In addition, the jury found Denton guilty of one count of aggravated reckless endangerment, one count of aggravated assault causing fear and one count of felony reckless endangerment. Judge James F. Goodwin Jr., 2nd Judicial District and presiding judge in the trial, will impose sentencing on the latter charges at a hearing in March.
Denton was convicted in the the Aug. 29, 2015, shooting deaths of his grandmother, Lena Marie Rose, 57; his mother, Toshya Milhorn, 39; and his stepfather, 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.
The trial, which had been delayed multiple times over the past three years, began on Monday, Jan. 14, with selection of a jury and opening statements by each side. The following four days included testimony from more than two dozen witnesses and introduction of more than 175 pieces of evidence. Closing arguments took place first thing Monday morning of this week, and the case was in the jury’s hands before lunch that day. Deliberation continued during business hours on Tuesday and until mid-afternoon Wednesday, when the verdict was announced.
Goodwin warned that no matter the verdict, any outbursts by the defendant or anyone in the audience would not be tolerated by the court. Had Denton at any time during trial exhibited behavior requiring disciplining, it would have taken only the push of a button by a bailiff to subdue him. Throughout the trial, Denton was fitted with a “shock vest” under the street clothes he wore to court, his attorney said when asked by the Times News if Denton was wearing a bulletproof vest.
As the jury foreman read the verdict for each of the six charges, there were no outbursts — only stifled tears of relief from some family members of the victims.
After the verdict but before the jury received deliberated sentencing, the prosecution presented “aggravating” factors to support its call for life in prison without parole.
District Attorney General Barry Staubus explained state law requires proof of one of two things to support a life sentence without parole: the defendant knowingly created a risk to two or more people other than the persons killed; and/or the defendant is charged with mass murder (defined as killing three or more people within 48 hours).
In turn, the defense is allowed to present “mitigating” factors the jury can weigh against the prosecution’s aggravating factors.
Denton’s court-appointed attorney, Ricky Curtis, introduced a written list of stipulations — agreed to by prosecutors before the trial began — detailing what he said were established facts showing Denton had an unstable childhood, including abandonment by an alcoholic father at a young age, behavioral problems that led to a psychological evaluation when Denton was 8 years old (with diagnosis of ADHD and bipolar disorder) that resulted in ongoing counseling and medication from then until about the time Denton finished high school and entered the military.
In between Staubus and Curtis, jurors heard victim impact testimony from Amanda Vance — Denton’s maternal aunt, sister to Toshya Millhorn, sister-in-law to James Millhorn, and daughter to Lena Marie Rose — and Adryan McLawhorn, sister of James Milhorn.
Vance asked the jury for “love and mercy” for her father, “who lost a wife of 40 years, a daughter and a son-in-law,” the same for herself, who lost “a mother and best friend, my sister, and my brother-in-law,” and for the rest of the Rose and Milhorn family members.
“We’re a loving family,” Vance said. “We were raised in a loving home. My father has always been a wonderful role model.”
Her sister’s children, she said, had “their emotional well-being shattered that day” as they were just feet away from their mother and grandmother when the murders happened. “They will have lasting trauma their whole lives.”
Vance also refuted Curtis’ description of Denton’s childhood environment as “unstable.”
McLawhorn said James Milhorn’s family has had to have counseling and said it is hard to find the words to describe their loss. The emotional strain, she said, has been unbearable. Her brother, oldest of seven siblings, was a “fun, loving, caring” man who was loved.
“We miss him more than words can explain,” she said. “Our lives will never be the same. Our big happy family was shattered. Our life is filled with sorrow and grief.”