Man guilty of 2nd-degree murder for 2016 Kamloops motel room killing

Guilty of murder at motel

A Fraser Valley man has been found guilty of second-degree murder in the 2016 killing of a woman at the Kamloops Super 8 Motel in Aberdeen.

David Miller, 69, beat and strangled 52-year-old Debra Novacluse to death in room 112 of the motel sometime in the early morning hours of Aug. 27, 2016.

During a trial earlier this year, the court heard Miller admitted to killing Novacluse, but claimed he did it by accident during rough sex gone too far — which would result in a manslaughter conviction. 

The Crown alleged the murder was intentional and occurred during a sexual assault, which is first-degree murder.

B.C. Supreme Court Justice Marguerite Church ruled the Crown successfully proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Miller intentionally killed Novacluse, but failed to prove a sexual assault occurred, finding Miller guilty of second-degree murder.

Novacluse, a resident of Abbotsford, was found by motel staff dead and wrapped in a sleeping bag under the bed shortly before 11 a.m. on Aug. 27, 2016.

Justice Church said Miller had previously left his home in Abbotsford after difficulties with his wife and came to Kamloops where he checked in at the motel on Aug. 26. He invited Novacluse, a friend from Abbotsford, to stay with him at the motel, and she made the drive from the Fraser Valley to do so.

The last people to see Novacluse alive were Jessica Roth and her male friend. Roth testified at trial she met Miller at the casino on the night of Aug. 26, 2016. Miller invited her back to his hotel room for a party, to which she agreed, if she could bring a male friend. 

Roth and Miller’s friendly interactions at the casino were shown in a 14-minute Facebook live video Roth broadcasted. 

Roth testified that she arrived at the motel with her friend and Miller to find Novacluse half-dressed in bed, appearing to have recently cried, and in no mood to party. 

Regardless, she got out of bed and the four people — Miller, Novacluse, Roth and her male friend — stayed at the motel and had drinks. Roth and Novacluse spoke for several hours.

Roth testified that Miller aggressively groped Novacluse in front of them, and the mood in the room oscillated between cheerful and dark. When Roth and her male friend left the room four hours later, at 4:16 a.m., Novacluse was alive and alone with Miller.

An autopsy found Miller had massive blunt force trauma to her head and face in addition to major damage to her neck. Either set of injuries could have been fatal on their own. A tear in her vagina was also found by the medical examiner. 

Miller did not testify at trial but gave three, widely different, statements to police. 

During his first two statements, he claimed he was blackout drunk and did not remember anything from after the casino. During the third statement, he claimed Novacluse became violent with him and he tried to restrain her and thought he smothered her — but when challenged by investigators about the extent of the injuries, he said he “got carried away” during rough sex and further battered the body accidentally afterwards while he was trying to tie up the body in the sleeping bag.

Miller then drove Novacluse's vehicle to a truck stop in Calgary, throwing her belongings over a guardrail in Sicamous on the way. He hopped on a plane and flew to Ontario where he met with friends until he was arrested a few days later.

Justice Church found Miller’s “changing story” to be “contrived” and “simply not believable.” She noted that Miller also appeared not drunk during the Facebook live video at the casino and in surveillance footage at the motel. 

Many aspects of the motel surveillance footage corroborate the testimony of Roth, the judge noted. 

Justice Church found that the extent of the injuries — some of which were major enough to have never been seen by the medical examiner — and his lack of intoxication meant he had intent to kill. 

The judge, however, found the Crown’s evidence that the murder involved a sexual assault “largely speculative,” noting that the medical examiner could not say the vaginal tear happened in conjunction to Novacluse’s fatal injuries. 

Miller will be back in court in the early fall for sentencing. He remains in custody. Second-degree murder carries an automatic life sentence with no chance of parole for at least 10 years.

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