At Camden murder trial, a brief, uneasy connection

Carla Reyes-Miller and Kevin Miller keep a case of memories from son Kevin, who was slain at age 19 in June 2011.
Carla Reyes-Miller and Kevin Miller keep a case of memories from son Kevin, who was slain at age 19 in June 2011. (MATTHEW HALL / Staff Photographer)
Posted: August 11, 2014

In the third-floor women's restroom of the Camden County Courthouse, Carla Reyes-Miller was approached by Jean Evans. It was early in a trial that placed the grieving mothers on opposite sides of the aisle that cuts the courtroom audience in two.

Evans' 26-year-old son, Laurie Wint, was on trial in the murder of Reyes-Miller's 19-year-old son, Kevin Miller. Both in tears, they hugged, Reyes-Miller said.

"I'm praying for his soul," Reyes-Miller said she told Evans in response to an apology from her, "but he deserves to be where he is."

When Evans later heard her son could be put away for 25 years to life, she collapsed in grief, and Reyes-Miller said she crossed the aisle to help her up.

That they sat just feet apart during the trial - a distance that, as told by Reyes-Miller, seems emblematic of the unusual, ambivalent, and short-lived relationship the two would forge. The two, who had several encounters during the trial in June, have not remained in touch since Wint was found guilty of passion provocation manslaughter and other charges.

Through her attorney, Evans declined to be interviewed for this article.

Reyes-Miller said she could relate to the loss the woman she helped up in court was experiencing, but couldn't overlook that Evans was also the mother of her son's killer.

I can understand, "as a mom, losing a child to the system" is still losing a child, said Reyes-Miller, 55, who supervises family service workers at the Camden County Department of Children's Services.

But, she said, Evans can still visit her son in a Pennsylvania prison - where he is serving time for a fatal stabbing in Bucks County after killing Miller - while she can only see her son's remains in an urn.

"I don't want your apologies," said Miller's father and the former husband of Reyes-Miller, also Kevin Miller, summing up his view of her encounter with Evans.

Evans' supporting the man who killed Miller's son by hiring a private attorney for him said more than words could tell, he said. His mother "fought [for] him like he was innocent," said Miller, 43, who works at United Water in Camden.

On June 8, 2011, the younger Miller, freshly showered, was stepping out after a full day at Cartun Hardware in Camden. He had worked there since finishing at Pennsauken Technical High School less than a year earlier.

"When he put on his crucifix, I said, 'If you ever get in trouble, you call on Jesus,' " Reyes-Miller recalled. That crucifix "is not going to save you.' "

"Ma, I carry him in my heart," he replied.

He left in his white Mercury Marquis - a "bucket," given to him for finishing school - and wearing his favorite hat - a Houston Astros cap, with an unbent bill and sizing sticker still in place.

That night the Miller family would be devastated.

"What do you mean he got shot?" the senior Miller remembers asking a caller that night.

Miller was struck by a .25-caliber round in Eutaw Park. The bullet tore through his liver and punctured his heart. Testimony revealed his arms were raised when he was shot.

Reyes-Miller did not find out until she had passed through the crowd that had formed outside Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center that her son - an unassuming young man who loved to borrow his father's cars, go swimming, and had a singular fear of heights - was in surgery for the wound that would later claim his life.

Shamielle Muhammad, who lives across the street from Evans, said Wint had been nice to her but hung around bad people. His mother worked long hours and could not be around much, she noted.

Reyes-Miller said that during their encounters Evans told her she had had difficulties raising Wint without a father figure in the house.

The block Wint lived on was described by another neighbor as "one of the nicest in Camden" - though the neighbor withdrew into his home when asked about the shooting up of the Evans house the same night as Miller's murder.

There were still bullet holes in a window there last month.

"I was appalled at it," Reyes-Miller said of the attack on the Evans home. "Somebody could have really gotten hurt."

During his trial, Wint called the second shooting retaliatory.

"I knew the Bloods were after me," Wint testified, alleging that Miller wore the Bloods' "red flag" gang symbol.

No red flag was taken as evidence from Miller's body that night. Authorities said he had not had any brushes with the law, while Wint had a record of misdemeanors leading up to the two murders.

Miller's Cartun Hardware boss felt that he worked too much and was home too early each night to be involved with gangs.

He "had no problem at all. Always on time. We're a retail hardware store, so he was joking, carrying on and friendly with all the customers," said David Garrison, the owner of Cartun Hardware.

Garrison said young men frequently cut their teeth at his store before moving on to better pay in related industries, something he expected Miller to do. He said Miller had expressed an interest in working for the Camden County Public Works Department or the Camden County Housing Authority.

Garrison's own son works under the senior Miller at United Water.

The fateful encounter occurred when Miller - described repeatedly as a ladies' man by those who knew him - was looking for a girl who was spending time with Wint. The prosecution argued successfully that the shooting was unprovoked. The defense argued that a friend of Miller's brandished a gun that provoked the shooting.

"I wasn't trying to kill him," said Wint, a former shoe salesman at the Cherry Hill Mall Macy's. "I was trying to save myself."

Miller's ashes rest in a black urn next to his high school yearbook, a wooden cross, and other mementos. Atop the urn sits the red cap he wore.

"I just talk to him in the morning and speak to him at night. He's there. To me, he's there," said his father, sitting on a white corner couch, expressionlessly watching a muted Sports Center.


856-779-3237 @clarkmindock

cmindock@phillynews.com

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