The Wayne Mills Murder Trial – A Complete Preview

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Updates from the trial will be posted here once they are published.

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The Trial: March 2nd, 2015 with jury selection the first day. Trial expected to begin in earnest March 3rd.

The Duration: Expected to last about a week, but could vary depending on the amount of witnesses and the length of testimony.

The Location: The courtroom of Criminal Court Judge Steve Dozier, Division 1, located in the Justice A.A. Birch Building, 408 2nd Avenue N, Nashville, TN.

THE PEOPLE

wayne-mills-3Wayne Mills – 44-year-old country music singer, performer, and songwriter who was fatally shot by Chris Ferrell on November 23rd, 2013 at the Pit & Barrel bar in Nashville. Born in Arab, Alabama in 1969, he attended Wallace State Junior College before transferring to the University of Alabama to play football and receive a Bachelor’s Degree in Education. Playing country music for over 15 years, Mills was a friend and mentor to many well-known stars including Blake Shelton, Jamey Johnson, and future reality show stars Taylor Hicks and Craig Wayne Boyd. He is survived by his wife Carol (married in 2000), and now 7-year-old son Jack.

chris-ferrellChristopher Ferrell – Also known as Michael Ferrell or Chris Michael Ferrell, he was the owner of the Pit & Barrel bar in Nashville, and shot Wayne Mills in the back of the head from a far range in an act he claims as self defense. A gun enthusiast and Outlaw country music fan, he was friends with Wayne Mills and was hosting an after hours party at the Pit & Barrel at the time of the killing. After being indicted for 2nd degree murder, he turned himself in and has been awaiting trial while out on bail.

 

judge-steve-dozierJudge Steve R. Dozier – Criminal Court Judge of Davidson County, he was first appointed/elected to the bench in 1997. A  graduate of Vanderbilt University and the Nashville School of Law, he previously was an Assistant District Attorney General for nearly a decade, and also worked as a lawyer in private practice for five years. He was re-elected in the spring of 2014 as the Wayne Mills case was moving forward. He was also the judge during all of the pretrial proceedings.

 

david-raybinDavid Raybin – Defense lawyer for Chris Ferrell. With 35 years of experience, David Raybin is considered one of the best defense lawyers in the region. He has been named the “Best Criminal Lawyer in Nashville” by Best Lawyers in America, and the Tennessee Business magazine also lists him amongst the best criminal lawyers in Tennessee. He is the head of the criminal defense section of the Hollins, Raybin, & Weissman law firm.

 

Glenn-Funk-Davidson-CountyDistrict Attorney Glenn R. Funk – The District Attorney for Davidson County, who was elected  in May of 2014 during the lengthy wait for the Chris Ferrell murder trial. Previously a defense attorney, he was elected after former District Attorney Torry Johnson decided to retire after 27 years in office. Many key members of the District Attorney’s office including five lawyers were fired after Funk’s election. Mr. Funk will likely not be handling the murder case directly, but will preside over Assistant District Attorneys.

Assistant District Attorneys Tammy Meade & Wesley King – The Assistant District Attorneys who will administrate the case during trial. Other District Attorneys Office personnel may also be involved.

Larry Flair – A private investigator hired by Chris Ferrell and the defense to do an independent investigation of the crime scene. Flair is a former city homicide detective, and found an extra bullet after the initial investigation. He will likely be one of the key witnesses for the defense.

THE PLACE

The Pit & Barrel Bar, formerly called BoondoxXx BBQ, was a bar owned by Chris Michael Ferrell and located in downtown Nashville. Months before the killing, the bar was part of a Spike TV reality series called Bar Rescue where the show came in and remodeled the establishment. This is reportedly one of the reasons Chris Ferrell did not want people smoking in the location.

pit-and-barrelThe Spike TV episode featuring the Pit & Barrel was scheduled to air only two days after the Wayne Mills killing, and fans of Wayne Mills petitioned Spike TV to pull the episode. Spike TV eventually agreed and did pull the initial episode, but forgot to pull the later rebroadcast, and it was shown accidentally. Spike TV later apologized publicly.

Since the killing of Wayne Mills and the indictment of Chris Ferrell, the Pit & Barrel bar has been liquidated. Where it sits at 515 2nd Ave South in Nashville, it’s within walking distance from where Chris Ferrell will be on trial.

SYNOPSIS

Country music artist Wayne Mills was shot in the back of the head at a far range by Chris Ferrell on the morning of November 23rd, 2013 at the Pit & Barrel bar in Nashville, TN. The shooting happened near 5:00 AM. Both men were at the Pit & Barrel attending an after hours party held after the memorial ceremony and concert held for George Jones at the Bridgestone Arena in downtown Nashville, roughly 0.6 miles from the Pit & Barrel. Before the shooting, a dispute broke out between Chris Ferrell and Wayne Mills over what was characterized by witnesses initially as smoking in a non-smoking section of the bar, however later in court during a preliminary discussion date, Chris Ferrell told the court he feels Wayne Mills came to the Pit & Barrel bar that night to “rob and kill” him.

Near 5:00 AM, the discussion between Mills and Ferrell became very heated, and the few remaining attendees of the party exited the Pit & Barrel. Chris Ferrell then shot Wayne Mills in the back of the head with one of two handguns found at the scene. From the autopsy of Wayne Mills, it also appears a scuffle may have happened before the shooting. Mills had bruises and cuts all over his body, and multiple broken ribs. After Chris Ferrell shot Wayne Mills, he shortly called 911 and police and ambulance responded. Ferrell cooperated with police and made no attempt to flee the scene. He told police initially, and continues to assert that he shot Wayne Mills in self-defense.

Wayne Mills was rushed to the Vanderbilt University Medical Center and immediately began receiving surgery and treatment to attempt to save his life. Nashville police began their investigation, but initially did so under the pretense that the victim was not Wayne Mills, but a songwriter named Clayton Mills. The mis-idintification meant Wayne’s wife was unable to see her husband during his final hours because hospital personnel would not allow her access. It took nearly 10 hours for the police to catch the mistake and change the name of the victim to Wayne Mills. The singer died of his injuries at 5:35 PM on November 23rd, roughly 12 hours after arriving at the hospital.

The investigation into Chris Michael Ferrell continued, but no arrest was made. The preliminary investigation was concluded in early December, and the case was sent to the Grand Jury. On December 6th, the Grand Jury indicted Chris Ferrell on 2nd Degree Murder charges in the homicide, and he immediately turned himself in. Ten days later on December 16th, Chris Ferrell was released on bond and additional details on the case were disclosed. Ferrell was able to have his bond reduced from the evidence against him and additional evidence contributed by the defense, including an extra bullet found in the wall of the Pit & Barrel bar by a private investigator hired by Ferrell and his lawyer. It was also revealed that Ferrell had been placed in protective custody in the jail from the numerous threats he had received.

The case then moved to a period where the prosecutors attempted to work out a plea deal that would save the case from going to trial. The District Attorney’s Office attempted to get Ferrell to plea to lesser charges, and/or a lesser sentence as is standard procedure. Roughly 95% of cases in Tennessee do not go to trial. But wanting to clear his name and believing in the strength of their defense, Chris Ferrell and his defense team refused all offers. Then in May of 2014, the 2nd Degree Murder trial was scheduled for November of 2014. It was later rescheduled for March of 2015 for undisclosed reasons.

 1st DEGREE MURDER vs. 2nd DEGREE MURDER vs. MANSLAUGHTER

The decision by the Grand Jury to indict Chris Ferrell on 2nd Degree murder charges instead of Voluntary Manslaughter or other charges might be a big key to the trial.

The differences between 1st and 2nd Degree Murder, and Manslaughter charges have to do with the state of mind of the accused at the time of the killing.

The reason Chris Ferrell was not indicted on 1st Degree Murder charges was because the prosecution would have to prove premeditation, meaning that Ferrell had planned to kill Wayne Mills ahead of time, plotted the crime out, and given himself time to reason through the murder. Since there is no evidence pointing to this being the case, 1st Degree Murder would have been virtually impossible to prove, even though some Wayne Mills friends and fans were calling for the more serious charge that would also carry a more strict sentence.

2nd Degree murder means the murder was intentional, but not premeditated, and was not carried out as a “crime of passion.” 2nd Degree Murder has to prove either malice in the killer, or demonstrate a deprived indifference to human life. This distinction could be key. If it’s proven Chris Ferrell killed Wayne Mills in a heat of passion because of the argument with Wayne before the killing, it could make it difficult for the jury to find Ferrell guilty of 2nd Degree Murder. Also remember the prosecution may have attempted to get Chris Ferrell to plea to Manslaughter charges to avoid a trial, and Chris Ferrell and the defense refused.

Voluntary Manslaughter occurs when a person kills someone while provoked in an emotional way that would lead someone to act irrationally. In other words, it is a “heat of passion” killing. Many times voluntary manslaughter is the charged tied to a killing that happens in self-defense. A common parlance for a Voluntary Manslaughter defense can also be the “battered women’s syndrome,” because infidelity is many times tied to this charge. For example, if a woman comes home, finds her husband cheating on him, grabs a weapon and kills him. Since the killer had no time to rationalize the crime, it is considered manslaughter instead of murder.

Also, even if Chris Ferrell is found not guilty, the family of Wayne Mills could file a civil wrongful death lawsuit where the burden of proof would be less. This is what happened in the OJ Simpson murder case for example.

THE DRUG CLAUSE:

Though no word has ever officially come from either the prosecution or defense about drugs being a part of the case, there has been some conjecture that drugs potentially played some part in the killing. With traces of drugs found in Wayne Mills’ system according to toxicology (though it could be from an Adderall prescription), and the late morning nature of the scene, drugs could have been a factor.

The reason this is important to this case is because in Tennessee, if someone is killed in a crime involving drugs, it can be considered 2nd Degree Murder, even if in other instances it might be considered Voluntary Manslaughter.

Tennessee Code Section 39-13-210 declares 2nd Degree Murder as: 1) A knowing killing of another 2) A killing of another caused by the unlawful sale of drugs.

If the prosecution or the Grand Jury felt the homicide was Voluntary Manslaughter, but that drugs were involved, they may have graduated the charges to 2nd Degree Murder.

THE AUTOPSY

The autopsy report was made available through the Medical Examiners Office on January 16th, 2014. According to the Medical Examiner, Wayne Mills was killed by a gunshot wound to the back of the head. There was also no evidence that the gunshot wound was caused by a discharge at close range because of the lack of soot or gunpowder surrounding the wound, meaning the shot came from distance.

Though some reports had Wayne Mills being shot multiple times, Wayne only suffered one gunshot wound. However, multiple other injuries were found on his body. Wayne’s 4th and 5th ribs were broken, and he had abrasions on his forehead, temple, scalp (unassociated with the gunshot), and contusions on his chest, arms, forearms, left thigh, and right knee. In other words, beyond the gunshot, Wayne Mills had suffered other serious injuries as part of the incident.

The summary of the autopsy states,

Autopsy findings are significant for an entrance gunshot wound on the posterior parietal scalp with fragment exit and injury to scalp, skull, and brain. A bullet is recovered in association with this gunshot wound. Associated injuries include scalp, subdural, and subarachnoid hemorrhage, fractures to the right frontal and parietal bones, cortical and white matter contusions of the brain, and hemorrhage throughout the wound path. Other injuries include abrasions of the left side of the forehead, left temple, posterior occipital scalp, and abdomen, left-sided rib fractures, and contusions of the lateral chest, arms, forearms, left thigh, and right knee. Evidence of therapy and tissue procurement is noted.

The cause of death is a gunshot wound of the head, and the manner of death is homicide.

The ’tissue procurement” noted in the autopsy summary and throughout the autopsy report is for the organs that were removed from Wayne as an organ donor.

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TOXICOLOGY

The autopsy report also included a toxicology workup testing for a wide spectrum of substances in Wayne’s body. The report concluded that Wayne’s blood alcohol level was 0.221. Mills also tested positive for amphetamine, at 23 ng/ml, though there was an indication it could be from Adderall instead of street amphetamines, or methamphetamine. No other substances came back positive.

Saving Country Music has tried to confirm or deny if a similar toxicology report was ordered on Chris Ferrell after the incident, but has been unable to obtain that information.

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THE PROSECUTION POSITION

The Davidson County District Attorneys will use the accumulated evidence to attempt to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Chris Michael Ferrel did not act in self-defense, but killed Wayne Mills in an act of malice. The prosecution’s strongest piece of evidence from what is known publicly is that Wayne Mills was shot from a far range, and was shot while he was facing away from Chris Ferrell. Both of these pieces of evidence corroborated from the autopsy report point away from the idea that Chris Ferrell was in a heated struggle and his life was in immediate danger when Wayne Mills was shot. No powder burn marks were evidenced on the gunshot wound to Wayne Mills.

The prosecution may have also determined that Chris Ferrell either lied or otherwise misled investigators about other evidence found at the crime scene. Two guns were found at the scene when police arrived: an empty revolver and a semi-automatic handgun. Balancing these two pieces of evidence, and other evidence accumulated at the scene with Chris Ferrell’s testimony, investigators may have felt that Chris Ferrell was lying about some portion of the investigation. Prosecutors might also cite the numerous cuts, bruises, and broken ribs Wayne Mills suffered as further evidence that Wayne Mills had been assaulted before the murder occurred.

Chris Ferrell’s criminal past may also be used against him. Chris Ferrell has been arrested twice for driving on a suspended license, though both charges were later dismissed. He was also arrested in July of 2013 for domestic violence, vandalism, and tampering with a 911 call—charges that are pending. Ferrell has also been characterized as having anger issues and a gun fetish. A photo taken that includes both Chris Ferrell and Wayne Mills surfaced during the early stages of the investigation, and shows Ferrell showing off a hand gun.

THE DEFENSE POSITION

The defense will attempt to explain how Chris Ferrell killed Wayne Mills in self-defense, meaning the right to prevent suffering force or violence through the use of a sufficient level of counteracting force or violence.
They will use the fact that Chris Farrell did not flee the scene, that he immediately called 911 after the shooting, and that he has cooperated with investigators and court orders at every step of the process in his defense.

The defense may focus on the fact that there were no eyewitnesses to the murder, and that the blood alcohol level of Wayne Mills was .221. They may also point out that there was a positive indication of amphetamine in the toxicology for Wayne Mills, and assert that Mills was drunk and on drugs at the time of the shooting.

The defense will likely call into question the investigation by Nashville police. They may use the fact that they had the victim’s name wrong for 10 hours into the investigation to show they were not thorough. There was also an extra bullet found in the wall of the Pit & Barrel bar after the initial police investigation. Private investigator Larry Flair discovered the bullet after he was hired by the defense.

Where the extra bullet came from, what gun of the two guns found on the scene was the murder weapon, and if Chris Ferrell was ever subjected to toxicology screening is not public knowledge. The bullet that killed Wayne Mills was still lodged in his skull when he arrived at the hospital.

OTHER LINGERING QUESTIONS

Why did it take so long for police to get the name of Wayne Mills right?

This seems like a critical mistake by police that the defense can use against the legitimacy of the investigation, and it also resulted in Wayne’s wife Carol being unable to spend the final moments of her husband’s life with him. Beyond the result of the trial, this is a question that the fans, friends, and family of Wayne Mills, and the citizens of Nashville deserve an answer for.

What was the involvement of Shooter Jennings?

Shooter Jennings and his manager Jon Hensley were in attendance at the after hours party at the Pit & Barrel Bar on November 23rd, and left right before the murder. Though there’s been numerous accounts of when they left, some saying as little as five minutes before, and others saying as long as an hour before, it has been settled that Shooter and Jon Hensley likely left around 20 to 25 minutes before the shooting.

The simple answer is that Shooter Jennings and Jon Hensley were not involved in the incident. They were not there when the shooting occurred, they are not under investigation, nor have they been charged with any crime, and they have cooperated fully with investigators.

However some fans of Wayne Mills, and a writer by the name of Neil Alexander Hamilton who wrote a book called Outlaws Still At Large that features Shooter Jennings and Wayne Mills, have raised the specter of Shooter and Hensley being involved in illicit activity leading up to the killing, and somehow being culpable in the court of public opinion by not staying at the Pit and Barrel to potentially aid Wayne Mills or help extricate him from a dangerous situation. Wayne Mills and Shooter, along with Jamey Johnson, had played a show together two nights before the killing, and had also attended the George Jones tribute together the night of the shooting. Shooter’s defense has been “I was not there,” but this also seems to be the fact that implicates him in some people’s minds for not doing more.

As the facts of the case come out in trial, Shooter’s involvement (or non-involvement) will hopefully be made more clear, and potentially exonerate him from criticism, much of which has been offered without supporting facts.

If no toxicology was ever ordered for Chris Ferrell, why?

Saving Country Music has gone to great lengths to attempt to determine if toxicology or a medical exam of any sort was ordered for the defendant Chris Ferrell. Since he was involved in a killing, and since the killing was at a bar at 5 AM, it would seem this would be an important piece of evidence for investigators, especially since Chris Ferrell was so cooperative with authorities. Wayne Mills was subject to a toxicology screening whether he would have approved or not, and it only seems fair that Chris Ferrell would face a similar screening. It could have offered more insight into what happened that night.

Since self-defense requires proving that the force used was worthy of the response, what injuries did Chris Ferrell sustain, and was he impaired in judgement or action by drugs or alcohol?