Cold-case murder trial: Defense challenges eyewitness' reliability

tchitwood@ledger-enquirer.comMay 21, 2014 

Testimony in the murder trial of Michael York Miller focused Wednesday on the reliability of an eyewitness’ account of Shawnita Campbell’s fatal shooting April 12, 1999.

The witness was Angela Lyles, who on the witness stand said Miller was the man she saw in a car with Campbell after hearing an argument and a gunshot.

But she sounded considerably less certain of that on a video-recorded interview with police in Dallas, Texas, where authorities tracked her down in October 2010 to ask about Campbell’s case.

Without the jury present, defense attorneys played the recording so Judge William Rumer could review it before admitting it as evidence.

Lyles told Dallas police she was inside a boyfriend’s house in the Coolidge Avenue area when she heard the noise and went outside to investigate. In a parked tan or white older-model car, she saw Campbell, 24, leaning to one side in the back seat, her eyes still open. Lyles said she saw no blood, though Campbell later would be found a few blocks away with a gunshot wound to the head.

It was after dark, Lyles said, but street lights illuminated the scene. When she tried to get a look at the driver, the man turned away from her, as if to hide his face, she said.

When she finally saw him, she was struck by how much he resembled her boyfriend at the time, as if they were twins, she said.

But in 2010 she wouldn’t say for sure it was Miller, though she’d known him six or seven years, and knew he was trouble: “He’s a sick-minded person,” she said on the recording, later adding, “I never messed with Mike, because he’s sick,” and “Mike has a problem with everybody.”

She described a black bag in which Miller kept his pistol, which she called “the gun he used to wave in everybody’s face so everyone’s afraid of him.” It was a bag “like you put shaving stuff in,” she said.

She said Miller once threw bleach in someone’s face to steal money, and would threaten to stab women or cut their throats. Campbell sometimes prostituted herself, and Miller bullied such women, she said, describing him as “just so dirty and lowdown.”

Yet as a Dallas detective questioned her in 2010, she never said she was positive Miller killed Campbell. “I believe it was Mike. I used to think it was Mike,” she said at one point, and at another reiterated, “I believe it was Mike. I used to believe Mike did it.”

When Dallas police showed her a photographic lineup containing Miller’s mugshot, she chose another picture, even though a police officer prompted her by asking about Miller’s photo, which was No. 5 in the lineup. Lyles chose photo No. 2.

Prosecutors said Lyles called Columbus police about a week after her 2010 interview and said she lied about the photo lineup because she was afraid of Miller.

On the witness stand Wednesday, she said in 2010 she feared Miller could hunt her down as easily as police had: “I figure if they can find me, somebody else can find me,” she said.

Having been so close to Campbell she named a daughter Shawnita, Lyles said the homicide haunted her, burdening her with guilt.

She should have called the police the day it happened, she said, “but I was doing things I didn’t have no business doing.” She later added: “I wish I had did it in the first place. I should have called police in the first place.”

Campbell’s body was found the next morning beneath an oak tree on Warehouse Avenue. She had been shot in the head with a .25-caliber pistol, police said.

U.S. Marshals caught Miller in Columbus, Ohio, on Feb. 16, 2011. Cold-case investigators here drove to Ohio to get him the following Feb. 23.

Miller is charged with murder, using a firearm to commit a crime and two counts of threatening a witness. Because of his prior felonies, prosecutors plan to seek a sentence of life without parole if he’s convicted.

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