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Crime & Courts

Mica Miller Investigation: Scrutinizing The Presumption

“Down below the truth is lying … beneath the river bed.”

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On April 27, 2024 at 2:54 p.m. EST, 30-year old Mica Miller placed a call to 9-1-1 from the Lumber River State Park near Orum, North Carolina – informing the dispatcher she was about to kill herself and saying she wanted her family to be able to find her body. The moment the dispatcher answered that call, an investigation began into the circumstances surrounding her death. Led by the Robeson County Sheriff’s Office (RCSO), many are now raising questions about this inquiry.

Mica Miller’s story has captured the attention of the entire world. National media outlets, bloggers, video content creators, podcasters and social media sleuths are questioning and challenging every aspect of both the events leading up to her death as well as the investigation conducted in the aftermath.

What is driving this scrutiny?

Maybe it was Miller’s vivacious smile – or the haunting video she posted not long before her death giving the world a glimpse into her pain. Maybe it was multitude of red flags surrounding her husband and the bizarre manner in which he announced her death.

Whatever the reason may be, the world is watching …

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While law enforcement’s investigation into the death of Mica Miller appears to be closed – having been officially ruled a suicide – many questions continue to linger regarding the investigative report (.pdf) released on April 8, 2024 by the sheriff’s office.

Our media outlet was the first to report on this tragedy, and we have continued to dig deep into the saga as official accounts (here and here) have collided with accounts of Miller’s allegedly abusive marriage (here and here) to pastor John-Paul “JP” Miller of the Solid Rock at Market Common church in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

There have also been increasingly bold statements from Mica Miller’s family members challenging the official narrative …

While RCSO has released some information related to its investigative efforts, the official report from the Miller inquiry – along with investigatory notes – has not yet been released. In looking at what the department has made available, questions have been raised which require clarification.

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THE PRESUMPTION …

When officers arrived at the Lumber River State Park at 3:31 p.m. EST on April 27, 2024, nearly forty minutes had passed since Mica calmly told the dispatcher, “I’m about to kill myself, and I just want my family to know where to find me.”

The computer aided dispatch (CAD) report – which details the time of dispatch and arrival time for each officer – has not yet been released by Robeson County officials, but materials contained in their initial presentation would seem to indicate nine minutes elapsed before the first officer was sent to the park. Nine minutes also appears to have elapsed before park rangers were notified of the call.

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The location where Mica Miller‘s body was found in the Lumber River State Park near Orrum, N.C. (Google Maps)

When officers arrived, they located Mica’s black Honda Civic in the parking lot and found a Sig Sauer gun case in the passenger seat and a box of ammunition in the center console of the vehicle. Shortly after discovering her vehicle, a man fishing reported finding a bag with her identification inside it. He also informed the officers he heard someone crying – followed by a gunshot.

At 4:23 p.m. EST – 89 minutes after the 9-1-1 call was placed – another individual fishing in a kayak reported finding what he believed to be a body.

It was Mica Miller.

The beautiful, young pastor’s wife had sustained a single gunshot wound to her head. More than four hours later – at 7:33 p.m. EST – a gun was located in the water near her body. All signs pointed to a suicide. But was this assumption made too soon?

Statistically, the scenario officers determined was confronting them on that fateful Saturday made the most sense. According to a recent study led by researchers at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health and the Injury Prevention Research Center (IPRC), intimate partner violence is a precursor to 6.1 percent of all suicides.

Considering the content of the 9-1-1 call from Mica Miller, it’s easy to understand how investigators not trained in protocols “assumed the suicide position” very quickly.

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RELATED | UNANSWERED QUESTIONS

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According to many experts, though, such an assumption can often prove to be a critical error because in cases like Mica Miller’s, her estranged and abusive husband – who was served divorce papers less than two days before her death – was her legal heir. In other words, all decisions relating to her body, personal effects and investigatory materials would fall to the same person whose alleged abuse, stalking and isolating tactics she had been trying for months to escape.

This situation is tragically common. And the most frightening aspect of it? How difficult it can be for a family member of someone victimized by intimate partner violence – someone found deceased under suspicious circumstances – to get the only thing they want: Answers.

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STAGED SUICIDES AND MISSED INVESTIGATIVE OPPORTUNITIES

A 2019 study published in The British Journal of Criminology – ‘The Perfect Murder’: An Exploratory Study of Staged Murder Scenes and Concealed Femicide – delved into this largely unexplored topic.

According to the authors, Yifat Bitton and Hava Dayan, “the most common victim-offender relationship involving homicide scene staging is an intimate partner relationship.” They also found that “most staged homicide scenes involve the killing of an intimate partner.”

The authors further detailed several factors that should give investigators reasonable cause to consider protecting scenes and evidence during death investigations. These included a premature death in which the deceased was in apparent good health, death by suicide, evidence that one of the partners wished to terminate the relationship, prior domestic violence on the part of the deceased’s partner, the deceased being found dead in their home, and the deceased being found dead by their current or previous partner.

In these instances, the authors believed investigators should redefine suspicion to include the possibility of a staged homicide. While the death of Mica Miller did not meet all of these criteria, it met several of them – which seemingly would have been enough to initiate a thorough investigation without the presumption of death by suicide.

In a recent article in Psychology Today, Dr. Joni E. Johnston expanded on the topic after reviewing over fifty staged suicides. In her review, she found perpetrators often “set the stage” for the narrative of suicide by exaggerating a victim’s mental illness or falsely claiming they have one. She further found in many cases financial woes were the most common motive.

Before determining Mica’s death to be a suicide, it appears very few of these factors were considered by investigators. Even worse, the medical examiner released her body to her estranged husband without performing an autopsy. He promptly cremated it — destroying any possibility of a thorough investigatory inquiry.

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THE RIGHTS OF A VICTIM’S FAMILY

Less than a week before the Millers’ story made national headlines, the bizarre announcement of Mica’s death by her husband to the congregation of their church, Solid Rock at Market Common – just one day after he said he received the news – began making its way around her close circle of family and friends.

Things only became more suspicious as time went on. According to Mica’s family, in order to view her body, Miller required them to sign off on the cremation. This struck them as strange because – despite being served with separation papers less than two days prior to her death – he was still her husband.

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(Horry County)

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Feeling uneasy about JP Miller’s actions – and suspicious of the circumstances surrounding Mica’s death – members of her family quickly filed an application for her sister, Sierra Francis, to serve as a special administrator of her estate. Two affidavits were filed alongside that application detailing the alleged abuse proceeding Mica’s death – which along with the documented instances of stalking by her estranged husband should have been enough to sound alarm bells to investigators.

In many cases involving staged suicides of intimate partner violence victims, it becomes nearly impossible for the family to independently investigate. That’s because the body, personal belongings and investigatory records of the deceased are released to the victimizer. Mica’s family realized this quickly and filed a motion in court to attempt to get her belongings back from the RCSO where they still sit in limbo. This motion will be heard on June 5, 2024 in Horry County.

Far too many families find themselves in the same position as Mica Miller’s family. In Arizona, the family of Melissa Olson is still searching for answers after her death on August 25, 2023. Olson was home with her husband, Rick, cooking dinner on the grill when according to his narrative they had an argument. Melissa went inside the house at approximately 6:00 p.m. MST. According to her husband, he went inside to check on her shortly thereafter and found her deceased in their closet — dead from a gunshot wound to her neck.

Her death was ruled a suicide.

Melissa’s family pointed out what they saw as discrepancies in Rick Olson’s stories to investigators. When they finally had an opportunity to review the crime scene photos and investigative reports, they described a crime scene that made absolutely no sense – including clear evidence of defensive wounds on her hand. But at that point, Rick Olson had already elected to have Melissa’s body cremated.

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Melissa’s cell phone and personal effects had also been returned to her husband, resulting in critical evidence potentially being lost … again.

FITSNews will be doing additional reporting on Melissa Olson’s death in the days to come.

Some states already have changed – or are currently making moves to change – laws dictating the investigation of unattended deaths of domestic violence victims. In Missouri, an amendment to current laws relating to death investigation is pending that would require a coroner to be notified if an individual has been a victim of domestic violence or sexual assault – and to make an autopsy a requirement.

In California, proposed legislation would grant parents, siblings or the domestic violence victim’s children the right to obtain photos taken during a coroner’s investigation into a death declared a suicide, so they can preserve them for an independent review of the case. If family members question the outcome of the investigation, they would have the right to request another law enforcement agency to review a death investigation officially deemed a suicide or an accident if there is a documented history of domestic violence. 

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HOLDING ABUSERS ACCOUNTABLE

Other countries have taken things even further. In 2020, France enacted laws allowing for criminal indictment of a spouse or partner if harassment of a victim resulted in either an attempted suicide or death by suicide. England and Wales similarly allow for the possibility of a criminal charge of unlawful act manslaughter in the same instances.

While criminal remedies are not always available, wrongful death lawsuits often achieve accountability by holding alleged abusers accountable in civil court.

To prove a death by suicide – an act generally regarded as intentional – was caused at least in part by another person, the family of the individual must meet a high bar. In the case of victims of domestic violence, they must specifically prove that harassing, abusive or bullying behavior directly led to the suicide.

A person suing over a suicide (the “plaintiff”) typically must show that the individual or institution being sued (the “defendant”) negligently (carelessly) caused or failed to prevent a suicide.

Stacy Barrett, Attorney, UC Law San Francisco

Obtaining such proof isn’t simple – or inexpensive – and often involves a variety of legal specialists including probate attorneys, family law attorneys and civil litigators. It is an arduous and costly endeavor – to say nothing of its emotional toll.

As this news outlet continues to cover the Mica Miller case, we will also explore other families – such as the family of Melissa Olson – who have been fighting for justice for their loved one, battles that come with seemingly insurmountable legal hurdles that begin the day their loved one was found deceased.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR …

Jenn Wood (Provided)

Jenn Wood is FITSNews’ incomparable research director. She’s also the producer of the FITSFiles and Cheer Incorporated podcasts and leading expert on all things Murdaugh/ South Carolina justice. A former private investigator with a criminal justice degree, evildoers beware, Jenn Wood is far from your average journalist! A deep dive researcher with a passion for truth and a heart for victims, this mom of two is pretty much a superhero in FITSNews country. Did we mention she’s married to a rocket scientist? (Lucky guy!) Got a story idea or a tip for Jenn? Email her at jenn@fitsnews.com.

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8 comments

Avatar photo
The Colonel Top fan May 28, 2024 at 5:06 pm

It was a suicide.

Reply
Avatar photo
VERITAS Top fan May 28, 2024 at 6:44 pm

It was a murder.

Reply
SubZeroIQ May 28, 2024 at 7:42 pm

It’s not enough for you, Jen Wood and FITSNews, to have caused the wrongful conviction of Alex Murdaugh; now, you’re on JP Miller, whom I do NOT admire AT ALL.
You keep on bandying the words and phrases “abuse” and “domestic violence” around as if they had been proven against JP Miller. In fact, they had NOT even ALLEGED by Micah Miller against JP Miller.
Any photos or incidents or reports of bruises on Micah EVER during her marriage to JP Miller? NO.
Any history of JP Miller ever PHYSICALLY abusing anyone? NO.
The worst Micah Miller SUGGESTED about JP Miller is that he thought she was not a good mother to her step-children, with which she defiantly differed.
Does that even come close to “abuse” and “domestic violence”? ABSOLUTELY NOT.
Be fair for once and give JP Miller and his children a rest.

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Anonymous May 29, 2024 at 10:43 am

Living up to your screen name I see

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Anonymous 2 May 29, 2024 at 11:35 pm

Aside from living up to your screen name, you have no clue. Abuse is not always physical!!
Watch the videos. Listen to interviews. SHE posted about his abuse. There are multiple police reports filed against him. He is a horrible human being for everything he did to her. And he calls himself a man of GOD ?? So much has come to light about this case and the truth will come out.

Reply
Nancy Bryson Top fan May 29, 2024 at 10:52 am

Good reporting, Jenn. I especially appreciated your overview of the paper published in the British Journal of Criminology.

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Be Kind Anyway Top fan May 29, 2024 at 2:34 pm

I noticed the Affidavit of Service above was signed by process server James Franklin Cole and then signed and notarized by Michael David Crews, Notary Public for the Commonwealth of Virginia. Notary Crews dated his signature May 2, 2024. The document was then “clocked” at the Horry County Courthouse May 3, 2024. According to Virginia Notary Laws, both the signee and the notary must be physically together in Virginia at a document’s signing if the document will be filed outside Virginia (barring online notarization which requires additional language and paperwork). Because the Affidavit of Service was filed in SC Family Court, in order to be a valid document, the notary and process server had to physically be together in Virginia on Thursday, May 2, 2024, and then someone had to drive (or fly) to Horry County to clock the Affidavit by 11:19am on Friday morning, May 3, 2024 (note: Horry County Clerk of Court only accepts “wet” signatures on official documents – no e-filing or photo copies in Family Court). Attorney Regina Ward often uses her son as a process server. Who is James Franklin Cole? I don’t see anything online. Why would Cole take the document to Virginia before filing? Why the sudden rush to file a document based on service that supposedly occurred a week earlier? Unless the paperwork was physically transported from Virginia to South Carolina between May 2nd and 3rd, this document is not legally valid and could easily be challenged in court… just like the entire action could be challenged based on improper jurisdiction. Why is Mica’s sister stuck in Domestic Relations Court? This manner of “pre-planned failure” is a tactic colluding attorneys use to drain assets on both sides, to rack up fees on both sides, and then make sure a case is dismissed or there is a summary judgment without a trial. More money, less work for attorneys. Regina Ward specifically has done this previously.

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Be Kind Anyway Top fan May 29, 2024 at 3:07 pm

I just recalled there is already more information available on the topic of Regina Ward and corruption at the Horry County Courthouse right here at FITSNEWS. In June 2022, I emailed a long narrative describing events involving Regina Ward, Judge Melissa Buckhannon, attorney Kenneth Moss, attorney Heather Moore, attorney Craig Snook, and former United States Attorney Jon Rene Josey. I received a reply and followed up with another email. I described Regina Ward colluding with Judge Buckhannon and opposing counsel, Heather Moore, to create a false mental health narrative for her own client so a spouse could steal assets, cover up his own crimes, and avoid forensic accounting in family court. Ward even used Waccamaw Mental Health, the same facility involved in Mica’s case to procure false paperwork. To be clear, I’m not casting stones at FitsNews for perhaps not believing. The depth of collusion makes the story unbelievable. I get it. didn’t want to believe these things myself. In fact, I still wish they were not true with all my soul. I only mention the 2022 correspondence now as proof I have been trying to make someone see how dangerous Regina Ward and attorneys like her are. She’s extremely tech savvy and uses this to maximum advantage. This is a network of crime. These are criminals, wielding Powers of Attorney unchecked. Whatever JP Miller did or did not do regarding Mica Miller, it appears he’s done plenty in the past and always avoided consequences through chronic aid from law enforcement and attorneys. There’s no reason to believe these same people wouldn’t take action to prevent any true investigation into JP Miller.

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