September 23, 2004 in City

Police still searching for motive in fatal shooting of football player

By The Spokesman-Review
 

MOSCOW, Idaho – Police have a number of witnesses who saw men matching descriptions of suspects James and Matthew Wells fleeing the scene of the shooting that killed UI student Eric McMillan, but they still don’t have a murder weapon or motive.

McMillan, a football player for the University of Idaho Vandals, was shot in the chest at his apartment Sunday about 5:30 p.m. After several hours of surgery, he was pronounced dead at 4 the next morning. Following witness descriptions, deputies across the state line spotted the suspects and followed them in 150-mile high-speed chase across Eastern Washington before finally managing to stop them on a bridge crossing the Columbia River.

According to a probable cause affidavit on file in Latah County District Court, Moscow police said two men working on a car next door to McMillan’s apartment building on Lenter Avenue, heard gunshots and saw two men dressed in dark clothes jump the fence at the back of the apartment building and climb into a late-model white BMW. One of the witnesses told Moscow police that one of the fleeing men pulled on a ski mask, according to the affidavit.

Another witness reportedly went to the fence and saw McMillan in the hallway, yelling for help, said the report.

Jared Eaton, the neighbor who drove McMillan to the hospital, told police he had been practicing the guitar and hadn’t heard any gunshots. He heard a knock at his door and opened it to find McMillan covered with blood from his chest, saying, “I need someone to take me to the hospital. I’ve been shot,” Eaton told police. In Eaton’s car on the way to the hospital, “the only thing McMillan told him was to hurry and not to stop,” according to the affidavit.

Another neighbor said he saw one of the men holding what appeared to be a black semiautomatic handgun and that it looked like he was removing a magazine from the gun, said the report.

Most of the witnesses told police they heard two shots. But just one bullet was recovered from McMillan’s body, said the report.

Now, the Wells brothers are being held in Whitman County, Wash., on charges of felony eluding of police. Several visitors, including their father and a sister, have signed into the jail to visit them. Plans are pending to move the Wells brothers to Idaho where first-degree murder charges await them. Idaho officials are also working to bring the impounded BMW from Washington to Idaho to be searched.

Officers are still looking for evidence, including the murder weapon, which might have been tossed from the BMW after the crime and during the police pursuit.

They’ve already identified an empty box, said Moscow Police Capt. Cam Hershaw. Whether it might be related to the shooting and contained bullets used in the crime remains to be determined, he said.

Police said they are following up on several leads, but have not identified a motive in the case, though local speculation has suggested it was revenge for a fight the night before. McMillan’s friends, coaches and teammates were upset at news reports the shooting might have been a drug deal gone bad.

“Every indication I get is that Eric would be the last person to be involved in that kind of stuff,” said Hershaw, who has met with McMillan’s teammates and family. “He was a good student who made good choices.”

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