In the months leading up to his fatal encounter with Las Vegas police on Aug. 27, Robert Mills had lost his job, his home and his car.
The 38-year-old man no longer could support his family, so he borrowed a vehicle and began committing armed robberies.
“He did what he did because he was a desperate man,” his wife tearfully testified Thursday.
Wendy Whitfield, 31, and Mills had lived together for four years. Although they had a wedding ceremony and considered each other husband and wife, they weren’t legally married.
Whitfield took the witness stand Thursday during a coroner’s inquest into Mills’ death. Justice of the Peace Melanie Andress-Tobiasson prohibited members of the news media from photographing the distraught woman during her testimony.
After deliberating for 20 minutes, the jury’s five women and two men ruled unanimously that officers acted justifiably when they fatally shot Mills near a convenience store on the corner of Nellis and Charleston boulevards.
Whitfield listened to much of the day’s testimony and spoke to the Las Vegas Review-Journal after hearing the verdict.
“In my opinion, what Robert did was wrong. I’m not going to deny that,” she said. “The way the police went about doing what they did was excessive.”
What she really wants the community to know, however, is that Mills was a devoted husband and father.
“He was a good man,” she said. “And regardless of what he had done in the past, for the four years that I knew him, he was a law-abiding citizen.”
Whitfield and Mills met while selling time shares together. Once their relationship turned romantic, she became a stay-at-home mom, and Mills became the family’s sole breadwinner.
They had no children together, but Whitfield has a 7-year-old daughter who lived with the couple, and Mills paid child support for his 17-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter until he lost his job.
Whitfield said Mills was suffering from neuropathy and memory loss, prompting his doctor to declare him disabled early this year.
“He could no longer do his job,” Whitfield said.
During her testimony Thursday, Whitfield described the family as “essentially homeless.” She said Mills took methadone to manage his pain and was depressed about his inability to support his family.
She recalled him commenting that he was going to make money the only way he knew how. She knew what that meant, and she told him in no uncertain terms that if he felt he needed to commit robberies, “he might as well say goodbye to his family.”
Whitfield knew Mills had a criminal history, but she told the Las Vegas Review-Journal they didn’t discuss the details of his past. But he told her more than once that he had no intention of returning to prison, that he would make police shoot him first.
The woman said Mills was on his way to receive a loan from a family friend on the day of the shooting, but he never arrived.
She last spoke to him at 10:15 p.m.
“He told me he was on his way home,” Whitfield testified.
According to evidence presented at the inquest, that was right around the time Mills tried to rob the casino area of a grocery store at Nellis Boulevard and Stewart Avenue. A short time later, he robbed another grocery store at Charleston Boulevard and Sloan Lane.
After Mills’ death, police found $99 in loose bills around his body.
Officers Breck Hodson and Jeffery Abell, members of the Las Vegas police problem-solving unit, were driving by a 7-Eleven store when they spotted a sport-utility vehicle that matched the description of the robbery suspect’s vehicle.
They proceeded to pull up behind the SUV, which was parked at the gas pumps, in their unmarked car.
Hodson testified that he saw the suspect make eye contact with him through the SUV’s side-view mirror, and he decided the officers needed to get out and approach him.
“I announced, ‘Metro police. Let me see your hands,’ ” Hodson testified.
He said the suspect then leaned out of the driver’s side window and aimed a gun at him. A homicide detective testified that Mills fired first, but Hodson said he doesn’t recall that.
Hodson said he began firing at the suspect, who next aimed his gun at Abell and then at Nathan Jones, a patrol officer who had arrived at the scene.
All three officers fired at Mills, but only bullets from weapons fired by Hodson and Abell struck the suspect.
Abell said he saw a muzzle flash inside the suspect’s vehicle after Hodson demanded to see the man’s hands.
“I actually heard my partner shoot in response to that, and then I shot,” Abell testified.
The officer said he then saw the suspect turn toward him. Abell ducked before standing back up and continuing to shoot.
Dr. Lisa Gavin, a medical examiner with the Clark County coroner’s office, performed an autopsy on Mills and testified that he suffered 10 entrance wounds and one grazing wound.
She said Mills had a potentially lethal level of methadone in his system when he died from the gunshot wounds.
Other evidence presented at the inquest showed that Hodson fired 14 shots, Abell fired 16 and Jones fired seven.
Also, Mills fired three shots from a revolver while trying to commit the robberies and two shots during the exchange of gunfire with police. The revolver was found on the ground near the driver’s door of the SUV.
Whitfield said she didn’t know Mills had a gun.
“He knew how strongly I felt about him not owning a gun,” she said. “I don’t believe in guns. I don’t want them in my home or around my children.”
Contact reporter Carri Geer Thevenot at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-384-8710.