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Former Santa Cruz County man sentenced to prison for shooting neighbor

Former Santa Cruz County man sentenced to prison for shooting neighbor

SANTA CRUZ — Jennifer Mackie rushed with her daughter and sister to a large atrium window outside of court Monday, hoping to catch the beginning of a 62-year-old Aptos man’s trip to prison.

Ralph Millar after his arrest in 2018. (Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office — Contributed) 

Minutes earlier, a Santa Cruz County Superior Court visiting judge sentenced Ralph Millar to a prison term of 20 years to life for two counts of attempted murder, two counts of assault with a deadly weapon, shooting at an inhabited dwelling, burglary, two counts of breaking and entering and six counts of possessing an assault weapon. A resolution was reached in the case just days before it was scheduled to head to trial, thanks to an open plea offer from Judge Gary Paden.

Shortly before 6 p.m. Aug. 15, 2018, Millar forced his way into the Aptos home of his Santa Cruz Avenue neighbor and began shooting. Mackie and a visiting friend barricaded themselves in the bathroom, where Mackie ultimately was struck by two bullets — one ricocheting up her leg, the other passing cleanly and safely through her chest. Millar returned to his home and a cache of assault weapons, forcing law enforcement into a standoff lasting more than 17 hours.

“I very much wanted to go to trial. From Day 1, I wanted to go to trial,” Mackie said outside of court. “I knew that we were right, I knew that the evidence was on our side, I didn’t want him to get away with this. And I wanted to be a woman who could stand up for myself and all of the other victims who didn’t have or don’t have the strength to come forward and put themselves through this. I think if more victims showed up into the courtroom and were advocates for themselves, then it would be much harder for the process to take as long as it does.”

Millar, who pleaded no contest to charges July 28, will head to prison with a time-served credit of more than five years and nine months. Sitting cuffed in the jury box with his attorney, Millar did not speak during Monday’s sentencing hearing.

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During Monday’s sentencing, both Mackie’s daughter, now 20, and the friend locked in the bathroom with Mackie during the shooting gave impact statements. Mackie herself read a statement to the court, explaining how the shooting had affected her physical, mental and professional life. She also vividly detailed the events leading up to her crouching on her bathroom room floor while her friend repeatedly screamed out that Mackie was dead, an effective ruse used to ultimately convince Millar to leave the home.

“This was an egregious crime,” Santa Cruz County Assistant District Attorney Michael Mahan said. “But for a little bit of luck and a sheer will to live is Ms. Jennifer Mackie and Ms. Collman here today.”

Shooting prefaced by neighbor dispute

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Mackie and her then 15-year-old high school sophomore daughter had moved into the Aptos home earlier that year and soon met their neighbor, Millar. Trouble started brewing just weeks before the shooting, however, when Millar let himself into her home in an apparent attempt to quiet her loudly barking Bernese mountain dog, Bruce, Mackie said. Mackie’s teen daughter did not answer the door when Millar knocked, and later hid when he entered. That night, Mackie confronted Millar for trespassing in her home and brought in the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office to broker the dispute after he allegedly became verbally abusive.

After Mackie’s repeated efforts to obtain a police report from the Sheriff’s Office so that she might have grounds for breaking her rental lease and relocating, a deputy returned to the home for a follow-up. During the visit, the deputy spotted Millar and confronted him, Mackie said. Millar was riled up, she said, and verbally abused the deputy until he left — a confrontation Mackie filmed. Soon after the deputy left, Millar showed up to also yell at Mackie, she said. He returned home and another neighbor stopped by to talk about what had happened.

“I stepped onto the porch and began to describe the situation,” Mackie read from her victim’s statement. “When I looked up, the defendant was walking back across the street with a large gun in his hand.”

Mackie later added that putting her life back together after the shooting proved to be one of the greatest challenges of her life.

“While he didn’t kill me, he killed part of me,” Mackie said.