WAYNESBORO, Miss. (AP) — A man charged with killing three people and sexually assaulting a witness told a Mississippi judge Thursday it was all "a big mistake" that began when he hit a deer, and got worse when he took drugs and tried to find the road kill.
William P. Miller, 27, of Millry, Alabama, spoke in a near-whisper as he tried to explain what happened to Wayne County Justice Court Judge Charles Chapman, who set his bail at $4.6 million.
Deputies said Miller hit the deer with his van while driving to the home of Lloyd and Sonya Taylor near Buckatunna around midnight Monday.
Miller told the judge that he consumed methamphetamine and oxycodone at the home, and then took off around dawn Tuesday with Lloyd Taylor and Jamie Gardner in a GMC Terrain SUV to find the road kill.
"My question is, why did this happen?" Chapman said in the tiny 20-seat courtroom as log trucks passed noisily outside.
Miller said the men quarreled along the way, and that one of the men was "more or less picking on me."
"He kept on and it got physical," Miller added.
Wayne County sheriff's investigator Jamey Beard says deputies believe Miller shot and killed Lloyd Taylor and Jamie Gardner near the Alabama-Mississippi state line around sunrise on Tuesday, then returned to the home with their bodies in the car and killed Sonya Taylor.
Miller then sexually assaulted another woman at the home who saw Sonya Taylor die, Beard said. Miller denied that in court.
Beard said Miller forced the witness to lead him to a dirt pit where he set the GMC Terrain on fire with the men's bodies inside. Their remains have been taken to the state crime lab. Mississippi Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Warren Strain said the remains have not yet been positively identified.
Beard said Miller then drove the survivor to a relative's home and released her. A son had already found Sonya Taylor dead in her home when the survivor's relative called deputies and told them where to find Miller. Beard said he was still sitting in the survivor's car nearby when a deputy came to the house, but fled with the deputies in pursuit. He abandoned the car in a wooded area of Wayne County near an elementary school more than 20 miles northwest of the Taylor home.
State and local law enforcement agencies combed the area looking for Miller until Wednesday morning, when he emerged without shirt or shoes, wearing only shorts.
"He basically came out of the woods tired of running," Beard said.
The connection between the victims and Miller, who lives about 10 miles to the east in Alabama's Washington County, remained unclear Thursday. Beard said Miller knew the Taylors well enough to be welcomed into their home late at night, and that the group consumed drugs together early Tuesday morning.
Beard said Miller has cooperated "100 percent," confessing to the murders. Beard said grand juries meet three times a year in Wayne County, and that officials plan to seek Miller's indictment during a July session of grand jurors.
Court documents show Miller pleaded guilty to rape in Washington County in 2013, receiving a suspended sentence. In 2014, he was cited for hunting-law violations and a parole violation for having a gun despite a felony conviction, and ordered to serve a year in jail. A 2009 rape charge was never prosecuted.
Chapman said Miller is charged with three counts of murder, two counts of sexual battery, felony malicious mischief, arson and illegal possession of a firearm by a felon. Each count of murder could carry a life sentence. Chapman said Wayne County will name a public defender to represent Miller.
This story has been corrected to show that Miller hit the deer around midnight Monday, not Tuesday.
Follow Jeff Amy at: http://twitter.com/jeffamy. Read his work at http://bigstory.ap.org/author/jeff-amy