On March 10, 1999, family
annihilator Shon Miller kicked open the doors of a church in Louisiana,
fired twice into the ceiling and ordered everybody to hit the floor.
Miller then marched down the aisle, shooting between the benches as
screaming parishioners scattered in horror.
When the smoke settled,
three were dead including his wife, Carla, 25, and their 2-year-old son,
Shon Jr. Four others were wounded at the one-story stucco church 20
miles southeast of Baton Rouge. Miller, a homeless former welder, also
shot his mother-in-law, Mildred Vessel, 53, to death at her home a the
few blocks from the church.
"His little boy turned and
said, 'Daddy.' That's when he shot. He hit his wife first and then the
baby," congregation member Lolitsa Enkadi said. "And then he
just started emptying his gun." In fact, once he emptied one clip
of his semiautomatic pistol, he reloaded and continued shooting into the
pews. As Miller left the New St. John Felllowship Babtist Church, the
Reverend Wilbert Holmes heard him mumble, "That will show you."
Officers said it took three hours
of searching around the single-family homes and winter cabbage gardens
near the church in this small town of 7,000 before they found Miller.
When they discovered him in a shed about 100 yards away, he tried to
kill himself, Landry said. An officer blasted the pistol out of his hand
with a shotgun at close range, wounding him.
Miller was taken to Medical
Center of Louisiana at New Orleans, where he was listed in guarded
condition. He was paralyzed from the waist down with buckshot wounds to
the back, right hand and face, said hospital spokesman Jerry Romig.
Louisiana Shooting Kills 3 at
Church and One at Home
By David Firestone - The New York Times
Friday, March 12, 1999
In the seventh row of the New St. John Fellowship
Baptist Church, on the floor next to a viscous pool of blood the full
width of the pew, a Bible lay face up today, opened to a chapter of John
that was spattered in red.
Stained hymn books and notebooks were everywhere,
diapers and slippers and baby bottles, the frenzied residue of a moment
of chaos that occurred when a man kicked open the church doors during a
Wednesday night Bible class and started shooting, killing three people
and wounding four, two critically.
Shon Miller Sr., a 22-year-old homeless man, was
charged by the Gonzales police with four counts of first-degree murder
and several counts of attempted murder. Among the dead were Mr. Miller's
estranged wife, Carla, 25, and their son, Shon Jr., 2, who had cried out
to him in the instant before the shooting. The police said that before
bursting into the church with his 9mm semiautomatic pistol, Mr. Miller
had fatally shot his mother-in-law, Mildred Vessel, 53, in a van outside
her home nearby.
Mr. Miller was shot in the back in a standoff with
the Ascension Parish sheriff's officers and the local police after the
Any killing in this town of 7,000 people, 20 miles
southeast of Baton Rouge and so unassuming that no one can remember the
last major news story here, would shake the foundations of the social
structure. But to have a multiple killing in a simple white-brick
Baptist church, in the middle of evening Bible class, in a sanctuary
half-filled with children, was unimaginable.
''We live in a small community; stuff of this nature
doesn't happen in our quiet little town,'' said Darryl Hambrick, who
went to school with Mrs. Miller and had been her neighbor for years. ''When
you go to church for serenity and prayer and for some kind of peace in
your life, and then you go there and something tragic like this happens,
it's sad that we live in a country like that.''
Bill Landry, the Gonzales Police Chief, said he could
not remember a local crime so bloody and disturbing.
''The safest place in the world I always thought was
a church, and now that sanctuary has been broken,'' Chief Landry said.
''We'll all be a long time getting over this.''
The shootings apparently stemmed from the stormy
relationship Mr. Miller had with his wife for two years, friends and
family members said.
Mr. Hambrick said Mr. Miller burned the family's
trailer two years ago and slashed his wife's tires. He was arrested,
accused of beating her and knocking her tooth out in 1997, sheriff's
officials said. Last August, Mrs. Miller received a restraining order
prohibiting him from having contact with her, and he was jailed for 90
days after violating it, officials said. He lived on the streets after
getting out of jail late last year, and a few weeks ago, Mrs. Miller
told him she was filing for divorce.
''We told her from the beginning that he wasn't the
right one,'' said Timothy Vessel, Mrs. Miller's brother. Mr. Vessel's
wife, Lequatta, described Mr. Miller as ''crazy'' and ''violent.''
''That's why they were getting a divorce,'' Mrs.
Vessel said. ''He just couldn't take the pressure, so I guess he felt he
had to, you know, he had to kill her since he couldn't have her.''
Other family members said that a few months ago, Mr.
Miller was dismissed from his job as a welder at an automotive machine
shop here because of repeated public arguments with his wife, and
suggested that he blamed her for losing his job.
Mr. Miller apparently knew his wife and son were
going to Wednesday night Bible class at the church. Sheriff Jeffrey F.
Wiley of Ascension Parish and family members said that before the class,
Mr. Miller asked two friends to drive him to the small wood-frame house
on Coontrap Road where his wife was staying. She was not there, Sheriff
Wiley said, but her mother was, and Mr. Miller walked up to the van in
which she was sitting and shot her in the head.
The two friends, who saw the shooting, tried to drive
away, but their car stalled, officials said. Mr. Miller then got back
into the car and ordered his friends at gunpoint to drive to the church.
The pastor, Clarence Stephens, said the two men ran into the church and
told him that Mr. Miller had just shot someone and was approaching with
a gun. But it was too late to stop him.
He burst into the church, where about 100 adults and
children were studying the third chapter of the Book of John, and fired
two shots into the ceiling, ordering everyone to get down, Mr. Stephens
As his son shouted, ''Daddy! Daddy!'' Mr. Miller shot
his wife, Mr. Stephens and police officials said, reloaded and fired
more shots, killing his son and Vaniaro Jackson, 19, who was sitting
beside Mrs. Miller.
As Mr. Miller ran from the church, police and
sheriff's officers, who had been summoned by Mr. Stephens, surrounded
the church and cornered Mr. Miller in a woodshed nearby.
Officers tried to negotiate with him for about an
hour, but in frustration Chief Wiley said that he ordered a sharpshooter
to shoot the gun out of Mr. Miller's hand. Another officer tripped and
accidentally fired a shot into Mr. Miller's back, the Chief said.
The shot paralyzed Mr. Miller from the waist down. He
was taken to Louisiana Medical Center in New Orleans, where he was
listed in stable condition.
Kathy Jackson, Vaniaro Jackson's mother, said her son
had received a call to preach and was in church every week.
''Whether it happened in the streets or in the church
house, it happened, and we can't change that,'' Mrs. Jackson said.
But, her husband, William Jackson, added, ''it puts a
big question in your head.''
"This is domestic violence taken to its ultimate
A police officer gives his opinion of Shon's actions.
As I'm such a lazy bastard I've decided that I'll just
steal all of this stuff from a few newspaper articles. It saves me time,
and you still get the full story, so we both win.
I'll begin by giving a brief bit of background on Shon
Miller. He was a wife beater who had been arrested quite a few times for
this action but, as in so many cases, his wife refused to have charges
laid against him. But she did kick him out of the house and get a
restraining order put out against him. But as you will soon find out -
that didn't seem to help. So enough of my crap, let's get to the story.
The first to die was Mildred Vessel, 53, his mother-in-law.
Two acquaintances from Belle Rose met Miller in Donaldsonville and
agreed to give him a ride to his wife's house at 40199 Coon Trap Road,
just north of the Gonzales city limits, telling the two men he wanted to
pick up something.
As they arrived at the house, Vessel was pulling her
van into the driveway.
Miller, whose last known address was 1000 Toby Ave.,
got out of the car and fired five shots into the van, killing his mother-in-law
with three direct hits to the head.
The two Belle Rose men, who investigators declined to
identify, tried to leave when Miller fired into the van, but their car
stalled. Miller then forced them to drive him to the church about one-half
The two men went into the small church packed with
about 60 to 70 people. They sat next to Donald Ray Smith, a brother-in-law
of Carla Miller.
"They said they needed to talk to the
pastor," Smith said. "They were real fidgety. They were real
vague and I really wasn't sure what they were talking about."
Smith said one of the men told him, "You just
don't understand, you don't understand. We need to get out of here. This
guy is dangerous. We need to get out of here."
The Rev. Clarence Stephens, pastor of the church, was
summoned and listened to the men. He then asked church Deacon Herbert
Mulberry to call the police.
Stephens and Mulberry went into the church office to
make the call. According to police records, it was 7:43 p.m. when the
call came in.
"When I was on the phone with the lady on 911 it
started," Mulberry said.
"It" was two shots fired into the ceiling.
Miller pumped two rounds into the ceiling and "told
everybody to lie on the floor. Then he started shooting people,"
another minister, the Rev. Wilbert Holmes said.
Upon hearing the shots, Miller's son, Shon Jr., 2,
turned around and said, "Daddy!" Holmes said.
Miller shot his wife, Carla Vessel Miller, 25, first
and his son second, killing them both, Wiley and Landry said. Miller
then shot Vaniaro Jackson, 19, 38557 Arrowhead St., Gonzales, who died
en route to Riverview Medical Center, the law enforcement officers said.
Miller also shot and wounded Kinsey Jackson, 17,
Vaniaro Jackson's sister; Donald Rideau, 16, 40072 Germany Road.,
Gonzales; Rebecca Delpit, 37, 12033 Roddy Road, Gonzales; and Alesha
Harvey, 14, 41444 Victoria Ave., Gonzales, Landry said.
Landry said Miller fired at least 15 times in the
church, reloading his 9 mm pistol during the carnage.
After the shooting, Miller fled the church and was
spotted by a sheriff's deputy responding to the reports of gunfire at
the church. He starting chasing Miller, but lost track of him. Police
cordoned off a several blocks surrounding the church.
At this point, Landry said, he called for assistance
from the Sheriff's Office's Crisis Response Team.
Soon, Gonzales Police Sgt. Sam Pasqua spotted Miller
in a storage shed behind a house next to the church.
Wiley said his team began negotiating with Miller to
come out. During this time, Wiley said, Miller "kept threatening to
kill himself or somebody else. He continually pointed the gun at his
head, his stomach and his chest. He was ranting and raving. He said
voices were telling him what to do, to kill himself or someone else.
"This contributed to a decision to bring it to a
close before someone else was killed," Wiley said.
Commanders on the scene arrived at a plan in which a
sharpshooter from the Office armed with a shotgun would shoot the pistol
out of Miller's hand.
According to the plan, immediately upon hearing the
shot, three deputies from the Crisis Response Team were to rush into the
shed and subdue Miller, Wiley said.
The sharpshooter fired through a hole in the wall of
the shed, knocking the gun from Miller's hand, the sheriff said. The
lead man on the team, carrying a 25-pound shield and a .45-caliber
pistol, burst into the darkened building, which was cluttered with
mattresses, tire rims and clothes.
Wiley said the lead man tripped, and as he stumbled
forward, his pistol accidentally fired. The sheriff said no one knew
where the bullet struck until medical authorities at Riverview Medical
Center reported that Miller had a .45-caliber slug lodged in his lower
And so that ends our story. I do have one question for
you all now - Do you really believe that the officer "tripped"?
It sounds like a great big load of crap to me. Either way, the police
got what they wanted - Shon Miller is now crippled, unable to move his
lower body. Some people may call this justice, but I must ask you do you
really want the cops dishing out justice to whoever and however they
May 18, 1999
Wheelchair-bound church rampager Shon Miller pleaded not guilty to
killing his mother-in-law at her home, and his wife, Carla, two- year-old
son, Shon Junior, and Vanario Jackson as they sat in the church's Bible
study. Miller was left paralyzed when police surrounded him in a shed
after the shootings and one officer tripped and his gun accidentally
Court reverses convictions in
June 30, 2007
The Louisiana Supreme Court on Friday
reversed the 4 1st-degree murder convictions and death sentence of Shon
Miller Sr. for shooting and killing his 2-year-old son, wife, mother-in-law
and a church deacon in March 1999.
The state's high court held that District Judge Alvin
Turner's pre-trial rulings prevented Miller from exercising his right to
plead not guilty by reason of insanity, resulting in a "constitutionally
flawed jury trial," the ruling said.
Miller, who is on death row at the Louisiana State
Penitentiary at Angola, was convicted of shooting and killing his mother-in-law,
Mildred Vessel, in her van outside of her Gonzales home on Coon Trap
Road. Then he shot and killed his wife, Carla Vessel Miller, 25; his
son, Shon Miller Jr., 2; and church deacon Vaniaro Jackson, 19, during
an evening church service at the New St. John Fellowship Church in
According to evidence in Miller's 23rd Judicial
District Court trial, after he shot and killed his mother-in-law, Miller
went to his family's church, burst inside and started shooting into the
ceiling with a 9 mm pistol.
Following that, witnesses said Miller's young son
looked at his father, smiled and yelled, "Daddy."
Miller then said, "Son, don't call me daddy now," and
shot his son twice in the face.
Assistant District Attorney Robin O'Bannon, who
prosecuted the case at trial, said Friday afternoon that District
Attorney Tony Falterman would prepare a motion for a new trial as soon
as possible in hopes of retrying the case in November.
O'Bannon also said Miller would not be released from
state custody as a result of the Supreme Court decision, but would
remain at Angola or be transferred to Ascension Parish Prison at
Donaldsonville to await his new trial.
She also said because Miller still faces prosecution
for a crime that carries the death penalty, no bond would be set for him
before his new trial.
Falterman said late Friday that there is no question
Miller shot and killed the victims.
"We had witnesses. The question now is whether he (Miller)
is able to proceed. It's a sanity question and we plan on going forward,"
Attorney Raymond Gautreau, who defended Miller during
his June 2000 murder trial, said Friday afternoon that he had hoped his
clients case would be reversed at some point.
"It was a tough case to defend. The guy had some
mental problems," Gautreau said.
Before Miller's trial, his defense attorneys tried to
switch his not guilty plea to a not guilty by reason of insanity plea.
During sanity motions before the trial, defense
attorneys put on witnesses who testified that Miller received
psychiatric treatment as a child and that Miller's adoptive mother said
Miller tried to kill himself 3 times.
Medical records showed that when Miller was 9 years
of age, he was diagnosed with separation anxiety disorder, sleep terror
disorder and exhibited strange physical behavior such as rolling his
eyes, grunting, and running into walls, according to the ruling.
The defense's appeal stated that Turner's refusal to
switch Miller's plea deprived the defendant of due process of the law.
The conclusion of the high court's ruling states, "Defendant's
presentation to the trial court included evidence of almost lifelong
mental problems for which defendant received intermittent treatment from
the age of 9."
Following the shootings in the church, according to
the court's ruling, Ascension Parish Sheriff's Office deputies chased
Miller, who later hid from them in a shed.
One deputy, while trying to apprehend Miller, tripped
on some debris and accidentally caused his gun to fire. Miller, hit in
the back by the stray bullet, remains paralyzed from the waist down.
When Turner sentenced Miller to death in 2000, the
judge called the March 10, 1999, shooting rampage "one of the most
notorious cases in Louisiana history."
Shon Miller pleads guilty
By John A. Colvin - 2theadvocate.com
Jun 6, 2008
Shon Miller, whose four first-degree murder
convictions and a death sentence were thrown out by the Louisiana
Supreme Court in 2007, pleaded guilty today to all the killings.
He will spend the rest of his life in prison, a 23rd
Judicial District prosecutor said this afternoon at a news conference.
First Assistant District Attorney Ricky Babin said
Miller’s plea was accepted because of an “irreversible medical condition
that gives Miller less than year to live.”
Babin said Miller, who uses a wheelchair because he
is paralyzed from a gunshot wound inflicted at the time of his arrest,
also is afflicted with osteomyelitis of his pelvis.
Miller was convicted in 2000 of shooting his mother-in-law
to death in front of her home, and then going to a church where he shot
and killed his wife, 2-year-old son and a church deacon.
He killed the three during a March 1999 service at
the New St. John Fellowship Church in Gonzales.
Miller’s four convictions and death sentence were
reversed and ordered for retrial by the Louisiana Supreme Court after
the justices found that state District Judge Alvin Turner’s pre-trial
rulings prevented Miller from exercising his right to plead not guilty
by reason of insanity.
Miller wanted to change his plea just before his
trial from not guilty to not guilty by reason of insanity and the state
Supreme Court ruled that Turner’s refusal to allow the change resulted
in a “constitutionally flawed jury trial.”
After spending eight years on death row at Louisiana
State Penitentiary at Angola, Miller’s retrial hearings began in late
2007 and his new trial date was set for Aug. 4 of this year.