Wendy Miller’s final hours were recounted Monday at the murder/kidnapping trial of Dennis Reed.
Miller’s 14-year-old daughter, only 8 the last time she saw her mother, said Reed had come pounding on the door of the Sankey Street apartment where she, her mother and three brothers lived on Dec. 16, 2001.
Despite the hour — the girl set the time at 2 or 2:30 a.m. — she said she and her little brothers, then 5 and 6, were ordered to get dressed and get into the back of her mother’s dark green Ford Expedition.
With Reed behind the wheel, the girl testified, the family was driven around New Castle then to Neshannock Village. There, she said, Reed ordered her mother out of the vehicle and the two of them walked off, behind some buildings. Reed returned — alone — some time later, telling the children that a relative was giving their mother a ride to work, she said.
Reed, 36, is charged with the kidnapping and murder of his 28-year-old girlfriend Wendy Miller, who was shot in the back of the head with a shotgun on Dec. 16, 2001.
His trial began Friday before Lawrence County Common Pleas Court President Judge Dominick Motto. District Attorney John Bongivengo, who is prosecuting the case with assistant district attorney Thomas Minett, said he will seek the death penalty if Reed is convicted.
The 14-year-old said Reed — whom she knew as Chuck — had moved in with her family in July 2001. The family had lived in Westview Terrace about three years, she said.
Reed frequently argued with and struck her mother, the girl testified. She added she had been with her mother at the Lawrence County courthouse on Dec. 13, 2001, when Wendy Miller sought a protection from abuse order against Reed.
Although Miller and the children had spent the next two nights with relatives, on Saturday, Dec. 15, 2001, they were at home in Westview Terrace. The girl said she was watching Cartoon Network, her little brothers were asleep and her mother was close to sleep when Reed began pounding on the door.
She testified that her mother had said she was afraid, but sent her downstairs to open the locked door. Reed followed her up the stairs, she continued.
“He was angry with my mom and he hit her,” she said.
The two argued about the protection from abuse order and the whereabouts of Reed’s then-12-year-old son, who was staying with his uncle, Charles Miller, the girl recalled.
Reed took her mother by the arm, she testified, and the two went downstairs, continuing to argue. She said she saw Reed strike her mother again.
The two left the apartment briefly, she said, but returned, calling to the children to get dressed and get into the Expedition. In the vehicle, she said, she saw a shotgun near the driver’s door.
NIGHT OF TERROR
Reed drove to a blue house near New Castle Junior-Senior High School, she said, then to Neshannock Village. There, Reed parked and he and her mother got out, she recalled.
The daughter described a motion she had seen Reed make as he left the car. She said he put something — the gun — down the leg of his jeans and then pulled his shirt over it. She demonstrated the move.
The two walked around a building and out of sight. Time passed, the girl said, noting she had listened to six or seven songs before Reed returned. Her brothers slept, she added.
Although the children asked to be taken home, she testified, Reed “said we were going to hang with him for a while.”
He drove them to Butler, where he visited people in an apartment, she said, but he and the children lived in the Expedition for about a week, eating fast food purchased at drive-throughs. She added they had made several trips back to New Castle before Reed was apprehended by police in Butler. On one trip, she noted, Reed banged on the door of her uncle’s house on Shaw Street, but no one answered.
Defense attorney Randall Hetrick challenged some of the girl’s testimony, saying details differed from statements she had made at the preliminary hearing on Jan. 17, 2002.
At that time, she had not said Reed had struck her mother and was less certain of who was driving the vehicle, he pointed out. There was also a question about who had carried the gun.
The jury also heard from the oldest brother, now 18, but only 12 at the time of his mother’s death.
He described the violent relationship his parents shared and said he often saw his father punch his mother and threaten to kill her “any time that he was mad at her.”
He said he spent the weekend of Dec. 14 to 16 with his uncle, Charles Miller, who then lived on Shaw Street.