Jurors deliberate in manslaughter trial of intruders' killer

Prosecutor: Minister used deadly force to defend building that was unoccupied

Posted: Sunday, October 26, 2003

PALMER - Jurors deliberated Friday in the manslaughter trial of the Rev. Phillip Mielke, who is accused of shooting two intruders at his Big Lake Community Church last spring.

Mielke, 44, is charged in the deaths of Chris Palmer, 31, and Francis Jones, 23. The case is being heard in Palmer Superior Court.

Jurors also may consider a lesser charge of criminally negligent homicide.

In closing arguments Thursday, prosecutor Bob Collins said Mielke used deadly force to defend an unoccupied building and killed two men as they ran away.

Defense attorney Jim Gilmore characterized Mielke as a mild-mannered man who carried a gun for self-defense. The preacher used it in a "totally unexpected, out-of-control" situation when Palmer and Jones rushed him inside his own church, Gilmore said.

Palmer and Jones were burglarizing Big Lake Community Chapel about 5 a.m. April 24 when Mielke heard a noise over a homemade intercom system linking the church to his home, across the road.

He got his .44-caliber handgun and went to investigate.

The three men ended up together in a small, dark arctic entry.

Mielke testified that he ordered the men to stop and then fired when they kept coming.

Collins described Mielke as a fearful man, obsessed with security, who entered the chapel planning to shoot an intruder.

"He's a person who needs a gun before he can talk to a stranger," Collins said.

He noted that Mielke testified he once avoided talking to two drunks loitering in the church parking lot because he wasn't armed.

"Does a reasonable person feel they need a gun to approach another person?" Collins asked jurors. "He needs a gun to give him courage."

When Mielke strapped on his handgun and went to investigate the thunk he heard over the intercom, he found an empty car idling in the brush off the chapel parking lot.

Obviously someone was in the church, Collins said. That's when a reasonable person would have called Alaska State Troopers rather than enter a darkened building by himself, setting up a potentially deadly situation.

If Mielke had called state troopers at that point, it might have been like crying wolf, Gilmore said.

"His job is to see if there's something fishy going on at the church, inside or out," Gilmore said.

When he heard voices coming from the basement, Mielke shouted over the intercom to his wife, Helen, to call 911, Gilmore said. But she didn't hear him. Almost immediately, Jones and Palmer came rushing up the basement stairs at him, Gilmore said.

"It was like a bear charging," Gilmore said. "The critical feature of this event (is) it happened in a matter of seconds ... and it happened in the dark. ... His fear that caused him to pull the trigger was reasonable under the circumstances."

If Mielke was acting in self-defense, why did he empty his gun out a window as the mortally wounded Jones fled toward his car, Collins asked.

"Once he started shooting, he couldn't stop shooting," Collins said. "This is the act of someone who isn't going to let them get away."

And in the end, what was the point of it all? Collins asked.

"There were no assets worth a life-or-death decision in that church," he said.

The burglars were stealing donated food the church planned to give away, Collins said.

"You don't take a gun to protect some old doughnuts. ... Those are not the actions of a reasonable person."

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