“He knows he’s going to get caught, so he throws her under the bus,” he said.
Clued in to the defense strategy, Commonwealth’s Attorney Brian Wright wasted no time in undermining it when he called Walls to testify as the first witness. The prosecutor made sure Walls, 64, had several chances to tell the jury how much he knows about computers.
“I have never done nothing on no computer,” Walls said.
Miller, 20, is charged with attempted murder for allegedly spiking Walls coffee and Cokes with antifreeze. If convicted, she faces a sentence range from 10 to 20 years in prison.
Evidence obtained from the hard drive of Miller’s computer will be crucial to both sides as the trial moves forward.
Wright said experts from Kentucky State Police uncovered multiple searches for anti-freeze related topics from Miller’s hard drive that were conducted in the days just before Feb. 12, 2008, when Walls was taken to the Veteran’s Administration Hospital in Lexington and diagnosed with ethyl glycolene poisoning.
Some of the Google searches included “Which antifreeze is deadly,” Effects of antifreeze poisoning” and “How much antifreeze will kill a human,” Wright said.
Stanziano admitted his own experts found those searches too, but also picked up on other search topics in the same time frame which he suggested were more in line with Walls’ interests than Miller’s. Presidential politics — Walls was a big Hillary Clinton fan — and pornography “bear on this case,” he said.
“Leonard Walls was a lonely man,” Stanziano said.
Walls testified that Miller was a 17-year-old high school senior when she moved in with him at his home on Cannon Road in 2007. She was the first-born of his five grandchildren and always his favorite, and he went out of his way to spoil her, he said.
Walls said he made Miller the sole beneficiary of his estate, which included his home and 25 acres, plus the remainder of his $1,500-a-month retirement checks from his 23-year career with the state Division of Forestry.
He testified used settlement money from a car accident to buy a $10,000 CD that was payable to Miller upon his death. He put $5,500 from in tobacco settlement funds into a checking account for her and he bought her a new Ford Focus, plus he gave her spending money, Walls testified.
A few months before Walls was poisoned, Wright said Miller went to Kentucky Trust Co. in Danville to discuss ways she could protect her inheritance and prevent Walls’ other relatives from getting a piece of it.
“She wanted to make sure she had full control of it all,” Wright told jurors in his opening statement. “One person had motive to rush up Mr. Walls’ death — Brittany Miller.”
Along with the computer, police also seized two mostly full jugs of antifreeze, one in a stairwell only accessible from Miller’s room, Wright said. They also found a handwritten list under her bed detailing “what to do when grandpa dies,” the prosecutor said.
Walls testified he nearly died. He said he was on a ventilator for five days and when he came to, a doctor told him he was lucky to be alive with the amount of antifreeze he had ingested.
Wright said antifreeze causes the kidneys to fail and the “body to shut down.” Walls had difficulty describing what it felt like.
“I was going crazy and I was not going to be able to control myself. I was losing everything. I was going to be mentally incompetent,” he testified. “It felt awful. I hope no one in here feels like that.
“I don’t know if anyone in here has been drunk beside me, but it felt like you’re about to pass out.”
In his opening statement, Stanziano told jurors that Miller was indeed the beneficiary of Walls’ estate and overall generosity toward her.
But Walls’ will required that his house, property, the car he had bought Miller and his other possessions all be sold upon his death, with proceeds placed in a trust that Miller could not have access to until she was 21. The money was to be paid out in annual installments until she was 25, Stanziano said.
“He loved her. He was providing for her. In short, she would have been out everything she had and not get anything for three years,” Stanziano said. “There was no motive for her to kill him. She’s better off with him alive.”
Plus, Miller loved her grandfather, too, and still does, he said.
“Even though there was a will, there was no way Brittany Miller was going to kill her grandfather, not for the money, not for the world,” he told jurors.
There were signs Walls was becoming unhinged, Stanziano indicated. He had alienated his entire family. He suffered from diseases and ailments real and imagined, and often told Miller he didn’t have long to live. He had endured the tragic death of the woman he loved and his only son. Alcoholism had ravaged his body and regret tortured his mind, Stanziano said.
“He lived his life hard and fought demons most of his life,” he said. “Mr. Walls’ world revolved around Brittany Miller.”
When she found a boyfriend and had less time for Walls, it was enough to push him over the edge. He came up with the plan to poison himself with antifreeze to win back her attentions, Stanziano suggested.
Walls, who told jurors he has since been diagnosed with cancer, appeared frail on the stand but seemed to hold up well under the friendly questioning of Wright, which ended Monday’s testimony.
Today, Walls faces cross examination from Stanziano, who apparently won’t be pulling any punches.