Spc. Ivette Davila researched the effects of muriatic acid online. She asked her roommate to babysit the baby of the people she planned to kill. She went out the night of the killing to set up an alibi, and then planted a silenced pistol at the Parkland home of Staff Sgt. Timothy and Sgt. Randi Miller.
The Fort Lewis soldier then met the Millers at a downtown Tacoma bar, drank with them and returned to their house, where she killed both of them and kidnapped their 7-month-old daughter, Kassidy.
That’s the scenario that led to the deaths of the Millers on March 2, 2008, prosecutors said Monday on the first day of Davila’s Article 32 hearing.
“This wasn’t a crime of passion,” government attorney Capt. Dan Bentson said in his opening statement. “This was a cold, calculated crime.”
The defense, meanwhile, conceded many facts of the case but said the 23-year-old California native hasn’t been given the proper opportunity to mount a defense.
“The defense has never denied what happened that night,” attorney Maj. Carol Brewer said. “But because of many intervening causes, we’ve been unable to get to the real question, which is why.”
Criminal investigators, the medical examiner who performed the autopsies, coworkers, fellow soldiers and Davila’s former cellmate testified at the long-awaited hearing, the military equivalent of a grand-jury investigation.
Davila, a chemical operations specialist, faces two counts of premeditated murder, one count of burglary, one count of kidnapping and one count of obstruction of justice.
The mandatory minimum sentence for premeditated murder is life in prison, though the military could seek the death penalty. Davila also faces reduction in rank to private, forfeiture of all pay and allowances and a dishonorable discharge.
The hearing is expected to conclude Tuesday. The investigating officer, Lt. Col. Andrew Efaw, will weigh the testimony and evidence and recommend what charges should be referred to a general court-martial.
Brig. Gen. Jeff Mathis, the acting post commander, will review the recommendations and have the final say on the charges and whether to pursue the death penalty.
Relatives of the Millers’ were present at Monday’s hearing in the on-post courtroom. Davila remained in leg shackles during the proceeding and was placed in handcuffs when outside of the courtroom.
The government argued Davila planned on the killing the Millers and kidnapping their daughter days in advance.
Davila had access to Hernandez-Quintero’s laptop, which someone used to access online searches on the effect of muriatic acid, a military investigator testified. The defendant owned a .40-caliber Glock pistol with a silencer, Special Agent Randy Mullins testified.
The soldier’s former roommate, Spc. Laura Hernandez-Quintero, said Davila asked her two days before the incident if she was available to watch the Millers’ daughter on the morning of March 2. They needed a babysitter, Davila told her, and she knew Hernandez-Quintero loved children.
The defendant met with friends and shared a few drinks at the Emerald Queen Casino in Tacoma the evening of March 1. She went there for the purpose of creating an alibi, government lawyers said.
She left after several hours and hailed a cab, which first took her to her barracks room. She picked up a bag containing the pistol and told the driver she needed to drop some laundry at a friend’s house in Parkland, taxi driver Mansoor Ahmad said. Ahmad drove Davila to the Millers’ home, where she dropped off the bag, and then to Club Silverstone in Tacoma.
Government lawyers said Davila met the Millers at the club and returned to their house with them. Later that morning, she entered the Millers’ bedroom and shot Randi Miller twice in the head. Miller was still alive, so Davila beat her to death.
She walked into the bathroom, where Timothy Miller was showering. She shot him four times, and then walked closer and shot him twice at point-blank range.
Davila traveled to a nearby Lowe’s, where she purchased muriatic acid and a respirator. She dragged Randi Miller’s body into the bathroom and tried to burn them with acid, said Jennifer Bailey, who said Davila detailed her crime when the two shared a holding cell at Pierce County Jail. Davila also disposed of the blood-soaked towels and bedding, tried to clean the wall, fed the Millers’ cat and changed the bedsheets.
The Millers’ baby sitter, Connie Puentes, received text messages from Randi Miller’s phone apologizing for not calling earlier that morning. Another message said a friend would pick up Kassidy.
Puentes she received a call from a woman – whom she later identified as Davila – asking for directions so she could pick up the baby.
Hernandez-Quintero earlier backed out of her offer to babysit the child, so Davila planned on anonymously dropping Kassidy off at an orphanage, prosecutors say. But she first brought the child to the barracks.
Sgt. Aaron Nelson, who served in the same unit as Davila at the time, saw her trying to carry “lots of baby stuff” from her car to her room that afternoon, he testified. He offered to help and first saw Kassidy sitting in Davila’s barracks room. She explained to Nelson she was babysitting.
Davila was quiet and had a distant stare, Nelson testified, so he asked what was wrong. She didn’t want to discuss it at first but eventually confessed, he said.
“She said she hurt people bad, that she was going to hell, that she was going to jail,” said Nelson, now a reservist living in Idaho. “And then she said she shot two people and took their baby.”
Davila told him she herself a horrible person and said she thought she might have been possessed during the incident, Nelson testified. He eventually persuaded her to call police. She was arrested later that afternoon.
Brewer, in the defense’s opening statement, said Davila never had any criminal problems, no history of violence and had served honorably before the Millers’ deaths.
But Davila, who has been held at Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor since her arrest, has been denied an opportunity to travel to Fort Lewis to work on her defense and with various experts assigned to the case, Brewer said.
The defense is expected to present its case Tuesday.