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Shon D. MILLER Sr.





Classification: Spree killer
Characteristics: Parricide
Number of victims: 4
Date of murders: March 10, 1999
Date of arrest: Same day (wounded by police)
Date of birth: 1977
Victims profile: His estranged wife, Carla Vessel Miller, 25; their 2-year-old son, Shon Jr.; his mother-in-law, Mildred Vessel, 53; and a church deacon, Vaniaro Jackson, 19
Method of murder: Shooting
Location: Ascension Parish, Louisiana, USA
Status: Sentenced to death in 2000. Commuted to life in prison in 2008

Supreme Court of Louisiana

opinion 2005-KA-1826

On March 10, 1999, family annihilator Shon Miller kicked open the doors of a church in Louisiana, fired twice into the ceiling and ordered everybody to hit the floor. Miller then marched down the aisle, shooting between the benches as screaming parishioners scattered in horror.

When the smoke settled, three were dead including his wife, Carla, 25, and their 2-year-old son, Shon Jr. Four others were wounded at the one-story stucco church 20 miles southeast of Baton Rouge. Miller, a homeless former welder, also shot his mother-in-law, Mildred Vessel, 53, to death at her home a the few blocks from the church.

"His little boy turned and said, 'Daddy.' That's when he shot. He hit his wife first and then the baby," congregation member Lolitsa Enkadi said. "And then he just started emptying his gun." In fact, once he emptied one clip of his semiautomatic pistol, he reloaded and continued shooting into the pews. As Miller left the New St. John Felllowship Babtist Church, the Reverend Wilbert Holmes heard him mumble, "That will show you."

Officers said it took three hours of searching around the single-family homes and winter cabbage gardens near the church in this small town of 7,000 before they found Miller.

When they discovered him in a shed about 100 yards away, he tried to kill himself, Landry said. An officer blasted the pistol out of his hand with a shotgun at close range, wounding him.

Miller was taken to Medical Center of Louisiana at New Orleans, where he was listed in guarded condition. He was paralyzed from the waist down with buckshot wounds to the back, right hand and face, said hospital spokesman Jerry Romig.


Louisiana Shooting Kills 3 at Church and One at Home

By David Firestone - The New York Times

Friday, March 12, 1999

In the seventh row of the New St. John Fellowship Baptist Church, on the floor next to a viscous pool of blood the full width of the pew, a Bible lay face up today, opened to a chapter of John that was spattered in red.

Stained hymn books and notebooks were everywhere, diapers and slippers and baby bottles, the frenzied residue of a moment of chaos that occurred when a man kicked open the church doors during a Wednesday night Bible class and started shooting, killing three people and wounding four, two critically.

Shon Miller Sr., a 22-year-old homeless man, was charged by the Gonzales police with four counts of first-degree murder and several counts of attempted murder. Among the dead were Mr. Miller's estranged wife, Carla, 25, and their son, Shon Jr., 2, who had cried out to him in the instant before the shooting. The police said that before bursting into the church with his 9mm semiautomatic pistol, Mr. Miller had fatally shot his mother-in-law, Mildred Vessel, 53, in a van outside her home nearby.

Mr. Miller was shot in the back in a standoff with the Ascension Parish sheriff's officers and the local police after the church shootings.

Any killing in this town of 7,000 people, 20 miles southeast of Baton Rouge and so unassuming that no one can remember the last major news story here, would shake the foundations of the social structure. But to have a multiple killing in a simple white-brick Baptist church, in the middle of evening Bible class, in a sanctuary half-filled with children, was unimaginable.

''We live in a small community; stuff of this nature doesn't happen in our quiet little town,'' said Darryl Hambrick, who went to school with Mrs. Miller and had been her neighbor for years. ''When you go to church for serenity and prayer and for some kind of peace in your life, and then you go there and something tragic like this happens, it's sad that we live in a country like that.''

Bill Landry, the Gonzales Police Chief, said he could not remember a local crime so bloody and disturbing.

''The safest place in the world I always thought was a church, and now that sanctuary has been broken,'' Chief Landry said. ''We'll all be a long time getting over this.''

The shootings apparently stemmed from the stormy relationship Mr. Miller had with his wife for two years, friends and family members said.

Mr. Hambrick said Mr. Miller burned the family's trailer two years ago and slashed his wife's tires. He was arrested, accused of beating her and knocking her tooth out in 1997, sheriff's officials said. Last August, Mrs. Miller received a restraining order prohibiting him from having contact with her, and he was jailed for 90 days after violating it, officials said. He lived on the streets after getting out of jail late last year, and a few weeks ago, Mrs. Miller told him she was filing for divorce.

''We told her from the beginning that he wasn't the right one,'' said Timothy Vessel, Mrs. Miller's brother. Mr. Vessel's wife, Lequatta, described Mr. Miller as ''crazy'' and ''violent.''

''That's why they were getting a divorce,'' Mrs. Vessel said. ''He just couldn't take the pressure, so I guess he felt he had to, you know, he had to kill her since he couldn't have her.''

Other family members said that a few months ago, Mr. Miller was dismissed from his job as a welder at an automotive machine shop here because of repeated public arguments with his wife, and suggested that he blamed her for losing his job.

Mr. Miller apparently knew his wife and son were going to Wednesday night Bible class at the church. Sheriff Jeffrey F. Wiley of Ascension Parish and family members said that before the class, Mr. Miller asked two friends to drive him to the small wood-frame house on Coontrap Road where his wife was staying. She was not there, Sheriff Wiley said, but her mother was, and Mr. Miller walked up to the van in which she was sitting and shot her in the head.

The two friends, who saw the shooting, tried to drive away, but their car stalled, officials said. Mr. Miller then got back into the car and ordered his friends at gunpoint to drive to the church. The pastor, Clarence Stephens, said the two men ran into the church and told him that Mr. Miller had just shot someone and was approaching with a gun. But it was too late to stop him.

He burst into the church, where about 100 adults and children were studying the third chapter of the Book of John, and fired two shots into the ceiling, ordering everyone to get down, Mr. Stephens said.

As his son shouted, ''Daddy! Daddy!'' Mr. Miller shot his wife, Mr. Stephens and police officials said, reloaded and fired more shots, killing his son and Vaniaro Jackson, 19, who was sitting beside Mrs. Miller.

As Mr. Miller ran from the church, police and sheriff's officers, who had been summoned by Mr. Stephens, surrounded the church and cornered Mr. Miller in a woodshed nearby.

Officers tried to negotiate with him for about an hour, but in frustration Chief Wiley said that he ordered a sharpshooter to shoot the gun out of Mr. Miller's hand. Another officer tripped and accidentally fired a shot into Mr. Miller's back, the Chief said.

The shot paralyzed Mr. Miller from the waist down. He was taken to Louisiana Medical Center in New Orleans, where he was listed in stable condition.

Kathy Jackson, Vaniaro Jackson's mother, said her son had received a call to preach and was in church every week.

''Whether it happened in the streets or in the church house, it happened, and we can't change that,'' Mrs. Jackson said.

But, her husband, William Jackson, added, ''it puts a big question in your head.''


"This is domestic violence taken to its ultimate conclusion"

A police officer gives his opinion of Shon's actions.

As I'm such a lazy bastard I've decided that I'll just steal all of this stuff from a few newspaper articles. It saves me time, and you still get the full story, so we both win.

I'll begin by giving a brief bit of background on Shon Miller. He was a wife beater who had been arrested quite a few times for this action but, as in so many cases, his wife refused to have charges laid against him. But she did kick him out of the house and get a restraining order put out against him. But as you will soon find out - that didn't seem to help. So enough of my crap, let's get to the story.

The first to die was Mildred Vessel, 53, his mother-in-law. Two acquaintances from Belle Rose met Miller in Donaldsonville and agreed to give him a ride to his wife's house at 40199 Coon Trap Road, just north of the Gonzales city limits, telling the two men he wanted to pick up something.

As they arrived at the house, Vessel was pulling her van into the driveway.

Miller, whose last known address was 1000 Toby Ave., got out of the car and fired five shots into the van, killing his mother-in-law with three direct hits to the head.

The two Belle Rose men, who investigators declined to identify, tried to leave when Miller fired into the van, but their car stalled. Miller then forced them to drive him to the church about one-half mile away.

The two men went into the small church packed with about 60 to 70 people. They sat next to Donald Ray Smith, a brother-in-law of Carla Miller.

"They said they needed to talk to the pastor," Smith said. "They were real fidgety. They were real vague and I really wasn't sure what they were talking about."

Smith said one of the men told him, "You just don't understand, you don't understand. We need to get out of here. This guy is dangerous. We need to get out of here."

The Rev. Clarence Stephens, pastor of the church, was summoned and listened to the men. He then asked church Deacon Herbert Mulberry to call the police.

Stephens and Mulberry went into the church office to make the call. According to police records, it was 7:43 p.m. when the call came in.

"When I was on the phone with the lady on 911 it started," Mulberry said.

"It" was two shots fired into the ceiling.

Miller pumped two rounds into the ceiling and "told everybody to lie on the floor. Then he started shooting people," another minister, the Rev. Wilbert Holmes said.

Upon hearing the shots, Miller's son, Shon Jr., 2, turned around and said, "Daddy!" Holmes said.

Miller shot his wife, Carla Vessel Miller, 25, first and his son second, killing them both, Wiley and Landry said. Miller then shot Vaniaro Jackson, 19, 38557 Arrowhead St., Gonzales, who died en route to Riverview Medical Center, the law enforcement officers said.

Miller also shot and wounded Kinsey Jackson, 17, Vaniaro Jackson's sister; Donald Rideau, 16, 40072 Germany Road., Gonzales; Rebecca Delpit, 37, 12033 Roddy Road, Gonzales; and Alesha Harvey, 14, 41444 Victoria Ave., Gonzales, Landry said.

Landry said Miller fired at least 15 times in the church, reloading his 9 mm pistol during the carnage.

After the shooting, Miller fled the church and was spotted by a sheriff's deputy responding to the reports of gunfire at the church. He starting chasing Miller, but lost track of him. Police cordoned off a several blocks surrounding the church.

At this point, Landry said, he called for assistance from the Sheriff's Office's Crisis Response Team.

Soon, Gonzales Police Sgt. Sam Pasqua spotted Miller in a storage shed behind a house next to the church.

Wiley said his team began negotiating with Miller to come out. During this time, Wiley said, Miller "kept threatening to kill himself or somebody else. He continually pointed the gun at his head, his stomach and his chest. He was ranting and raving. He said voices were telling him what to do, to kill himself or someone else.

"This contributed to a decision to bring it to a close before someone else was killed," Wiley said.

Commanders on the scene arrived at a plan in which a sharpshooter from the Office armed with a shotgun would shoot the pistol out of Miller's hand.

According to the plan, immediately upon hearing the shot, three deputies from the Crisis Response Team were to rush into the shed and subdue Miller, Wiley said.

The sharpshooter fired through a hole in the wall of the shed, knocking the gun from Miller's hand, the sheriff said. The lead man on the team, carrying a 25-pound shield and a .45-caliber pistol, burst into the darkened building, which was cluttered with mattresses, tire rims and clothes.

Wiley said the lead man tripped, and as he stumbled forward, his pistol accidentally fired. The sheriff said no one knew where the bullet struck until medical authorities at Riverview Medical Center reported that Miller had a .45-caliber slug lodged in his lower back.

And so that ends our story. I do have one question for you all now - Do you really believe that the officer "tripped"? It sounds like a great big load of crap to me. Either way, the police got what they wanted - Shon Miller is now crippled, unable to move his lower body. Some people may call this justice, but I must ask you do you really want the cops dishing out justice to whoever and however they like?


Shon Miller

May 18, 1999

Wheelchair-bound church rampager Shon Miller pleaded not guilty to killing his mother-in-law at her home, and his wife, Carla, two- year-old son, Shon Junior, and Vanario Jackson as they sat in the church's Bible study. Miller was left paralyzed when police surrounded him in a shed after the shootings and one officer tripped and his gun accidentally fired.


Court reverses convictions in Miller case

June 30, 2007

The Louisiana Supreme Court on Friday reversed the 4 1st-degree murder convictions and death sentence of Shon Miller Sr. for shooting and killing his 2-year-old son, wife, mother-in-law and a church deacon in March 1999.

The state's high court held that District Judge Alvin Turner's pre-trial rulings prevented Miller from exercising his right to plead not guilty by reason of insanity, resulting in a "constitutionally flawed jury trial," the ruling said.

Miller, who is on death row at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, was convicted of shooting and killing his mother-in-law, Mildred Vessel, in her van outside of her Gonzales home on Coon Trap Road. Then he shot and killed his wife, Carla Vessel Miller, 25; his son, Shon Miller Jr., 2; and church deacon Vaniaro Jackson, 19, during an evening church service at the New St. John Fellowship Church in Gonzales.

According to evidence in Miller's 23rd Judicial District Court trial, after he shot and killed his mother-in-law, Miller went to his family's church, burst inside and started shooting into the ceiling with a 9 mm pistol.

Following that, witnesses said Miller's young son looked at his father, smiled and yelled, "Daddy."

Miller then said, "Son, don't call me daddy now," and shot his son twice in the face.

Assistant District Attorney Robin O'Bannon, who prosecuted the case at trial, said Friday afternoon that District Attorney Tony Falterman would prepare a motion for a new trial as soon as possible in hopes of retrying the case in November.

O'Bannon also said Miller would not be released from state custody as a result of the Supreme Court decision, but would remain at Angola or be transferred to Ascension Parish Prison at Donaldsonville to await his new trial.

She also said because Miller still faces prosecution for a crime that carries the death penalty, no bond would be set for him before his new trial.

Falterman said late Friday that there is no question Miller shot and killed the victims.

"We had witnesses. The question now is whether he (Miller) is able to proceed. It's a sanity question and we plan on going forward," Falterman said.

Attorney Raymond Gautreau, who defended Miller during his June 2000 murder trial, said Friday afternoon that he had hoped his clients case would be reversed at some point.

"It was a tough case to defend. The guy had some mental problems," Gautreau said.

Before Miller's trial, his defense attorneys tried to switch his not guilty plea to a not guilty by reason of insanity plea.

During sanity motions before the trial, defense attorneys put on witnesses who testified that Miller received psychiatric treatment as a child and that Miller's adoptive mother said Miller tried to kill himself 3 times.

Medical records showed that when Miller was 9 years of age, he was diagnosed with separation anxiety disorder, sleep terror disorder and exhibited strange physical behavior such as rolling his eyes, grunting, and running into walls, according to the ruling.

The defense's appeal stated that Turner's refusal to switch Miller's plea deprived the defendant of due process of the law.

The conclusion of the high court's ruling states, "Defendant's presentation to the trial court included evidence of almost lifelong mental problems for which defendant received intermittent treatment from the age of 9."

Following the shootings in the church, according to the court's ruling, Ascension Parish Sheriff's Office deputies chased Miller, who later hid from them in a shed.

One deputy, while trying to apprehend Miller, tripped on some debris and accidentally caused his gun to fire. Miller, hit in the back by the stray bullet, remains paralyzed from the waist down.

When Turner sentenced Miller to death in 2000, the judge called the March 10, 1999, shooting rampage "one of the most notorious cases in Louisiana history."


Shon Miller pleads guilty

By John A. Colvin -

Jun 6, 2008

Shon Miller, whose four first-degree murder convictions and a death sentence were thrown out by the Louisiana Supreme Court in 2007, pleaded guilty today to all the killings.

He will spend the rest of his life in prison, a 23rd Judicial District prosecutor said this afternoon at a news conference.

First Assistant District Attorney Ricky Babin said Miller’s plea was accepted because of an “irreversible medical condition that gives Miller less than year to live.”

Babin said Miller, who uses a wheelchair because he is paralyzed from a gunshot wound inflicted at the time of his arrest, also is afflicted with osteomyelitis of his pelvis.

Miller was convicted in 2000 of shooting his mother-in-law to death in front of her home, and then going to a church where he shot and killed his wife, 2-year-old son and a church deacon.

He killed the three during a March 1999 service at the New St. John Fellowship Church in Gonzales.

Miller’s four convictions and death sentence were reversed and ordered for retrial by the Louisiana Supreme Court after the justices found that state District Judge Alvin Turner’s pre-trial rulings prevented Miller from exercising his right to plead not guilty by reason of insanity.

Miller wanted to change his plea just before his trial from not guilty to not guilty by reason of insanity and the state Supreme Court ruled that Turner’s refusal to allow the change resulted in a “constitutionally flawed jury trial.”

After spending eight years on death row at Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, Miller’s retrial hearings began in late 2007 and his new trial date was set for Aug. 4 of this year.



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