EAGLE — The curious case of Craig Miller, the father of Lake Christine Fire suspect Richard Miller, is either a massive miscommunication or a case study in anger management.
Craig Miller’s criminal menacing trial started Tuesday morning. Prosecutors say he was furious when he allegedly went to a neighbor’s house late at night on July 14, 2018, beat on the door with a flashlight and tried to open the locked door.
It was nothing of the sort, Miller’s defense attorney Michael Fox said Tuesday in court. His client calmly walked to his neighbors’ door, rang the doorbell and knocked.
The source of the upheaval was an apparent agreement between the District Attorney’s office and Miller’s son Richard Miller and fellow Lake Christine fire suspect Allison Marcus. Craig Miller wanted a calm weekend family visit with his 74-year-old mother, and then Richard Miller and Marcus would turn themselves in the following Monday for their part in sparking last summer’s blaze, which started July 3 and burned more than 12,500 acres on state, federal and private lands and destroyed three houses.
Fox insisted to the jury that the neighbor, Joseph Lewis, created the disturbance when, after calling 911, Lewis was screaming so loudly that other neighbors heard it as he approached Miller and two deputies with a piece of metal that looked like a tire iron.
Miller is he is charged with felony burglary, misdemeanor trespassing and misdemeanor menacing. The 12-person jury is comprised of five women and seven men.
Gianni Robinson, a detective with the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office, testified that while he knew about that agreement, he did not share it with any other law enforcement agencies.
“I viewed it as an agreement between lawyers,” Robinson said.
Former Boulder District Attorney Stan Garnett represents Marcus. Garnett testified Tuesday that he spoke with District Attorney Bruce Brown and they agreed that Richard Miller and Marcus would turn themselves in on the following Monday — July 16, 2018. Garnett said that Eagle County Sheriff’s Det. Dan Loya was included in this agreement. He said it’s common in cases like this.
In his opening statement, Chief Deputy District Attorney Joe Kirwan said that 911 was called twice, once to report that the Lake Christine Fire suspects were at Craig Miller’s house, and again to report that a furious Craig Miller was banging on a neighbor’s door with a flashlight, rattling the door handles trying to get in, and was inside their fence shining his light in the windows.
Fox said his client did nothing like that. Fox told the jury that Craig Miller calmly walked to his neighbor’s door, knocked and rang the doorbell. Craig Miller wanted to explain the agreement, Fox said.
The jury heard two voicemails Craig Miller left on Robinson’s work cell phone. He sounded measured but clearly frustrated — he did drop one F-bomb — while saying that his son Richard and Marcus had been arrested, which he said violated their agreement. In his message, Craig Miller insisted that Robinson had violated his trust.
Craig Miller couldn’t reach Robinson, so at 11:25 p.m. he called 911 and spoke to a Pitkin County dispatcher. Among other things he asked who called the police, Kirwan said. He was told it was an anonymous tip, Kirwan said.
“It’s my neighbors!” Kirwan said Craig Miller replied.
“You don’t want to go over there or you might get arrested,” Kirwan said Miller was told.
Kirwan said that eight minutes later, at 11:33 p.m., Craig Miller’s neighbor Joselyn Terry called 911 to repeat that Miller was beating on the door with a flashlight and shining it in the windows. She said Miller went into their backyard and was shining his flashlight into the windows, and was trying the doors to try to get in.
Terry was on the phone, begging them to send the police, Kirwan said.
“Craig Miller was just trying to explain (the agreement) to several officers, both in person and over the phone,” Fox said. “When that didn’t work, he walked to his neighbor’s house and knocked on their door.”
“He did not menace, he did not enter their yard,” Fox said.
Kirwan said Craig Miller drove his truck rapidly up the dirt street and skidded to a halt, blocking the neighbor’s driveway.
Fox said it went more like this: Craig Miller drove up the street to find the deputies staking out his house. He left a couple messages with Det. Robinson, and after failing to reach him he called 911 to speak to someone from law enforcement.
Fox played Miller’s 911 call for the jury. Miller sounded calm and measured, although a bit frustrated. He was told it was an anonymous tip.
He figured it was a neighbor, but didn’t know which one so he walked to his nearest neighbor.
“He walked to their house and knocked on their door. He tried their doorbell a couple times,” Fox said.
It’s a rural area and a dirt road with no streetlights, Fox said.
He walked around the backyard fence and back to the front door to knock again. Again, no one answered, Fox said.
“Craig is not screaming anything. He does not try the door handle,” Fox said.
Miller was back on his property when two deputies showed up. He cooperated, he was handcuffed and put in the back of their patrol vehicle where he sat for 30 minutes, Fox said.
“This case is about miscommunication, misinformation and missing evidence,” Miller said.
Deputies found no evidence that he tried to enter their home, Fox said.
“That’s because he’s innocent,” Fox said.
Craig Miller was in his pajamas and a T-shirt through all this.
Joseph Lewis lives several dozen yards up the road. Miller said he did not know Miller before that night when “Miller tried to break into my house,” Lewis said.
Miller knocked and banged on his door, continuously and aggressively, and rang the doorbell around 40 times, Lewis said, they found 30 knuckle marks around their doorbell.
Miller also shouted things like:
- “Answer the f—ing door!”
- “Are you home?”
- “Get the f— out here.”
- “Open the f—ing door.”
Lewis said he stayed by the front door and grabbed a crowbar because “the guns were in the garage.”
Miller came through the front gate, which Lewis said he thought was locked that night, and shined a flashlight in the windows. The front door handle was being manipulated to try to open it, Lewis said.
When the deputies arrived Lewis went outside.
“Did you have the crowbar with you?” Kirwan asked Lewis.
“Damn straight I did,” Lewis replied.
Lewis said he dropped the crowbar when deputies ordered him to.
Lewis said he felt threatened and wanted to take action, such as … “smack this guy in the head with my crowbar.”
During cross examination Fox asked Lewis if he was angry with Miller.
“I’ve calmed down quite a lot since the night of the event,” Lewis said.
However, the night of the event when Lewis was giving his witness statement, that statement did not mention any of the things he said Miller shouted the night of July 14, 2018.
Terry testified that she was “terrified” and threatened, and her 911 call bears that out.
“He’s at the front door … he’s banging on it with a flashlight! Please hurry!” she tearfully told the dispatcher during her call.
She said she feared for her family’s safety when Miller was trying to get through their front door.
Terry suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and the symptoms hit her that night, she testified.
During cross examination with Fox, she said she could not hear what Miller was saying, only their doorbell ring “a few times.”