Document shows church robber shot in back

Posted: Sunday, June 08, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) At least one of the men killed by Big Lake pastor Phillip Mielke was shot in the back, according to his death certificate.

Mielke has said he shot Chris Palmer and Frank Jones just after 5 a.m. April 24 when he caught them robbing the Big Lake Community Chapel across the road from his house. He said he thought the men were coming toward him in the dark when he fired at them with a .44 Magnum pistol.

Palmer, 31, was found dead in a ditch just beyond the chapel. Jones, 23, died within hours at a house a few miles away where the two men lived with Palmer's girlfriend, family members said.

Palmer's cause of death is listed as ''Penetrating Gunshot Wound of Back'' on a death certificate signed April 30 by acting chief medical examiner Franc Fallico. The certificate was provided to the Anchorage Daily News by Renee Borello, Palmer's former girlfriend and the mother of his 8-year-old son, Anthony.

The death certificate says Palmer was shot and died at 5:30 a.m. It says the ''place of injury'' was ''Church, Near Church.''

So far, Alaska State Troopers have refused to say whether they think men were shot inside or outside the church, or even to answer questions about the location or the number of their gunshot wounds.

The pastor told his side of the story in a written statement released by his attorneys Thursday.

Borello, Palmer's former girlfriend, said she called Mielke on Friday morning after reading a newspaper account of the pastor's statement, which includes an apology to the families of the two men who were shot.

''I called him a coward,'' she said by phone Friday from her home in Rohnert Park, Calif., where she runs a day care center. ''If they had been armed and he had shot them, he would have nothing but my deepest sympathies for what he went through. But that didn't happen.''

No evidence revealed to date has suggested either Palmer or Jones was armed. They apparently were planning to steal food, small appliances, and some old tools.

The death certificate for Jones lists his cause of death as ''multiple gunshot wounds.'' It doesn't specify where he was wounded.

Jones' mother, Rachael Pigott, said she visited the chapel and the pastor last month. On Friday, she said she doesn't think the men were running at Mielke but rather were trying to run away.

''The reason they were coming toward him is that's where the door is they were running out the door,'' Pigott said.

Asked to respond Thursday to a report that Palmer might have been shot in the back, Mielke's attorney, Jerry Wade, said his firm had requested but not received copies of the autopsy reports.

Wade said Mielke shot the men at close range, but it's possible he didn't know exactly where he hit them.

''The shots were fired in the dark,'' he said.

Investigators with the Alaska State Troopers expected to file their final reports with the Palmer district attorney on Friday afternoon, according to trooper Capt. Dennis Casanovas.

District Attorney Roman Kalytiak said Friday the case could go to grand jurors on Tuesday if he has enough time to review the reports.

Kalytiak said he probably will not ask the grand jury to hand up a specific indictment. Rather, he said, he'll give them a series of options: second-degree murder, manslaughter or criminally negligent homicide. The grand jury also could choose not to indict.

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