The Chief, the Scotsman, the Swindler, and the Killer

Glen Coleman's killer was not one for subtlety. When Coleman's body was found, somebody had plugged him so many times with a .45 that bullet holes riddled virtually every part of the corpse. A coroner could not say exactly how many times the murderer pulled the trigger, but as many as 13 shots could have been fired, depending on whether one of the bullets hit Coleman's left arm after passing through his chest.

It was more than six years ago, on January 19, 1989, that a passerby happened upon the body, dumped on the side of a country road in DeSoto. Murders are few in this docile suburb south of Dallas, and each draws full attention from the town's police force. But the Coleman case has proven troublesome.

Shortly after the discovery of the body, DeSoto police Sergeant J.D. Horvath obtained an arrest warrant for the early leading candidate in the killing--a local businessman named Matthew James McMillan. Before his death, Coleman had supposedly told friends that he was afraid McMillan was out to kill him.

McMillan sat in jail for three months while investigators tried to build a case against him. It wasn't there. Other than the dead man's supposed fear of him, there was scant evidence pointing toward McMillan. He cooperated fully with the investigation, and passed lie detector tests. By the time police let him go, the lead investigators in the case considered McMillan innocent. Several years later, in fact, a court would order that all records of McMillan's arrest be destroyed since he was never charged in the case.

Investigators had jumped the gun by arresting McMillan. But things like that can happen in the fevered rush of a murder investigation, particularly in a quiet town where the police don't encounter homicides very often. McMillan went on about his life, and an interesting life it would prove to be.

Suspicion in the case shifted to a wholly different possibility. Evidence indicated that it may have been Coleman who had been planning to kill McMillan. Coleman had used a forged signature to take out an insurance policy on McMillan's life, police records show, and allegedly offered one acquaintance $25,000 for "taking Matthew out."

Police theorized that Coleman was in the process of arranging the hit when something went awry, and Coleman himself wound up taking a dozen or so slugs from the hit man's .45. The hit man may have arranged to collect advance payment from Coleman, and then proceeded to eliminate the middleman and make off with the money.

Armed with a license plate number and some descriptions, detectives even had a strong hunch who Coleman's hit man-turned-killer might have been.

They were never able to amass enough evidence to make an arrest, though, and the case lingered without resolution. At least until 1994, when J.D. Horvath became the DeSoto chief of police, culminating his rise through the ranks. Despite what the evidence suggested, and what his own department's investigators said, Horvath did not believe that he had arrested an innocent man four years earlier.

Not long after taking charge of the department in the summer of 1994, Horvath revived the Coleman investigation, and became personally involved in the case. His goal was--and remains--pinning the murder once and for all on McMillan, who he still contends is the most likely suspect.

"I think there is substantial evidence that McMillan murdered Coleman," the chief said in an interview last week.

Public records and other documents reviewed by the Dallas Observer, however, show that, in his zeal to build a case against McMillan, Horvath has skirted the rules, immersing his department in accusations of corruption, malfeasance, and incompetence.

McMillan contends that Horvath is a short-sighted policeman who refuses to admit he has made a mistake. The result of Horvath's determination, McMillan says, is that any hope of finding Coleman's true killer has fallen victim to the chief's obsession with nailing a man who is innocent.

Horvath has been accused by McMillan--as well as a former member of his own police force--of allowing his single-minded quest to lead him afoul of the law by divulging confidential police information, violating the court order that called for records of McMillan's arrest to be expunged, and conspiring to have McMillan wrongfully charged with a crime.

Along the way, documents and interviews indicate, the chief's behavior has so mucked up the case that it may not be possible ever to prosecute anyone for the killing. Even the bullets that killed Coleman--potentially critical evidence at a murder trial--have been lost; Horvath says he is not to blame.

In one of the most bizarre chapters of Horvath's efforts to jail McMillan, the chief managed to wander into the fringes of a sensational murder case in England. Horvath forged an alliance with the defense team in the case, which gave him $4,000 to travel to England and testify for the defense of the accused murderer. In return, Horvath says he was able to gather more information for his case against McMillan.

Horvath's quest has confronted McMillan, still a businessman in Dallas, with the unseemly task of defending himself against accusations that he is a murderer, even though he has not been charged with a crime. In his anger, McMillan is firing back, marshaling all the evidence he can to show that Horvath is out of control, abusing his position to harass and slander an innocent man.

McMillan has filed a complaint with the Dallas County District Attorney's office, and is peppering DeSoto city officials with letters detailing Horvath's behavior. He has sent letters to the chief all but challenging Horvath to arrest him for the crime, so he can prove his innocence.

"Is it Hamlet, Act Three? 'He who steals my purse steals only money, but he who steals from me my good name steals everything I have,'" McMillan says. "I'm not going to stop until somebody listens. Somebody has to fucking stop him."

Matthew James McMillan is now Romeo James Milano. He legally changed his name in 1994, switching back to the Italian name his father had abandoned to escape prejudice.

A portly, balding Scotsman, Milano is equally adept at vociferous profanity and biting erudition. By profession, he is an opportunist, selling foreclosed real esate in Dallas or blue jeans in Poland--whatever pays.

"I wish I had the money that I didn't have to work so I could just follow him around for a few months," says attorney Kayo Mullins, who has represented Milano in some legal matters. "I think he leads a very exciting life."

Largely because of his business dealings--first in distressed real estate, later as an "international commodities dealer" traveling round and about Europe--the 41-year-old Milano has managed in his time to draw scrutiny from a distinctive array of law enforcement agencies around the world.

He has, by his account, been investigated by the FBI, Scotland Yard, Interpol, the Miami police, the New York police, and the federal authorities of England, Germany, and Scotland. According to law enforcement sources, Milano is not lying about his familiarity to myriad police agencies.

For all the attention he has attracted, Milano has never been charged with anything worse than drunk driving. He has, in fact, apparently been cleared of all the suspicions which have brought him to police attention.

But the one accusation that will not go away, largely because of the activities of the DeSoto police chief, is the Coleman killing. The savage shooting is inextricably intertwined with Milano's life, and the bitter divorce between Milano and his former wife.

Raised in Scotland, Milano immigrated in 1981, coming to DeSoto to meet a woman with whom he had been corresponding, and planned to marry. He is reluctant to provide details of how the courtship began. One acquaintance says it started as a bar bet back in Scotland, when Milano, then 26, wagered a drinking buddy that he could pick a U.S. phone number at random and strike up a friendship with whatever woman answered the phone. That ended up being Terrie Ellen Sickels, a DeSoto teenager.

When he arrived, Milano started work as a photocopier salesman, and did end up marrying Sickels in July 1981. Three years later, the couple had their only child, a daughter.

In Dallas in the 1980s, real estate was where the money was, so Milano naturally followed it, starting his own business buying and selling foreclosed properties. He says the business was lucrative, if not prestigious.

His dealings, investigators say, came to the attention of the DeSoto police, who were uneasy about the prospect that an unsavory character might have moved into their midst. Milano bristles at the suggestion that he was doing anything more than taking advantage of opportunities. "If you buy and sell real estate in Dallas County or anywhere else in Texas, it's a matter of public record," he says. "I mean, deeds have to be filed, liens have to be purchased, liens have to be filed, documents have to be notarized, your title companies have to be gone through. All of this stuff. You know, if I was so bad and so corrupt, why didn't anybody successfully sue me? Why didn't anybody take me to court?"

DeSoto police received complaints about Milano, and investigators spoke with both the Dallas County District Attorney's office and the Texas Attorney General's office about their concerns. But after reviewing the complaints, DeSoto law enforcement sources say, both agencies determined that Milano was doing nothing illegal.

Still, his name had entered the files of DeSoto police, and Milano would surface in their sights again.

Sometime in 1987, Milano met Glen Ralph Coleman, another opportunist, and the two struck up a friendship.

Two years earlier, Coleman had run into trouble with the federal government back in Maryland, where he owned a carpet and furniture cleaning company which held a contract to clean airplanes for the U.S. Air Force. In 1985, he was accused of billing the Air Force for work he had not performed, and bribing cooperative airmen to help him bilk the government. The Air Force barred Coleman from further contracts, and he apparently decided it was time to move to Texas.

When Coleman met Milano, the former carpet cleaner was interested in getting into real-estate deals. Milano says he plugged Coleman into some property in Oak Cliff, and that Coleman made money from the venture.

The two men, Milano says, became friends. "He had an office in the same building as I did," Milano says. "I thought he was the nicest person I'd ever met. He was very personable. He introduced me to his wife, I introduced him to my family. We went bowling together. We ate together. We became fast, firm friends. That was my belief."

In 1988, Milano's marriage began to fall apart. He and his wife separated in April, with Milano moving out of the house and into an apartment. He readily concedes that the problems were as much his fault as his wife's. "Look, I was a lousy husband," Milano says. "I was unfaithful. But she lived in a $300,000 home, she drove a new car every six months. I was damn good to my child. I was just a lousy husband."

Milano would later acknowledge to a family court counselor during the couple's divorce that life with him wasn't always rosy. He drank too much, and the couple squabbled over finances.

Coleman began to act as a sort of go-between between Milano and his estranged wife. As the weeks of the separation passed, Coleman appeared to be getting closer and closer to his estranged wife, Milano says. Too close. Then one day in late 1988, at a local stable where both men kept horses, Milano claims that Coleman sneaked up on him and took a swing at him with a sledgehammer. Milano was bruised in the shoulder, and Coleman later told Milano's wife that the incident was an accident. Milano did not report the incident to police.

Already resentful of Coleman's closeness to his wife, Milano now believed Coleman was out to hurt him. Milano was outraged, and ordered his estranged wife to stay away from Coleman. Milano even told his wife that he believed Coleman might be trying to kill him.

Several weeks later, in January 1989, Coleman's body was found by the roadside. He had been dead only a matter of hours.

Business acquaintances of Coleman, and Milano's wife and mother-in-law, all told police that Coleman had been in fear of Milano during the last days of his life. Sworn statements taken by police in the days after the killing show that Coleman was meeting often with Terrie Sickels and her mother Nancie, purportedly discussing the danger that Milano posed.

It was those statements that initially led police to arrest Milano. But they could never make a case against him, and ultimately he was cleared of involvement in the crime.

Investigators, in fact, soon began unearthing evidence that the murderous intentions may have been working in the opposite direction.

On June 3, 1988, after Milano and his wife had separated, Coleman had arranged to have a life insurance policy taken out on Milano. The policy, issued by Great West Life Assurance Company, named Coleman Enterprises as its beneficiary, and paid double indemnity--$200,000--in the event of death by "external, violent and accidental means." The first year's premium cost $270.

The policy required Milano's signature, but the agent who sold Coleman the policy gave police a sworn statement saying he never met Milano. Instead, the agent said, he reluctantly agreed to give Coleman the policy form with a blank signature line, and Coleman later returned it with what he said was Milano's signature.

"The bastard had been planning to kill me," Milano now says.
DeSoto police investigators came to believe that as well. After dropping Milano as a suspect in the Coleman murder, they instead began to concentrate on the possibility that Coleman was killed by whoever he was trying to hire to kill Milano.

Milano's estranged wife and mother-in-law became suspects in this alleged plot. (Terrie Sickels and her mother, Nancie Sickels, did not return phone calls from the Observer.)

Other possible forged signatures surfaced during the investigation. At one point, Terrie Sickels McMillan tried to have a car title switched from her husband's name into hers using a questionable signature. She said in a later deposition that she had signed her husband's name.

In November 1988, a bankruptcy petition had been filed for Terrie Sickels McMillan and her husband. The bankruptcy filing showed that the McMillans were filing without an attorney. The signature lines where Milano should have signed bear signatures that do not look the same as his known signatures on other legal documents. Rather, the bankruptcy signatures bear a striking resemblance to the Milano signature forged on the Great West life insurance policy.

Milano says he did not know about the bankruptcy filing, and that his signature was forged. The bankruptcy case later languished and was dismissed.

Police investigators theorized that Milano's wife and Coleman were arranging Milano's financial affairs to their benefit, should Milano suffer an untimely demise.

Glen Bourque, an associate of Coleman, gave police a sworn statement saying that, a few weeks before his death, Coleman broached the subject of having Milano killed. Bourque said Coleman offered $25,000 for the job. Coleman, Bourque's statement says, was scared of Milano. "He asked me if I would consider taking Matthew out before Matthew took him out," the man's statement says.

Another police interview unearthed stories of a suspicious man who had been seen meeting with Coleman several times before his death. In a sworn statement, another associate of Coleman told police Coleman was "desperate" because Milano "was not his friend anymore."

Coleman, the associate says, met several times with a black man who drove cars with tinted windows. "I thought Glen was meeting the black man probably to do something no good to [Milano] because Glen was desperate probably," the associate's statement to police says.

The man recorded the license plate of one of the cars driven by the unknown man. That plate number led police to a convicted armed robber who became their prime suspect in the killing. In September of 1989, eight months after Coleman's killing, the man was arrested by Dallas police for driving with no rear license plate. Tucked in his waistband was a .45-caliber handgun that had been enhanced with a 16-bullet clip.

When they learned of the arrest, DeSoto investigators immediately asked for the gun and sent it over to the Southwestern Institute of Forensic Sciences. There, a firearms expert compared the gun with the bullets that had killed Coleman, but the results were inconclusive. The institute's report concluded that the weapon "could neither be identified nor eliminated" as the murder weapon.

Thereafter, the case stalled. One reason was that the witness who had supposedly seen Coleman meeting with the hit man was an undocumented worker who would risk deportation if he testified in the case. The suspected hit man was never charged in the case, and police believe he is still in the Dallas area.

But at least Milano was in the clear. "I didn't do it," Milano says. "I'm not going to tell you that if I had known what he was planning, I wouldn't have done it. The chances are I would have. But they'd never have found his ass. I've told the police that."

After Coleman's murder, and while Milano was being held in jail for the killing, Terrie Sickels McMillan filed for divorce, citing cruel treatment as the grounds.

A bitter custody dispute ensued after Milano was released from jail, during which Terrie Sickels McMillan accused her husband of sexually molesting the couple's daughter on one occasion. The alleged abuse had not been reported to police or Child Protective Services when it supposedly occurred. During the divorce, a family court counselor who interviewed the daughter and both parents concluded that "the sexual abuse allegations do not seem to have significant validity and may be more the result of increasing hostility in this divorce-custody matter."

The same September 1989 report of the family court counselor also warned that deciding custody matters in the divorce case could become difficult since Milano had been cleared of murder, but his wife was a suspect in an ongoing investigation. DeSoto police, the report says, confirmed that Milano "has been cleared of all charges."

"However," the report continues, "other evidence has apparently come to light during the investigation which directs suspicion on Mrs. McMillan. The DeSoto Police assert that they are pursuing an active investigation on the mother and maternal grandmother for conspiracy to murder the father."

The divorce was finally granted in April 1990. By then, the DeSoto police investigation into Coleman's murder had stalled with no charges brought against either the supposed killer or Milano's ex-wife.

Milano says he was wiped out by the ordeal. He blamed Horvath, in part, for ordering his arrest without good cause. "My business was gone. My home was gone. My money was gone. And more importantly than anything else, my child was gone. Gone," Milano says. "All because of the capricious actions of a corpulent small-town policeman and his suspicions."

Milano was busted, and so was Texas. But the Berlin Wall had come down, and opportunities abounded in Eastern Europe for a man with ambition and hustle. Milano set out to make himself another small fortune.

There was no way he could have known that fate, and the rise of J.D. Horvath to chief of police, would converge to land Milano right back in DeSoto facing the Coleman accusations all over again.

When the Soviet bloc fell apart, vast markets for hungry consumers opened up in Eastern Europe. "It was like taking 400 million people from 1950 and inducting them into the 1990s," Milano says. "They wanted CDs, jam boxes, Levi jeans, cowboy boots, Lee shirts, anything. Hanes. Anything that said made in the United States of America."

Canny businessmen--some legal and some not--obligingly jumped into the breach, brokering deals to move vast amounts of merchandise to the newly open countries, where items such as U.S. blue jeans could be sold for staggering markups.

Not one to miss a chance, Milano jumped into the market, arranging shipments of baseball caps, cowboy boots, and anything else he could land. Milano says he stayed strictly within the law, never dealing in cash and always making sure his loads were legal. Mostly, he arranged shipments into Rotterdam, he says, where he would sell merchandise to wholesalers who then carted it to Poland or wherever.

More than anything else, Milano says, the new aficionados of American bounty wanted one thing--cigarettes. Preferably Marlboros. "The hottest commodity on the market was American tobacco," he says.

It was cigarettes that would again bring Milano to the attention of law enforcement.

Milano says he began brokering tobacco shipments into Rotterdam, reselling the stuff mostly to newly converted capitalists from Poland. The business was rocking along until 1992, when Milano agreed to arrange buyers for a boatload of Marlboros that was being brought to Europe by an English accountant named David Wilson.

According to later press reports, Wilson was handling the tobacco shipment for a mysterious Mexican general named Hector Portillo, who had somehow come into possession of thousands of cartons of cigarettes.

Wilson set up a company to buy a ship--which he named the Lisa Marie after one of his daughters--to bring the cigarettes from the United States to Rotterdam. Milano says Wilson contacted him about finding buyers for the load. It was a huge deal, and Milano says he nervously awaited its conclusion.

"[When] that boat gets to Rotterdam with the cigarettes, and my [customers] are there with the money, I'm walking away clear and clean with three-and-a-half million dollars," Milano says. "Naturally, you couldn't get a knitting needle out of my ass with a tractor."

But the mysterious Hector Portillo was really a New Jersey swindler named Michael Austin, and the shipment of cigarettes didn't exist. While he was in Rotterdam waiting for the shipment, Milano was arrested by Dutch police, who had been tipped about an apparent swindle going down with a phantom load of cigarretes.

Milano was jailed briefly and then released after authorities determined that Milano was a victim of the swindle, not a perpetrator.

Milano contacted Wilson, demanding the return of the money he had invested in the deal. But before Milano could collect, Wilson was killed.

According to British press reports, two gunmen arrived at Wilson's Lancashire home on March 5, 1992. The accountant was not there. The gunmen bound one of Wilson's grown daughters, and waited for Wilson to return home. When he did, with his wife and other daughter, the gunmen tied up the rest of Wilson's family.

"You know why we're here, don't you David?" one of the gunmen asked Wilson, according to later trial testimony. "It's over the money you took."

The killers then took Wilson into his garage, and shot him twice. The case made for blazing headlines in England, and it would take three years and an international manhunt before anyone was brought to trial for the slaying.

Ultimately Michael Austin, the New Jersey swindler and mastermind of the phantom cigarette scam, was extradited from the United States to England and convicted in February 1995, of hiring the killers, presumably to get even with Wilson for costing Austin money on the deal. The gunmen have not been caught.

But immediately after the killing, Romeo James Milano was once again suspiciously close to a brutal murder, and it was the second time one of his business associates had turned up dead.

Needless to say, English authorities were interested in discussing matters with Milano, and arrested him.

As had their counterparts in DeSoto, Lancashire police soon became convinced that Milano was not their killer. Trevor Taylor, detective chief inspector of the Lancashire police and an investigator in the case, says "there was no evidence to suggest culpability" on Milano's part, and he was soon let go.

One of the reasons Milano became an early suspect, Taylor says, is because Austin had used Milano's name when hiring private detectives to scope out Wilson's home. "Bear in mind that [the arrest] was at an early stage," Taylor says. "It [later] was proved that Michael Austin had purported to be [Milano] when hiring a private detective with a view to his surveillance on the deceased."

Far from being a suspect, in fact, Milano would later become a valuable prosecution witness in the case, traveling to England several times during the investigation and testifying against Austin at his trial.

Milano's testimony, Taylor says, was voluntary, and not part of any arrangement he might have made with officials to escape prosecution himself. "[Milano] appeared as a Crown witness," Taylor says. "I can categorically say to you that he did not appear as a Crown witness on the basis that he would not be charged in connection with this inquiry."

But after Milano was freed by English authorities and before Austin came to trial, the contract killing in England came to the attention of DeSoto Police Chief J.D. Horvath. The Wilson and Coleman killings suddenly intersected, and Milano found himself standing right at their juncture.

After his arrest for the Wilson slaying, Michael Austin had the financial wherewithal to hire one of the best criminal defense attorneys in England. That attorney, in turn, retained noted U.S. lawyer Alan Dershowitz to help with matters on this side of the Atlantic, mostly fighting Austin's extradition to England.

Dershowitz hired Louis Stephens, a New Jersey private investigator, to help in the case. One of Stephens' tasks was to find out all he could about James Milano, who was going to be a witness for the prosecution in Austin's trial. Stephens' inquiries naturally led him to DeSoto and a fateful meeting wth J.D. Horvath--a meeting which rekindled the police chief's hopes of finally pinning a murder charge of his own on Milano.

When Stephens came calling to check out Milano's background, each man had some stories to tell. Stephens says he was able to provide the chief with potential new witnesses in the Coleman killing, people in England and Europe unearthed by the Austin defense team who claimed to have had heard Milano brag about killing a business partner back in Dallas.

Horvath, in turn, told Stephens that Milano was a well-known thief and con man, even though Milano had never been charged with any such things. Horvath's characterization of Milano was contained in Stephens' written report to his employers.

More importantly, Horvath began sharing some of his department's investigative files on the Coleman killing with Stephens.

Opening his department's records may have been Horvath's first step across the line in his zeal to implicate Milano. Milano says that Horvath willingly turned over to the private investigator confidential files that should not have been shared.

Horvath and Stephens both claim that the chief did not allow Stephens to see anything that was not a public record. But their protestations conflict with the available record of Stephens' investigation.

In an interview, Stephens steadfastly maintained that Horvath "categorically did not" provide him with any confidential police documents or records.

In an interview, Horvath meandered through various accounts of what he shared with the private investigator. Horvath first stated that he showed Stephens nothing that wasn't public record. The next minute, the chief said he did open up certain records to Stephens because he decided he "would allow Stephens to assist us in our investigation" of the Coleman killing.

What is clear is that a copy of the report Stephens submitted to his employers contains documents that are not part of the public record of the investigation.

One of the first to discover that Horvath was allowing Stephens to peruse confidential police files was Lieutenant Paul Pothen, then head of the DeSoto Police Department's specialized crime unit.

Pothen says that in the summer of 1994 he was called into a meeting with Horvath. Stephens was present. During the meeting, Pothen says, he was given a copy of the report Stephens had compiled on Milano. The report contained, among other things, copies of sworn witness statements given to police during the Coleman investigation, a copy of the department's internal case summary, and even a copy of one of the crime scene photographs of Coleman's body.

"He handed it to me, and I looked at it, and I was shocked," Pothen says. "This was an unsolved homicide, and I was kind of surprised why the chief of police would provide a private investigator with these documents."

During the meeting, Pothen claims, Stephens and Horvath pressured him to open an investigation of Milano, not necessarily for the Coleman killing but for anything that could lead to Milano's arrest. "I was trying to determine what justification we had to look at this guy," Pothen says. "They didn't have anything in particular."

Stephens' interest in having Milano arrested was apparent, Pothen says. It would certainly hurt the English prosecutors if one of their witnesses was facing criminal charges--perhaps even a murder charge--in the United States.

But Horvath's motivation seemed even more sinister, Pothen says. The chief simply wanted Milano charged with something. "If there is one word to characterize his behavior, he was just obsessed," Pothen says. "He was obsessed with [Milano]."

Pothen ultimately refused to investigate Milano. This summer, he was fired from the DeSoto Police Department after 16 years of service. Pothen was dismissed for supposedly improper behavior when he and other officers tried to question a suspect in a car theft ring. He is appealing the firing, arguing that he was dismissed because he refused to cooperate with Horvath's efforts to nail Milano.

Stephens and Horvath both deny that they pressured Pothen to do anything improper. They say they were trying to inform Pothen of the statements from witnesses in Europe who had allegedly heard Milano brag about killing Coleman. Stephens was offering new evidence in the Coleman case, and Pothen was being instructed to follow up on it, Horvath and Stephens say. "The chief instructed, in my presence, Lieutenant Pothen to listen to what I had, and after they collectively listened to what I had, that he was to effectively review the entire [Coleman] investigation...to reinvigorate the investigation," Stephens says.

Pothen's assertion that he was being pressured to chase after Milano for any possible charges, Stephens says, "is unmitigated horse crap."

Pothen says he would have no part of the mess, and refused to cooperate with Stephens despite the chief's instructions. One reason, Pothen says, is that the main witness Stephens was offering--an English woman who claimed to have heard Milano brag about the Coleman killing--had been known to DeSoto police for almost two years, and her declarations had already been discounted by investigators. (The woman had lost money in a business deal with Milano, and investigators believed she may have contrived her assertions to get even.)

For the rest of 1994, Horvath and Stephens remained in touch. Two letters that Stephens sent to Horvath in late 1994 and early 1995, Milano says, indicate that Horvath had formed an unholy alliance with Stephens and the Michael Austin defense team.

The defense wanted Horvath to come to England for Austin's trial and testify that Milano was a suspected murderer whose testimony against Austin should not be believed.

In return, Stephens offered Horvath the chance to personally interview the witnesses who supposedly had heard Milano bragging about the Coleman killing.

On December 30, 1994, Stephens wrote to Horvath asking him to testify for the defense at Austin's trial. The letter continues on to offer Horvath help in interviewing the Englishwoman whose information on the Coleman killing had already been discounted by DeSoto investigators.

In the letter, Stephens explains that his tracks will need to be covered. An interview of the woman will be arranged, Stephens writes, but it cannot look like it came from the Austin defense camp. "Austin's legal counsel did not want to leave any impression on the record that they were 'targeting' [Milano]," the letter says. After discussing arrangements for Horvath to interview the woman in Scotland, the letter explains that the woman "will be a key witness in the Austin defense, and it is clear that there is an advantage towards having [her] volunteer her statement to you directly through her solicitors rather than through Austin's legal counsel."

In a second letter, dated January 7, 1995, Stephens told Horvath that the Austin defense team would "prefer" that Horvath seek to have Milano indicted for the Coleman killing before Milano could testify in Austin's trial. "I advised them, however, that such a scenario was improbable," Stephens wrote.

Milano calls the letters proof that Horvath and Stephens were conspiring to have him arrested unjustly--Stephens to help the Austin defense case, and Horvath to satisfy his hunger for Milano's arrest.

"They conspire. They conspire to lock me up for something I didn't do," Milano says. "The laws of the state of Texas say that criminal conspiracy is a crime. It's a fucking crime."

Horvath and Stephens, however, both maintain they did nothing improper--nothing beyond rekindling the investigation of the Coleman murder, which both men say there is good reason to believe Milano committed.

In February of this year, Horvath flew to London to testify for the Austin defense team, his trip partially bankrolled with $4,000 given to him by the Austin defense team. The City of DeSoto also paid for part of Horvath's trip so he could interview possible witnesses in the Coleman killing.

The chief took along his wife and children--at his own expense, he says--and combined his official travel with some vacation time.

The presence of Horvath's family on the trip has raised a small ruckus in DeSoto, and left Stephens feeling a bit defensive about allegations that the Austin defense team helped the chief land a London vacation trip.

"He took his family to London, which given the circumstances is something you would have done," Stephens says. "I mean, if you've got a couple of kids and you live in east-Jesus-nowhere-DeSoto-Texas, and you got the opportunity to take them to London and give them an education, a little bit of a break, don't you think you'd try it?"

But Horvath's trip to England has fueled more controversy than just the presence of his family. Right before Horvath left for England, Milano obtained an order from a Dallas County District Court judge directing that all records of his arrest in the Coleman killing be expunged.

By law, any paperwork that indicated Milano was arrested in the case was supposed to be removed from DeSoto police files and either destroyed or turned over to the Dallas County District Clerk's office.

When he got on the plane to London, Horvath acknowledges, he was carrying some files related to the Coleman case. That makes sense, since the purpose of his trip was to testify about Milano at the Austin murder trial. Horvath says he cannot remember if the documents he took contained any records that should have been destroyed under the expunction order. But even if they did, he says, the expunction order had not been formally served upon him before he left town. And anyway, he adds, "I'm not sure a Texas expunction order has any jurisdiction in Great Britain."

When he got to the trial, Horvath was unable to say much about Milano, or raise any questions about the Coleman killing. The trial judge in the case would only allow Horvath to state whether he considered Milano to be a credible person. After answering "no," Horvath's brief testimony was concluded.

Upon his return, Horvath claimed that the trip unveiled vital new information in the Coleman killing. In a letter to DeSoto City Manager Ron Holifield providing details of the $472.65 of city money he had spent during the trip, Horvath explained that "the information and momentum on the 1989 murder that was gained...will create the situation to possibly clear the offense."

As far as Horvath is concerned, he says, there is no other "viable suspect" in the Coleman killing besides Milano. Lou Stephens, the private investigator, gave DeSoto police "boxes" of information that will help build the case against Milano, Horvath says, and it is now only a matter of time before Milano pays his dues.

But more than a year after Stephens first began providing Horvath with "new evidence" in the Coleman killing, the case remains uncleared.

Milano remains in a hellish limbo, unable to clear his name of a murder he has never been formally charged with committing. He is awaiting the outcome of the Dallas District Attorney's office investigation of his complaint against Horvath. (Assistant DA Mike Gillett says it's routine for his office to conduct an inquiry into such complaints.)

Milano says he is also considering filing criminal charges against Horvath, or pursuing civil action for violation of his civil rights.

"You have to understand this is very distasteful to me," Milano says. "I'm sick and tired of people calling me a thief, a liar, a con man, a cheat, a child molester. If I'm any of those things, fucking arrest me. Arrest me. If I'm any of those things, why haven't I fled the country and sought sanctuary in New Zealand, where they don't have extradition treaties with the United States?"

In addition to his personal hell, Milano says, Horvath's continued quest to jail him may make it impossible for police to prosecute Coleman's real killer.

Former DeSoto police Lieutenant Pothen says that by opening up investigative files to outsiders, dragging files off to Europe and forming his alliance with the English defense lawyers, Horvath may have fatally contaminated evidence gathered in the case.

Not only has Horvath muddied the waters of any future prosecution, they say, but some evidence may even be missing.

After Horvath's return from England, De-Soto police learned that the man they consider their true suspect--the alleged hit man who had been meeting with Coleman before his death--had pawned a gun at a Dallas pawn shop. It was a .45. But according to sources familiar with the situation, investigators were unable to obtain a ballistics test to see if the new weapon matched the bullets that killed Coleman.

Those bullets, it seems, have been lost. Pothen says he last saw them in the chief's office. Horvath will not confirm whether the bullets have been lost, but says that he personally did not misplace or destroy them.

Horvath will not discuss what might have happened with the bullets, saying it could jeopardize his department's efforts to charge Coleman's killer. And there is no doubt in the chief's mind who that will turn out to be.

Romeo Milano, the police chief says, "doesn't know how close he is to being in jail.

KEEP THE DALLAS OBSERVER FREE... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
David Pasztor

Latest Stories