Former roommate: Denton said he hated, wanted to kill mother, go on 'rampage'

J. H. Osborne • Jan 18, 2019 at 12:09 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — Witnesses Thursday linked the M1 Garand .30-caliber rifle found outside the scene of a triple murder to Robert Seth Denton, who is on trial for the crime.

One of the witnesses was Richard Montgomery, who owns the store where Denton purchased the rifle — on the first day he was back in town after a near-year stint in the military. Another was Thomas Miller, the friend who’d picked him up at the airport that day and drove him to the surplus store. Montgomery said Denton purchased two rifles that day, trading in an AK-47. Both identified the gun by its serial number.

A Tennessee Bureau of Investigation forensics expert testified that boots worn by Denton the night of the murders had blood on them and some of that blood matched the DNA of Toshya Milhorn, his mother. Toshya Milhorn’s DNA also matched blood found on a camouflage jacket found near the rifle, on the ground outside the back door of the house, the TBI expert said.

Denton’s former roommate, Joseph Whitaker, testified that while they were sharing an apartment that summer Denton had said he didn’t get along with his grandparents. Did he say anything about his mother? “He said he wanted to kill her,” Whitaker said. “He said he wanted to go on a rampage.”

Montgomery testified that on an overnight trip that he, Denton and Miller took to Oak Ridge for a battle reenactment that June he overheard Denton telling other people about how he hated his mother. 

Miller said he and Denton shared an interest in historic military weapons, especially of the World War II period, and had frequently gone to a shooting range that summer. The M1 American-built rifle was the standard rifle used by the U.S. military during World War II and the Korean War, Miller said.

Denton is charged in the Aug. 29, 2015, deaths of his grandmother, Lena Marie Rose, 57; his mother, 39; and James Milhorn, 36. Six children were in the home at the time of the shootings, five of which are Denton’s siblings. The sixth was a visiting friend.

Dr. Eugene Scheuerman, the forensic pathologist who conducted autopsies on the three murder victims, testified in detail about the wounds of each. Toshya and James Milhorn each had two gunshot wounds to the back. Marie Rose had four gunshot wounds, but Scheuerman said the wounds could have been caused by anywhere from two to four bullets. The cause of death for each was gunshot wounds and each manner of death was homicide, Scheuerman said. 

The first 911 calls about the shootings came in at about 5:45 p.m that day. Miller testified that at 5:47 p.m. he received a call from Denton, missed it, and called him back. Denton, Miller said, seemed “calm, laid back, normal” but started thanking him for being a friend. Miller said he asked if something was up and Denton nonchalantly said “I snapped,” before telling Miller he wanted him to have a certain one of his guns and other items. Denton, Miller said, concluded with “I might not get to see you for a while ...”

Denton’s now-11-year-old sister, who was 8 years old at the time her mother, grandmother and stepfather were gunned down in the family home, took the witness stand on Thursday. Subdued and soft-spoken, the girl answered questions first from Assistant District Attorney Teresa Nelson. She recounted the family’s outings earlier in the day of the murders, first to the Appalachian Fair and then to a waterslide event in downtown Bristol. After that, they headed home. Asked when she first saw Seth, which door he used to enter the home, she said the front door.

She described being in the kitchen with her mother and grandmother sitting at the table with she and the other children nearby and how after Seth came in she and some of the other children tried to hide under the table. She said they also tried to pull a toddler seated in a booster seat down under the table with them. She answered questions about being in an ambulance and having a her leg doctored and remembered nurses helping her and a younger sister take showers and wash the blood out of their hair.

Denton’s attorney, Ricky Curtis, cross-examined the child and asked if she remembered talking to a detective that night. She said she didn’t remember. Curtis asked if looking at a typed version of her statement from that night would help. She looked perplexed. Curtis took her the piece of paper and asked her to read it, then asked if it helped her remember. She said she still didn’t remember it. She said she doesn’t remember talking to a detective and she doesn’t remember saying the things in the typed statement.

Curtis moved on to the fact that she lives with Rose. “You live with your grandfather and he talks to you frequently about your grandmother. You’ve heard him say Seth killed your grandmother.” At another point Curtis asked the girl to repeat which door she said Seth came through. Again, she seemed perplexed. When Curtis offered help in the way of showing her the crime scene diagram of the home — complete with markings indicating where bodies, spent rounds, and other items were located — she seemed at first unable to comprehend what he didn’t understand about her answer. But when Curtis used a laser pointer to show her the “front door,” which enters the living room, and the “back door,” which enters a laundry room, just off the kitchen, the girl did not hesitate: Seth came through the laundry room, she said.

Multiple witnesses earlier this week testified that while still covered in the blood of her slain family members the girl said her brother Seth came into her family’s home with a gun and shot her mother, grandmother and stepfather. Curtis has challenged some of those comments as hearsay.

Throughout the day Thursday, Curtis took every opportunity to question the investigation. At one point, Judge James Goodwin instructed the jury to disregard a comment Curtis made. At another, Curtis methodically laid out a line of questioning that revealed 14 clips of ammunition were listed as having been found in the camo jacket and sent to the TBI, but now the prosecution had only accounted for 13. Where was the 14th? The answer: The TBI used one clip for ballistics tests.

The trial resumes Friday morning.


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