Life term less likely despite slay conviction

During the murder trial of Joseph Howard Milman, the prosecution put more than a dozen witnesses on the stand, and delivered more than 500 exhibits, including dozens and dozens of photos, some seemingly irrelevant to proving the case.
The defense had an easel and a stick drawing by Milman and offered Milman as its only witness.
Both sides delivered plausible summations on Aug. 22, each making a case whether Milman did or did not murder Scott Hyatt and seriously wound Robert Mell in the commission of a robbery on Oct. 19, 2014, in Mell’s residence north of Indialantic.
The prosecution’s efforts paid off with a guilty verdict on all three counts. But not on the original charges. On Count 1, the jury convicted Milman of manslaughter with a firearm, instead of first-degree murder. On Count 2, the jury convicted him of attempted first-degree murder with possession of a firearm, instead of attempted first-degree felony murder. On the third count, the jury found Milman guilty of discharge of a firearm which caused great bodily harm or death.
Milman showed no emotion when the floor person read the verdicts. The lesser charges likely take life in prison off the table when Judge Morgan Laur Reinman sentences Milman on Oct. 26. Defense co-counsel Sam Edwards said they will appeal. Otherwise, neither side commented on the outcome. Neither did family members who attended the trial.
The defense banked its case on the lack of a credible eyewitness and the lack of DNA and fingerprint evidence linking Milman to the crime. The state trotted out witnesses who, to varying degrees, said Milman admitted to the shootings.
The crime involved the robbery of some 30 Dilaudid pills from Hyatt at gunpoint in Mell’s house at 370 E. Riviera Blvd. During the robbery, the perpetrator shot Hyatt, killing him, and shot Mell. The gun used in the crime came from then-17-year-old Justin Howard, who stole the pistol from his mother. But the shooter wore a Halloween mask so Mell’s testimony was based on voice recognition and stature.
In addition to the lack of direct evidence the defense team made much of the discrepancies, minor or otherwise, of witnesses for the prosecution. And the defense also painted a picture of the witnesses as drug-addled leading up to and during the crime.
The state portrayed Milman as not believable given the opposing testimony. A damning piece of evidence involved a call from the jail between Milman and his father, in which the defendant asked the father to contact Elvira Hull – known as Grandma – and Jeremy Morelli who would be his alibis, even though Milman all but accused Morelli of the crime during his testimony.
Neither side called Morelli as a witness. “I can’t accuse him of a crime and grant him immunity,” defense attorney Michael Pirolo said. “It’s not in my power. I cannot do that ethically.”
An angered Pirolo also said since the defense did not bring up the notion of an alibi, playing the call for the jurors amounts to a violation of due process. Judge Reinman overruled him.
During the call, Milman told his father authorities charged him with murder, attempted murder and robbery with a firearm.
“They got my DNA the other day; they had a warrant,” Milman said on the call. “Grandma is my alibi but she’s 80 and has diabetes. I do not understand this circumstantial evidence crap. Go talk to Grandma and ask her what I was doing.”
Said Pirolo in his summation, “You can find Joseph Milman guilty of being a drug user. You can find him guilty of doing stupid things in his life. But you cannot find him guilty of what he is charged with. The whole case is a magic trick.”
Pirolo said Mell could not identify Milman as the shooter on the 911 call. “Who shot you? I don’t know. What did he look like? He had a mask. I don’t know. Everything you heard was circumstantial,” he told the jury. Yet he knew the specifics of every other question.
Pirolo mentioned the testimony of Howard’s best friend, Michael Billias, who talked about Milman killing a dog. “Is it something he made up or mistaken or does this guy not have a clue what he talking about. He admitted smoking weed and getting high. He says he’s pretty sure he did not see a gun.”
Brevard County Sheriff’s Office Crime Scene Investigation took 69 swabs, none of which were sent to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement for analysis. Pirolo said the lead investigator testified the swabs would just show blood from Hyatt or Mell so it was inconsequential. Pirolo pointed out some of the swabs could have contained mixtures with saliva and sweat from the shooter.
In her rebuttal to the summation, state attorney Susan Garrett countered that Mell eventually said it was Joe from down the block. “Mell was in shock, believing he was dying, so is it any wonder he could not remember the name.”
Garrett acknowledged the details of other witnesses were not identical. “But were they consistent, yes.” She said Justin Howard made it clear. “Milman said he shot them. Because he did it.”
Milman said he didn’t have a knife. “Three people said he did.”
Justin Howard confirmed he gave him pills. Milman said he did not.
“Common sense and logic says the decision is based on the evidence before you,” Garrett said.

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