The drug dealers, addicts and prostitutes called it the “Dog Pound.”
That was Columbus’ Coolidge Avenue back in the 1990s, and that’s where Shawnita Campbell lived and died, according to prosecutors who this week told a jury “the bully of Coolidge Avenue,” Michael York Miller, was the gunman who shot her in the head.
The jury believed it, deliberating only about an hour Friday before finding Miller guilty of murder, using a firearm to commit a crime and two counts of threatening a witness. Judge William Rumer set Miller’s sentencing for 2 p.m. May 30.
In closing arguments Friday, Assistant District Attorney Michael Craig laid out the evidence he said was sufficient to find Miller guilty in the cold case, particularly two eyewitnesses' testimony:
A woman recognized Miller in the back seat of a car with Campbell before hearing a shot and seeing Campbell writhe and gurgle as she choked on her own blood; and another woman said while he was looking for Campbell that day, Miller told her, “If you see that bitch, you tell her I’ve got something for her.”
Said Craig: “The bully of Coolidge Avenue was full of rage.”
The second witness said she also heard a shot, after which Miller got out of a car, walked over to her and warned her not to report what happened.
His terrorizing the neighborhood had the desired effect, Craig said: For a decade no one would say what they knew about Campbell’s homicide. “Nobody was talking,” the prosecutor said. “Silence reigned supreme back then on Coolidge Avenue.”
Only when Columbus cold-case detective Sgt. Randy Long reopened the investigation did witnesses finally start to talk.
The first to talk was Angela Lyles, a mother of 13 who fled Columbus after Campbell’s homicide. Police caught up with her in 2010 in Dallas, Texas, where she was jailed for burglary.
But in her first interview with detectives, she lied, saying she couldn’t recognize Miller in a photo lineup, and instead picking another picture as the more likely suspect. Later she called investigators back, saying she had been “paranoid” that Miller or one of his associates might track her down.
She agreed to speak to police again, and the second time identified Miller as Campbell’s killer.
Next came Tuiquana Dowdell, who also reported seeing Miller and Campbell together and hearing a shot, the same day Miller had told her he was looking for Campbell.
But the witnesses' stories conflicted on certain points, and having been denizens of Coolidge Avenue, with criminal records of their own, their credibility was questioned.
In his closing argument Friday, Defense attorney Robert Wadkins Jr. decried the prosecution’s case for having “not one piece of credible evidence, not one credible witness.”
Authorities had no physical evidence connecting Miller to the slaying, and their two crucial witnesses were women who had lied to the police before, and whose accounts didn’t match.
Lyles told police she was in her boyfriend's house when she heard loud arguing outside, and recognized Campbell’s voice. She went out to investigate, heard a firecracker sound, looked into a white or tan car and saw Miller in the back seat with Campbell, who appeared to be having seizures as she gurgled. The car drove off, she said, and she never saw the driver’s face.
Lyles said the car was parked facing one direction on Coolidge Avenue; Dowdell said it faced the other way, Wadkins told the jury.
Lyles said Miller remained in the back seat as the car pulled away. Dowdell said he got out, walked to where Dowdell stood with a friend and told them both, “You better keep your mouth shut.” She said he then walked back to the car and got in before the car drove away, Wadkins noted.
“These stories don’t add up,” the attorney said. “These are the people the state is asking you to put your faith in.”
Wadkins noted also that when a transmission repair shop owner found Campbell’s body about 7:45 a.m. the next day a few blocks away on Warehouse Avenue, he saw a pool of blood beneath her head, an indication she could have been shot there and bled out.
Wadkins said Dowdell was high on crack the day Campbell died, and was a felon previously found guilty of giving police false information. He said Lyles was schizophrenic and bipolar, also had used crack, and initially lied to police in Dallas when they first asked her about Campbell’s death.
“These witnesses are unworthy of your belief,” Wadkins told jurors, later asking, “If they asked you to lend them money, would you?”
Craig countered by paraphrasing the Bible: “Let he who is perfect cast the first stone.”
Miller’s conduct evidenced “the actions of a coward and a bully,” and the witnesses were brave to risk his ire by testifying, Craig said, of Dowdell adding, “Now she comes into court and she’s treated like she’s on trial.”
Victims like Campbell can’t get justice if Columbus adheres to “a code of silence” on the street and “a list of undesirables” considered unfit to testify in its courtrooms, Craig said. Those conditions leave bullies like Miller free to stalk the streets and terrorize neighborhoods, he said.
Craig told jurors that even if they didn’t believe the evidence was sufficient to prove Miller fired the fatal shot, his presence in the car with Campbell still made him a party to the crime, and under Georgia law just as guilty as whoever pulled the trigger.