BANGOR, Maine — Nathaneal Nightingale is a cold-blooded killer, according to the prosecution.
Not so, the defense claims. The 32-year-old Burlington man confessed to shooting Michael Miller Jr. and his wife, Valerie Miller, both 47, after being told by investigators that they knew and were going to prove that he was the one who shot the Webster Plantation couple in the kitchen of their Tucker Ridge Road home on Nov. 28, 2009.
Both sides rested about 2 p.m. Friday in Nightingale’s double murder trial at the Penobscot Judicial Center after nearly five days of testimony. The jury is scheduled to hear closing arguments and receive instructions on the law from Superior Court Justice William Anderson on Tuesday and then begin deliberating.
“The evidence the state put in against Nathaneal Nightingale is absolutely overwhelming,” Assistant Attorney General Andrew Benson, who prosecuted the case, said outside the courtroom Friday. “In sifting through it, I’m confident the jury will reach the appropriate conclusion in this case — one person and one person alone was responsible for the deaths of Michael Miller Sr. and Valerie Miller.”
Defense attorney Jeffrey Silverstein of Bangor disagreed. He said as he was leaving the courthouse that there was reasonable doubt about whether Nightingale was guilty.
“I think the jury has some information, that is substantial in a qualitative sense, that gives them cause to pause,” Silverstein said. “Why Nate Nightingale would do anything like this in light of the larger motive of [the Millers’ son] Matt Miller has not been shown.
The defense attorney also said that the interview techniques used by Maine State Police detectives, which included telling Nightingale they had evidence they did not have, called Nightingale’s confession into question.
“The jury has reason to believe that his confession may have been less than an accurate recitation of events,” he said.
Silverstein named Matthew Miller, 26, of Webster Plantation as an alternative suspect Monday in his opening statement and called him as a defense witness Friday morning.
But Matthew Miller did not take the stand. He invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination while jurors were out of the courtroom.
Silverstein called two Maine State Police detectives who testified that they had interviewed Matthew Miller at least twice in the three weeks after his parents were killed.
Detective Carleton Small told the jury that Matthew Miller had admitted in an interview on Dec. 2, 2009, to trying to sell a combination VCR-DVD player to his father the night before his death so he could obtain money to buy drugs. Small said Miller Sr. had refused to give his son money but kept the player to put toward his son’s $1,500 debt.
The detective also testified that the next morning Matthew Miller obtained drugs from an elderly couple who lived in Lee, then drove a short distance away, pulled into a camp road and injected the narcotics. Small said Matthew Miller told him that he heard sirens pass by while he was on the camp road.
Nightingale, 32, of Burlington was arrested on Dec. 12, 2009, after he confessed to investigators. He was indicted by the Penobscot County grand jury later that month and pleaded not guilty to the charges in March 2010.
Assistant Attorney General Andrew Benson, who has argued that the motive for the killings was money, rested the state’s case Thursday afternoon after playing for jurors a recorded interview in which Nightingale confessed to an investigator.
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 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.”
Miller Sr., according to testimony earlier this week, sold bootlegged cigarettes for $4 a pack and did not pay the state cigarette tax. A preliminary investigation into his activities had been launched by the Attorney General’s Office. He also ran an unlicensed pawn shop and sold illegal prescription narcotics, according to testimony.
Nightingale has been held without bail at the Penobscot County Jail since his arrest.
If convicted, Nightingale would face a minimum sentence of 25 years and a maximum sentence of life in prison on each count.