Circuit Court Judge Greg Tynan doubled down on what a jury said in November 2019: Everett Miller should receive the death penalty for shooting Kissimmee police officer Matthew Baxter and Sgt. Richard “Sam” Howard in 2017.
Whereas, almost five years later, this closes the book on the case for the most part – Defense attorney Frank Bankowitz said the case will automatically go to appeal in the 5th District in the coming days – the families of the officers and the extended family of the Kissimmee Police Department will always feel loss and pain.
“Justice has been served,” Mia Brown, Baxter’s sister, said in tears. “Life will never be the same without Matt.”
Sadia Baxter, Matthew’s widow and an FDLE agent, attended each hearing in the process.
“It’s been almost five years since Matthew and Sam were killed. I was sitting there, representing Matt and Sam, and every law enforcement officer in the country. I am so grateful that this community has supported us the way they have. Five years and we finally have justice. I am so grateful. Even though we have a verdict today, my daughters still don’t have their daddy.
“One of the hardest things I had to do in the process was to forgive; to forgive someone who hasn’t asked for forgiveness. I stand here with my family and say we forgive to Everett Miller. Although what he did was wrong, we forgive because these girls deserve to live a happy life, free from hate. Hate is what brought us here, hate towards the forces of order. It’s not good.
Through Sadia Baxter, the Howard family said they will miss Sam’s smile the most.
A jury convicted Miller, who had no criminal record before the shooting, of first-degree murder in September 2019, and recommended the death penalty two months later. In 2021, Millers’ defense team files motions for a life sentence rather than the death penalty, and another to declare the death penalty unconstitutional in Florida, both of which were rejected.
In 2018, when then-prosecutor Aramis Ayala said she would not pursue death penalty cases, then-Governor. Rick Scott took his office off the case and handed it over to another circuit. Assistant State’s Attorney Ryan Williams has prosecuted the case and is aware of and awaiting the appeal.
“That’s what they do,” he said. “The evidence in the case was clear…and there was plenty of it. The law made it clear what the outcome should have been.”
On the night of August 18, 2017, investigators said Baxter called Howard for backup the night of the shooting when Miller began arguing with him because he was in the Cypress and Palmway neighborhood. When Howard arrived, Miller shot each of them from ambush. Miller was found hours later at a bar on Orange Blossom Trail, a few blocks from the shooting site. Baxter died that night, while Howard succumbed the next morning.