Jury finds Mills guilty of manslaughter
A Phil Campbell man was found guilty of manslaughter on Friday following three days of testimony in the case where a Russellville man was shot outside his home in October of 2010.
Jerry Ronald Mills, 56, 194 Block Church Road, Phil Campbell, was originally indicted for murder in March 2011 for the shooting death of 70-year-old Robert Leroy Presley.
Jurors found Mills not guilty on the charge of murder but leveled a guilty verdict for the lesser charge of manslaughter.
“Even though we thought this crime was raised to the level of murder under Alabama’s law, we are pleased with the verdict of manslaughter and that Mr. Mills will be held accountable for his actions,” Franklin County District Attorney Joey Rushing said. “We knew going into this trial that it would be difficult because the defendant was claiming self-defense and our victim, even though he was at his own home, did have a rifle with him at the time this incident occurred.
“But we believe Mr. Mills went beyond what would be considered as self-defense and unjustifiably took the life of another man.”
Rushing and Assistant District Attorney Doug Evans maintained during the trial that Mills acted out of anger and had plenty of time to make the decision not to shoot Presley, who was shot three times with a .44 caliber handgun.
Evans pointed out in his closing statement that Mills made several decisions that he believed clearly showed he wasn’t in fear for his life.
“Mills made it known that he had a .22 pistol in his pocket when he was inside Mr. Presley’s house,” Evans told the jurors. “If he was scared for his life, why didn’t he use the weapon he had on him? Someone who is in fear for their life doesn’t wait until they can get a bigger gun out of their truck. They use the closest weapon available. Mr. Mills wasn’t in fear. He was mad.”
Defense attorneys Billy Underwood and Jeff Barksdale contended throughout the trial that Mills only acted out of self-defense because they claimed Presley was holding what Mills believed at the time was a shotgun and would shoot him.
Underwood reiterated on several occasions that the gunshot wound Presley suffered to his left forearm could have only been received if his arms had been up in a shooting position aiming what was later discovered as a .22 rifle at Mills.
“That wound proves this case,” Underwood said during closing statements on Thursday. “He acted in self-defense. If this guy was a cold-blooded killer… I don’t know why it took him 56 years to kill somebody.”
Mills, who testified Thursday morning, said he never meant to hurt Presley.
“I didn’t have no choice but to shoot him,” Mills said. “I wasn’t mad at him. I didn’t have any reason to be mad at him.
“I knew he was mad and was going to get a gun. I heard the bam [of Presley’s wheelchair hitting the metal screen door] and saw him there with a gun.”
Mills said he stepped around the side of his car to get a better shot at Presley, a statement Underwood said he felt hurt his client.
“Mr. Mills saying he stepped around the vehicle probably hurt him, but with Mr. Presley aiming a gun at him, that action should have been allowed under Alabama’s stand your ground law.
“Jeff Barksdale and I are extremely disappointed with the verdict and Jerry Mills is devastated. We feel the jury applied the stand your ground defense improperly and he should have been acquitted of both murder and manslaughter. But Joey Rushing and Doug Evans did a wonderful job and I really feel they won this case in their cross-examination of Mr. Mills.”
Since this was a violent crime involving a firearm, Mills is facing 10 to 20 years in prison for the manslaughter conviction. Rushing said they plan to seek the maximum sentence.
Mills’ case has been set for sentencing on May 1 before Circuit Judge Terry Dempsey.