Girlfriend convicted in Texas officer's slaying

Brandon Formby, Staff Writer
The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2006 The Dallas Morning News

A 40-year-old Little Elm woman faces life in prison after she was convicted Wednesday of the 2004 fatal shooting of her boyfriend, Little Elm police Officer Jonathon Wayne Irby.

A Denton County jury took less than an hour to decide Denise Miller was guilty. Ms. Miller cried quietly after the verdict was announced.

Officer Irby's mother, Erma Hayes, sat with her head bowed and eyes closed during the verdict, which followed two days of emotional testimony.

Jurors continued to hear testimony in the punishment phase late Wednesday evening. They are scheduled to begin deliberations this morning.

Ms. Miller shot Officer Irby in the back of the head on Dec. 9, 2004, in a rental home he was about to move into in the 400 block of Willow Lake Drive.

The six-year veteran of the Little Elm police force was found laying facedown in a pool of blood the next day by fellow officers who began searching for him after he failed to show up for his 6 a.m. shift Dec. 10.

Ms. Miller was found the next day in a Gainesville hotel room. She had attempted suicide but survived a gunshot wound to the head. The wound left Ms. Miller paralyzed on the left side and in a wheelchair.

The murder, believed to be the first death of a police officer in the Denton County suburb, shocked the city of about 19,000 people. A memorial service the day after his body was found drew hundreds of residents.

Three of Officer Irby's colleagues fought back tears as they testified about their personal and professional relationships with him.

Little Elm police Officer Jerry Walker cried and looked down throughout his testimony about the day that he and Officer James Wyn went inside Officer Irby's home as they searched for him. The officers found his personal items and a note with Ms. Miller's name signed to it that read: "I did it. I took our lives."

Officer Wyn then continued walking through the house. When he found Officer Irby's body, he gasped and told Officer Walker not to move.

"My thoughts were James Wyn was trying to protect me from seeing what he had to see," Officer Walker said tearfully.

According to testimony from Officer Irby's friends and co-workers, he was in the process of leaving Ms. Miller and moving out of a home in the 2600 block of Elk Horn Drive, where the couple had been living with Ms. Miller's two teenage children.

"In the time-honored tradition of, 'If I can't have you, no one can,' Denise Miller was not going to let that happen," prosecutor Paige McCormick said during her opening statements Tuesday.

During opening and closing statements, Ms. Miller's defense attorneys claimed the shooting was accidental. They cited a note found under a gun in the Gainesville hotel room that an expert handwriting analyst concluded Ms. Miller wrote.

"I accidentally shot him and then freaked out and ran," the note said.

The defense called no witnesses and rested immediately after prosecutors finished their case. During closing arguments, defense attorney Denver McCarty focused on unused bullets left on the kitchen counter of Officer Irby's rental home. He suggested that Officer Irby could have taken the bullets out of the gun and Ms. Miller didn't know any more were in the weapon.

"I suggest it's reasonable she thought the gun was unloaded," he said. "Why would you unload a gun after you killed someone?"

The handwriting analyst linked all three notes police found to Ms. Miller. Defense attorneys never denied she wrote them.

"Please forgive me and continue to pray for my soul," said a note found at Ms. Miller's home before Officer Irby's body was found.

The note found in the kitchen of Mr. Irby's home was lying on the kitchen counter next to Officer Irby's cellphone and fanny pack.

"I'm sorry," it read. "He was the best police officer that you had!"

Ms. Hayes cried throughout her testimony on Tuesday, bringing spectators to tears. When she testified during the punishment phase late Wednesday, a few jurors wiped away tears.

"I can't sleep at night," she said. "I see his face, waiting for him to call me."

Little Elm Police Chief Waylan Rhodes called the verdict justice for the police force and for Officer Irby's family.

"A guilty verdict brings closure," he said.

E-mail bformby@dallasnews.com 
PHOTO(S): 1. Denise Miller 2. Jonathon Irby
July 13, 2006

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