Jury deliberates for day and a half in church shooting case
The Associated Press
(Published: October 27, 2003)
A preacher was acquitted Monday of two counts of manslaughter and two counts of criminally negligent homicide in the shooting deaths of two intruders at his Big Lake Community Chapel last spring.
Jurors deliberated for a day and a half in Superior Court before acquitting the Rev. Phillip D. Mielke, 44, in the deaths of Christopher Lee Palmer, 31, of Big Lake and Francis Marion Jones IV, 23, of Wasilla.
"We're relieved," Jim Gilmore, Mielke's defense lawyer, said after the verdicts were read.
Mielke had no comment.
Palmer and Jones were burglarizing the chapel at about 5 a.m. April 24 when Mielke heard a noise over a homemade intercom system that linked the church to his home, across the road.
He got his .44-caliber Magnum revolver and went to investigate.
The three men ended up together in a small, dark arctic entry.
Mielke testified that he ordered the men to stop and then fired when they kept coming.
He told investigating troopers that he saw one of the intruders get up and run toward a parked, idling car outside the church.
Palmer was found dead on a road near the church. He had been shot once in the lower back.
Several hours later, a woman called 911 to report that Jones had been shot and was at her house. When investigators arrived, they found him dead with a gunshot wound to the back and the left ankle.
In closing arguments last Thursday, Gilmore characterized Mielke as a mild-mannered man who carried a gun for self-defense. The preacher used it in a "totally unexpected, out-of-control" situation when Palmer and Jones rushed him inside his own church, he said.
"It was like a bear charging," Gilmore said. "The critical feature of this event (is) it happened in a matter of seconds ... and it happened in the dark. ... His fear that caused him to pull the trigger was reasonable under the circumstances."
If Mielke was acting in self-defense, why did he empty his gun out a window as the mortally wounded Jones fled toward his car, Collins asked in closing arguments.
"Once he started shooting, he couldn't stop shooting," Collins said. "This is the act of someone who isn't going to let them get away."
The burglars were stealing donated food the church planned to give away, Collins said.
"You don't take a gun to protect some old doughnuts," he said. "Those are not the actions of a reasonable person."