Murder trial jury hears accused’s video statements
LISBON -Videos of three statements taken from Christopher Miller regarding his knowledge of the death of Matthew Bailey were played for the jury on Saturday on the fourth day of testimony.
Miller, 36, U.S. Route 62, Salem, is charged in Columbiana County Common Pleas Court with aggravated murder, murder and tampering with evidence in the bludgeoning death of Bailey last October. Bailey’s body was found in a cornfield near an oil well off an access road off Hartley Road in Butler Township on Saturday, Oct. 26.
Miller was taken into custody on an unrelated warrant for failure to appear, but Detective Sgt. Jeff Haugh testified in conjunction with the videos Miller was already a suspect in the murder by Saturday night. Haugh, who led the investigation, testified about evidence collected from Miller’s home, Lot 215 in the Butler Mobile Park on that Saturday night. Detectives collected a long-sleeve shirt with blood on it found in the bedroom, other various clothes with stains from the washer and dryer, two cell phones from Miller’s pockets and the black Ford Escape owned by Miller’s girlfriend, Patti Colon.
At one point during the evening, Haugh said it started to rain and sleet, so to protect the evidence on the outside of the Escape detectives took a recently opened blue tarp and placed it over the top. By the time the SUV was transported to the garage at the sheriff’s department on a flatbed truck, the weather had improved.
One of the cell phones in Miller’s pocket was also found to have “selfie” style photos of Matthew Bailey and his tattoos. Haugh said that was the phone which did not have a compatible SD card inside, which meant the card had once been inside another phone with Android features. Haugh additionally testified some of the text messages believed sent from Miller to Colon after 9:40 a.m. came from Bailey’s last known cell number.
Jurors saw the first video before lunch, a statement Miller had asked to give detectives on Oct. 27. Miller again requested detectives so he could speak on Oct. 28. Finally, he agreed to meet with Haugh again on Feb. 4. In each of the statements, he gave a different story.
On Oct. 27, Miller said he and Bailey were in the Escape the morning of Oct. 26 and met up with a girl Bailey was “madly” in love with while at the Suburban Market in Salem. She got in. They were doing drugs and Miller drove them to the oil well access road. Bailey and the girl were in the Escape and Miller was outside trying to get a WiFi signal so he could send Colon a text message. A “dude” in a white pickup pulled up, the girl ran past him and Miller was struck from behind.
When he awoke he found Bailey “gurgling.” He then cleaned up some blood he found on the seat and the vehicle, picked up Colon and went about the day’s plans.
Detectives interviewing Miller had questioned his story, asking for descriptions of the girl and the dude and telling Miller they did not believe that was how it happened.
The next day, Miller changed his story, telling detectives he and Bailey met the girl and she drove out to near Georgetown Road before leaving her car behind. The three of them were met on Hartley Road by the dude in the white pickup and he got inside the Escape. The dude and Bailey seemed to be trading illegal drugs and boxes of Sudafed-type drugs used to manufacture methamphetamine. An argument started and then a scuffle began in the Escape. Miller attempted to get out, but was struck in the head. When he came to, he told detectives, he saw the girl and dude outside the vehicle and one questioned “now what are we going to do with him.”
Sensing he was in danger, Miller took off in the Escape. However, he circled around the roads in the area and seeing the white pickup was gone, went back the access road to find Bailey dead.
During the second statement Miller questioned detectives about what he was hearing from others, how some people seemed to know things about the investigation and how deputies were following up asking questions. Miller also said Bailey seemed antsy during the morning he died, believing someone was talking to someone.
Detectives questioned Miller about how when his buddy Bailey was beaten to death, Miller did not call police, used a bleach automotive whitewall cleanser to clean the vehicle and was able to go about his day.
“I wanted to stay out of it,” Miller responded in the interview. “I got into it without even trying to step in it. Honestly, I just wanted it to (expletive) go away dude because I got enough (expletive) problems.”
Haugh testified detectives attempted to find both the girl Miller described with long dark hair named either Michelle or Melissa and the dude with the goatee, bald and with a Arian Brotherhood type tattoo. However, neither seemed to exist.
Detectives also questioned Miller about John Stoffer’s wallet being found in Miller’s trailer and a stolen laptop Miller reportedly pawned at a Cashland in Alliance. Additionally, they told him they had video surveillance from Walmart showing how on Friday, the day before Bailey died, Miller had placed his own shoes into a box in the store and walked out wearing new boots.
During the third interview on Feb. 4, Miller told yet another story to detectives. This time Bailey dropped Miller at Barnett’s Motel and went to the oil well access road in Colon’s Escape himself for some type of drug deal. After about 40 minutes, Miller became antsy and started walking in the direction of Hartley Road. He caught a ride with a man driving a white pickup, who dropped him off at the end of the access road. That is when he saw Bailey dead and the Escape sitting there with the passenger door open and blood on it. He cleaned the vehicle and left.
During this interview detectives asked Miller about whether he was collecting debts for Pete, a known drug dealer from Youngstown. Miller denied the accusation.
“I do my own shenanigans,” Miller said.
He also seemed surprised when detectives told him they had learned Bailey owed Pete $2,000.