Testimony in murder trial of Abilene father, son who shot neighbor after mattress dispute

Opening statements and testimony began Tuesday in the murder trial of two Abilene men who were caught on camera shooting their neighbor in an alleyway after a dispute over a mattress in a dumpster.

Jury selection for the trial of Johnnie Miller, 71, and Michael Miller, 35, took place Monday at the Taylor County Courthouse in Abilene. The father and son are charged with the Sept. 1, 2018, murder of their neighbor, 37-year-old Aaron Howard.

A two-minute cellphone video that captured the shooting was released in the case. The shooting happened in an alley behind their homes on the 4300 block of Don Juan Street in Abilene.

The Millers pleaded not guilty, and their attorneys are arguing self-defense. Johnnie Miller is being represented by Fort Worth attorney Justin Sparks with the Sparks Law Firm, while his son is being represented by Graham Norris with the same firm. Abilene is about 150 miles west of Fort Worth.

Johnnie Miller, left, and his son, Michael Miller, are accused of shooting to death a neighbor over a mattress in 2018 in Abilene, Texas. Their murder trial began Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023.
Johnnie Miller, left, and his son, Michael Miller, are accused of shooting to death a neighbor over a mattress in 2018 in Abilene, Texas. Their murder trial began Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023.

The first witness called was Anthony Joeris, an officer with the Abilene Police Department, who was the first to arrive at the shooting scene, according to reporting by KIDY-KXVA, a West Texas FOX station. Joeris said part of Howard’s skull was missing and his brain was exposed.

Howard’s common-law wife, Kara Box, also took the stand, KIDY-KXVA reported. Box testified that she started recording video of the argument because she was worried something bad was going to happen.

Jurors watched Joeris’ body-camera video and the cellphone video recorded by Box, according to KTXS-TV.

Tarrant County Deputy Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Tasha Greenberg testified Tuesday afternoon and said that both the chest wounds from a handgun fired by Johnnie Miller and the head wounds from a shotgun fired by Michael Miller were “sufficient to cause death,” the FOX TV station reported.

Justin Campbell, Howard’s best friend who lived with him and Box, also witnessed the shooting. Campbell testified that Howard could be aggressive and intimidating, but also was loving and caring, KIDY-KXVA reported.

Campbell said that during the argument, when the Millers were already armed, Howard told him to go get a gun from their house but they had pawned the gun weeks before and he instead brought Howard a baseball bat.

Abilene police Detective Frank Shoemaker was the final witness on Tuesday. He interviewed Johnnie Miller on the day of the shooting, and the recorded interview was played in court.

In the interview, Miller told Shoemaker that he told Howard multiple times to not get near him and that Howard threatened to kill him. He also told Shoemaker that he told his son to get a shotgun.

In the interview, Miller asked Shoemaker about Howard’s condition. Miller was informed that Howard was dead and that he would be charged with murder.

“Well, I’m sorry he’s dead. I’m sorry for his family,” Miller said in the recorded interview. “If you think I don’t feel bad about this, you’re wrong.”

The prosecution and defense noted that Howard had “anger issues,” but was taking medication, according to KIDY-KXVA. Howard had an “explosive temper,” Assistant District Attorney Dan Joiner said.

In his opening statement, Joiner described what happened in the alley on the day of Howard’s death. Howard placed a box spring in the dumpster and “someone kept removing it,” he said, according to KIDY-KXVA. Campbell and Box heard Howard telling someone to “put it back.”

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

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

Miller cursed at Howard and told him he was not going to put the box spring back, she said.

That is when an argument ensued and Johnnie Miller pulled a handgun. Michael Miller arrived to the scene with a shotgun, the video shows. Howard, who was not armed at that time, threatened to kill Johnnie Miller.

Box stepped in between Howard and the Millers as the argument escalated and Campbell handed Howard a baseball bat. Howard never swung the bat, according to Box.

Two gunshots from the handgun were heard in the two-minute video Box recorded and released, which gained national attention. Michael Miller is seen firing the shotgun after the first two gunshots.

Police were called to the alleyway minutes after.

The trial resumed at 9 a.m. Wednesday and could last for several days.

On Wednesday, the prosecution rested its case and the jurors watched a police video interview with Michael Miller, KTXS reported.