Jury hears Nightingale’s taped confession to police, state rests

Nathaneal Nightingale
Nathaneal Nightingale
Posted May 26, 2011, at 1:15 p.m.
Last modified May 26, 2011, at 7:15 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — The state rested its case Thursday afternoon in the double murder trial of Nathaneal Nightingale after playing a recording in which he confessed to a Maine State Police detective that he shot and killed Michael Miller Sr. and his wife, Valerie, both 47, of Webster Plantation.

Nightingale, 32, of Burlington made his admission in the early morning hours of Dec. 12, 2009 — two weeks after the couple’s lifeless bodies were found in the kitchen of their Webster Plantation home.

Jurors heard a recording of the confession Thursday morning on the fourth day of Nightingale’s double murder trial.

Defense attorney Jeffrey Silverstein of Bangor declined Thursday to say whether Nightingale would take the stand in his own defense.

Assistant Attorney General Andrew Benson said Monday in his opening statement that the motive for the murders was money.

Nightingale told Maine State Police Detective Dale Keegan in the interview played for the jury that he took his stepfather’s .22-caliber revolver to the Millers’ home the morning of Nov. 28, 2009, to pawn it for money to buy illegal painkillers because he was out of a job and broke. The defendant said that he was showing Miller Sr. that the gun worked when it went off and hit Miller Sr. in the back of the head.

“I was showing them the gun, holding it,” he said in the recording. “I had it cocked and I pulled the trigger. A shot went off and he fell. She turned and looked at him and I shot her. I don’t know where I shot her. I know it wasn’t me. It was desperation.”

Dr. Margaret Greenwald, the state’s chief medical examiner, testified Monday that both Millers died of small-caliber gunshot wounds to their heads.

In his initial interview with police, played for jurors Tuesday, Nightingale denied shooting the Millers.

“I would never do that,” Nightingale said in that interview, recorded on Nov. 29, 2009. “I respected them. There would be no reason to kill them. They’ve been very good to me.”

Nightingale said in his confession to investigators he did not intend to shoot Miller Sr. but the gun went off accidentally. He admitted that he shot Valerie Miller on purpose, then stole Miller Sr.’s wallet, the notebooks in which he kept records of his unlicensed pawn shop transactions, and a safe. Nightingale, who told Keegan that he acted alone, also said that he returned the gun to the place where he’d found it.

After the interview with Keegan, Nightingale led detectives to his parents’ camp on Saponac Pond in Burlington where the defendant said he had hidden Miller Sr.’s wallet. In addition to the wallet, in which Miller Sr.’s driver’s license was found, investigators also found the safe and three composition notebooks hidden on the camp property.

Nightingale said that he found $2,000 in the wallet and spent all of it on prescription painkillers that he bought illegally. He told Keegan that he never opened the safe but assumed there were drugs in it and took the notebooks because he knew his name would be in them.

In addition to confessing to killing the Millers, Nightingale told police that the woman he described to a police sketch artist did not exist.

“I knew all the time she didn’t exist,” he said. “I made the person in the composite up.”

Also on Thursday, Kimberly Stevens, a firearms examiner with the Maine State Police Crime Laboratory in Augusta, testified that the bullet recovered from Valerie Miller’s body came from the .22-caliber revolver police recovered from the Burlington home Nightingale shared with his mother and stepfather, Beth and Tom Coyle.

Cathy MacMillan, a state DNA analyst, testified Wednesday afternoon that DNA that was consistent with Nightingale’s was found on the grip of the gun.

Nightingale was arrested on Dec. 12, 2009, after he confessed to Keegan, on two counts of intentional or knowing murder. He pleaded not guilty in March 2010 after being indicted by the Penobscot County grand jury the previous December.

Silverstein said in his opening statement Monday that another person who owed Miller Sr. money, including his son Matthew Miller, could have pulled the trigger.

Nightingale has been held without bail at the Penobscot County Jail while awaiting trial.

Testimony for the defense is expected to conclude Friday, but the jury will not begin deliberating the case until Tuesday, Superior Court Justice William Anderson, who is presiding over the trial, said Thursday.

If convicted, Nightingale would face a minimum sentence of 25 years and a maximum sentence of life in prison on each count.

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