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Merchant’s 1991 Robbery-Slaying Goes to Jury

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

Six years after Armando Miller was shot to death on a Tustin sidewalk and robbed of $20,000, prosecutors on Thursday asked a jury to convict a former gambler who, they said, confessed to the killing.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Lew Rosenblum said an unemployed John Clyde Abel, 53, wanted the money for gambling and drugs. The prosecutor, making his closing arguments in the Superior Court trial, said Abel later confessed the murder to a girlfriend.

But the defense argued that there is no physical evidence in the case, and that witness accounts were unreliable.

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According to police, Abel knew Miller, 26, of Orange, and his wife through a mutual acquaintance. He also knew their habit of withdrawing between $10,000 and $20,000 from the Sunwest Bank branch on 1st Street in Tustin for their check-cashing business.

On Jan. 4, 1991, Miller left the bank carrying $20,000 in cash in a red-and-white checked bag and was walking to his van when he was shot in the head from behind. The money and the murder weapon were never found.

In 1995, Abel was in jail for unrelated robberies when his girlfriend, Lorraine Ripple, who also was in prison for robbery, told authorities that he had once confessed Miller’s killing to her.

“They were doing robberies together,” Rosenblum said. “She got rid of the gun for him.”

But defense attorney Ed Freeman argued that Ripple, a convicted felon, was not credible.

During the trial, one witness testified that the gunman had walked toward her after the shooting, and that she had helped police create a composite sketch. However, the same witness said she could not identify Abel in the courtroom under oath because years had elapsed and her memory had blurred.

Freeman also argued that the prosecution’s two witnesses had given conflicting descriptions of the gunman. One said he wore a short Windbreaker-type jacket and the other said he wore a long trench coat. And both, he said, had identified other people in photo lineups.

Freeman also pointed out that the original composite drawing did not include glasses, but that Abel wore prescription glasses.

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“This is a case based on moral evidence,” he said. “There is no physical evidence.”

But Rosenblum said Abel was in Orange County at the time, was identified by two witnesses in line-ups and was known to use .22-caliber handguns, the weapon used in the murder. He said defense witnesses who provided alibis were Abel’s friends, trying to protect him.

If convicted of murder during a robbery, Abel could face the death penalty.

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