Grand jury indicts Big Lake pastor

Posted: Friday, June 13, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) The Big Lake pastor who shot and killed two intruders at his church earlier this spring was indicted by a grand jury on manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide charges Thursday.

The Palmer grand jury indicted pastor Phillip Mielke, 44, in the April 24 deaths of Christopher Lee Palmer, 31, and Francis Marion Jones IV, 23.

Mielke was not immediately taken into custody. His attorneys were to produce him by 8:30 a.m. Friday, said Palmer District Attorney Roman Kalytiak.

Kalytiak said the grand jury considered other charges, including second-degree murder, and were presented instructions as to state statutes on self-defense.

''They were presented all the options in terms of indicting,'' Kalytiak said, as well as the option not to indict.

The office of Mielke's attorneys, Jerry Wade and Pam Sullivan, said they would make a statement after Mielke's arraignment.

Charging documents reveal that Mielke fired four times after at least one of the intruders was running away from the building and attempting to drive away. Also, there was no evidence that Palmer or Jones brandished any weapons in the church, prosecutors said.

Palmer's stepfather, Jim Novak, was glad to see Mielke indicted.

''The indictment is not what we wanted second-degree murder but they got him on the other two,'' Novak said. ''He will have to do some accounting.''

He said he plans to be at the arraignment and would like to talk to Mielke one on one.

''I want to know why he emptied a .44 on the two of those guys,'' Novak said.

Mielke did not appear before the grand jury but called troopers immediately after the shooting and gave an account:

He said he was awakened by an alarm, a baby monitor he had set up in the church. He dressed and armed himself with a .44-Magnum revolver.

He told troopers he saw a car parked on church property that was running but had no one in it. He entered the front door but saw nothing amiss in the main sanctuary.

When he got to the side door, he saw it was damaged and open. He used a flashlight to see if anyone was at the bottom of the stairs.

At that point, the lights flashed on and off and he heard people running up the stairs.

He yelled for them to stop, they did not, and as they approached the top of the stairs near the open side door, he fired. He described the men as ''tearing up the stairway.''

He fired once and one fell down, then fired again and the other fell down. He also heard one man say he was hit.

After one intruder got up and ran to the parked car, Mielke shot through a window at the fleeing man until his gun was empty.

He told the interviewing trooper that he did not know why he shot through the window but that he was ''scared to death.''

Palmer was found dead in the ditch of a roadway that runs alongside the church several dozen feet from the side entrance. Charging documents said he was shot once in the lower left back with the bullet lodging in tissue near his right hip.

Palmer wore gloves and a pouch containing tools attached to his belt and a folded pocket knife in his back pocket. Toxicology reports indicated he had controlled substances in his body.

Jones managed to drive away.

Several hours after the shootings, June Benedix called 911 and said Jones was at her Big Lake home and had been wounded. Investigators drove to the home and found Jones dead.

Benedix told investigators that Jones had driven to her house, honked his car horn and said he and Palmer had been shot at the church as they were running out the door.

Benedix brought Jones into the house and applied a bandage to his wound. She did not have a phone and could not locate a neighbor. She said Jones faded in and out of consciousness and did not want Benedix to leave.

She eventually did leave to call the emergency number.

Benedix also said she saw Palmer and Jones, who lived in the house with her, at 9:30 p.m. the previous night and that they left a half hour later to get cigarettes and did not return.

According to an autopsy, Jones had a gunshot wound to his left back and wounds on his lower left leg. He also had illegal drugs in his body.

Troopers said they found bullet marks on four places on the lawn.

They also found a loaded .357 Magnum revolver in the basement of the church on top of a water heater.

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