GILLETTE — A Gillette man who shot and killed his friend in 2020 will serve three to 10 years in prison.
Joshua Lewis Campbell, 22, was charged in the death of 21-year-old Tanner Miller on June 2, 2020. In October 2020, Campbell pleaded not guilty, but in June, he changed his plea to no contest to one count of manslaughter.
On Thursday, District Judge Thomas W. Rumpke went along with the prosecution’s recommended sentence of three to 10 years in prison.
Campbell’s defense attorney, Steven Titus, asked Rumpke to suspend the prison sentence in favor of five years of probation.
Campbell said June 2, 2020, was the worst day of his life.
“I shot and killed one of my best friends,” he said Thursday.
An affidavit of probable cause filed in the case said that Miller, Campbell and another friend had gone to the apartment June 2, 2020, after having dinner with another friend. At about 9 p.m., they left to buy more alcohol and then went back to the apartment.
Before Miller parked the vehicle, he let Campbell and the other man out so they could get into the apartment.
As a prank, the two locked the apartment door and turned off the lights, with the intent of scaring Miller with rifles when he came in, according to the affidavit. The other man checked the 30-30 rifle he had to make sure it wasn’t loaded, but didn’t know if Campbell checked his AR-15.
“Miller attempted to enter the apartment a couple of times,” according to the affidavit. “Campbell then unlocked the door and Tanner walked into the apartment and turned on the lights.”
Campbell then reportedly fired a shot at close range when Miller was about 8-10 feet inside the apartment, according to the affidavit.
Campbell, who had a blood alcohol content of 0.103%, told police that he thought it was an intruder — and had said he shot an intruder when he called 911 to report it at about 9:30 p.m. June 2, according to the affidavit.
He then said in the 911 call that the intruder was his friend, Tanner Miller.
A forensic pathologist estimated the rifle was fired no farther than 3 inches from the left side of Miller’s head.
“I feared for my life,” Campbell told police. “I asked him several times who he was and he would not respond and he came through my door very fast. I was standing off to the side when I defended myself.”
Miller was still alive when law enforcement and emergency crews arrived, but he died at 10:45 p.m. at Campbell County Memorial Hospital.
On Thursday, Campbell said he’s had nightmares about that event ever since, and some nights when he’s trying to fall asleep he’ll hear the gunshot or see the muzzle flash.
He said he’s sorry for the pain he’s caused not only to Miller’s family, but his own family as well, and that everything could have been prevented if he hadn’t been drinking.
He said he wished he could go back in time and tell himself to not drink, because “it’s not worth it.”
Titus said that unlike most 22-year-olds who are charged with a felony, Campbell comes from a good family and has a good job and ambition.
Prosecutor Nathan Henkes said that despite the mental anguish that Campbell has experienced, he is not the victim in this case.
“Tanner lost his life at no fault of his own,” Henkes said.
Rumpke said that given the circumstances of the case, “straight probation is not warranted.”
“The bottom line in this case is, there is a dead body,” he said.
Miller’s death was a result of alcohol and reckless gun play, Rumpke said, and the consequences need to reflect the seriousness of Campbell’s actions.
He said the evidence in the case doesn’t support Campbell’s version of events, which state that he shot Miller because he feared for his life. While he believes Campbell has accepted responsibility for the actions leading up to the shooting — mixing alcohol with guns — he doesn’t believe Campbell accepted responsibility for the shooting itself.
More than two dozen people showed up to the sentencing, and several of them read statements to Rumpke.
Miller’s father, Mike Miller, acknowledged that whatever sentence Campbell is given will do nothing to change what happened on June 2.
“Tanner will not be coming home,” he said.
Campbell’s girlfriend, Sheyenne Bremer, said Campbell will “punish himself the rest of his life.”
Campbell’s mother, Julie Oakley, said her son’s “poor decisions” changed the futures of many people that day, and that will carry a burden of “immense guilt, agony and pain” for the rest of his life. This, she said, is the “true punishment.”
Bremer worried about how prison would affect Campbell, adding that prison is for dangerous people, and “Josh is not dangerous.” She asked Rumpke to sentence him to probation so that he can be around people who love and support him.
Campbell was a good kid who showed “a loving commitment” to friends and family,” Oakley said.
She said her son has become a recluse since Miller’s death. Bremer said Campbell rarely goes out in public, and that he’s become “sad and empty.”
Campbell’s stepbrother, Jeremy Oakley, said Campbell has been a great uncle to his niece and nephew, and that Campbell is “very motivated to be successful.”
And his sister, Rebecca Campbell, said Joshua has been her “protector” and played a very important role in her life, and that she couldn’t imagine coming back home without him there.