EAGLE — The Missouri Heights neighbors of Craig Miller testified Tuesday that they alerted police that the two defendants accused of starting the Lake Christine Fire were in Miller’s home, and one told jurors she called 911 after a furious Miller allegedly banged repeatedly on their door, shouted obscenities at them and tried to open their front door.
Miller, 50, is charged with attempted burglary, a felony, for allegedly remaining at the neighbors’ home to commit menacing. He also faces a misdemeanor count of menacing, as well as misdemeanor trespassing.
One of the alleged victims said she and her husband were preparing for bed on July 14 when they heard a loud banging on their door and the doorbell being repeatedly rung. The husband testified that he heard Miller demanding that the neighbor “answer the f—ing door. Where the f— are you? Get the f— out here.” He also told the jury of five women and seven men that Miller shined a flashlight into their windows.
The alleged victim said he grabbed a crowbar, was “waiting for him to come in, and I saw the [door] handle turn.” As his wife called 911, he said he thought he was going to be assaulted.
Under questioning from chief deputy district attorney Joseph Kirwan, after deputies arrived at Miller’s home — for the second time that night — the man said he went outside to confront Miller. Asked if he still had the crowbar, he said, “I damn sure did.”
On the 911 call Kirwan played for jurors, the man’s wife told the dispatcher in a rushed, hushed tone, “He’s in my back yard.” Nearly hysterical, she said she didn’t know if the person had any weapons.
“Please hurry, please,” she said, tearfully describing Miller looking into their bedroom. The man then got on the call and told the operator that “I’m ready to f—ing go out there and smack this f—ing guy.” The dispatcher advised him to stay inside, and his wife, who testified that she grabbed a baseball bat, could be heard desperately pleading with him to stay inside.
Both testified they did not know Miller, a mechanic. Miller’s son, Richard, and his girlfriend, Allison Marcus, have pleaded not guilty to three counts of felony arson and one charge of setting a fire to woods, also a felony. The blaze above Basalt and El Jebel charred 12,500 acres and destroyed three homes.
Judge Paul Dunkelman of Eagle County District Court has banned any mention of the fire after the defense argued before trial that it could prejudice the jury against Craig Miller.
Miller’s attorney, Michael Fox of Glenwood, moved for a mistrial Tuesday after Kirwan mistakenly played the defendant’s call to a sergeant with the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office in which he states that he is the father of the man who allegedly started the fire. But the judge ruled against mistrial, saying the attorneys were talking over the recording when that portion was played, and that he didn’t hear the utterance and doubted the jury had heard it either.
Craig Miller had called the sergeant to complain that two deputies had showed up at his home on July 14 to arrest his son and Marcus, despite the district attorney’s office and Marcus’ attorney having reached an agreement in which they would turn themselves in two days later. He left two voicemails with a detective saying deputies he deemed had gone “rogue” were “harassing” them and “stalking my house.” He also said he would go to federal law enforcement to “control your f—ing agents.”
The surrender agreement had been reached so the Millers could have a “relaxing weekend” before they turned themselves in, the detective testified. The deputies surveilled the house and saw the defendants inside, but Miller’s family denied they were there and refused to let them search the residence so Richard Miller and Marcus could be arrested, deputy Todd Sauer testified (they were later arrested at the home).
After about 40 minutes of trying to negotiate their surrender, he and deputy Devan Salazar drove a few blocks away and called a supervisor. As they were preparing to leave the area, Salazar said Craig Miller sped up to them in an SUV, blocked in their patrol vehicles and started screaming at them about the surrender deal, demanding to know who had turned them in.
Miller later that night also got hold of Sgt. John Chiodo, who testified that he told the defendant the tip had come through an anonymous source. Miller allegedly yelled, “It’s my neighbor!” Chiodo said Miller hung up on him as he was trying to warn that he could be arrested if he went to the neighbors’ home.
Defense faults investigation
In his opening statement, Fox said Miller was merely trying to explain to his neighbors that his son and his girlfriend had an agreement with prosecutors to turn themselves in. He said his client will be proven innocent because the case is based on “miscommunication, misinformation and missing evidence.”
Miller knocked on his neighbors’ door and rang their doorbell a couple of times to try to explain, but he wasn’t yelling or making threats, Fox said. When no one answered, he walked back home, never having tried to open the door. On the 911 call, the woman was asked if the person outside was trying to get inside, and she said he was only banging on the door. Miller was calm when deputies arrived the second time and handcuffed him, Fox said.
He tried to poke holes in the account of Sauer, who interviewed the neighbors.
During their first encounter near the home, while he testified that Miller was yelling at him, he wrote in the arrest affidavit that Miller was only “visibly upset.” Under cross examination, Sauer acknowledged that he did not collect any evidence from the neighbors’ home, including fingerprints from the doorknob Miller allegedly tried.
The female neighbor testified that sheriff’s investigators never came to her home after that night to collect evidence. She said she photographed her front door that was allegedly damaged by Miller pounding on it and sent the photos to the DA’s office.
At one point, the alleged victim, sitting in the gallery and listening to his wife testify, and Miller glared at each other.
The trial is expected to wrap up today.