RS Mother Murder
Date: 04-14-2008 2:27 AM - Word Count: 689
RS Mother Murder
Eds: Set for 9 a.m., Dept. 11, Riverside Historic Courthouse, 4050 Main
St. Michiels is pronounced Mih'-shells; Riverside County Deputy District
Attorney John Aki can be reached at (951) 955-5400; defense attorney Michael
Duncan is at (951) 788-6367.
RIVERSIDE (CNS) - Testimony is scheduled to resume today in the trial of
a Perris man accused of strangling his 70-year-old mother with a vacuum
John Richard Michiels, 58, is charged with one count of first-degree
murder in connection with the death of his mother, Bernice Cooley-Michiels.
Last week, the defendant's son, James, testified that his father
enlisted his help in disposing of Bernice's remains a day after her alleged
murder in late March 1995.
``He said he had killed her with the cord from the vacuum machine she
was using at that time,'' James Michiels testified. ``He said she was making
comments about him and my grandfather being gay.''
The case remained a mystery until 2004, when investigators tracked down
James Michiels and asked him whether he knew the whereabouts of his
grandmother, at which point the witness retained a lawyer who worked out an
immunity deal, shielding his client from prosecution.
Under questioning Wednesday, the young man told Riverside County Deputy
District Attorney John Aki that he had a marginal relationship with his father
and thought that if he assisted him with burying Bernice, father and son might
``I just wanted him to be proud of me,'' James Michiels recalled tearfully.
According to testimony, the defendant moved into his mother's Perris
home shortly after the death of his father, a diabetic who suffered numerous
health complications and lost part of a leg as a result of the disease. The
defendant was a caretaker for the dying man, who did not live with his wife.
Michiels' brother, Jim, of Shreveport, La., testified that his mother
had become extremely reclusive and sometimes verbally abusive without
provocation in her later years.
Jim Michiels said he tried several times to reach his mother in 1995 and
was told by the defendant that she had found ``someone who would take care of
her for the rest of her life'' and was living in Mexico.
The witness contacted the sheriff's department and filed a missing
persons report in November 1995, triggering an investigation that would last
more than nine years.
James Michiels testified that he and his father transported the victim's
remains to a deserted part of Pinion Hills, near Victorville, in San
Bernardino County late at night, a day after the murder.
He said that before burying his grandmother, he blew the teeth out of
her head with four blasts from a 12-gauge shotgun that his father brought along
to destroy dental identification that might otherwise be made if the body was
Aki asked the younger man how he felt about shooting his grandmother
point-blank in the head several times, and James Michiels replied, ``Sick, just
But he said he volunteered for the grisly task to prevent his father
from taking possession of the rifle, which the young man feared might be used
to eliminate him as a witness.
Defense attorney Michael Duncan probed for further details about how
Bernice Michiels died, asking her grandson whether she ``accused your father
and grandfather of having a homosexual relationship?''
``She was saying what she was saying while she was cleaning the house,
and he did what he did,'' the son replied.
``Your father told you he just snapped and didn't realize what he was
doing?'' Duncan asked.
``Yes,'' he replied.
He acknowledged that he did not feel comfortable around his grandmother,
but that he didn't fear her and attributed her periodic ramblings to a ``hot
and cold'' personality.
Duncan asked whether, in the days immediately before and after his
father enlisted his help, the younger man was ``totally messed up on drugs,''
and the witness admitted he was.
The trial is expected to end this week.
John Richard Michiels is being held without bail at Robert Presley
Detention Center in downtown Riverside. It is not known whether he'll take the
stand in his own defense.