GOSHEN — Matt Howard heard a slapping noise and froze on the spot. Howard, one of the tattoo artists working at Mark Miller's tattoo shop the night of Sept. 7, 2012, was not sure of what to think when he heard the sound until he saw Todd Stewart with a gun in his hand saying "it's done."
That's what Howard, 29, told the jury during the third day of a jury trial for Stewart on Wednesday, April 30.
Stewart, 36, is charged with murder in connection with the death of Miller, and faces up to 65 years in prison if convicted. Miller's body was found in a barrel floating down the St. Joseph River on Sept. 20, 2012.
Howard said he started working at Miller's tattoo shop in the summer of 2011. He kept a good relationship with both Miller and Stewart, but they were never close friends, he told the court.
In the months leading to Miller's disappearance, Howard had heard Stewart talk about Miller. Howard said that sometimes Stewart made comments that seemed violent.
The night of Sept. 7, 2012, Howard was cleaning his room where he had just drawn a tattoo for a customer when he heard the slapping sound and thought it was likely a gunshot.
After seeing Stewart standing out in the hallway, Howard went out behind the tattoo shop, where he found Miller laying on a concrete pad. Howard's mind became clouded. The shock had left him numb as he walked back to his room and sat on his tattoo chair.
Howard said he didn't remember how long he sat there, but he remembers Stewart came back and said, "It's time to go."
When Howard went out again to the back of the shop, he saw a black steel barrel and Miller's body in it. Stewart told Howard to help him load the barrel onto Stewart's truck, a red Dodge pickup truck.
Next, Stewart told Howard to get in his own truck and follow him. Howard followed Stewart to Stewart's house in Bristol. On their way to Bristol, Howard called Miller's cellphone, as well as Stewart's. When asked why, Howard said he just could not believe what he had just witnessed. He hoped Miller would pick up.
The two men parked on Stewart's driveway. Stewart got into Howard's car and told him to never tell anyone what he had witnessed. Howard didn't call the police that night, nor the next day.
"I didn't want to challenge anyone who had just killed someone," he told the jury.
In the weeks after Miller's disappearance, Stewart stopped by Howard's apartment a few times. They never talked about Miller or the incident, but Howard felt threatened.
"I felt I could have done something," he told the jury. "I still think of that every day."
Howard didn't comply entirely with police until a few months after Miller's body was found. Parts of his statements were inconsistent.
Stewart's attorneys told the court Wednesday they wanted to submit as evidence the fact that Howard was given a polygraph test and that he manipulated the test, as he later admitted to police.
The information was for the jury to know more about Howard's character. The court did not allow that piece of information to be submitted to the jury.
On Wednesday morning the jury also heard from Barry Coy, the previous owner of the red pickup truck that police suspect was used by Stewart at the time of the homicide.
Coy told the jury he was in the process of selling his truck to Stewart around the time Miller went missing. At that time Stewart was already in possession of the truck, but he had not fully paid for it.
Coy had arranged with Stewart to borrow the truck Sept. 7, 2012, the last day Miller was seen.
But it rained that day, and Coy decided he wouldn't be able to use the truck until the next day. When he returned to borrow the truck, Coy found that some parts of the truck were scratched and the tailgate had been removed.
After that day Stewart told Coy he did not want the truck anymore. A few days later Stewart called Coy back saying he'd changed his mind.
Also on Wednesday morning, the jury had time to examine some of the evidence collected at the scene of the homicide, including the barrel in which Miller's body was found.
The trial will continue at noon Thursday, following the court's criminal hearings in the morning.
More on Todd Stewart's trial:
• Day one of trial: Deputy prosecutor gives detailed account of homicide during first day of trial for Todd Stewart
• Day two of trial: Witness says Stewart's actions suspicious days after Dunlap tattoo artist went missing during second day of trial