GREENFIELD — Ronnie Westbrook had a hard time remembering what happened the night Katrina Miller was shot to death — or so it seemed when he took the witness stand Wednesday in the murder trial of his former girlfriend and co-defendant.
Westbrook, one of three people charged in the slaying, testified last year during the trial of accused shooter Joe Meyers that Amanda Gonzales — now on trial for murder — had planned to execute Miller but backed out at the last moment, leaving Meyers to pull the trigger. Wednesday, despite prosecutors’ attempts to have Westbrook repeat that story, the witness fumbled his way through his testimony.
Gonzales, 28, of Indianapolis, is charged with murder, kidnapping and conspiracy to commit murder. Police believe Gonzales helped plan Miller’s death out of jealousy, and her case is being heard this week in Hancock County Superior Court 1.
Westbrook, who is now serving six years after pleading guilty to assisting a criminal, took the stand late Wednesday afternoon. He told the jury he and Miller got into a car willingly with Gonzales and Meyers on the morning police believe Miller was killed.
Westbrook said he was under the impression the group was going to drop Miller off near the intersection of 38th Street and Mitthoeffer Road in Indianapolis, where Miller had arranged for another friend to pick her up. But Meyers drove away from that area and instead took the group to a cornfield just inside Hancock County — where Miller’s body was found days later, Westbrook said.
Meyers demanded everyone get out of the car, Westbrook said, and the women obeyed. Westbrook said he climbed into the driver’s seat, yelled at Gonzales, his girlfriend, to get back into the car, and the pair took off again, leaving Meyers and Miller behind.
Meyers had made him nervous, Westbrook said. There had been no conversation in the car leading up to their arriving in the cornfield, but something about Meyers’ actions concerned him, Westbrook said.
“I knew something was going on,” he said. “I knew Joe’s reputation, and I wanted to separate myself from that. It’s like if a guy starts shooting in a movie theater, and you’re there with your friends; it doesn’t matter how much you love your friends, you’re going to take care of yourself first.”
Westbrook, who was on parole at the time of Miller’s death and was wearing a GPS bracelet that tracked his movements, said he eventually got out of the car and told Gonzales he would wait, and she should return to the cornfield to pick up the others.
Prosecutors and Gonzales’ defense attorneys questioned Westbrook repeatedly Wednesday about the timeline of the events. When asked by Bob Beymer of Portland, the head of Gonzales’ legal team, why Westbrook called for Gonzales to get back in the car, Westbrook repeated he was worried about himself and later said he also feared for Gonzales.
But Deputy Prosecutor John Keiffner took issue with his testimony.
“Ronnie, you left the cornfield with who?” Keiffner asked.
“Amanda,” Westbrook responded.
“And you were so concerned about her safety and well-being (at the scene) that you asked her to do what?” Keiffner continued.
“I told her to go back and get Joe,” Westbrook said.
Meyers represented himself in a two-week trial late last year. He was convicted of murder and is serving a 75-year sentence.
Wednesday, prosecutors spent much of the day providing the jury with witnesses who testified about Miller’s injuries and gave insight on evidence collected at the scene. This built up to testimony from a former inmate at the Hancock County Jail, who said Gonzales told her where the gun used to kill Miller was located.
Miranda Moore told jurors she spoke with Gonzales several times because their cells were right next to each other. Moore said Gonzales told her Meyers became enraged because some of his drugs went missing, and he warned the women something bad would happen if the drugs weren’t found.
Westbrook denied drugs were involved.
Jurors also heard from two medical experts who were entrusted with examining Miller’s body and determining what caused her death.
Dr. Thomas Sozio is the forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy of Miller’s body on July 24, 2014, a day after her remains were found.
Sozio testified he recovered a bullet from Miller’s skull. Multiple fractures in the bone told him the bullet had entered the skull from the back of the head, just above the neck, and traveled inward toward Miller’s face. He also found blunt-force trauma to Miller’s left cheekbone and bruising on her legs, which he said she would have suffered around the time of her death.
The trial, which is open to the public, resumes at 8:30 a.m. today.