People intimately familiar with the earlier case say Miller, founder of a Ku Klux Klan chapter and a white political party, should have been a prime suspect in those killings, as well.
Instead Miller became a star witness in both that murder trial and in a sedition case against 13 fellow white supremacists.
Miller had proved himself to be not so much a white supremacist as a white opportunist when he found himself facing decades in prison on weapons charges in 1987. He has said that a lead prosecutor threatened to pile on individual sentences on various charges until they totaled 200 years.
Miller made a deal for just five years.
And he would only have to serve three.
“I was to plead guilty to one count of felony possession of a hand grenade and answer all questions posed to me by the authorities,” Miller later wrote in his autobiography. “In return, they would recommend a 5-year prison sentence, immunity from any further prosecution by either state or federal authorities, and entrance into the Federal Witness Protection Program which included the financial support of my family while I served my sentence.”
He added, “A five-year sentence sounded a little more palatable than 200, so I accepted.”
Miller had a half-dozen FBI agents for bodyguards when he arrived in a North Carolina courtroom in 1989 to testify against Douglas Sheets, a junior member of the supremacist organization Miller created and led, the White Patriot Party.
“There was a lot of worry about him,” defense lawyer Les Farfour recalls.
Miller, Sheets, and another white supremacist named Robert Jackson had been hiding out in a house trailer in Missouri when they were surrounded by federal agents. Miller was on the run at the time, having absconded while appealing a conviction for defying a court ban against engaging in paramilitary activities. He had issued a declaration of war against the government and distributed a letter containing a hate crime hit list that offered varying points:
“888 for Morris Dees 9 (head of the Southern Poverty Law Center in Alabama); 50 for influential Jews, race traitors, politicians and judges, informants, government witnesses; 25 for abortionists; 20 for white race traitors, skalawags, carpetbaggers and Jews; 10 for queers; 5 for assorted mongrels and 1 for [blacks].”
In the letter, Miller wrote, “ZOG (Zionist Occupational Government) will soon have my dead carcass, but I will die with contempt on my lips and a sword in my hand.” He asked that his hand be extended in a Nazi salute when he was buried.
But when the showdown came, the feds needed only to administer a little tear gas to flush him and his two comrades from their trailer. The subsequent search resulted in weapons charges that individually could carry 20 years or more.
“Inside the mobile home and in one of our vans parked outside, the feds found C-4 plastic explosives, dynamite, pipe bombs, hand grenades, fully automatic M-16 and AR 15 machine guns, sawed off shotguns, pistols, cross-bows, and around a half-ton of ammunition, to list some of it,” Miller would write in his autobiography.
He immediately offered to tell the authorities everything he knew about a supremacist organization known as The Order. He also offered to testify that he had overheard Sheets and Jackson talking about having killed three men in 1987 at the only adult bookstore in Shelby, North Carolina. He said the victims were assumed to have been gay (10 points each).
Miller’s two comrades were tried separately, with Sheets going first. Miller testified as promised, but the prosecution’s case unraveled after the defense attorneys checked out Sheets’s alibi. Sheets said he had been in Kansas the day before the murders when a blizzard struck and he could not possibly have reached North Carolina in time to commit the crime. The defense attorneys played video tapes of the Kansas news coverage of the big storm. The jury acquitted him.
That called into serious question Miller’s veracity as a witness. The defense noted that Miller had testified at one point about a two-way mirror in the bookstore, a detail he would not likely have known about unless he had been there, perhaps as one of the three masked killers.
The prosecution dropped the charges against the other defendant, Jackson, in the bookstore murders. Sheets and Jackson did get 20 years on the unrelated weapons charges, the minimum that Miller would have received had he not made a deal. He certainly could have gotten considerably more.
Miller also testified in a big sedition case in Arkansas against 13 of his fellow white supremacists, including senior members of The Order. Miller was convincing enough and likely even telling the truth when he testified that the leader of The Order had given him $200,000 to finance the WPP. The cash was apparently from more than $4.1 million in robberies The Order had committed. One armored car heist in 1984 had netted the group $3.6 million.
That was corroborated by other evidence. But Miller undercut his credibility when he testified that he had turned informant not because hoped to duck a heavy prison sentence but because he had become a born-again Christian and was no longer a hater.
His fellow informants were also less than convincing. The trial, like the one before, ended with the jury returning a not-guilty verdict.
“The government witnesses were not believable,” a juror said afterward.
Maybe because Miller had done so little harm in court to his fellow white supremacists, he soon after felt safe enough to leave the witness protection program. Who was going to kill him as revenge for getting them acquitted?
Miller went to work as a long-distance trucker and dropped all pretense of no longer being a hater. He made thousands of racist and anti-Semitic online postings and spouted more poison as he repeatedly ran for office, for governor at one point, for U.S. Senate at another.
A blusterer who immediately turned informant at the threat of serious prison time seemed to imagine he was speaking of guys different from himself when he declared, “White men have become the biggest cowards ever to walk the earth.”
Maybe his own rantings roused him to do more than talk. Maybe he could no longer bear the craven truth about himself.
If the prosecutors had prosecuted instead of bargained, Miller might still have been behind bars Sunday, when police say he shot and killed three people outside a Jewish Community Center and a nearby assisted living facility. Nothing could be more cowardly than to gun down three unarmed innocents, including a 14-year-old boy.
Miller is alleged to have acted alone, so the only person he can inform on this time is himself.
He has no hope of getting a deal like the ones he never should have gotten in the first place.