Trooper pleads guilty in shooting deaths
Killed his wife, newborn child while cleaning his gun
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