Chris Michael Ferrell has been sentenced to 20 years in prison in the 2nd Degree Murder of country music artist Wayne Mills. The decision was handed down by Judge Steve Dozier in the Davidson County Criminal Court Friday morning (4-24). Ferrell was found guilty in the shooting death of Mills on March 6th in a jury trial. He claimed self-defense in the case. Ferrell will have no chance for parole.
The sentencing was initially scheduled for April 10th, and most of the sentencing proceeded as normal until the defense decided it wanted to call one final witness. Susan Branham was a subpoenaed witness in the murder trial, but was never called to the stand. She called Chris Ferrell on the phone right after the shooting, and left right before Chris Ferrell shot Wayne Mills. After the prosecution concluded its portion of the sentencing, which included Wayne’s widow and others addressing the court, the defense decided it was necessary to call Susan Branham, but she was currently at Disney World.
On Friday, Susan Branham took the stand and testified that the altercation began when Wayne Mills lit up a cigarette in Chris Ferrell’s bar, and that Wayne threatened Chris Ferrell after Ferrell forcibly removed the cigarette from Wayne’s mouth. Then Branham testified about the phone call she made right after the shooting to Ferrell. Branham and two other witnesses left the bar right before the shooting occurred. “He was hysterical, like crying, screaming. I just was trying to calm him down to ask him questions,” Branham said.
Then attorneys for the prosecution and the defense addressed the court and gave their recommendations on how long the sentence should be. The State asked for 25 years—the maximum penalty for 2nd Degree Murder. Defense attorney David Raybin argued for a 15 year sentence, which would allow Ferrell to be released by 61 instead of 71.
After some deliberation, Judge Dozier then addressed the court, saying that he gave “no weight” to Chris Ferrell’s claim of self-defense since he was 15 to 20 feet from Wayne Mills when the shooting occurred. “And we all know about where the gunshot struck him,” said Dozier, making reference to the shot being to the back of the head after Mills had turned to leave. He then rendered his sentence of 20 years.
Under Tennessee law, Chris Ferrell will have to serve the full sentence. He will be 66-years-old when he is released. Ferrell showed no visible emotion as the sentence was read. After the proceeding, Wayne’s widow Carol Mills said she was pleased with the decision.
At the conclusion of the trial in March, defense attorney David Raybin made it clear they plan to appeal the case. “We will appeal this case through the court,” Raybin said. “We feel there is significant appellate issues in this case regarding self-defense, which is the center of our case. It’s easy for a lawyer to say we are going to appeal. I’ve been an attorney for 40 years and I’ve appealed many homicide cases. We feel very comfortable that this man will get a new trial, and a new day in court. He testified in his own defense that this was self-defense, and I stand by that decision.”
Mr. Raybin said once the sentencing was handed down, “that will commence the appellate process.”
Chris Ferrell shot and killed Wayne Mills on November 23rd, 2013, just before 5 AM after an altercation began when Mills lit a cigarette in the Pit & Barrel bar Chris Ferrell owned. The two men were in the bar during an after hours party when Chris Ferrell forcibly extinguished the cigarette Wayne Mills was smoking. This caused Wayne to act verbally hostile towards Ferrell, and Wayne threatened the bar owner. Then as Mills turned to leave, Ferrell pulled out a .22 pistol and shot three times, with the third bullet striking Mills in the back of the head. Wayne later died of his wound at the Vanderbilt Hospital in Nashville.
The death of Wayne Mills rose to national attention fromthe songwriter’s friendship with many famous country stars, including Jamey Johnson, Blake Shelton, and recent The Voice winner Craig Wayne Boyd.