Jacksonville cold case killer released after pleading guilty

New Orleans man charged in fatal shooting agrees to plea deal

By Staci Spanos - Reporter/anchor, Ashley Harding - Reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Johnie Lewis Miller, a popular New Orleans street performer arrested last year in the 1974 killing of a Jacksonville convenience store owner, will be released after pleading guilty Wednesday to second-degree murder in the case.

Miller, 61, was sentenced to 344 days and given credit for time served as part of a plea deal reached with prosecutors that required him to meet with the victim's family last week and answer their questions about the decades-long cold case.

The plea agreement bookends a high-profile murder case that came together last year when technology finally caught up with evidence only for it to unravel in January with the sudden death of a key witness a month before her deposition.

By pleading guilty, Miller acknowledged shooting and killing 34-year-old Freddie Farah in May 1974 during a botched robbery of the Grand Park Food Store on Kings Road that Farah owned.

Farah's loved ones were in court Wednesday to face his killer and explain the impact his actions more than four decades ago had on their lives that fateful day and every day since. His youngest child, Christine, who was just 5 years old at the time, said the loss continues to affect her in profound ways.

"To this day, I wonder if we would have been proud of me and my accomplishments. The not knowing is the hardest. It's difficult to know that I never got the chance to know my father and all the wonderful things we had to look forward to," she told Miller.

Miller was arrested last May on a murder warrant in New Orleans, where he had been working as a street performer known as "Uncle Louie." Jacksonville detectives said technological advances led to a fingerprint match in the decades-old case.

Police said Miller, then 17, came into the store in 1974, walked up to the counter with some items, pulled out a gun and demanded cash. Startled, Farah swiped at the gun. That's when Miller shot him and took off, police said. Farah, a father of four, did not survive.

Farah's uncle was in the store at the time of the killing, but did not get a good look at the shooter. But a 14-year-old customer who witnessed the shooting provided detectives reviewing the cold case years later with some valuable information, according to police.

Police pulled fingerprints from a can of frosting and a box of cake mix left behind as well as a palm print from a soda can. They were not able then to match the prints to anyone. The story was the same when the prints were entered into a federal database in 1998.

Then, in December 2016, police connected the prints to Miller.

With a suspect in mind, police looked for witnesses that were still alive. Their search led them to Annette Bryant Williams, the 14-year-old customer from decades ago. She  recalled what the shooter looked like and how he had placed items on the counter before shooting Farah.

Her testimony was the only thing that could link Miller's prints to the murder. It was essential to the case. But Williams, 58, died unexpectedly in December 2017, a month shy of her scheduled deposition.

Williams' death meant the statements she gave out of court would not be admissible at trial.

There's a process, called perpetuation, that allows for a judge to grant a motion to preserve testimony from a witness who is unlikely to be available for trial. In these cases, witnesses may be unavailable due to terminal illness or other reasons. But Bryant's death wasn't linked to any terminal illness.

Miller was released from the Duval County jail just before 11 p.m. Wednesday. 

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