LEWISBURG — A daylong preliminary hearing for Myrle E. Miller, accused of killing her 77-year-old husband in 2018, ended Monday with a continuance when a prosecution witness was unavailable to testify.
Dr. Kevin Whaley, a forensic pathologist who conducted an expert review of the autopsy of Miller's alleged victim, John W. Nichols, would have been the day's 14th witness.
Union County District Attorney Pete Johnson told Magisterial District Judge Jeffrey Mensch about 3:45 p.m. that Whaley was no longer available. He had been free to testify prior to a lunchtime break, Johnson said.
Chief Public Defender Brian Ulmer opposed Johnson's request to submit Whaley's testimony from a grand jury hearing as an alternative to in-person testimony. Union County Coroner Dominick Adamo used Whaley's autopsy review in ruling Nichols' death a homicide by acute verapamil toxicity.
State police accuse Miller, 76, of Winfield, of feeding Nichols a calculated amount of verapamil from her own prescription, causing his heart to fail on April 14, 2018. Nichols died at in the home the couple shared on Lamey Road in Millmont, Union County.
The medication is used to treat high blood pressure but adversely affected Nichols' cardiovascular disease, with Whaley testifying that the medication "is lethal to have any on board" for his condition, according to the 49-page grand jury report.
State troopers arrested Miller on May 27. She's charged with homicide and related counts of fraud, theft, forgery, perjury dealing in proceeds of unlawful dealings. She's held without bail. Though she was on her feet following an arraignment nearly three months ago, Miller was pushed into the courtroom Monday in a wheelchair.
The hearing was held at the Union County Courthouse to accommodate a larger crowd rather than in Mensch's district courtroom in Mifflinburg. The hearing is to be rescheduled and likely held online via Zoom, Mensch said.
About 20 relatives of the defendant and the victim attended Monday in addition to multiple witnesses, attorneys and courthouse staff. The relatives were split on either side of the courtroom.
A preliminary hearing is held for prosecutors to prove enough evidence exists to move a criminal case toward trial.
Johnson and Deputy Attorney General Jennifer Buck, appointed by Johnson as an assistant district attorney for the case, used witness testimony and evidence like insurance and banking records to establish Miller's alleged motive of greed and online romance. Some of the evidence included Miller's 911 call the night Nichols died along with three recorded conversations with Nichols' life insurance agency.
Investigators accuse Miller of fraudulently draining at least $87,000 from Nichols' bank accounts, opening two loans against his life insurance without his consent before he died, all while allegedly professing her love to other men online from questionable social media accounts that may have been fraudulent.
"She asked if I would pretend to be John (Nichols)," Lou Geiger, a former friend of Miller and Nichols, testified. Geiger confessed to impersonating Nichols on two of the insurance calls and said he testified to avoid prosecution.
"Whose voice is that," Johnson asked.
"That's my voice," Geiger said.
Cody Detwiler, a forensic document specialist, testified that Nichols' signatures on checks and documents related to two loans against his life insurance policies were fraudulent.
"They're definitively not genuine," Detwiler told the court.
Steve Collins, an independent forensic auditor and former FBI special agent, detailed loans and loan attempts from three outstanding policies on which Nichols' late first wife was the original benefactor before Miller was added. Miller herself has remarried after Nichols' death.
He gave a timeline of how multiple accounts were drained of tens of thousands of dollars in less than three years.
Another onetime friend of Miller's, Donna Wolfe, told the court she cashed checks written to her by Miller. She'd give most of the money back to Miller and was allowed to keep some herself, she said. Prosecutors documented at least eight such exchanges with checks exceeding $4,600 in total.
Lori Heddings, Nichols' daughter, testified that when she arrived at her father's home the night he died, Miller stopped her outside a bedroom to say she planned to have Nichols cremated.
Heddings said she pointed to a room inside which her father lay unconscious but had not yet been declared dead.
"They're still working on him," Heddings recalled telling Miller.
According to Heddings, Nichols worked with his daughter to choose a headstone for his late first wife, who died in 2000. His name was added to it, along with a union carpenter logo, which she said was evidence that he intended to be buried next to her.
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