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RIVERSIDE, CALIF. — A former Marine testified in his murder trial Monday that he did not order the killings of a colleague and his wife in their Southern California home nearly five years ago.
Tyrone Miller, 25, gave jurors a firsthand account of what he recalled the night Marine Sgt. Jan Pietzrak and his wife, Quiana, were killed in October 2008. He apologized for his involvement but maintained he never ordered a friend and fellow Marine to shoot the couple.
“I feel beyond bad,” Miller said. “It was a mistake that spiraled out of control.”
Miller, Kevin Cox, 25 and Emrys John, 23, have pleaded not guilty to murder and allegations of burglary, robbery and sexual assault. All three men worked with Pietrzak at one time while stationed at Camp Pendleton.
A fourth suspect, also a former Marine, had his case severed and is awaiting trial. If convicted, each man could face the death penalty.
Miller, who grew up in North Carolina, said he planned a long career in the military and was just months away of becoming a corporal. However, the day before the slayings, Pietrzak told Miller he would never get that promotion but didn’t give an explanation, according to Miller.
“He pretty much brushed me off,” Miller said. “I never did anything to this man that he would snatch that from me.”
Miller said he went home that evening and drank a bottle of brandy and tequila. Drunk and angry, Miller said he wanted to confront Pietrzak about the situation.
“I guess you could say it affected my pride,” he said. “For me, I couldn’t just sit there for another minute.”
Joined by the three other then-Marines, Miller went to Pietrzak’s house where he was met by the sergeant who was armed with a kitchen knife and angrily told Miller to go home. Miller said he had a handgun but tossed it aside when challenged by Pietrzak, he added.
Miller said the two men began brawling and he was able to subdue Pietrzak. Miller said he was unsure what the other men were doing around the house, but he went upstairs and saw one of the men with Pietrzak’s wife. Miller denied he ever sexually assaulted Pietrzak’s wife.
Miller said he found a can of spray paint and wrote racial slurs on the walls. Pietzrak’s wife was black.
“Initially I knew it would hurt Sgt. P’s feelings,” said Miller, who also is black. “It was one last gut punch.”
Eventually the group was together downstairs and Miller continued to hit Pietrzak in order for him to give up his ATM pin number.
Prosecutors contend that robbery was the motive for the crime. They also said Miller told another Marine after the shooting that he handed the gun to John the night of the murders and said, “Do them.”
Prosecutors said John shot the couple through couch cushions to muffle the noise.
Miller maintained that he went to Pietrzak’s home only to confront him.
“To me that was my agenda,” Miller said. “I wasn’t there for anything else.”
Miller said he never remembers giving John a gun and didn’t see who fired the fatal shots.
Pietrzak’s wife, Quiana, had her wrists bound with red duct tape and was found lying against a living room couch. Pietrzak was bloodied and was in his underwear.
A fire had been set in an apparent attempt to destroy evidence, but Miller denied doing so.
Authorities were led to the four men after receiving tips from fellow Marines.
Jewelry, including the couple’s wedding rings, and Pietrzak’s dress uniform was found at the suspects’ homes, authorities said.
Pietrzak, 24, who was born in Poland and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y., joined the Marines in 2003 and served in Iraq from July 2005 to February 2006.
Miller said he knew he would likely be caught, and if he had to do it over again, he would still have sought out Pietrzak.
“I would still have to confront him but not in that way,” he said.