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Trial in officer's death forcing town to revisit pain: Girlfriend accused of fatally shooting policeman

July 10, 2006
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Trial in officer's death forcing town to revisit pain: Girlfriend accused of fatally shooting policeman

Brandon Formby, Staff writer

It's been more than 18 months since Little Elm police Officer Jonathon Wayne Irby's body was found, face down in his new home, a gunshot wound in the back of his head.

His December 2004 death, believed to be the first of an officer in this booming Denton County suburb, shocked the city of about 19,000 people. The night his body was found, town officials, employees and police officers gathered at Town Hall to mourn. A memorial service the next day drew hundreds of residents.

Little Elm Police Chief Waylan Rhodes fears that those who knew the devoted officer will have to relive their pain beginning Monday, when Denise Miller, Officer Irby's former girlfriend, is scheduled to go on trial in connection with his death. If convicted, she faces life in prison.

"We'll have to endure it and go through all the emotional parts of it again by going through the trial, through everything being brought up again and being rehashed," Chief Rhodes said.

Ms. Miller, who has remained in the Denton County Jail for nearly 18 months in lieu of $250,000 bail, declined an interview request last week. Her attorney, Mary Lou Crosbie, did not return a phone call seeking comment.

Officer Irby loved police work, collected police memorabilia and prominently displayed pictures of himself in uniform. Months before his death, Chief Rhodes presented Officer Irby with a plaque for courage in the line of duty after Officer Irby subdued a man who had attacked him and tried to take his gun. Officer Irby also was a finalist in 2004 for the Little Elm Area Chamber of Commerce's Officer of the Year award.

Police first realized something wasn't right when Officer Irby didn't show up for his 6 a.m. shift on Dec. 10, 2004.

"That wasn't normal for him, because he was always eager to be here," Chief Rhodes said.

Officer Irby didn't answer calls to his phone. Friends hadn't heard from him. There was no sign of him at the two-story home on Elk Horn Drive, where the six-year department veteran had lived with Ms. Miller and her two teenage children.

Officers then went to a rental home in the 400 block of Willow Lake that Officer Irby was about to move into. It was there they found his body in a hallway. At the time, authorities said it appeared he had been working on a thermostat when he was shot.

"It's one of those lifetime memories that stay with you: to see one of your own that's a close friend as well as a co-worker lying right before you senselessly dead," Chief Rhodes said.

As crime-scene investigators roped off the scene, officers immediately began searching for the last person known to be with Officer Irby: Ms. Miller.

Meanwhile, Ms. Miller's two children called their father in Kansas City, Mo., and told them that their mother was missing. He rushed to Texas to be with the teens and to take them back to Missouri. He could not be reached last week for comment.

Ms. Miller was found the next day in a hotel room in Gainesville, where police said she had put a gun to her right temple, pulled the trigger, flinched and shot herself in the forehead just above her right eye.

Inside the room, police found a .25-caliber automatic handgun that they believe Ms. Miller used to shoot Officer Irby, along with a suicide note implicating her. They also found two Glock .40-caliber semiautomatic pistols similar to those used by police officers. One was in her hotel room, the other in the glove compartment of her Honda Accord parked outside. They then charged Ms. Miller with first-degree murder.

Ms. Miller was hospitalized for 38 days, during which time she spoke with a psychologist whose notes appear in Denton County court records.

"The patient remembered drinking before the incident and remarked that she is a poor drinker as she reacts quickly to the alcohol in her system by losing her ability to function mentally," the psychologist wrote.

But Ms. Miller said she didn't remember what led to Officer Irby's death or her hospitalization.

After Ms. Miller was released Jan. 18, 2005, she was booked into the Denton County Jail. Chief Rhodes said he wishes a plea deal had been reached so the case didn't have to go to trial. To him, it's a waste of time that will do little more than conjure pain that people still feel for the loss of an officer who loved his job.

"He was well liked by both the community and his co-workers," Chief Rhodes said. "He was a hard worker, very dependable and had a really good personality."


Full story: Trial in officer's death forcing town to revisit pain: Girlfriend accused of fatally shooting policeman

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