Live updates from arson murder trial
By BY DIANNA WRAY - DWRAY@VICAD.COM
Jan. 15, 2013 at 12:04 p.m.
Updated Jan. 16, 2013 at 7:17 p.m.
Scroll down to read live updates of testimony Thursday in the trial.
GOLIAD - Delbert Mills stood on the front porch talking with Sherrie Dunell Rieck in July 2003. His wife had just died about three weeks earlier in a house fire.
Mills was drunk and talking about his wife, Patricia Leigh Mills.
He had never loved his wife, he told Rieck. Mills said he had been in love with Allison Newman for years, and he only married Patricia because she was pregnant. Now, he told Rieck, he was going to marry Allison.
"We love each other. We want to get married. That way she can't testify against me, and I can't testify against her in the murder of Patricia," he said.
Rieck told the story Tuesday during the second day of testimony in Mills' capital murder trial. Mills, 45, is charged with setting his house on fire June 25, 2003, while his wife, 32, and 6-year-old son were inside. His son escaped the fire.
She died of asphyxiation in their home at 127 S. San Patricio St. in Goliad.
The day's testimony started with Patricia's sister Sharon Burdette, of Victoria.
Mills married Patricia in February 1995, and from that time on, Burdette noted her younger sister always seemed to have bruises on her body.
"It started immediately after she married, and it continued until the last time I saw her, the weekend before her death," Burdette said.
She kept her voice steady and her face locked together, controlling her emotions as she answered questions from District Attorney Michael Sheppard and from Mills' defense attorney Keith Weiser.
The physical abuse continued, she said. One day in June 1999, Patricia showed up at Burdette's doorstep, injured. Burdette said the emergency room doctors found she had a broken nose after another altercation with Mills.
Patricia left her husband after that, moving in with Burdette and filing for divorce and a protective order.
While Patricia was living with her sister, Mills would drive his truck up and down their street. He told them he had a gun, and he was going to kill them all.
But Patricia returned to her husband in August 1999.
They were living in Goliad in December 2002 when Allison Newman, now known as Allison Salinas after a remarriage, moved in with them.
Allison's ex-husband, Jimmy Lee Newman, of Atascosa County, testified that he divorced her in 2002 because she was constantly cheating on him, the last time with Mills.
Salinas stayed with the Millses for about a month.
After that, Patricia and her husband began coming to Victoria to meet with Allison to collect a significant amount of money she owed them, Burdette said.
Mills would leave his wife at Burdette's house while he went to meet with Allison at Riverside Park.
After Patricia's death, Mills told Burdette that Patricia was worried and suspected he and Allison were having an affair. Burdette said he also told her Patricia was right, that he had been cheating on her with Allison.
On the morning Patricia died, a sheriff's deputy arrived at Burdette's home in Victoria with the news her sister was dead. Burdette said she rushed out the door and headed to Goliad, unable to believe it.
She arrived at the house where Mills and his son were. Mills was with her from then until well after midnight. He never cried or broke down, she said.
"It was like it didn't faze him. He wasn't showing any emotion," she said.
As the family adjusted to the news, they started thinking about how they could pay for the funeral.
Burdette asked Mills whether they had life insurance. At first, he said they didn't, then he said they had insurance for $5,000.
It turned out the policy was for $15,000. Of that, $3,000 went to cover funeral costs.
Mills spent the rest on a new pickup and things for Allison and her children, Burdette said. Ten years later, her sister's grave is still without a headstone.
Within weeks of Patricia's death, Mills was hanging out with Allison. They married a little more than two months later.
Newman stayed on good terms with his ex-wife and Mills. He had regular visitation days with his three daughters. One day when he stopped to pick up the girls, Allison and Mills were having a fight.
"He called her bad names and stuff," Newman testified. "He said he'll burn her up just like he did his other wife."
Newman was disturbed by the words but acknowledged to Weiser that he didn't take them very seriously. Still, he turned to Mills as the two stood in the front yard after the argument.
"If you do that, leave my daughters alone," Newman told Mills.
He promised he wouldn't harm the girls, Newman said.
Mills often offered fire as a solution to problems, other witnesses said.
When his friend Frank Freeman was having financial problems, Mills told him he knew how to get him some more cash.
"He said we could have a fire, and he knew how to start a fire and not get caught, and we could collect the insurance," Freeman said.
Mills said he would do it for $10,000 of the $65,000 insurance policy on Freeman's home.
"I told him I wouldn't even consider burning down the house," Freeman said, giving his head of gray hair an emphatic little shake.
Mills offered fire as the answer when Keisha Greenland, 27, of Victoria, a friend of the couple's, came to their house devastated about a fight with her husband that had gotten physical. Greenland was thinking of divorcing her husband, but she told Mills and Allison that she was afraid of a custody battle over their infant son. Mills offered a solution.
"Delbert told me I didn't have to go through the pain of divorce, and Delbert told me he had a way of getting rid of Bill, and the police would never know it wasn't an accident," Greenland testified.
Mills stared at the table in front of him, not responding to her testimony.
Greenland didn't take him seriously until she caught sight of Allison's face.
"She had a very serious and very worried look on her face," she said.
Allison told Mills to stop talking, that he shouldn't be saying things like this since his first wife had died in a fire. Greenland had been close with the couple, but she had never heard about Patricia's death.
"I can't describe to you the look on his face," she said. "He was smirking. He didn't look remorseful. He said, 'Yeah, I got away with that s---, too.'"
Greenland avoided Mills after that night, but she didn't report what he'd said to authorities because she was afraid for her friend and afraid for herself.
Months before, she had overheard a fight between the couple. Mills told Allison that if she ever tried to divorce him, he'd kill her and her three daughters in a fire.
At the time she'd assumed he was just saying that out of anger, but after learning about Patricia's death, his words took on a new significance for Greenland, she said.
"I was terrified for myself and my family if I said anything from what I understood this man was capable of," she said.
Mills was arrested and charged with capital murder in Patricia's death in December 2011.
In May, he shared a jail cell at the Goliad County Jail with Joaquin Quintero, of Telferner. Quintero overheard Mills talking to his third wife, Kayla Mills, on the phone. He'd get angry and hang up the phone.
"She knows what I'm capable of," Quintero quoted Mills as saying.
Mills told Quintero he thought he'd gotten away with murder, Quintero testified.
He talked about how he'd been married to Patricia but was having an affair with Allison, Quintero added.
"When there's a problem, you have to eliminate it," Quintero remembered Mills saying.
Mills repeated that phrase many times, Quintero said.