A jury was told Monday that James Miller of Athens was relaxing at home when he was “unceremoniously gunned down” by his alleged lover, 43-year-old Lisa Michelle Pate of Arab.
Pate is on trial for murder in the Nov. 22, 2009, fatal shooting of Miller, 59, at his home on North Jefferson Street.
Jury selection, opening statements and testimony began Monday in Limestone County Circuit Court before Judge Robert Baker.
The trial continues today at 9 a.m. with testimony from a pathologist, a ballistics expert and Athens Police Chief Floyd Johnson, said John Gibbs, division chief for the Alabama Attorney General’s Office, who is also prosecuting.
The other prosecutor in the case, Assistant Alabama Attorney General John Hensley told the six-man, six-woman jury during his opening statement that Miller “was executed in his own home, unarmed and unaware his life was about to end.”
Defense attorney Harlan Mitchell of Athens countered during his opening statement that Miller had threatened Pate so she shot him in self-defense.
At the time of the shooting, police said Miller, who was married, was trying to break up with Pate, who was also married, and an argument led to the shooting.
Hensley said evidence would show that Pate shot Miller “in cold blood” in the back of the head and in the left abdomen with a 9-milimeter handgun she had previously purchased.
The most compelling testimony Monday came from Athens Police Detective Johnny Campbell. While on the stand, he opened a sealed bag containing a black baseball cap bearing a hole in both the back and the front, which he said was the result of a bullet entering the back of Miller’s head and exiting the front.
Hensley told jurors that Miller had been on his couch watching television that night while his wife and youngest daughter were away on a mission trip. Hensley said Pate left her home in Arab with a loaded 9-milimeter handgun and stopped at Redstone Arsenal — where both she and Miller had worked together — in order to dispose of a prepaid cellphone Miller had given her to prevent their spouses from knowing about their calls. Hensley said when Pate arrived at Miller’s home, an argument ensued.
“As James Miller turned to walk out the back door, she aims at the back of his head and shoots him,” Hensley told jurors.
After initially denying she shot Miller, Pate later confessed under questioning by Athens Police officers, Hensley said.
“She will say he was still alive so she shot him again through the heart and through the lung while he was on the floor,” the prosecutor said.
Hensley said Pate then locked the back door, drove home, placed the gun and a 50-count box of bullets with 47 bullets remaining into a plastic bag and buried it under the wooden stairs of her porch.
Miller’s nephew, Troy Carpenter, testified he saw the body of his uncle through the back door on Nov. 24 after driving to his home because the family had failed to hear from Miller for a couple of days.
While police were investigating, a neighbor showed up at Miller’s home and told an officer that Miller and Pate were having an affair, which led police to Pate’s home in Arab, Hensley said.
Hensley said that although police found five guns in the home, both long and short, Miller was unarmed when he was shot. Police officers testified there was no gun near his body.
“The defendant didn’t shoot James Miller in self-defense, the defendant shot down James Miller in cold blood,” Hensley said.
During his opening statement, Mitchell countered the prosecution’s version of the shooting, saying the evidence would show that Mr. Miller “was a manipulative individual who was pursuing her.”
Mitchell said Miller had threatened Pate’s husband and had bought her a cellphone so her husband would not know what was going on. He said Pate kept a gun because Miller wanted her to and that he was going to show her how to use it.
“He broke down mentally and became unstable,” Mitchell said of Miller. “She went to see him and he started making threats that if he couldn’t have her, no one would. She did what she could to protect herself that day.”
Before opening arguments began, Baker had to dismiss a juror because a member of the defense team had overheard the juror during the lunch break telling someone over a cellphone that she was selected as a juror and that the defendant had apparently “killed” or “murdered” someone.
The juror was called before the judge and questioned about what she said during the phone call. She said she simply stated that she was selected as a juror and that the case was a murder trial. She said she did not say the defendant “killed” or “murdered” someone. To prevent the possibility of a mistrial, Baker dismissed the juror and the alternate juror was seated on the panel.
Pate has remained free on bond.