Trooper pleads guilty in shoot­ing deaths

Killed his wife, new­born child while clean­ing his gun

The Mercury (Pottstown, PA) - - FRONT PAGE -

NORRISTOWN » A for­mer Penn­syl­va­nia state trooper pleaded guilty Thurs­day to shoot­ing and killing his preg­nant wife while clean­ing his gun. The shoot­ing also re­sulted in the death of the cou­ple’s new­born baby, who was de­liv­ered via cae­sar­ian sec­tion as the mother lay dy­ing of her wound.

Joseph Paul Miller, 36, formerly of the 3000 block of Stoney Creek Road in East Nor­ri­ton, pleaded guilty to two counts of in­vol­un­tary man­slaugh­ter — one count for the killing of his preg­nant wife and an­other for the child who soon died af­ter doc­tors per­formed the emer­gency ce­sarean sec­tion, the Mont­gomery County District At­tor­ney’s of­fice an­nounced Thurs­day.

When he an­nounced the charges in March, Mont­gomery County District At­tor­ney Kevin R. Steele al­leged Miller, as a state po­lice trooper, “had ex­ten­sive knowl­edge of ba­sic and manda­tory pro­ce­dures of gun safety and han­dling.”

“De­spite such aware­ness, Miller di­rectly caused the un­law­ful deaths of his wife and child by re­peat­edly dis­re­gard­ing th­ese es­sen­tial safety mea­sures,” county De­tec­tive Lt. Stephen Forzato and State Po­lice Cpl. Robert J. Le­van wrote in a crim­i­nal com­plaint. “Rec­og­niz­ing the wrong­ful na­ture of his con­duct, Miller then lied to the po­lice in an at­tempt to es­cape crim­i­nal re­spon­si­bil­ity.

“He con­cealed the fact that he shot Joanna at close range and pur­posely mis­led in­ves­ti­ga­tors by falsely claim­ing he was much fur­ther away. Un­der th­ese cir­cum­stances, Miller’s con­duct was un­jus­ti­fi­able, reck­less and grossly neg­li­gent,” court pa­pers state.

Un­der state law, a per­son com­mits in­vol­un­tary man­slaugh­ter when as a di­rect re­sult of do­ing a law­ful or un­law­ful act in a reck­less

or grossly neg­li­gent man­ner they cause the death of an­other per­son. Miller faces 2 ½ to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine for each count of man­slaugh­ter, for a to­tal of 10 year im­pris­on­ment and a $20,000 fine, De­lano said

Com­mon Please Court Judge Steven T. O’Neill or­dered a pre­sen­tenc­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion to be com­pleted within 90 days, af­ter which a sen­tenc­ing hear­ing will be held, she said.

Miller was ar­rested in March af­ter ex­ten­sive foren­sic and bal­lis­tics tests con­ducted over two years showed that Miller’s wife has been shot at close range, ac­cord­ing to a press re­lease from the district at­tor­ney of­fice. “Joe is a standup guy who ac­cepts re­spon­si­bil­ity for the un­for­tu­nate and ac­ci­den­tal death of his wife and young child,” Ti­mothy Wood­ward, Miller’s de­fense at­tor­ney, said at the time he charges were filed.

The in­ves­ti­ga­tion be­gan about 2:24 p.m. March 7, 2014, when Miller called 911 and stated he had just shot his preg­nant wife in the head while clean­ing his gun at their East Nor­ri­ton home. The Glock 39 .45-cal­iber semi-au­to­matic hand­gun was Miller’s per­sonal weapon for which he had been qual­i­fied to use by the state po­lice, court pa­pers al­leged.

“I was about to clean my gun and I didn’t re­al­ize there was a round … I shot my wife. There was one round in there. I didn’t re­al­ize there was a round in there,” Miller al­legedly stated to 911 op­er­a­tors, ac­cord­ing to court doc­u­ments.

Miller, a seven-year vet­eran of the state po­lice who was off duty at the time of the shoot­ing, re­port­edly told au­thor­i­ties his two chil­dren also were in the house at the time of the shoot­ing.

“Joanna, I love you, and my wife is preg­nant also … she’s due July 4,” Miller al­legedly said as he was on the phone with 911 op­er­a­tors. “(Ex­ple­tive) I can’t be­lieve I (ex­ple­tive) did this.”

The Millers had been mar­ried since March 2009 and resided at the home with their two chil­dren, then ages 4 and 2, and Joanna’s two older sons, ages 11 and 8, ac­cord­ing to court pa­pers.

Joanna Miller, who suf­fered a gun­shot wound to her left tem­ple, was trans­ported to Sub­ur­ban Com­mu­nity Hos­pi­tal in East Nor­ri­ton and be­fore be­ing trans­ported to a trauma cen­ter went into car­diac ar­rest, au­thor­i­ties al­leged. Doc­tors per­formed emer­gency surgery in an at­tempt to save her child.

Fol­low­ing the surgery, Joanna Miller was pro­nounced dead at 3 p.m. The baby girl, at 24 weeks ges­ta­tion, suf­fered life-threat­en­ing dis­tress and was pro­vided crit­i­cal emer­gency care but was pro­nounced dead at 4:24 p.m., au­thor­i­ties said.

An au­topsy con­cluded the cause of death for Joanna Miller was a “per­fo­rat­ing close range gun­shot wound of the head.” The coroner noted the woman’s left tem­ple area was “sur­rounded by dense gun­pow­der stip­ple in­di­cat­ing a close range gun­shot wound,” ac­cord­ing to the crim­i­nal com­plaint.

The coroner de­ter­mined the baby’s cause of death was “pre­cip­i­tous de­liv­ery due to ma­ter­nal gun­shot wound.” The man­ner of death for both mother and child was ruled homi­cide, court pa­pers in­di­cate.

De­tec­tives al­leged Miller brought the hand­gun into the fam­ily room of the East Nor­ri­ton home where his wife was seated on the floor, vac­uum seal­ing chil­dren’s cloth­ing.

Miller al­legedly told de­tec­tives he be­gan the dis­as­sem­bly process in the fam­ily room, that he was look­ing at the gun when he squeezed the trig­ger but did not see Joanna and that he did not think he was point­ing the gun any­where near her, ac­cord­ing to the ar­rest af­fi­davit. Miller told de­tec­tives that af­ter he pulled the trig­ger, the weapon dis­charged once.

When in­ves­ti­ga­tors ini­tially asked about his dis­tance from his wife when he pulled the trig­ger Miller stated that he was prob­a­bly eight to 10 feet away. Later, Miller changed his an­swer and told in­ves­ti­ga­tors that the dis­tance be­tween them was roughly two-feet in­stead, ac­cord­ing to the ar­rest af­fi­davit.

Miller al­legedly told de­tec­tives he did not in­ten­tion­ally shoot his wife, that “it was an ac­ci­dent.” Miller added to de­tec­tives, “I love her to death.”

In June 2014, then District At­tor­ney Risa Vetri Fer­man found that her eval­u­a­tion of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion at that point re­vealed that Miller was “neg­li­gent in his han­dling of the firearm” but not crim­i­nally li­able, ac­cord­ing to the ar­rest af­fi­davit. Fer­man ad­vised, how­ever, that the district at­tor­ney re­served the right to review the mat­ter should in­ves­ti­ga­tors de­velop any new ev­i­dence or any ev­i­dence to the con­trary.

Joseph P. Miller

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