Arrest made in Three Rivers murder investigation
THREE RIVERS – On Thursday at 6 p.m., officers from the Three Rivers Police Department arrested 33-year-old Randall Miller of Three Rivers on a warrant for one count of open murder.
According to the TRPD, the arrest comes after a months-long investigation into the death of Lori Norman on March 25 at her residence on 5th Street in Three Rivers.
According to an affidavit by TRPD Detective Sam Smallcombe, on March 25 dispatchers received a call from a neighbor about an unresponsive person at Norman’s house on 5th Street. Officers arrived just after midnight on the 25th and tried to perform lifesaving measures on Norman, but were unsuccessful. Norman was pronounced dead about 20 minutes later.
During the investigation, police interviewed numerous people, including Miller and his children. In interviews with police, one of the children said they saw Miller “choking [Norman] and slamming her and stuff,” and that when Norman and Miller fought, “he chokes her and she passes out but this time they went too far and he killed her.” The child stated they were too scared to move or else they “would get hurt next.” Eventually, the child said, they went to their next door neighbor, Joni Young, who called police.
According to the affidavit, Miller, in a police interview the day after the incident, said he and Norman “have had good times and bad times.” He said Norman was “mad because he had been drinking,” and she told Miller to “get out if you have been drinking.” Miller said he went to the Shell station, where he got the call that Norman wasn’t breathing.
Miller said he started running toward his house, where he jumped in front of a responder. Miller asked if he could get a ride from the responder who was going to the house, and when they said no, he started running harder until eventually the responder let Miller ride with him to the scene. At the scene, Miller said he was asked about his relationship with Norman and if there was a lot of fighting. Miller said within the first three years, “he ended up with two [domestic violence] cases.”
On April 26, Smallcombe said he met with the medical examiner, who said it was “plausible” Norman died from strangulation. Smallcombe was provided with pictures from the autopsy that indicated bruises on Norman’s hands, shoulder, and the side of her head, as well as cuts on her face which the examiner said occurred around the time of death.
According to the affidavit, Natalie Thayer, who lived with Young next door, said in a police interview in May that Norman gave her a ride around 7 p.m. that evening and said nothing seemed out of the ordinary with Norman around that time. Young recalled the incident in an interview a few days later, saying one of Norman’s children ran up to their house telling Young they “can’t get mommy up.” Young said her mother and Thayer went over to the scene, but she stayed behind to call 911. When asked if she remembered Miller being there, Young said he wasn’t, but they had called him and he was “crying over the phone.” When asked if there was anyone else that came over to Norman’s house that night besides Miller, Young said no.
According to the affidavit, Norman’s mother, Shelia Shepherd, was interviewed about the relationship between Norman and Miller. Shepherd said Norman and Miller would fight “at least once a week,” and it would “become physical.” On more than one occasion, Shepherd said, “she walked in and caught Miller choking Norman.” Shepherd added that “there was never law enforcement involved.”
On May 30, according to the affidavit, firefighter Josh Linn from the TRFD was interviewed by police, and recalled the incident. He recalled driving southbound on South Main Street between Madison and Pleasant when a male subject, later identified as Miller, ran into the road in front of him and asked “if he was going to his baby momma’s house on 5th.” After saying no, he “reconsidered” and told Miller to “hop in.” When Linn got to the house, he said Miller hopped out and ran toward the house, and “let out a scream like someone had died or the house was on fire.”
According to the affidavit, one of Miller’s children was interviewed on May 23, who said the incident “happened at night time” and they could see their “dad help [their] mom.” They said “when people get water in their mouth, people will pump their bellies,” and Miller was doing that. The child said they “had a weird feeling” about Norman at that point, because “her face was bluish purple.” The child said another child came down and called for Norman, then looked under the blanket and saw Norman’s face.
Norman’s cousin, Roy Lowrey, was interviewed on May 28, and according to the affidavit, said he was there earlier in the afternoon and left because Miller wasn’t there. Around 8 p.m., Lowrey saw Miller walking up to Norman’s house, went inside, and heard an argument start between Miller and Norman. When asked what the argument was about, Lowrey said “it was probably about [Miller] working late.”
According to the affidavit, Miller was interviewed again on May 31, where Smallcombe had Miller fill out a written statement, then talked to Miller about “a better timeline for events” from the evening. Miller said on the morning of March 24, he went to a friend’s house for a roofing job that morning, then spent the afternoon redecking the roof at Grand Rental Station on U.S. 131.
At that time, Miller said he “ran home and bought cigarettes” for Norman. Miller said they worked until 7:30 p.m. or 8 p.m. that night, and went to his boss’s house where they drank alcohol. At “some point closer to 9 p.m.,” two of Miller’s children came down and told Miller “mom needed cigarettes again,” which Miller told Smallcombe was “code for him to come home.”
When he got home, Miller said he leaned down to kiss Norman because she was laying in bed, and she could smell alcohol on Miller’s breath. Miller said Norman told him he needed to go if he was drinking, which Miller said was a “point of contention in their relationship.” He went back to his friend’s house, and a couple hours later ran out of beer. Miller walked down to the Shell station, bought a pop, and started heading south when he got a call from his neighbors telling him that Norman wasn’t breathing. Miller told them to call 911, and started running toward the scene.
Because of the information Smallcombe gathered, he requested charges of open murder on Miller.
Michigan State Police, the St. Joseph County Sheriff’s Office and the Western Michigan University Medical Examiner’s Office assisted the TRPD throughout their investigation.
Robert Tomlinson can be reached at 279-7488 ext. 23 or firstname.lastname@example.org.