09 Feb A TRAGEDY WRAPPED INSIDE A CATASTROPHE INSIDE A DISASTER: The Story of the Prosecution and Trial of Bryce Miller PART I
“He’s just a kid.” That was my first thought. By the time Bryce Miller would face trial, he would still be just a kid. He would still be under eighteen years old, and he would still be the five-foot-nothing and the barley one-hundred-pound boy with curly locks of hair, and those glasses that looked way too old for him. He was just a kid facing life in prison without the possibility of parole for killing another 16-year-old kid. The tragedy was baked in from the very beginning.
By the time I met him, Bryce had already been arraigned. He had already been to court and heard the charges against him, “Murder in the First Degree”. The State had already made it clear that the were going to seek to try him as an adult, making both Life Without the Possibility of Parole or even Death as a possible outcome, all before he ever turned eighteen.
Sometime in the late evening hours of June 22nd to the early morning hours of June 23rd, 2019. Jaylen Nelson (age 16) was shot multiple times which resulted in his death. He was shot near the intersection of State Highway 113 and Meeko Rd. in McAlester Oklahoma. Jaylen was actually shot about a hundred yards or so down Meeko Rd. from that intersection. It wouldn’t be until the morning of June 23rd that a postal deliverer noticed his body, half in the road, half lying in the ditch, stiff, face down, in a pool of recently dried blood. He had laid there through the night, dead.
Officers arrived on scene and began to work. In the roadway, Officers found bullet shell casings in an arcing pattern moving away from Jaylen’s body and toward the middle of the road. Later a knife would be discovered a few hundred yards up the road, sitting up in the grass on the other side of a bar ditch. (this finding would not be reported in any police report despite the fact that it was found by the lead investigating officer Deputy Randy Hass. It would also be Randy Hass and three other law enforcement officers from different agencies that would descend on the sleepy home of Bryce’s Grandparents after midnight and demand to speak with him.
Startled and intimidated by the show of force that the officers made when they appeared at the Miller house, just a few miles from where Jaylen Nelson laid dead the evening before, the elderly couple felt like they had no choice but to allow the demanding officers into their home. From there Hass took over, and separated Bryce from his grandparents with a request to “see his guns” and got the minor child alone in his bedroom while another officer loomed in the doorway of the room, the only exit out.
Hass asked the Juvenile, who was alone and without any adult to advise him, questions about Jaylen and where he (Bryce) had been the night before. Bryce began to stammer and says things that the pressing interrogator found incriminating. Hass contacted juvenile affairs and Bryce Miller left his grandparents home and his freedom that night, possibly never to return again to either.
WAGNER & LYNCH GET THE CASE
I was contacted sometime around the 25th, after Bryce had been charged as an adult with murder and given a million-dollar bond. He seemed so small and with the light blonde hair partially covered in bright blue on one side and a fiery orange color on the other he appeared almost cartoonish. His dark eyebrows coupled with a deep and resentful stare made for a great front-page photo, but the person standing in front of me, in sweats and stockinged feet looked anything but intimidating, evil, scary, or even mean. Hell, he didn’t even look like a grown man, let alone a cold-blooded killer.
It did not come easy for Bryce to trust me, and I can’t blame him. You have to earn someone’s trust, and the idea that just because you need a lawyer, and you pay a lawyer, doesn’t automatically mean that you trust a lawyer. I believe it is my duty to build that relationship, and it took a few weeks before Bryce was really ready to tell me the story of what happened that night. One afternoon, while sitting with him in the tiny administrative office at the Juvenile Detention Center, Bryce decided it was time to tell me what happened.
With that I opened up my notepad and asked Bryce to take his time and just tell me the story. His body language changed immediately, his back stiffened to a polite posture, and he picked both of his feet up one at a time and put them under himself on the chair, Indian style. Over the next hour he told me the harrowing tale of what happened that night, and what he did after he fired the fatal rounds that took Jaylen Nelson’s life. He told me about the night he stopped being a child forever.
Bryce and Jaylen were friends. They had become friends after Bryce moved to McAlester from Georgia where he had been living with his mother. Bryce was having behavioral issues in Georgia and had moved to McAlester a couple of years before to live with his paternal grandparents. He liked guns, rap music, and he was sure that he was much smarter than the average population. For as much as Bryce believed he was extraordinary and knew so much about the world, I knew I was listening to the “arrogant, know everything” of a typical of a 16-year-old boy.
The move from Georgia was actually looking to be a good thing for Bryce. He had already sat for his high school equivalency test, and at the age of 16 he was holding down a full-time job at a hotel in McAlester. He didn’t report that he was going through any family issues, or anything else stressful at the time. He liked living with his grandparents and told me that he was happy for the most part. When the discussion turned to his relationship with Jaylen, he would always repeat that Jaylen was his friend, and he never wanted to cause him any harm and hated the fact that he had. He told me that day, and would repeat to me several more times, that he wished he didn’t ever shoot Jaylen with his pistol, but he had no other choice.
Jaylen had called Bryce earlier that night when Bryce was still at work. Jaylen had spent the day with his girlfriend getting a new tattoo on his chest from a local unlicensed artist. Jaylen didn’t have a home per se, he would find himself staying at the homes of different family members or non-relatives that he may have still referred to as “Aunt or Uncle”. Jaylen had spent the majority of his life staying in other people’s homes or at times as award of the state. Jaylen wanted to go “hang out” that night so he called Bryce at work, from his girlfriend’s phone, and asked him to come and pick him up later.
Jaylen’s girlfriend was leaving when Bryce arrived (something she would later testify to) and didn’t notice anything unusual about Jaylen that night or Bryce. After she left, Jaylen got into Bryce’s vehicle (Actually it belonged to his grandfather) The plan was to first go smoke some marijuana. The two boys had not really decided on a final destination for the evening and headed toward Bryce’s grandparent’s house and from there they would surely find something going on. Bryce did not like to impose on his grandparents or cause them any stress, therefore he preferred to just stop somewhere along the route to get high rather than try to find inventive ways to mask the skunky marijuana smell, while getting high in his room. He would also tell me that he personally found it disrespectful to smoke marijuana at his grandparents’ home, because they didn’t approve of it.
There just happened to be a perfect spot right on the way to his grandparents’ home. At the bottom of a hill off State Hwy. 113 is a road that spurs off to the left called Meeko Rd. Once you are on Meeko road you are not noticeable from the highway by anyone that may be traveling East and if anybody is coming from the West, you can see them far up on the top of the hill before they would ever see you, especially at night. If anyone happens to be traveling down Meeko Road (and few rarely do) you can see the lights of any approaching vehicle come around the curve in front of you long before they will ever see you. All you have to do is stand in this location and it is pretty obvious why any teenager would choose it to smoke marijuana. The geography is perfect to both not be noticeable, but at the same time you can see anything coming.
Bryce parked on the right-hand side of the road, just partially off the road because the shoulder is narrow to non-existent. Right next to the road is a bar ditch and that is where Jaylen was standing as Bryce walked around the front of the truck toward his friend, packing a bowl (aka preparing a pipe with marijuana to smoke). The two boys began to smoke and chat. Jaylen wanted to talk about “Jane”. He hated that bitch and he started the conversation about her off by saying just that. Jane was a friend of Bryce and a very good friend to Jaylen’s girlfriend. Jaylen had discovered that Jane was encouraging his girlfriend to break up with him and he had threatened her a few days before.
***NOTE*** “Jane” is not this person’s real name. Her name has been withheld because she was a minor at the time that this occurred, and out of respect for her, I have chosen not to use her actual name.
Bryce was not surprised that Jaylen brought up the topic of his anger toward Jane. Just days before Jane had informed Bryce over a series of text messages that Jaylen had threatened her and made her feel unsafe. Jaylen was known to carry a knife (something his girlfriend would even testify to) and threaten people with it. Bryce had told Jane in their text conversation that he would “take care of Jaylen”. According to both Bryce and Jane, the way he was going to “take care of Jaylen” was going to be to talk to him and try to help squash the beef between Jaylen and Jane. However, Bryce misunderstood how angry Jaylen was at Jane, and what he was capable of.
Jaylen wanted to kill Jane and he wanted Bryce to help him. Just as Jaylen was so well know for carrying a knife, Bryce was known for carrying guns. He owned several guns, mostly handguns, and he would religiously carry one on or near him at all times. He had a pistol in his waistband that night. Jaylen insisted that Bryce give him one of his guns so that he could carry out a “hit” on Jane for how she had “disrespected” him. Bryce resisted and told Jaylen, “No”. What at first seemed like machismo and grandstanding, was actually quite different.
Jaylen’s whole demeanor changed. He grew dark and the second time he mentioned getting a gun from Bryce, he had left out all of the pleasantries of asking. Jaylen was slightly lower in the ditch and as a result Bryce (who was shorter) now stood nearly eye to eye with Jaylen if not slightly taller. Jaylen’s actions were smooth and practiced and Bryce did not see Jaylen pull the blade from his hoodie pocket until it was already out and within inches of his throat. Jaylen was now demanding a gun and Bryce was sure that he was not going to take no for and answer.
The first shot came as Bryce was scrambling. He moved up and out of the ditch using his right foot to plant and propel him up and across Jaylen’s face as he shot. As he continued to move toward the safety of the driver’s side door, he ran around the back of the parked truck, firing, and leaving an arc of bullet shell casings along the way. As he got to the driver side of the vehicle he hunched down beside the door and listened. At first all he could hear was the ringing in his ears. He concentrated, willing the ringing to stop. His chest was heaving and his skin felt thick like gelatin in the heavy, wet, June, air. The ringing stopped and he heard… nothing. He slowly started to inch his way back toward the bumper of the truck, just to look.
There was Jaylen laying in the roadway, half of his body still in the bar ditch that Bryce had just managed to escape from. He was still. Bryce slowly walked toward the body, his gun extended and in a ready position. He stood over the body for seconds, willing it to move.
Now panic. Frantic fumbling panic. In the silence and still Bryce had reached down and picked up the same fixed blade knife that moments before was coming at him, business end first, and with intention to cause some serious damage. But now for some inexplicable reason he was holding the knife in his left hand and the gun he had just shot in his right hand. He was still staring down looking at the corpse of his former friend and trying to figure out what to do, his brain began to scream, “Run!”.
He ran back around the bed of his grandpa’s truck, as he jumped into the driver’s side and threw the gun down on the passenger seat, he grabbed franticly with his now free hand for the keys in his pocket and turned over the engine. The truck roared to life and as it did Bryce was already shifting it into drive and punching the accelerator. As he headed uphill and started to round the curve in the road, he realized again that he was still holding the knife in his left hand. Without hesitation of thought he tossed it out the already open window and into the ditch on the south side of the road, where Detective Randy Hass would later find it.
Bryce did not have time to stop and take account of what had just happened. He had taken another’s life in order to protect his own, but all he felt now was fear. He was just a 16-year-old boy.
Coming Next: The Prosecution and putting “winning” over Justice.