Willard Miller says when he told a man to burn in hell for his part in killing his 25-year-old grandson, Steven Miller, adrenalin was coursing through his veins.
“That’s the way I felt. I couldn’t help myself,” he said of the brief face-to-face confrontation that took place in a St. John’s courtroom in January.
“I’m 80, but I’m a tough 80.”
The anger he felt that day, when Calvin Kenny and Chesley Lucas were each sentenced to 12 ½ years in prison, had not abated when I spoke to him Monday. He felt like he’d been sucker-punched when he learned the lawyers for Kenny and Lucas plan to appeal their sentences.
“That’s really hurting us now. … We were sort of — well, it’s 12 ½ years. But now, (the news of the appeal), that’s a real slap in the face. They should’ve got more time — 25 years.”
In July 2016, Miller was assaulted and taken from his Conception Bay South home by armed intruders who broke in and set the house ablaze. He was stabbed multiple times and his body discarded in a driveway in Kelligrews.
Kenny and Lucas pleaded guilty to manslaughter, robbery, arson and forcible confinement. There’s a publication ban on the facts of the case, as another man charged in Miller’s killing, Paul Connolly, has not yet had his day in court.
Both defence and Crown lawyers had suggested Kenny and Lucas each be given a sentence of 7 ½ years, but Judge Colin Flynn rejected that, saying it might undermine public confidence in the justice system.
Still, 12 ½ years wasn’t enough for Miller’s grandparents — let alone the potential now that those sentences could be reduced on appeal. They are mourning the loss of a happy young man who had trained to be a millwright and was trying to get ahead, working alongside his father at the St. John’s dockyard. His father, they say, has been unable to work since.
“At the funeral home, they all came up from the dockyard,” Willard says of his grandson’s and son’s coworkers. “There was not one dry eye going out the door.”
Willard says he walked through his grandson’s charred and gutted house in the aftermath of the crime, and imagined the screaming and terror that must have unfolded there.
His wife, Hazel, says she never thought her family would be ripped apart by violence.
“It’s been hard,” she said Monday, her voice tremulous. “He’d be 27 tomorrow — if he’d have lived. He was such a kindhearted fellow. He’d say, ‘If you want anything, you or Pop, you just have to pick up the phone.’ … We never had no trouble in our family. Willard is 80 and I’m 76, and by any way, shape or form, it’s destroyed our lives.”
Hazel says the days don’t get any easier. She is weakened by cancer and says every day something triggers the painful memories.
“We can’t get through one day without tears falling,” she said. “What that did to us, no one will ever know. I wouldn’t want anyone to walk a mile in my shoes, that’s for sure. … I don’t understand it.”
Willard says news of the appeals has ripped open a wound that hadn’t even really begun to heal. He says they felt robbed from the start but this feels like an even greater injustice.
“This took our lives,” he said. “Our lives are ruined. We’ll never be the same again. We just miss him. We’re just devastated. If they had gotten a good bit of time, it would’ve helped.”
Willard and Hazel say they find it difficult to accept that their grandson is dead and will never get to experience any more of life’s big moments, including fatherhood.
“Losing him? Time can’t do nothing,” Hazel said. “I’d have rather lost him to cancer than the way he was crucified. We can’t sleep. The first thing you do is think about him — such a sweet little boy.”
Pam Frampton is The Telegram’s associate managing editor. Email firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: pam_frampton