Lompoc resident Jack Mills, 52, was found guilty Friday afternoon on all seven of the charges levied against him for shooting a man in the head at point-blank range during a violent home invasion in March 2010. The victim survived, but with serious injuries. The charges against Mills included attempted murder, assault with a firearm, and second degree robbery.
After the verdicts were read, Deputy District Attorney Ben Ladinig stated in an interview, “It was the right outcome based on the evidence.” He complimented Detective Michael Claytor for his hard and thorough work on the case, and for finding Mills after he fled to Nevada following the shooting. When asked how long Mills’s sentence might be, Ladinig answered, “We’re still trying to figure that out, but he will spend the rest of his life in prison. I’m fairly certain of that.”
According to police reports, the 31-year-old male victim was shot in the doorway of his 1535 Gillespie Street home after a brief exchange with Mills and two black male accomplices. When the police arrived they found the victim conscious and speaking, but he was transported to Cottage Hospital in serious condition. The incident did not appear to be gang or drug related, police said.
With little to go on other than of a description of the getaway vehicle, Santa Barbara police were able to track the shooting back to Mills and his wife, Rebecca, who authorities arrested at a relative’s home in Pahrump, Nevada. Rebecca Mills will appear in court Monday to answer to her charges. Ladinig said he expects her case to be resolved then.
Thursday’s Closing Arguments
Closing arguments were presented to Judge Frank Ochoa and the 13 jurors Thursday.
Accompanied by a thorough slide presentation, Ladinig argued that Jack Mills was guilty of all seven allegations against him, including one count of attempted murder, two counts of assault with a firearm, two counts of attempted robbery, felon in possession of a firearm, and first-degree burglary.
Ladinig led his closing argument by painting a disturbing picture of the events that took place the day of the shooting. “It was the shot that rocked this city,” he said, honing in on the fact that Mills was grievously callous to invade Maria Aguilar’s residence and shoot her nephew Juan Aguilar-Ortiz in broad daylight on a Monday near Harding Elementary School. “The scars from the Gillespie Street shooting are slow to heal.”
The prosecutor then adjusted his tone to address the heroic acts of Maria Aguilar, Juan Aguilar-Ortiz, and Detective Michael Claytor. Ladinig reminded the jurors of Aguilar’s tumultuous meeting with Mills the day of the shooting. He also called upon the jurors to remember her emotional testimony, which described Mills forcing his way into her home and holding a gun to her temple.
Moving on to a slide depicting a bloodied Aguilar-Ortiz in a stretcher on the floor of Aguilar’s home shortly after the invasion, Ladinig emphasized the shooting victim’s remarkable survival. Aguilar-Ortiz was toward the back of the house during the invasion and came to the front door upon hearing the disturbance, where he was shot. “He fought to come here and tell you what happened,” Ladinig said.
Ladinig also praised the “dogged determination” of Detective Michael Claytor, whose efforts led to the ultimate arrest of Jack Mills and his wife, Rebecca Lee Mills, who had been waiting in a black Volvo at the scene of the crime.
“This is not merely a case of tragedy, but a case of triumph,” said Ladinig, urging the jurors to be thankful that the heroes in this case would bring Mills to justice.
Both the jurors and Jack Mills were attentive as the prosecutor then went on to describe with meticulous detail why the defendant was guilty of each of the seven allegations. Ladinig argued that Mills planned to invade Aguilar’s home with the intention of robbing her. This was evident from his two visits to the residence prior to the shooting, his use of two accomplices, his possession and ultimate use of a gun, and the presence of a getaway vehicle at the time of the crime.
“The planning shows the sophistication of Mr. Mills and his accomplices,” said Ladinig, who believed the evidence indicated that the defendant’s actions were willful, deliberate, and premeditated. The prosecutor ended his statement insisting that the jurors realize the extent to which Mills full-heartedly committed his crimes. “He did it. He disrupted the fabric of this community. Don’t compromise with [lesser charges].” His final slide read, “Guilty as charged” in yellow block letters.
After a brief recess, Mills’s defense attorney Steve Balash began his closing arguments, which involved much less multimedia. “This is a difficult case,” Balash opened. Using an overhead and sheets of printed paper, he explained to the jurors, “The absence of evidence is not evidence. There’s a lot of that here.”
The defense attorney went on to describe a few of these “known unknowns,” including the distance between the muzzle of the gun and Aguilar-Ortiz’s forehead at the time the gun was shot. “We can’t conclude that he was shot at short range because there’s no evidence that he was shot at short range,” said Balash.
He asserted that because the shot was fired during the commotion, there was no indication that Mills intended to kill Aguilar-Ortiz. This would preclude the defendant from being convicted of attempted murder, according to Balash. He also pointed out that there was no direct evidence proving that Mills’s motive was to rob either Aguilar or Aguilar-Ortiz, observing that no robbery attempt was actually made.
“You have to know the facts,” Balash said, slowly pacing around the room throughout his presentation. “One of the problems in this case, there are too many things we don’t know.”
Balash repeatedly yet calmly asked the jurors to consider whether the prosecution proved that the defendant was guilty by all counts, placing particular emphasis on “beyond reasonable doubt.”