Could Mica Miller Have Been Helped if Stalled South Carolina Bill Was Law? Her Family's Lawyer Says Yes

JP Miller and Mica Miller
South Carolina pastor John Paul Miller and his wife, Mica Miller, who took her own life on April 27.Facebook

Mica Miller could have been helped by "coercive control" legislation stalled in the South Carolina legislature, says the attorney for her grieving family. Miller killed herself after being abused by her husband, her family says, accusations he denies.

Mica Miller, a South Carolina pastor's wife who shot herself to death after years of alleged domestic violence, could have been legally protected by a stalled bill designating "coercive control" as abuse, says an attorney for her family.

Coercive control is term coined by researcher Evan Stark, a domestic violence expert who conducted landmark studies with his wife beginning in the late 1970s. It describes psychological domination by abusers who use not just violence, but threats of violence and isolation to cut off someone from friends and family. It also includes cutting off a person's access to money, food, communication and transportation.

Mica Miller killed herself on April 27, two days after divorce papers were served to her husband, preacher John Paul Miller. Since then, her relatives and others have accused her husband, pastor John Paul Miller, of relentlessly stalking Mica, slashing her tires, placing GPS tracking devices on her car, mentally torturing her and making her fear for her life.

“Coercive control is basically like a psychological warfare,” said attorney Regina Ward, who handled Mica Miller's divorce filing and now represents her family, whose members have petitioned in probate court to control her estate.

In an affidavit filed in that cas, her sister alleged Mica Miller had contacted authorities several times in the days leading to her suicide, reporting she feared for her life and that she was being followed.

John Paul Miller has repeatedly denied the claims made by Mica's family, and has said he never abused or mistreated his wife. Mica had been released from a mental health facility not long before she killed herself. Her husband said she sought treatment. Her family said he had Mica involuntarily committed for psychiatric evaluation.

He had threatened to commit her again before she shot herself in the head, her family claims. The widower has not been charged in connecition with his wife or her death.

Inside Edition Digital has reached out to John Paul Miller's attorney for comment.

Four years ago, a South Carolina legislator introduced a bill that would criminalize “coercive control,” with penalties of up to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. That bill, sponsored by Republican Sen. Katrina Shealy, has not made it out of the Senate's Judiciary Committee.

Ward, the attorney representing Mica Miller's family, has called on committee chair GOP Sen. Luke Rankin, to take action.

Rankin "has the ability to assign this bill to a subcommittee,” Ward said. “He has the ability to put it in on the agenda and walk it all the way through ... Let’s get this done. It is important. It is extremely important," she told reporters last week at a press conference.

The draft bill defines coercive control as a domestic abuse weapon that includes behavior such as:

  • Isolating a person from family and friends;
  • Monitoring their communication online, their phones and other electronic devices;
  • Repeatedly insulting or demeaning a person;
  • Telling a person they're worthless;
  • Controlling what a person wears, where they go, and who they talk to;
  • Threatening a person with violence or other retaliations;
  • Threatening a child;
  • Blocking access to a person's finances;
  • Preventing a person from going to work.

“We want the coercive control bill to be looked at (and) taken seriously," Ward said. "Put some time into it and somebody make an amendment to call it Mica’s Law. Getting this law on the books will help.”

South Carolina lawmaker Rankin took offense to Ward's comments to local reporters.

"Before yesterday, no law enforcement, victims advocate, family court judge or family law attorney — including Ms. Ward — has ever asked me to help make this bill a law," he posted his Facebook page.

"I was shocked and saddened at the news of Mica Miller's death, and I join our community in mourning her much too short life," Rankin posted. "Now we await results of any investigation by the proper authorities of possible wrongdoing."

A coroner's autopsy ruled Miller's death a suicide. Her body was discovered just over the state line in North Carolina. Federal authorities were notified of her death, according to North Carolina's Robeson County Sheriff Burnis Wilkins. 

But the FBI and the U.S. Attorney's Office have declined to comment on the details of their involvement.

The proposed bill would make it a felony to use coercive control and spells out its legal terms:

"When two persons are personally connected, it is unlawful for one person to repeatedly or continuously engage in a course of behavior toward the other person that is coercive or controlling and that results in the person fearing, on at least two occasions, that violence will be used against them or that results in their mental distress such that their day-to-day activities suffer substantial adverse effects," the bill says.

"A person who violates the provisions of this section is guilty of a felony and, upon conviction, must be fined not more than ten thousand dollars or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both," according to the the proposed legislation.

Other states have passed similar laws, including California, Hawaii and Connecticut. States including New York and Maryland are considering such measures, according to Dr. Christine Cocchiola, a domestic abuse survivor and advocate. 

"Even the most astute of us may miss the insidious nuanced nature of coercive control. Physical violence is not the defining characteristic. And coercive controllers choose individuals who they can impose their regime upon," Cocchiola says on her website, which offers counseling and seminars to those seeking help in escaping such relationships.

Those subjected to coercive control are far more likely to experience future violence or even death, experts say.

"A pattern of coercive and controlling behavior precedes, motivates, and increases the likelihood of physical violence in relationships," according to the advocacy group

"Offenders who exercise control over their partner’s daily activities are more than 5 times more likely to kill them than other domestic abusers. In a remarkable 20 percent of domestic homicides, the murder was the first act of physical violence — but these were almost always proceeded by coercive and controlling behavior," the group said.

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