Michael Miera to stand trial for first-degree murder

November 4, 2016 GMT

POCATELLO — Michael Angelo Miera will stand trial for first-degree murder in the May 5 shooting death of 36-year-old Brandon James Lenker of Pocatello.

Sixth District Magistrate Judge Steven A. Thomsen made that decision following a preliminary hearing on Thursday at the Bannock County Courthouse. Prosecutors said they have 60 days after Miera is arraigned in District Court to decide if they will seek the death penalty against the 26-year-old.

During the six-hour hearing, the court watched a video interview with Miera that was conducted by Detective Mark Ballard with the Bannock County Sheriff’s Office.

During the interview, Miera confessed to shooting Lenker in the head while he, Lenker and Janeal Elizabeth Miera, Michael’s first cousin and girlfriend, were traveling in a stolen SUV on Mission Road in northern Bannock County. Both Mieras are from Pocatello.

Michael Miera claimed during the interview that he feared for his life and the life of his girlfriend when he fired the shots that killed Lenker.

Lenker was driving the SUV at the time he was killed. Miera said prior to him firing the fatal shots, Lenker was holding onto a handgun and that he kept banging the weapon on the steering wheel and driving erratically.

Miera, who was in the back seat, said he removed a revolver from his backpack and fired at Lenker once, but the weapon misfired. Miera said he pulled the hammer back and fired a second shot that entered the back of Lenker’s head, exited through the front of his head and went through the windshield.

Miera said Janeal, who was cowering in the front seat, then moved into the driver’s seat. While sitting on top of Lenker, she drove toward Ross Fork Creek on the Fort Hall Indian Reservation.

Miera said Lenker was still breathing and gasping, so he put the revolver against Lenker’s head and shot him a second time, killing him.

“(Janeal) was scared. She thought that I was going to shoot her,” Miera said during his video interview with Ballard. “I couldn’t believe she thought that. I thought that I had just saved our lives.”

Miera said he had never met Lenker prior to Lenker and Janeal arriving to help him remove his pickup truck from a swampy area near Ross Fork Creek on the day of the fatal shooting. The truck had gotten stuck, and even with Lenker and Janeal’s help, the vehicle could not be freed from the mire.

The trio then got high on meth before heading back to Pocatello in Lenker’s stolen SUV.

Miera told Ballard during the video interview that Lenker and Janeal were in the front seat and soon started arguing.

Janeal began to cry at which point Miera said he heard Lenker say, “I don’t care, I’m going to do it, the truck is going to be mine.” Miera said he felt threatened.

Miera said Lenker then started “messing with his gun.” Miera said at one point he thought Lenker had discharged his weapon.

“If I hadn’t taken that revolver with me, I would have been the one laying up there and Janeal would have been lying who knows where and my truck would have been gone,” Miera said.

Miera said that after killing Lenker, he pulled his body from the vehicle and threw him down an embankment. Then they covered the body with debris.

Miera later pushed the stolen SUV into the Portneuf River near Fort Hall Mine Road. He retrieved his truck a few days later.

Miera and Janeal were arrested on May 16 after leading law enforcement officers on a high-speed chase, during which Miera allegedly used his pickup to strike and injure a Fort Hall police officer. Evidence collected from Miera’s truck led law enforcement to interview him and Janeal in connection to Lenker’s death. They were charged on July 26.

Miera was represented by public defenders Dave Martinez and Kent Reynolds at Thursday’s hearing. The defense team unsuccessfully urged the judge to consider a charge of voluntary manslaughter instead of first-degree murder in the case.

Janeal is facing a charge of principal to murder, which carries a maximum penalty of life in prison. The preliminary hearing for her case is set for Dec. 13.