GREENFIELD — Amanda Gonzales killed Katrina Miller.
Whether she pulled the trigger, handed over the gun or simply helped plot Miller’s demise, the Indianapolis woman is guilty of murder and conspiracy to commit murder, a jury of 12 Hancock County residents decided Monday after a five-day trial.
As Hancock County Superior Court 1 Judge Terry Snow read aloud the verdict, Linda Smythe, Miller’s mother, let out a sigh of relief.
Finally — a year after her daughter was found shot to death in a cornfield on the county’s west side — Smythe had an answer.
“Oh, thank you, Jesus,” she whispered.
Investigators said Gonzales planned Miller’s killing because she was jealous — witnesses said Gonzales caught Miller alone in a hotel room with Gonzales’ boyfriend.
It’s a notion Deputy Prosecutor John Keiffner summed up in his closing arguments Monday with an old cliché: “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.”
An act of revenge
Gonzales is the last of three people brought to justice in Miller’s death. Accused shooter Joe Meyers was convicted of murder and kidnapping at a trial late last year and is serving a 75-year sentence. Ronnie Westbrook, Gonzales’ former boyfriend, was sentenced to serve six years in prison after he pleaded guilty to assisting a criminal, a Level 5 felony.
On Monday, prosecutors went over the timeline of events they’d spent five days constructing, telling jurors about Gonzales’ actions before, during and after the murder, hoping to convince them the defendant plotted Miller’s shooting out of jealousy and a desperate attempt win back her former boyfriend.
Westbrook had replaced Gonzales with Miller, Keiffner argued.
Security camera footage from the east Indianapolis hotel where Gonzales, Meyers, Westbrook and Miller were living at the time of the murder shows Gonzales repeatedly crossing the parking lot, visiting rooms of her co-defendants. It’s during these visits Gonzales and Meyers hatched the plan to kill Miller, prosecutors said.
Gonzales drove with the others — Westbrook, Meyers and Miller — to a field on the west side of Hancock County near county roads 800W and 350N.
Witnesses said Miller got in the car only because she believed she was being dropped off elsewhere so a friend could pick her up.
Gonzales dropped Westbrook off a few blocks from the the field — because he was on parole, and a GPS bracelet tracked his movements — but left Meyers behind with Miller, prosecutors said.
Meyers likely beat Miller, prosecutors theorized, until Gonzales returned. Who pulled the trigger that finished the job is anyone’s guess, police say, but when Gonzales and Meyers returned to pick up Westbrook, Miller wasn’t with them.
She lay in a cornfield, dead of a single gunshot to the back of the head.
After being arrested and charged with the crime, Gonzales said things only someone involved in the crime would know, such as where Miller was shot and where the gun used in the murder had been stashed, prosecutors said.
And she made it clear she wasn’t mourning the woman’s death when she talked about Miller to at least one of her fellow inmates at the Hancock County Jail, Miranda Moore, who testified for the state last week.
“She told Miranda Moore, ‘I hate that bitch,’” Eaton said emphatically to the jurors, pointing at Gonzales as he spoke. “Those were her words.”
Eaton told the jurors if they looked at the evidence with those comments in mind, they’d see Gonzales was guilty.
And the jury agreed.
The hardest news
Smythe learned about her daughter’s murder during an evening news report more than a year ago. At the time, the story was developing: a woman’s body had been found in a cornfield just inside Hancock County, east of Indianapolis.
Police believed she’d been there for days.
Smythe remembers thinking what a horrible thing that would be for a family to go through.
It was around 4 a.m. the next day when the knock came at the door. It was a police officer, and he had terrible news.
Since then, so many things have changed, she said.
Miller’s daughter, Annabella, is a year older, about to begin preschool and excited to start taking gymnastics lessons. She still talks about Mommy.
Miller’s sister is preparing to adopt her niece.
Even the field where Miller’s body was found shows the passage of the last year. It’s filled with soybeans now, rather than cornstalks.
Family members go there often looking for peace, and they’ve put together a little memorial near where police found Miller’s body. It features plaques with pictures of angels and messages of hope, even happiness. There are several crosses, one of which turned up somewhat unexpectedly, they believe from the farmer who owns the land.
Solar-powered lights create a faint glow at dusk, a feature the family added because Miller hated the dark.
A senseless loss
If Miller had been shot on the other side of the road, in Marion County, her family might have never learned what happened to her, said Amanda Smythe, Miller’s sister-in-law.
While Marion County has had 76 murders just this year, such crimes are rare in Hancock County; family members believe Miller’s death got investigators’ full attention as a result.
“I’m thankful for that,” Amanda Smythe said. “This way, we got answers.”
Bringing some comfort to the family was a goal for prosecutors, Eaton said. He and his deputies spent hours preparing to bring those involved with Miller’s death to justice, he said.
Even as other cases demanded attention, the murder case was always looming.
“When you have a case like this, it’s never too far from you,” Eaton said. “And when you have a result like this, it’s a team effort.”
Bob Beymer of Portland, Gonzales’ defense attorney, had argued his client was just as much a victim as Miller, saying Gonzales feared for her own life the morning Miller was killed.
From the start of the proceedings, Gonzales’ defense has been that she was afraid of Meyer and Westbrook and only joined them in the car because she felt forced.
Keiffner asked Meyers, who took the stand Monday, if he and Gonzales were friendly.
Meyers said they were.
“So, when Amanda tells police she had no reason to fear you, that’s a true statement?” Keiffner asked.
“I would hope so,” Meyers answered.
Meyers told jurors neither he nor Gonzales was involved in the murder and disputed evidence used against them.
Meyers testified the two women — whom investigators identified as Gonzales and Miller — seen in security videos climbing into his SUV in the parking lot of the Always Inn were friends of Westbrook’s, women he didn’t know.
Meyers said that he and Westbrook dropped the two women off in a rural area and while returning to the hotel saw Gonzales walking along the street. She climbed into the car and came back to hotel with them, he said.
Throughout the trial, prosecutors and the defense agreed on one thing: No matter who was responsible, Miller’s death was a tragedy.
“Katrina Miller didn’t deserve to be beaten and killed in that cornfield,” Keiffner said. “Her child doesn’t deserve to grow up without a mother, and her mother should not have had to bury her.”
For Smythe, the wait before her family finds peace will go on a little longer; on Sept. 2, Gonzales will return for sentencing. She faces up to 130 years behind bars.
At the sentencing hearing, Smythe will get a chance she’s been waiting for, to address the woman she believes is responsible for her daughter’s death.
“I’m Katrina’s voice because she can’t speak,” she said.