Fallon man indicted for murder in LDS church shooting
LVN Editor Emeritus
A Fallon man was indicted Wednesday on first-degree murder and two other counts after appearing in the New River Township Justice Court.
More than a half dozen uniformed and plainclothes deputies from the Churchill County Sheriff’s Office provided security at the court. Two deputies led John K. O’Connor, 48, into the courtroom where Judge Michael Richards read a three-count indictment. O’Connor, who was wearing a black and white prisoner’s jumpsuit, asked for a pair of reading glasses to look at court documents. The longtime Fallonite showed no emotion when Richards began reading the criminal complaint.
Richards asked O’Connor if he had an attorney, to which he replied “no, sir, I don’t.”
On the first count, a Category A felony, O’Connor is charged with first-degree murder with the use of a firearm to a victim 60 years of age and older. The complaint stated the defendant did willfully and deliberately with premeditation kill Charles “Bert” Miller, 61, by shooting him multiple times with a 9mm Beretta Px4 Storm handgun.
Both the second and third counts are Category B felonies. The second count is battery with a deadly weapon causing substantial bodily harm to a victim 60 years of age or older. The criminal complaint states the defendant shot Duane Miller, 64, causing prolonged physical pain.
The third count is assault with a deadly weapon. The complaint states the defendant pointed a handgun at Mike Whitaker, putting him in reasonable apprehension of immediate harm.
A status hearing is scheduled for Thursday at 11 a.m., also in Justice Court.
Richards also appointed Richard Davies, who has capital case experience, as O’Connor’s public defender.
According to a report from the Fallon Police Department on Sunday, O’Connor allegedly killed Bert Miller, a fellow church member, after the sacrament meeting at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on West Richards Street, and wounded his brother, Duane, of Spanish Fork, Utah. He was shot in the leg but treated and released from Banner Churchill Community Hospital. According to his Facebook page, Duane Miller works as a management professor at Utah Valley University and was former adjunct faculty member at Brigham Young University. Duane Miller’s name was not immediately released by the Fallon Police Department.
According to the initial police report, O’Connor shot the two men in and was witnessed by approximately 50 church members. Fallon Police Chief Kevin Gehman said O’Connor is being held in the Churchill County Detention Facility on $1,050,000 bail. Gehman said detectives worked with the Churchill County District Attorney’s Office to obtain the necessary search warrants and to retrieve the weapon that was used in the shooting.
Gehman said it does not appear to be an attack on the church but on one individual. He said officers interviewed many witnesses after the shooting. He said additional follow-up interviews are being conducted this week.
Gehman said dispatchers received a 911 call at 12:58 p.m. Sunday afternoon reporting a shooting at the church. About 20 officers, many of them from the joint SWAT team of the police department and Churchill County Sheriff’s Office, responded. He said O’Connor, who apparently was attending the sacrament meeting in the chapel prior to the shooting, left the church on foot and returned to his home on Joyce Court one block away. Officers and deputies surrounded O’Connor’s home, Gehman said, and after a hostage negotiator placed several phone calls to O’Connor, he agreed to leave the house.
The Nevada Highway Patrol set up a perimeter in the area and blocked several roads.
O’Connor is a longtime resident of Fallon and graduated from Churchill County High School in 1989. He lost to Pete Goicoechea in the general election for the Assembly 38 seat in 2010 in and finished third behind the winner, Robin Titus, R-Smith Valley, and Tim Fasano, IAP-Fernley, in the 2014 general election, also for the same Assembly district. O’Connor ran as a Libertarian.
In 2012 the Nevada Supreme Court rejected his claim that Churchill County District Attorney Art Mallory was bound by term limits. O’Connor argued Mallory’s election unconstitutionally violated term limits for state officers. The court affirmed the district court’s judgment that found Mallory’s 2012 election valid because district attorneys are “county officers” and not subject to term limits under a provision of the state constitution.
Gehman said at a news conference O’Connor was known to authorities. Two domestic violence charges in the early 1990s and a minor drug charge were dismissed.
Two vigils for Miller were conducted in Fallon this week, the first on Monday night with the fire department in attendance and the second, an interfaith service, on Tuesday afternoon. The mayor praised Miller, who served for 35 years in the Fallon Churchill Volunteer Fire Department, for his community service.
Miller is survived by his wife, LuDene, three adult children, Michael, Heidi and Brian, and grandchildren. Alyssa, Zachary, Clara, Aaron, and Jaxson.
A viewing will be held on Thursday from 5-7 p.m. at the Smith Family Funeral Home, 505 Rio Vista Drive in Fallon. Funeral services are set for Friday at 10 a.m. with viewing at 9 a.m. at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at 450 N. Taylor St.