Vancouver man gets 17 years for fire, murder try

By Laura McVicker, Columbian staff writer

Published:

Updated: April 5, 2012, 6:58 PM

 

A judge on Thursday gave the maximum sentence of 17 years to a Vancouver man convicted of trying to kill his ex-girlfriend by setting her house ablaze in September 2010.

Clark County Superior Court Judge Rich Melnick noted how David Michael Miller sent threatening text messages to his estranged girlfriend before barging into the home that evening and dousing gasoline throughout the inside of the house and on his girlfriend and her family members. The judge called the case “reprehensible.”

“Frankly, it’s a classic symptom of domestic violence gone awry,” Melnick said while handing down his sentence to 24-year-old Miller.

Miller pleaded guilty Jan. 27 to second-degree attempted murder, first-degree arson, second-degree assault and harassment. His sentencing range for the crimes was about 11 to 17 years.

In arguing for the high end of the range, Deputy Prosecutor Jeff Holmes said that while the estranged girlfriend, Jessica Whalen, her sister, parents and young son escaped the house without injuries before the house went up in flames, they continue to suffer emotional scars.

Miller was described as controlling of his girlfriend before she ended the couple’s relationship the morning of the event, Sept. 17, 2010. He was a drug user and was known to drain the couple’s bank account to support his addiction, Whalen’s family members said Thursday.

“In the end my daughter just couldn’t do it anymore” and ended the relationship that started in the couple’s teen years, father Kenneth Whalen told the judge.

“This was a relatively gruesome attack,” the deputy prosecutor said. “He had made repeated threats to kill.”

The Sifton-area house sustained substantial fire damage; prosecutor Holmes calculated restitution for the damage at about $262,000.

While Whalen and her family members escaped within seconds after Miller lit a match, the defendant stayed inside the house, defense attorney Jeffrey Barrar said.

“His intent was to go down with the house,” Barrar said.

The pain of his burns was too much, so he escaped the fire as well, the attorney said. Emergency officials found Miller at a gas station a short drive from the house. He was severely burned and has undergone several surgeries, Barrar said.

Miller’s family members addressed the judge, saying Miller was a kind but troubled person. They emphatically said he wasn’t a “monster,” but lacked impulse control the day of the fire.

Some of them said Miller’s intent was to simply end his own life.

After hearing from the attorneys and family members of the defendant and victim, Melnick said: “In my 32 years of practicing law, your intent was clearly stated: to kill.”

Laura McVicker: www.twitter.com/col_courts;www.facebook.com/reportermcvicker;laura.mcvicker@columbian.com; 360-735-4516.