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Jury opts for manslaughter in 2007 killing

The jury deliberated for almost three hours Friday beforereturning to convict Lincoln County’s Xavier Demond Vaughn ofmanslaughter in the March 2007 shooting death of Billy Ray Miller,23, of Wesson.

Judge Mike Taylor, after listening to victim impact statementsand pleas from Vaughn’s family, sentenced Vaughn to 20 years, with15 to serve, and to pay a fine of $3,000, court costs andto-be-determined restitution for Miller’s funeral expenses.

“There’s absolutely nothing the court can do, Millers, to bringyour son back. Courts and laws can’t fix these things,” he said. “Ican’t restore the loss, nor can I change the fact that a terribleprice has to be paid and another family will be hurt. But this didnot have to happen.”

Vaughn had been facing a murder charge in the incident, butjurors chose instead to return a guilty verdict on the lesseroffense of manslaughter. Defense attorney Johnnie Walls said hedoes not know yet if his client will choose to appeal the case, butthat they will discuss it Monday and come up with a decision.

Vaughn, 28, had told police when he was arrested that he hadshot Miller in self-defense when Miller arrived uninvited to a wakewith a large group of other men and demanded a confrontation withVaughn.

The prosecution contended that earlier confrontations in the dayled Vaughn to go to a relative’s house and to pick up a gun, whichthey said he planned to use to kill Miller.

Miller’s father, Billy Ray Miller Sr., said his son wasn’t thetroublemaker or the woman-hater that the defense wanted the jury tobelieve him to be.

“Billy Ray was a good son,” he said. “He was a good boy but Ibrought him up to be a man. He was a hard-working man, a man youcould talk to, a man who loved everybody, and I thank God for beingin him.”

Meanwhile, several of Vaughn’s family members begged the courtfor mercy, saying that Vaughn was “not a typical black man,” butone who had stayed out of trouble, married his high schoolsweetheart, loved his three children and kept a steady job wherepeople knew him as a respectful hard-worker.

“I appreciate the fact that Mr. Vaughn has done a number of goodthings, and I have no doubt that he is a good husband, a goodfather and a good son-in-law,” Taylor said before sentencing. “Buta bad decision by a good man can result in disastrousconsequences.”

Through the defense’s case, Vaughn’s chances were plagued byconflicting testimony from several of his family members. They wereable to fill in the blanks of how Miller came into the familygathering shouting challenges and threats at Vaughn.

But the problem came when some testified that members ofMiller’s party had firearms and fired the first shots, that Millerwas drawing his gun when Vaughn shot him, and that Miller had worngloves that were taken off him after he was shot. There was noevidence to support any of those claims.

Meanwhile, police found only Vaughn’s gun at the scene and verylittle evidence that there had been other weapons present. Inaddition, the prosecution’s witnesses’ stories were fairlyconsistent with each other.

Almost all accounts, however, had Miller shoving a female cousinof Vaughn’s out of the way as he approached Vaughn. As Vaughn movedbackwards he tripped over a stump, and as Miller was in the processof turning toward him, he was shot.

Vaughn’s wife, Cherie, had witnessed Miller being verballyabusive to the mother of his four children earlier in the day ofthe shooting, then had driven away and been led to believe Millerwas chasing her in the dark on unfamiliar roads. This led toVaughn’s initial confrontation with Miller.

His wife told the court that she didn’t know what she was goingto do without her husband.

“We’ve been together since 10th grade,” she said. “We went tocollege and supported each other … I just thought telling thetruth would be enough. You go through life thinking that if you dothe right thing, things like this won’t happen.”

She admitted that there had already been great loss in theMiller family, and said she was not trying to diminish their painwhen she asked the judge for leniency.

“I just hope God can find His glory in this,” she said. “I’m nottrying to negate anything anyone else has lost from their family.But please consider my three small children and have mercy.”

Miller Sr. said his family was glad to know the system hadn’tfailed them.

“I thank God for bringing justice today,” he said.

District Attorney Dee Bates said he and Assistant DistrictAttorney Diane Jones were glad to have the case finally settled,but that the grief of both families is considerable.

“The only thing I can say to define this is that it’s atragedy,” Bates said. “We’ve got a 23-year-old man who is deceased,and now there’s another family destroyed too. But the jury did agood job of deliberating fairly, and we’re thankful for theirservice.”