BANGOR, Maine — Jurors found Nathaneal Nightingale guilty of manslaughter, not murder, in the death of Michael Miller Sr. of Webster Plantation, but found him guilty of intentional or knowing murder for the death of Miller’s wife, Valerie Miller.
The jury of six men and six women deliberated Tuesday for five hours at the Penobscot Judicial Center before announcing their split verdict after hearing testimony every day last week. The verdict was delivered about an hour after jurors finished hearing Nightingale’s taped confession to police for a second time.
Nightingale, 32, of Burlington was accused in the shooting deaths of the Webster Plantation couple, who were both 47, in the kitchen of their Tucker Ridge Road home on Nov. 28, 2009.
Michael Miller Jr., 29, said outside the courthouse that he, his brother, Matthew Miller, 26, who now live in their parents’ home, and other family members were “extremely surprised” by the verdict.
“It’s not exactly what we were hoping for,” Miller Jr. told reporters. “We were surprised at how long it took [the jury to reach a verdict].”
Miller Sr., according to testimony last 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 Maine Attorney General’s Office. He also ran an unlicensed pawnshop and sold illegal prescription narcotics, according to testimony.
During the trial, defense attorney Jeffrey Silverstein of Bangor pointed to Matthew Miller as an alternative suspect, alleging that he owed money to his father for drugs. Matthew Miller invoked his Fifth Amendment right not to testify but police told the jury that he had told them he was shooting up narcotics on a camp road when he heard sirens head in the direction of his parents’ home around noon the day they died.
Miller Jr., who testified for the prosecution, told reporters after the verdict he was glad the jury had realized his family was not on trial.
“I’m glad they were smart enough to look past a lot of this stuff and look at the evidence,” he said.
Assistant Attorney General Andrew Benson left the courthouse without speaking to reporters.
“The verdict means the jury believed the substance of the confession,” Silverstein said outside the courthouse.
The defense attorney said that after the sentencing he would appeal to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court the denial by Justice William Anderson of Silverstein’s motion to suppress the confession.
Although members of Nightingale’s family attended the trial, they declined to speak with reporters.
The nine-hour day in court Tuesday began with closing arguments to the jury.
“If you don’t consider the confession,” Silverstein told the jury, “the state has not proven that Nate Nightingale pulled the trigger. You have heard no direct evidence that he did.”
Silverstein told the jury that investigators lied to Nightingale about the evidence they had against him.
“For nine hours, he was pounded on these facts,” Silverstein said of the defendant’s second-to-last interview with Maine State Police detectives. “Anyone would have felt hounded into a corner. That’s reason enough for you to question the validity of the state’s case.”
In his closing argument, Benson called the evidence against Nightingale “overwhelming.”
“This case has been tried as a whodunit,” he told the jury. “But it is not really a whodunit. All the evidence points to one person and one person alone — the defendant, Nate Nightingale.”
Nightingale told Maine State Police Detective Dale Keegan in an interview played last week 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 May 23 that both Millers died of small-caliber gunshot wounds to their heads.
Benson said Tuesday that the state had proven beyond a reasonable doubt that Nightingale shot and killed the Millers. The prosecutor pointed to Nightingale’s DNA, which was found on the gun, the bullet from the murder weapon that matched one taken from Valerie Miller’s body, the fact that the defendant led police to the items he stole from the couple’s double-wide trailer, and the timeline that showed Nightingale’s car passing by a Lincoln funeral home about an hour after Miller Sr.’s cell phone showed his last answered call at 10:44 a.m. as some of the “overwhelming evidence” that, in addition to the confession, proved Nightingale’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
Nightingale faces a maximum of 30 years in prison on the manslaughter conviction in the death of Miller Sr. and a minimum of 25 years and a maximum sentence of life on the murder conviction in the death of Valerie Miller. He will continue to be held without bail at the Penobscot County Jail, where he has been held since his arrest.
A sentencing date has not been set.
Miller Jr. said outside the courthouse that his family’s discussions with Benson had led him to believe the prosecutor would recommend a sentence of about 60 years for deaths of his parents. He also expressed some sympathy for Nightingale, who was his best friend for many years.
“I hate the person for having caused all this pain and loss,” he said. “Not only has he ruined our lives and our families’ lives, he’s ruined his own. I do feel bad for him.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story contained incorrect information in the photo captions. Michael Miller Sr., one of the victims in the case is a Sr. not a Jr.