Cover illustration by Sam Hundley
Cover illustration by Sam Hundley
Jeremiah said, “I was just getting up from grabbing some marijuana out of the little bin…. I heard a big, loud bang. I felt the bullet whiz past my ear.
“I turned around in shock, and that’s when I seen the gun in my face. It was Phillip with a gun in my face.” Jeremiah survived the near miss. “You know, at first I was shocked because I didn’t, you know — first time this has ever happened to me, and never had a gun in my face like that, and I was shocked.
“You know, I didn’t think anybody — I didn’t think people were like that, you know?”
Jeremiah and Phil had been smoking pot for more than an hour. But that wasn’t what made Phil miss the point-blank shot; he told Jeremiah it was something else.
“Yes, when he shot at me, he said I was lucky that his hand was messed up; otherwise, I would have got it.” Earlier, Jeremiah had noticed Phil’s prominent scars on his hand.
Setting Up a Good Friend
This terrible moment had been set up two days before by Jeremiah’s good friend Nick.
Nick and Jeremiah have known each other for more than ten years. Nick had been over to Jeremiah’s house “hundreds” of times.
Almost three years ago, on a Monday afternoon in April, Nick was in downtown San Diego to see Dr. Shon Sidransky. He wanted to get a County of San Diego medical-marijuana license.
A few steps from the doctor’s clinic at 3045 Rosecrans Street was a medical-marijuana dispensary. “I mean, it’s literally the next office,” Nick later recalled. “You know, I was just looking to see what kind of medication they had.” After a peek inside the dispensary, Nick went out to the sidewalk and met someone there.
The man introduced himself as Phil. “Just Phil.” Twenty-five-year-old Phil said he was from Kansas City. He was wearing a red Kansas City cap. Phil said he was staying at a nearby hotel. Nick and Phil chatted for maybe 15 minutes. “We walked a little bit down the sidewalk.”
Nick remembered: “It was brought up that Phil had gone to the dispensary prior to me entering and was telling me that their prices were kind of expensive.”
Nick noticed tattoos on the man’s forearms and a wide scar on one hand and wrist. And Phil was wearing flashy jewelry. “Like, a big cross necklace and kind of a big diamond earring. I’m not sure which ear.”
Nick told Phil that he might be able to help him with what he was looking for. “If [Phil] was a valid patient, then I’d be able to be his caregiver, and just dispense to him.” Nick said he had “valid documentation” that entitled him to “distribute” medical marijuana if Phil had a valid card.
“And then,” said Nick, “he kind of pulled out a large amount of money, so I knew he was serious. He just reached into his front pocket and pulled it out.” Cash. “Mostly hundreds. It looked like at least probably three to four thousand, just from my estimate.”
Nick said again that he didn’t “sell” marijuana, he only “dispensed” it. He got Phil’s contact information. “We exchanged numbers.”
And then Nick contacted his friend Jeremiah. “I was leaving to go out of town, so I spoke with my friend Jeremiah and let him know that I had met somebody and that they were in the market for something. [I] kind of explained the scenario and gave him Phil’s number.”
The Best of the Best
Jeremiah said he was smoking pot when his pal Nick phoned him. “Yes. I only smoke Kush. I only smoke top-quality Kush or Sour Diesel or purple. Just the best of the best.” Jeremiah said he takes this medicine every day. “It relaxes me more than anything. I have a bad back, and I get migraine headaches. It helps me eat.” It’s not that Jeremiah thinks he’s too thin. “I’m fat, myself. Heavyset.”
Jeremiah has been a marijuana smoker most of his life. “Since I was a kid. Maybe 15 years old.” In April 2010, when he was introduced to Phil, Jeremiah was 32 years old.
It was a pleasant, cool day in San Diego County. The rain came and went, which made the fronds on the palm trees behind Jeremiah’s house shiny. “I have a palm-tree forest in my backyard.” Jeremiah lives in a 672-square-foot home that was built in 1947 in a rural part of Vista. “I live in the country,” said Jeremiah. “I’m pretty bored.”
The boredom ended when Phil came to Jeremiah’s tiny home on Buena Vista Drive.
Eleven-Thousand Dollars’ Worth of Pot
Jeremiah said his pal Nick had contacted him about supplying three pounds of “high-grade Kush, purple — you know, good marijuana.” Jeremiah testified about this dope deal almost a year later, in San Diego Superior Court. The prosecutor asked who was supposed to receive this high-grade marijuana.
“A gentleman by the name of Phil,” said Jeremiah. “I told Nick that he could have the gentleman contact me, and, you know, we would go from there.” Phil phoned Jeremiah, and “We arranged to have a meeting, for [Phil] to come up and at least introduce each other, and meet each other.”
Phil first came to Jeremiah’s house on a Tuesday night, at about 10:00 p.m.; it was the day after Nick had met Phil on the sidewalk.
Phil stayed at Jeremiah’s home for about an hour. “Greeted him and smoked and hung out,” Jeremiah said. They sat in his living room and smoked “out of my bong.” It was a fancy bong. “It’s a brand name, called Roor.” An attorney wanted to know if that was special. “Yes. Glass on glass, imported from Germany.” Jeremiah said he’d paid $350 for his bong.
Jeremiah noticed his guest’s footwear. “He wore the same type of shoes I wear, the Air Force Ones.” He also noted Phil’s jewelry, his necklace. “It was a silver or white-gold chain.” With a glittery cross pendant. “The cross on the necklace had the diamond on it.”
Phillip Esquire Miller, the defendant who denies being the stoned shooter
Phil was clear as to what he wanted. “Sour OG, which is a cross of Kush and Sour Diesel.” Phil asked for three pounds and the price was negotiated: “Eleven thousand five hundred, give or take.”
Jeremiah said they were just meeting that night. “The deal was supposed to go down the following day.” Phil would bring the money, cash, on Wednesday. “He said [he’d come by] sometime the next day, when he got the money together.”
Show a Little Respect
Phil arrived at Jeremiah’s house at about 4:00 p.m. the following day. The man with the sparkly jewelry and tattoos and scarred hand arrived in a dark-colored sedan and parked on the other side of a fence that surrounded Jeremiah’s home. The fence was five or six feet tall, so Jeremiah didn’t get a good look at the car, and he didn’t notice if there was anybody else in the car.
Phil came in. “Hung out, smoked some marijuana, and talked.” They moved to the kitchen and got busy gathering up the three pounds of pot. “Yes, we packaged it, vacuum-sealed it, and put it in boxes.” In court, an attorney wanted to know how that was done.
“Take the marijuana and put it into a vacuum-sealed bag and seal it,” Jeremiah explained. “And then sealed it [again], you know, went over the vacuum-wrap one more time, and sealed it again, wrapped it in Mylar, and put it into a FedEx box.” Why did they put it into a FedEx box? “For more of a discreet going about, you know, hiding the marijuana.”
Did Phil tell Jeremiah what he was going to do with three pounds of marijuana? “I’m assuming sell it. Get rid of it.” A year later, Jeremiah told the judge that Phil said he was taking it to Kansas City.
After the packaging, Phil and Jeremiah went back into the living room and smoked more pot using the fancy bong. Phil also smoked little cigars called Black & Milds. Jeremiah particularly remembered it. “A cigar with a plastic tip on it.” Cigar tips containing Phil’s DNA collected in an ashtray.
Phil used his cell phone; he was speaking to someone. “What I did hear was him complaining about his girlfriend as he hung up the phone, and so that led me to believe that it was a girl,” Jeremiah recalled. He felt compelled to say something about Phil’s attitude. “I just remember telling him that’s the mother of his child, give a little more respect.”
He scolded him? “Because he was complaining. Because when he hung up the phone, he was complaining about her, and I just said, ‘You know, you should show her a little more respect; she’s the mother of your child.’ And I dropped it from there.”
Jeremiah said they used up the pot he had on the coffee table. “And then I ran out of that, and I had to get more.... I had more marijuana in my bedroom.” Jeremiah went to get more from a blue plastic storage bin against the wall, under a window, in his room. “Went back to the area where the marijuana was, opened the bin, bent down, and reached for it.
“That’s when I was shot at. No questions asked, no ‘Get down,’ no warning, no nothing. Just shot at me.
“How close was the gun to my head? A couple inches. If he would have moved a fraction of an inch, I would have been dead.”
Jeremiah said he was very scared. He described Phil as standing two feet away, with one arm outstretched, a black semi-automatic in his hand. Jeremiah said Phil stood like that for “a minute or two.”
Jeremiah could see the bullet hole. “It hit right next to the window, along the window ledge.” There was only one window in the little bedroom. “I was fearing for my life and telling him please not to kill me.” Jeremiah said he begged for his life “at least ten times.”
After the Shot Was Fired
Phil shouted at Jeremiah. He wanted to know “where the money was at.” Jeremiah told him that “I didn’t have any.”
Then, “Phil demanded me to move, you know, to move over there, to get down.” But there wasn’t enough space in his tiny room to lie down on the floor, so Jeremiah went into a kneeling position, facing his bed, with his head on the mattress and his arms stretched out in front of him. “I was face in the bed, and I was trying to look up, you know, and he kept telling me to turn around.
“I thought I was going to die.”
The Third Man
Then someone else came into the room. “Another gentleman came in and took my wallet.” Jeremiah said he didn’t actually see the other man enter. How did he know another guy came in? “Because I heard Phil yelling, ‘Get his wallet! Get his wallet!’” Jeremiah’s wallet was taken out of his back pocket.
The frightened host got the briefest look at the second guy — he remembered him as “male,” and “I just seen, you know, a darker individual.” Jeremiah dared not take a second look. “I was getting told to put my head down.”
“I was trying to tell them,” Jeremiah explained, “to at least leave the IDs because it’s a pain in the ass to go get new IDs. And they left the wallet with the IDs.” Three hundred dollars was removed, and the wallet was left on the floor.
Just before he left, Phil warned Jeremiah not to get up too soon. Phil told Jeremiah to count to 10,000 or “if I get up, he’ll shoot me through the window.” Jeremiah didn’t count. “I heard them peel out — you know, leave. Leavin’ my driveway. And I got into my car and went after ’em for about a block. And then decided — I turned around. It wasn’t worth destroying my car, or, you know, what was I going to do if I caught up with them, anyways?
“Thought to myself, This ain’t right, this is stupid.”
Why didn’t he use his cell phone to call police? “Because they took my cell phone.” Phil discussed this with Jeremiah. “I believe I was talking with Phil, because he [said he] didn’t want to steal the phone. He just wanted the SIM phone card out of it. If I could get the SIM card out, he wouldn’t take the phone, and I said it was a pain in the butt to get the SIM card out, and so he just took the phone.”
They also took the Roor bong and the three pounds of pot in the FedEx box.
Busted in Grand Junction
Two days later, on April 23, 2010, a cop in Colorado pulled over a car for hogging the fast lane. In Colorado, drivers are supposed to use the number-one lane only to pass, and then get back into the other lane.
Grand Junction police officer Michael Miller doesn’t cut any slack for cars with out-of-state plates. It was a little before 2:00 p.m. when Officer Miller walked to the passenger side, where Phil was sitting. The cop noticed that Phil was smoking a Black & Mild cigar.
A man named Andy was driving the car. It was a rental, a black Ford Taurus. The driver told the cop that they were coming from San Diego. Andy showed the cop his Kansas City driver’s license. The cop looked at the rental-car paperwork, and he noticed the name Phillip Miller was listed there as an approved driver, but Andy was not.
The officer said he could smell “raw marijuana.” He put the pair of travelers in the back seat of his patrol car, so he could search the rental car. Probably, Phil and Andy did not realize they were being video-recorded while they were inside that patrol car, watching the cop go through their rental car.
In court a year later, San Diego sheriff’s detective Lisa Jenkins said she obtained access to the video and confirmed what she’d observed.
When the suspects saw the cop go for the trunk of their car, Phil exclaimed, “He’s going to find the gun!” Phil started begging Andy to claim ownership of the gun. Phil said, “You know, they can charge you already, nigger. If nobody in the car takes the blame for something, if nobody takes the blame, they put it on the driver.”
Phil said, “I’m telling you, if you tell them, nigger, ‘He didn’t know nothing about it, it’s all mine. He didn’t know what I had in that suitcase.’ Bro, they got you.”
And, “Tell him you picked me up at the hospital.”
And, “If they ask you, you got that shit in Colorado.”
And, “Tell them that I didn’t know nothing about that one, man.”
Phil said, “I can’t take them both, man. You’ve got to do this for me, bro.”
Phil pleaded, “I will go to jail. I’ve got too many problems. You don’t have so many problems as I have.” And, “If I go down for this one and I go down for the one in Cali, bro, I’m done for it, nigger.”
Phil told Andy, “You’ve got my word, bro. If you take this, I’ll get you bailed out.” He begged. “Come on, I’ll get you out. I’m giving you my word, bro, on my daughter’s life.”
Phil said, “Go ahead, just go ahead and do it right now, nigga.”
Soon the cop came back to the men in his patrol car. Andy said the gun and marijuana were his. He also claimed ownership of the suitcase in the trunk, which contained so much damning evidence.
The cop found some marijuana in the center console of the car.
In the trunk, he found a FedEx box containing 3.4 pounds of marijuana and Speer .40 caliber Smith & Wesson ammunition. The bong was also in the trunk. And there was a drawing. It turned out to be a sketch of Jeremiah’s home, with the word BONG written along the bottom and circled.
Inside a suitcase in the trunk was a loaded, black Glock 27 semi-automatic pistol.
There was a physician’s statement from CalMed pharmacy in San Diego and several lighters that read “CalMed420.” A pair of white Nikes, Air Force Ones. A package of Black & Mild cigars.
After he was informed that he was being arrested, suspect Phillip Miller made a request. He asked the Colorado cop to get his jewelry from the rental car, before the car was taken away and impounded. “He said he had a silver cross necklace that was on the floorboard of the passenger seat,” Detective Jenkins testified.
Prosecuted in San Diego
When detectives flew in from California to interview Andy, he denied ever being in San Diego. Andy said he’d been working in Kansas that day, that Wednesday, April 21, 2010, when there was a shooting on Buena Vista Drive.
But San Diego investigators checked with Delta Airlines, and their records showed that Andy had arrived in San Diego at 11:12 p.m. on April 20. Andy had a return flight booked to Kansas on April 21, but he did not use it. It was easy to find and confirm this information, since a copy of the itinerary was found in the rental car.
When Andy and Phil were first charged in San Diego County Superior Court, investigators believed Andy was the shooter and Phil was the one who came in later and grabbed Jeremiah’s wallet. After more investigation, the charges were switched. Tests showed it was Phil’s DNA on the Glock handgun and on the cigar tips in the ashtray.
Phil recently turned 28. He pleaded not guilty to attempted murder, assault with a firearm, armed robbery, and first-degree burglary. This is a “three strikes” case. The prosecutor, Patrick Espinoza, alleges that Phil has a prior conviction for robbery in Kansas in 2005, and a drug conviction in Colorado in 2010.
A year or so after his arrest in Colorado, Andy made a deal. He pleaded guilty, in San Diego, as an aider and abettor. In the plea-deal paperwork, he stated: “I assisted defendant [Phil] Miller with knowledge he had committed a felony. I was not present during any robbery.” Andy has a 2007 conviction for drug sales in Kansas, according to a prosecutor.
Phillip Esquire Miller IV has a court date on February 26 in San Diego County. He is currently out on bail.