County Attorney Seeks First Death Penalty Sentence Since 1983

By Beacon Staff

Flathead County prosecutors will seek the death penalty for a Kalispell man accused of murdering his ex-girlfriend and her daughter on Christmas, marking the first time the county attorney has pursued a capital punishment sentence since 1983.

County Attorney Ed Corrigan filed his intent to pursue a death sentence for Tyler Michael Miller, 34, on March 9.

Miller, formerly known as Tyler Michael Cheetham, faces two deliberate homicide charges for the shooting deaths of Jaimi Hurlbert, 35, and her daughter, Alyssa Burkett, 15.

According to both the county attorney’s office and the Flathead County clerk of court, this is the first time in 28 years, since the 1983 conviction of Ronald Allen Smith, that prosecutors have actively pursued the death penalty.

Smith pleaded guilty to the 1982 double murder of cousins Harvey Mad Man and Thomas Running Rabbit of Browning. Prosecutors alleged that Smith, a Canadian, shot the two men near East Glacier at point-blank range.

According to reports from the Associated Press, Smith was offered a plea agreement that called for a 110-year prison sentence in 1983, but he rejected that in favor of a death sentence. He changed his mind the next year and has been fighting his sentence ever since.

His case once again came under scrutiny in 2010 when the Montana Supreme Court upheld his stay of execution in December. Smith is challenging the state’s method of lethal injection, arguing that it is cruel and unusual punishment.

In Miller’s case, a 17-page document filed with Corrigan’s intent to seek the death penalty provides a chilling account of what prosecutors allege happened in the time before, during and after the murders. In it, Miller is portrayed as remorseless in post-arrest interviews, admitting to premeditating the brutal crime.

“I probably pulled off the most evil manipulative pathetic thing today, but I feel good about it… (Expletive) I wish I felt bad, I wish to God I (expletive) felt bad, but I am (expletive) happier than hell,” Miller told sheriff’s detectives, according to court records.

During his interviews, officials say Miller believed Hurlbert, with whom he had an infant daughter, and a friend were trying to get him sent back to prison.

He told detectives that he had “declared war” on them, records say, which included leaving threatening messages on Hurlbert’s Facebook account and phone, as well as instigating an aggressive incident at a bar in Kalispell where Hurlbert worked on Dec. 24.

On Christmas, Miller’s mother was caring for the baby. Court records say that Miller was not allowed at his mother’s house due to alleged methamphetamine use, but he called on Christmas and convinced her to let him come over.

“In doing so, he promised that there would be no confrontations with Jaimi when she arrived to pick up their daughter,” the affidavit states. “(Miller) told his brother that he would never hurt Jaimi, he just wanted to talk to her.”

Miller’s brother said he did not see Miller pack a gun in his bag before they left his house. Miller told detectives that he had hidden the .45-caliber pistol in his backpack before his brother arrived.

He also test-fired it before his brother got there to make sure it worked, court records state.

Upon arriving at his mother’s house, Miller promised his family that he would be nice when Hurlbert got there to pick up the baby.

“I manipulated them, but I knew if Jaimi come there I was gonna (expletive) shoot her,” Miller allegedly said in an interview.

When he heard Hurlbert was on her way, Miller said he snuck into the bathroom and got the gun from his backpack. Then he put it in the waistband of his pants and “avoided tight hugs” with family members.

Miller told detectives his original plan was to kidnap Hurlbert and kill her elsewhere. When she got to his mother’s house, Miller said he went out through the garage and confronted her.

Witnesses said they heard Hurlbert say, “oh my God” immediately before the shots were fired. After the shooting Hurlbert, Miller said he shot Burkett because “I knew she was going to make a bunch of (expletive) noise.”

When Burkett called out to her mother after being shot, Miller allegedly told detectives he kicked her in the head. Responding officers found Hurlbert dead on the scene; Burkett died later at Kalispell Regional Medical Center.

Miller fled the scene after the shooting. Officers took him into custody once they located him.

Detectives say Miller admitted to premeditation, and that he assumed the death penalty would be inevitable.

“I’ll do it again if I don’t get the death sentence. In prison, I’ll figure out a way to do it … hurt somebody else till I get the death sentence,” Miller said, according to court records.

The affidavit states that Miller told detention officers that he killed Hurlbert because she allegedly used drugs near their daughter and he wanted his mom to raise the baby. He also told officers that meth had nothing to do with the shootings. When asked by them how he was feeling, Miller said, “I feel great.”

Miller is scheduled to enter a plea on the double homicide charges on March 24 at District Court.

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