girls will be able to move forward," said Sadia Baxter, the widow of Officer Matthew Baxter. "It’s not okay to kill, and it’s not okay for our law enforcement officers who protect and serve this community to feel like they are in danger themselves."
After court today, Miller’s family didn’t have much to say, but a family member told News 6 they didn’t think the judicial process was fair. The defense said there are still many questions about the verdict form the jurors used.
Miller will be sentenced on Dec. 20 when a judge will decide whether to take the jury’s recommendation.
“I understand families are destroyed on both sides of this issue, but I think based on the jury’s recommendation and their findings today that justice was done,” Assistant State Attorney Ryan Williams said.
Defense: Miller is a military veteran suffering from mental illness
During closing arguments, the defense said Miller was a family man and a top Marine who served his country. They told jurors to consider how Miller went from a Marine veteran to a broken, mentally ill man. They highlighted the mental illness found on both sides of Miller’s family and how his father, not his mother, had full custody of him. The defense argued his family history, childhood and time in the Marines played a large role in the development of his mental illness.
The defense said Miller was already mentally ill when the murders happened, arguing he wasn’t that he wasn’t himself. They point to the time of the crime, a period where Miller was going through a break up with his girlfriend, lost his job and was suffering from PTSD and distress after multiple tours overseas while in the Marines.
Despite the state saying Miller made several anti-law enforcement Facebook posts, the defense said that added to the fact that he was mentally ill.
Earlier, prosecutors said Miller was anti-law enforcement and that he planned the murders. Prosecutors argued Miller attacked the officers because of who they were, reminding jurors of witness testimony claiming Miller had guns in his cars months before the murders.
They said Miller left the scene because he knew he was wrong. Prosecutors said this proves their point this was premeditated.
In September, Miller was found guilty of first-degree murder in the deaths of Baxter and Howard.
Prosecutors also claimed the psychologists who testified for the defense had no factual basis to truly independently diagnose Miller post-traumatic stress disorder and they were biased.
Prosecutors said one psychologist was a veteran and another was against the death penalty.
On Tuesday, jurors saw new videos and pictures of the officers.
The defense called a clinical psychologist Robert Cohen to the stand.
“I believe that he was suffering from PTSD and had been for quite some time,” Cohen said.
Cohen told the jury Miller met the criteria for PTSD, especially serving several tours overseas. He said it appeared Miller buried his emotions and never got help until his family pushed him too shortly before the murders happened.
"He’s been trying to see someone since January and he has reduced interest in things, depression, anxiety, mood," said Dr. Cohen.
Prosecutors called on their own expert witness, a different psychologist said Miller was really more of an alcoholic, a marijuana abuser.
The psychologist said Miller was stressed after losing his job and breaking up with his girlfriend.
“Mr. Miller is capable of symptoms, exaggerating things, or painting a picture that is manipulative to convince people that he’s other than he really is,” Dr. Michael Gamache said.
State prosecutors also questioned the accuracy of a test given to Miller by Dr. Cohen trying to gauge Miller’s mental state at the time of the murders.
Sadia Baxter, the widow of Matthew Baxter and mother to their three daughters, spoke after the jury delivered their verdict Wednesday, saying she and her family have felt a roller coaster of emotions throughout Miller’s trial.
“We have gone through many ups and downs, different emotions, and I am proud to say that justice was served. My girls and I will be able to close this chapter,“ Sadia Baxter said.
She said she has finally begun to feel healing in her heart and thanked everyone who supported her family through the difficult time.
“I know that I was not alone here,” Sadia Baxter said. “There are so many people that love and support our families and I just thank you all.”