The murder of police officer Jonathan Wayne Irby

Jonathan Wayne Irby was an officer with the Little Elm Police Department. Always serving with a smile and a passion for law enforcement, Officer Irby joined the department in September 1998. As a patrol officer in traffic law enforcement, he always had his police car in a perfectly spotless condition, with himself reporting to duty only in clean pressed uniform. It was no wonder that Irby was presented with a plaque in 2004 for his duty consciousness (Town of Little Elm, 2010). He was also a finalist for the Little Elm Chamber of Commerce Police award. Unfortunately things didnt go well for long with Irby. Irby failed to report for duty on the December 10th 2004 at 6 am, which was something abnormal. Irby had not reported for duty nor called the department. Department staff unsuccessfully tried to contact him on his cell phone, then left searching for his him. Sometime later, the officer was found dead with a gunshot to his head, inside a rent house he was scheduled to move in.

The first killing of a police officer in Little Elm, sent shock waves among the people. Several hundred residents attended the memorial service held on the following day. Irby had been living with his girlfriend Denise Miller and her two teen-aged children.  Unhappy with the relationship, he was planning to leave her and move out, from her home in Elk Horn. He had therefore also arranged a rented house for himself. Miller was not happy with Irby moving out of her life. With all evidence pointing out at his estranged Miller, the case took a turn when Miller was found in a critical condition in a Gainesville hotel room. The manager of a hotel in Gainesville reported to the police that someone had fallen in one of the rooms and had called the front desk for help. But when they went to help, they found the door locked. After getting the door open, they found Miller lying on the floor with blood everywhere, and a written note and a gun close by. Police officers arrived at the hotel with an ambulance following them shortly. They realized that Miller had a gunshot wound on her head, resulting from a suicide attempt. A handwritten note claiming to have killed Officer Irby, sleeping pills and empty liquor bottles were also found. There was blood around her lips, and one of her eyes was swollen and shut, like it was bulging out. She was rushed to the Parkland hospital in Dallas. She survived although it resulted in her being paralyzed at the left side and confined to a wheel chair. The attempt also caused injuries resulting in impaired vision in one eye. She was however charged with the murder of Officer Irby, and was in jail for eighteen months prior to her trial.

In July 2006, the case came up before the 16th District Court in Denton. Miller pleaded not guilty. Friends and workers of Irby testified that Irby was in the process of moving out of a house in Elk Horn, where he lived with Miller and her two teenaged children. Millers attorneys sought parole and requested the jurors to determine if her actions were deliberate. Employees of the police department at Little Elm were also required to testify. Texas Ranger Murphree testified that a note admitting to the murder was found at Millers house and another at the hotel room where she attempted her suicide. Murphree added that the gun she had in the hotel room was a .25 caliber pistol, which investigators had concluded as being the one used to kill Officer Irby (Monk, 2006). The ammunition recovered from her house was also of the same type that killed that killed Irby. Defense attorney Denver McCarthy held that harsh punishment can in no way establish a balance, and added that the defense was scared for the jurors might conclude that since there is a murder, someone has to be held accountable and pay for it.

Holding back their tears, police officer Jerry Walker recalled the day when he and Officer James Wyn searched Irbys home. Apart from Irbys personal items, the officers also found a note that read,  I did it, I took our lives   signed by the name of Miller. Wyn walked through the house and when he spotted Irbys body, he asked Walker to stay still. Walker testified that he realized that Wyn was trying to protect him from the horrible sight, he had just witnessed. Prosecutor Paige McCormick opined that Miller had followed the traditional sly tactic that If it cant be mine, it shouldnt be for anyone. This was the motive behind the murder. Maintaining that Miller did not act in a preplanned manner, McCarthy noted that no one has said that If I cant have him, no one can. The prosecutor then stated that Irby had already indicated that he was leaving the relationship but had agreed to give a chance. He gave another chance for things to improve and set a deadline of 17th December 2004. But with things getting too bad, he called it a day. The prosecution held the shooting as a crime and not an accident. Irbys mother Erma Hayes was crying throughout the deliberations. When she had to testify, she said that she couldnt get sleep she could always see his face and waited for him to call her. A few jurors were moved by this and wiped away their tears.  

The defense did not call for any witnesses and during the closing arguments, pointed out to a note found in the hotel room, whose handwriting was confirmed to be that of Miller. The note mentioned, I shot him accidentally, freaked out and ran. McCarthy hinted that the unused bullets found at Irbys rental home were removed from the gun by Irby. Miller could never know there were bullets still inside (Formby, 2006). The defense also questioned the need to unload the gun after committing a murder.  While the handwriting expert linked all the three letters to Miller, the defense attorney didnt deny her writing them. After two days of testimony, Miller was pronounced guilty and sentenced to 62 years in prison, being eligible for parole in 31 years. Erma Hayes sat with eyes closed and head bowed, when the verdict was announced.

Miller appealed the verdict on three grounds namely that the trail court had erred in denying her motion to suppress the statements retrieved from her house after accessing them without a warrant, including the testimony of four witnesses and failure to identify the charges with that of lesser offenses (Court of Appeals, 2010). Miller in her appeal had sought rejection of the hand written note recovered during initial search of her Elk Horn home. In this note she wanted to be apologized for the decisions she took, both good and bad. She also admitted that she was tired of hurting others and allowing others to hurt her. However the prosecution had not emphasized on the note. Although there were two other notes, Miller did not contest the inclusion of the other two. The jury heard all the three notes read out aloud and concluded based on its harm analysis that it does not believe the first note to have been instrumental for the trial court in getting Millers conviction. It overruled her first point. In her second objection of the trial court order, Miller stated that the testimony of the four witnesses namely Officer Wynn, Officer Walker, Irbys landlord Francis Gabriel and Cynthia Medrano on her relationship with Irby were based on the statements Irby had made to them. She contended that it breached her Sixth Amendment Rights when these are used against her. The court responded by saying that the testimony of these witnesses was legal testimonial material provided to police interrogators. The statements were made by Irby about a month before his death, when no ordinary person in Irbys position could have reasonably anticipated its later use in the court. The court also noted that Miller did not indicate how these statements breached her rights. The court again noted that any error by the trial court in admitting the four witnesses did not have any notable effect on the verdict. Hence Millers second appeal was turned down.

In her third point Miller raised the fact that the trial court failed to include the lesser offenses of manslaughter in the charges. She added that one of her notes suggested that the shooting was accidental and that the medical examiner too had testified that the possibility of negligence causing the death could not be ruled out. She therefore was entitled to charges of only lesser offenses of manslaughter. The court noted that Miller indeed qualified for causing negligent homicide since it only required an appropriate mental state. However subsequent rational consideration is required to determine the nature of the homicide. The evidence of medical examiners testimony and her handwritten note on which she relied are not proof enough for requiring lesser offenses. The court turned down her third point too, thus affirming the trial courts verdict.

Jonathan Wayne Irby will always be remembered for his passion and service to law enforcement. Little Elm Town planted a tree outside the Town Hall in memory of the police officer. A marker beside the tree read  No One Shall Assail ME with Impunity.


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