This story originally aired Dateline NBC on March 21, 2008.
ORLANDO — It was a fine, clear, October afternoon. The day the world stood on its head. It was the end -- and the beginning -- of a strange and terrible story.
There was a man. His name is Doug Miller. A dry wall finisher by occupation, though his guitar could tell much more about him.
He played for anyone who'd listen.
Doug Miller Sr.: He just had a sweet spirit about him. Always.
Religious, too. Deeply so.
As is the other man in our story: Jason Kent, a naval officer, called to the military service of his country, he would say, by God.
Gene Kent: He had the desire to make a difference in the world.
And so, what happened was really such a puzzle to everyone.
Dorothy Sedgewick: Why did he have to go and damage other people's lives?
Carol Kent: It has been a journey that has caused devastation upon devastation.
Jason Kent grew up a stone's throw from the mighty Lake Huron in Port Huron, Mich. It’s a postcard of a town and he was a poster boy of a son. His nickname was JP.
Carol Kent: JP was a mother and dad's delight. He was full of joy, totally spontaneous. There's one picture of JP in a sailor suit when he was 1 year old and you see that little look in his eye. He's looking around just waiting for something to happen.
Growing up so close to Lake Huron, JP was drawn to water. He would run along the boardwalk, ran all the time.
At school, said his father, he was determined to make the track team.
Gene Kent: He wasn't the best runner in the world but he kept working at it.
And JP brought the same determination to everything he did. He would wake most mornings at 4:30 to study. He would carefully write out to-do lists.
Carol Kent: Things he was dreaming of doing. And what it would take to get the job done.
Lists. Later on, a list would be at the heart of the dreadful puzzle.
But not yet.
Carol Kent: He was a young man who loved doing good deeds.
JP, with his love for water and his love of God and country, felt called somehow to the Navy.
Applying to the elite naval academy in Annapolis seemed like a long shot. But in 1993, just two weeks before classes began, he found out he'd been accepted.
Carol Kent: He said, "At this late date getting in, I know this is a door God opened and he has a very special purpose for me.”
JP dedicated himself to Annapolis with a missionary zeal.
Graduation week in 1997 was a proud family affair.
Carol Kent: It was lots of hoorah shouts as they do at the academy. And a time of praying over JP and dedicating his future to the Lord.
In September, he shipped out to the Navy's nuclear engineering school in Orlando. It was there, at a singles night hosted by his local church, that JP met the woman who would change his life.
Her name was April, and she was bird-bone thin, with dark hair tumbling down.
Just four months after they started dating, JP called his mother with surprising news.
Carol Kent: My son was asking to marry a woman I had never met next Friday.
The Navy was sending JP to Rhode island for more training. He wanted to take April with him as his wife.
Carol Kent: Not only that, he was asking to marry a woman who was previously married with two children.
These two little girls, 3-year-old Hannah and 6-year-old Chelsea, captured the hearts of JP's parents. How could they not?
Carol Kent: Within a half hour, little Chelsea came up to me, she grabbed my hand in her two hands, and she went, "You're my new fave grammie."
But as lovable as the little girls were, JP’s mother was not convinced about April. Her divorce was less than a year old.
And then, as Carol paced the boardwalk at dawn one morning just before the wedding, a figure emerged from the fog.
Carol Kent: It was April. She couldn't sleep either. She said, "I realize I’m probably not what you were looking for in a wife for your son. But I want you to know how much I love him and how much he loves me.”
A love that lights up every face in JP’s wedding pictures. It was a magical day.
And then came reality. Two weeks after the wedding, April’s ex-husband filed for custody of the girls.
The guitar-playing ex-husband -- and devoted father of those two little children – was Doug Miller.
And so, apparently, there would be a custody battle. And yet, JP brokered a truce with Miller. He even took Miller along on a family trip to Disneyworld.
Gene Kent: As a father, he needed to have some kind of contact with the girls and he was trying to cope with having that man in the girls' lives.
Which made what happened next so incredibly strange and impossible to predict.
It was a crisp Sunday afternoon in October. Doug Miller, 35, and his fiancée were eating at one of their favorite restaurants.
And then Miller left the restaurant to fetch something from his car.
He was walking through the parking lot.
Eyewitnesses all around.
What must they have thought as the gunman pulled out a semiautomatic handgun, aimed it at Miller, and started shooting?
Eyewitness: He had blood all over his shirt and he obviously was in agony … so fearful and scared, you know.
Miller ran for his life through the parking lot, diving for cover, and cowering behind a post. A few steps behind, his attacker kept shooting. It was a hail of bullets.
Eyewitness: He wanted to hide. He wanted to get away and he had nowhere to go.
Within moments, Doug Miller lay dying on the sidewalk. Four bullets to the back. His killer walked back to his car, got inside, and calmly drove away.
Police arrested him without a struggle just a few blocks from the scene.
Of course you know who it was: Navy Lieutenant Jason Kent.
Kent's parents were at home in Michigan when they heard.
Carol Kent: My knees wouldn't hold my weight and I buckled over. And I became extremely nauseous. And I am so sick, I don't understand this. It was unlike any experience I’ve ever had in my life. Because we knew it couldn't be our son. But it was.
Carol Kent’s son, JP Kent, the God-fearing, dutiful naval officer, had become the chief suspect in Doug Miller's murder. It looked as open and shut as a case could be.
But soon the woman in the middle, the one both men had loved, began to spill her secrets.
Homicide investigator Bud Jones had never seen a murder suspect like this one before.
Sgt. Bud Jones: It was just pretty much feet-flat on the floor -- you know, sitting straight up in the chair and just looking straight ahead.
The suspect sat to attention, back ramrod straight for hours. It was naval officer Jason Kent, arrested blocks from the scene of a savage shooting. The investigator charged him just after midnight with first degree murder.
A few days later, Jason called his mother from jail.
Carol Kent: He was sobbing. He said "I’ve just been jumped by 10 inmates. They were kicking me and kicking me in the head … my two front teeth have been broken off.” And I just said "God, I can't do this journey. I can't watch my boy suffer like this.”
Thousands of miles away in California the father of Jason’s victim also looked to God for comfort, returning again and again to the place where he had scattered his son's ashes.
Doug Miller Sr.: He had a sweet spirit from the time he was a little boy.
But for all his tears, he said, he was not surprised. Not one bit. His son Doug, he said, had told him strange and frightening stories about Navy Lt. Jason Kent. Like that trip to Disneyworld. At the end of it, Doug told him, Jason didn't just say goodbye. Not in any normal way anyway. Instead, he called Doug to his car and pulled a gun out from under the seat.
Doug Miller Sr.: He shucks a bullet into the chamber and he points it up at Doug and says, "This is what happens to people that mess with me."
So who really was Jason Kent? Man of violence? Or devout son and loving husband? And was there any explanation for what seemed so inexplicable -- the murder of a man in broad daylight in an Orlando parking lot?
On April 16th 2002, Jason walked into court in a stylish suit and chains. It was the first day of his trial. If convicted he faced life in prison.
Dorothy Sedgewick: I think he was a cold-blooded, cold-hearted, first-degree murderer who has no excuse for what he did.
In her opening statement, prosecutor Dorothy Sedgewick told the jurors that Jason Kent had painstakingly planned the death of Doug Miller. That he had hunted him down.
Prosecutor: This was a long term thought process by Jason Kent. A killing he intended to get away with.
But Jason wasn't going to get away with this crime, the prosecutor argued. She called to the stand a parade of eyewitnesses. One by one they pointed straight at Jason Kent, identifying him as the gunman.
He sat stone-faced as they explained that his victim had done nothing to provoke the attack.
Prosecutor: Did you ever see the man who was shot do anything that appeared aggressive at all ?
Answer: No ma'am, I didn't. All I saw was him running.
Prosecutor: Running away?
The prosecutor's next witness told the jury why Doug Miller had even been in the parking lot at that moment.
Magalie Pelltier had been Miller's fiancée. Now she was so upset she could barely speak.
Magalie Pelltier: We were waiting at the table for a while.
She testified that Miller had left the restaurant where they'd been eating brunch to get her some aspirin from his car.
Magalie Pelltier: I kept wondering why isn't Doug coming back? What is taking so long?
Her headache, his kindness, and death was the result.
But Doug’s death had been far from random, the prosecutor argued. It was the culmination of an intensive surveillance operation. There was evidence, she said, that Jason Kent had made as many as 14 reconnaissance trips to Miller's home, had tailed him from his house to his church, and even stolen his mail.
And with military precision, he had kept a log of what he had observed. Homicide investigator Bud Jones deciphered it for the jury.
Sgt. Bud Jones: The name and address of the church that Doug Miller attended. Douglas Miller's address and phone number. Douglas Miller's cell phone.
The man who could never stop making lists as a boy had kept a meticulous list of the people he saw in Miller's company "two heavy blond women. One sandy blond thin man. One blond little girl, " Jason wrote as he watched from his car.
Prosecutor: It appeared as though he got some kind of gratification or enjoyment out of going through this process of stalking and killing Doug Miller.
The prosecutor told the jury that Jason hadn't just been watching Miller. He had spent time putting together a killing kit.
The prosecutor's next witness was a crime scene technician who had processed physical evidence found in Kent’s car after his arrest.
Clark: A magazine clip with live rounds in it … two nine millimeter guns. One of them had a silencer attached a scope. A flashlight.
It was a sinister show-and-tell for the jury.
Prosecutor: He had concrete blocks. A tarp. He had saws. He had knives. He had a corrosive liquid.
According to the prosecutor, these items proved Jason had a plan for killing Miller and getting rid of his body.
Prosecutor: There was a large women's dress.
He had even packed a disguise.
Prosecutor: A wig and sunglasses
After less than two days of testimony , the prosecutor wrapped up her case confident she had proved that Jason Kent had gunned down Doug Miller in cold blood.
Prosecutor: I don't believe there was ever any question about his guilt.
But there were other questions.
Big questions, begging for answers.
What could explain Kent’s brutal act? Why would a devoutly religious young man, a practicing Christian, an Annapolis grad, stalk a man, walk up behind him, shoot him in the back?
The defense promised not just an explanation, but compelling evidence that Kent was on a tragic mission and somehow felt it was his duty to kill Doug Miller.
When defense attorney Bill Barnett met his client Jason Kent for the first time in jail, he says, he didn't see a proud naval officer. He saw a little boy lost.
Bill Barnett: He was just so horribly conflicted about what had happened, very confused, and very remorseful.
Jason openly admitted to the shooting but he said it all felt like a dream.
Bill Barnett: He felt like he was out of his body in a way, seeing himself as sort of a movie that he was playing out that may have been filmed before.
That description would form the bedrock of a daring defense strategy.
Bill Barnett: What demons lurk beneath in this man's mind?
When Jason Kent pulled the trigger, said his lawyer, he was insane. Not born that way, of course. Temporary insanity.
Barnett: I wanted them to see that he stretched as far away from good roots as he could and eventually snapped.
Who better to describe Jason’s transformation from the dogged little boy running along the boardwalk in Port Huron to crazed killer than his mother, Carol Kent? She mouthed "I love you" as she took the stand.
Carol Kent: If I could have picked a child that I could have hand-designed it would have been JP Kent. He was a joy to raise.
Then she told how within months of his marriage, Jason’s personality started to change.
Carol Kent: He would be so agitated at times. I would feel like "I think he needs help." Emotionally. Mentally. I've never seen him like this and I know he needs help.
Had Jason’s whirlwind, fairytale marriage really soured so quickly?
Maybe Jason’s wife April could explain by telling the jury about her relationship -- not with Jason, but with her ex-husband, the man Kent murdered.
She was 15 when she met Doug Miller, said April. It was at her grandfather's church in California. He was the youth pastor; 10 years older than she was. He took her for walks on the beach, she said. He was big, six feet tall, 250 lbs. And before long, she claimed, he used his size to take advantage of her.
April Kent: When my parents weren't there he started pressing in on me and trying to put his hands in my shirts and in my, my pants.
Home-schooled by her fervently religious parents, April said she knew nothing about sex and relationships.
April Kent: I didn't understand what was going on and I felt -- I felt dirty.
She was overwhelmed with shame, she said, felt she had no choice but to marry her tormentor. A man she claimed she didn't love and was afraid of. And who began abusing her shortly after their wedding day in March 1991.
Barnett: Did he ever strike you?
April Kent: Yes.
Barnett: Where would he strike you?
April Kent: Usually on the arms, on my shoulders.
Barnett: Was this with an open hand or a closed fist?
April Kent: A fist.
April Kent: A fist.
April said she fled Miller's drug-and-alcohol-fueled rages on three occasions, even obtained a restraining order against him in 1996. But she always returned home for the sake of the children. Then, she said, something happened that made her think a home with Doug Miller in it might be the worst place the children could be.
April Kent: Doug was on the couch watching TV. Chelsea went and crawled up on the couch with him, and um, I saw him with his hand wrapped around the back of her bottom and between her legs.
Barnett: Touching her where?
April Kent: His hand was coming from behind on her back and wrapping around um, the front part of her genitals.
Even after Doug Miller moved out in 1997, April said his disturbing behavior continued to affect her daughters. Her youngest child told her about a disturbing dream.
April Kent: She said that in her dream, that Doug was screaming and screaming at Hannah and Hannah was crying, and she said "and then daddy stuck a knife in Hannah’s pee pee."
April filed for divorce and was awarded sole custody of the girls. Miller gave up any right to visit with his daughters unless April was present.
But then April married Jason, and all that changed. A court motion followed the newlyweds to Rhode Island. Doug Miller now wanted custody of the girls.
April panicked. She told Jason about Miller's abuse.
Together, they wrote to a lawyer, outlining her allegations.
As April dictated her nightmare story, Jason typed but at times, she said, he could hardly bear to listen.
April Kent: He just became so angry and slammed his hand down on the desk and got up and started yelling. He was very angry.
And then, to the couple's great disappointment, their lawyer told them their document could not by itself prevent Miller from getting more access to the girls. And with that, she said, they felt their lawyer had abandoned them.
Barnett: Did you feel like he was going to fight for you?
April Kent: No.
Barnett: Did he give you any hope or encouragement?
April Kent: No.
The news plunged Jason into despair. April said he seemed paralyzed with fear for his stepdaughters.
April Kent: At one point I had actually walked into the bedroom to see him curled up in a ball on the bed, just crying, and I asked him what is going on, what is wrong and he said, "I don't know," he said, "I’m scared.”
As Miller's petition made its way through the court system, Jason was posted back to Florida -- naval diving school in Panama City this time. Every other weekend he drove the girls six hours to Orlando for court-ordered visits with Miller. And six hours back again.
And all the way, he brooded about their safety.
And thus, said this psychiatrist, began Kent' slide into insanity. Greased by a pre-existing condition.
Dr. Gutman: I felt that he had an obsessive compulsive personality disorder.
The rigorous boyhood study habits, the constant running, the obsessive list making. All symptoms, said Dr. Michael Gutman, of a fragile mind, ready to shatter under stress.
And Kent’s splintering psyche was manifest, according to the psychiatrist in his increasingly erratic behavior. He started shoplifting and shooting neighborhood cats and dogs. It was behavior so uncharacteristic of this accomplished Navy lieutenant, the psychiatrist told the jury, it could not be anything but the behavior of a man losing his grip on reality.
What's more, the psychiatrist said, when Jason got away with these petty crimes, it made him feel invincible.
And more than that -- he was now persuaded that God, who had hand-picked him to attend the naval academy, was now giving him his divine mission.
Dr. Gutman: He was a saving protecting angel -- and that was his mission, as if he were actually an arm or God's right hand man.
He had become God's avenging angel, compelled to stalk Doug Miller and plot his death. The disguises, the killing supplies? Little more than props.
Dr. Gutman: The props are part of his delusional system, his craziness.
The defense ridiculed the prosecution's theory that Jason’s planning, and all those tools, proved he was a calculating killer. Instead, said the defense, they proved how insane he really was.
Barnett: He's got silencers. He's got a shell catcher made out of a sock and a wire. He didn't use any of those. It just beggars the imagination that somebody in command of his faculties would abandon all of those preparation tools.
And that's how the defense rested, hoping the jury would believe that Jason Kent was not killer, but rather a distressed father, driven insane by fear for his family.
Barnett: He believed in this unclear thinking that paranoid delusion brings, that if he didn't kill Doug Miller, these children would, without question, be molested by him. Period.
True? Before the jury could think about that, the prosecutor had one last chance to cross-examine the woman at the center of the trial: April. The woman both the shooter and his victim had loved. And what she had to say would raise more questions.
Doug Miller Sr.: You say you are a Christian. I question that. I question that you could ever be a Christian and say you love God when you're willing to take one of his children out.
Doug Miller's father didn't attend the trial of his son's killer. He couldn't bear it. As brutal as Jason’s actions had been, he said he didn't think the young naval lieutenant was solely to blame.
Doug Miller Sr.: I think Jason was damaged merchandise. He was being used as an instrument for hate and unforgiveness from another person.
He says that other person is April; the innocent wisp of a girl his son had fallen in love with years ago, who was now testifying in court that Doug Miller had abused her and her children.
Doug Miller Jr.: Hello girls. This song is for you guys. From daddy…
Listen to Doug’s voice -
“I love you and God bless you”
It's hardly that of a monster, says his dad. Here he's recording a song for his two daughters almost a year before he died. He calls them his angels.
"Daddy's blessings on two angels"
Doug did have his flaws, his father admitted: a bad temper, a drug habit. But he had kicked both of those things after finding God. He was just as devoted to his daughters. And April’s stories of abuse were invented, he said. Pure lies.
Doug Miller Sr.: I think those are things that April developed or conjured up to make Doug look like the animal that needed to be exterminated.
Doug's father was not the only one to question April’s honesty. She had been the star witness for the defense, describing her husband's mental breakdown to the jury. But the prosecutor had her doubts.
Prosecutor: April appeared to cry and whimper at exactly the same times during the trial that she did when I took her deposition. I think April was acting.
Prosecutor: Mrs. Kent. There's just a few things I’d like to clarify.
During a tense cross-examination, the prosecutor asked April if she had ever told anyone other than Jason about her suspicions or taken any concrete steps to protect the children.
Prosecutor: You never took your children to a medical doctor to request that they be examined for any suspicion of sexual abuse in any way did you?
April Kent: Correct.
Prosecutor: You never spoke to any child care worker of any kind concerning your suspicion?
April Kent: I shared the dream that Chelsea had had with our pastor and he thought it was unusual but he wasn't worried about it.
Prosecutor: Her behavior was really, very inconsistent with her believing something had truly happened in the past to the children.
And then, right in the middle of that cross-examination, April suddenly made a totally new and startling allegation about Doug’s behavior way back before they were married.
Dorothy Sedgewick: You never had sexual intercourse with him before marriage did you?
April Kent: He one time penetrated me.
Doug Miller, she said, had not only fondled but raped her. The prosecutor went on the attack.
Prosecutor: Isn't it true that I have asked you that question in a deposition and you denied that?
April Kent: Yes.
Prosecutor: So previously under oath you denied that ever occurred. Correct?
April Kent: Yes, but I did not recall it.
Prosecutor: But you recall that today?
April Kent: Yes, I do.
The prosecutor thought she might have scored a potentially damaging hit on April’s credibility.
Prosecutor: It appears that she had a desire to make Doug Miller look worse than he truly was to the jury and was willing to make whatever statements she needed to make in order to do that.
But Jason Kent’s defense attorney disagreed -- vehemently. April, he said, had been too ashamed to speak up. Until now.
Barnett: She never mentioned it because she was embarrassed about everything that happened, about the sexual liberties that he took.
Was she telling the truth?
Jason listened to his wife testify and he wept.
Here is what the jury saw: the military man in his court suit and his shackles, his face a mask of torment.
Or common killer?
On April 19, 2002, the jurors heard closing arguments.
Prosecutor: His murder of Douglas Miller was a killing during the exercise of his free will as a sane man.
Barnett: He had the abiding conviction that he had been given the mission of stopping Douglas Miller from hurting his wife or those children.
And it was now up to them to decide who was the real Jason Kent.
Yvonne: Innocent, choir-boy looking. You would never, ever think that he would do something like this. Ever.
In the case of Jason Kent, the naval lieutenant who'd gunned down his wife's ex-husband in a Florida parking lot, members of the jury absorbed all the torment of that incomprehensible act, and took it with them into the jury room.
Randy (juror): The emotion was running high at that time.
Fred (juror): I felt for the kid. I really did.
Dateline sat down with five of the jurors. They all said they were shocked when they first set eyes on the baby-faced murder suspect. Just as striking was the testimony of Jason’s parents -- which suggested to some of them that he was not capable of killing in cold blood.
KC Perin: You couldn't have asked for a better son in everything he did.
Fred: His mother was talking, his father. I felt sorry for him. It was like looking at my own son. I was ready to let the guy go.
To some jurors the allegations they were hearing about Doug Miller's behavior towards April and the children, and the story of the girls dream almost made sense of a senseless murder.
Fred: I was looking at my grandkids. If somebody did that to them, what would I do?
But other jurors didn't think April’s stories of abuse and violence rang true. After all, she had not taken her children to the doctor or reported Doug Miller to the police.
Audrey (juror): You know, I’m a mother. If somebody's doing something wrong to my children I’m going to react on it.
And these jurors told us April’s sudden revelation that she had been raped seemed contrived.
KC Perin: For her to forget, under sworn testimony, that she was raped. And then she just convincingly brings it up in the trial. Something did not connect at all there.
But in the end, to the jury it didn't matter whether April was telling the truth as much as whether Jason Kent believed her.
Randy: I think that she pushed him -- pushed him, and pushed him. I think there's a very fine line in where somebody will snap. And I guess people snap a different way.
In a written statement, April told Dateline that she never had "the intention of provoking Jason to kill Doug Miller." In fact, she said, she became increasingly hesitant to tell him about her past "because of his emotional reaction." She added that she hadn't told a single person about being raped before the trial because she had been so ashamed by it and that she "regrets to this day" not reporting Doug Miller to the police.
The ultimate question remained. Provoked or not, did Jason Kent lose his mind so completely in that parking lot on that October afternoon that he also lost the ability to tell right from wrong?
Four hours into their deliberations the jury took a vote. They had reached a verdict.
Judge: Mr. Kent, would you stand with your attorneys?
His back as straight, his face as flinty as any Navy cadet on parade, Jason Kent stood before the judge.
Judge: We the jury find the defendant guilty of murder in the first degree.
And Jason’s mother watched the son who had dreamed of spending his life at sea, lose his life to a prison cell.
Judge: At this time I do sentence you to spend the rest of your natural life in prison at the Department of Corrections.
Carol Kent: I looked at my son. And I don't think I’ve ever had a prouder moment in my life. Because I saw him sit there and I saw him receive that verdict like a man.
And the father of Jason’s victim? Says he felt sorry for the 27-year-old who had thrown his life away . But he did feel some relief, too.
Doug Miller Sr.: I wanted justice for my son's death. And that's what we received is we received justice.
But for some in the courtroom there were still unanswered questions. Jason had not taken the stand in his own defense. Homicide investigator Bud Jones was fascinated, frustrated, curious. What might he have said?
Sgt Jones: I would love to be able to sit down and talk with him, you know at length and try to find out exactly what was going through his mind, why he decided to do what he did.
Now five years after his conviction, that's exactly what Jason Kent has agreed to do, sit down with Dateline and explain himself.
Jason Kent: I remember thinking, "Boy, you don't want to do this, Kent. But you've got to do this."
There's an old water tower on state road 62, outside Tallahassee. For Carol and Gene Kent, it's the sign they're almost at the prison that houses their son.
Carol Kent: When I see that water tower, I send up a prayer for my son, for his safety. And my big prayer is that he will be a profound influence for good in a place where often, evil is great.
Because of a great evil he committed eight years ago, Jason Kent is serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole. The former naval lieutenant, loving son and husband will probably never be free. All his appeals have been exhausted.
Carol Kent: He's there until he's dead on a slab with a tag on his toe. And that's something that as a mom it's very hard for me to get beyond.
And so this grieving mom, who will never again hug her son away from the watchful gaze of a prison guard, has turned advocate -- setting up a non-profit foundation called "Speak Up for Hope" that aims to make life a bit easier for prison inmates and their families.
Carol Kent: We want to make those visitation parks a place where relationships and families grow together instead of apart.
It’s something Carol has experienced firsthand. The ready-made family her son acquired when he married April all those years ago has fractured. After years of visiting him religiously, April has taken the girls out of state.
And that's where we begin.
Keith Morrison: Boy oh boy, it must have been-- when they stopped coming --
Jason Kent: Yeah, it's tough. Very tough emotionally. You feel-- you feel abandonment.
Jason Kent strode into our interview, military bearing intact. A few grey hairs perhaps. Wearing his prison clothes as if they were Navy blue.
Keith Morrison: What do they call you in here?
Jason Kent: Usually Kent, my last name. Just like being in the military. Kent.
And here's the heart of it, the explanation, if such a thing is possible: the answer to that question the detective was so eager to ask. Jason Kent says he responded to the custody battle with Doug Miller as a military man.
Jason Kent: As a military officer, especially as a special operations guy, you're really used to the buck stopping with you. You don't defer it off to anyone else. You don't ask anyone else for help.
And the buck stopped with him. Officer Kent. Or so Jason believed at the time. He was convinced, he said, that he was running out of legal options to stop Miller from getting custody of the girls.
Jason Kent: I had a tendency I guess towards saying, "well, I always have that other option there.”
Keith Morrison: That other option. What do you mean "that other option?"
Jason Kent: The other option of killing him.
Killing was something Jason knew how to do. Had been trained how to do it. He freely admits stalking Miller in the months before the crime. As he spent hours sitting in his car, watching the man he would kill, he says he struggled with his conscience.
Jason Kent: I remember thinking, "Boy, you don't want to do this, Kent. But you got to do this." And you can see years from now your daughters turning and looking to you and saying, "Dad, wasn't there anything you could do to fix this problem or to protect us?" Then also feeling that there's a lot of military training that I didn't really like either, and I just could make myself do that. And ultimately, led to killing him.
Keith Morrison: My reaction as you're telling me the story is, Jason, you're a Christian.
Jason Kent: But what was in my head is that this is a real threat to my family. And that I need to protect my family from this threat.
Jason remembers the killing, clear as day. A gun in each hand.
Jason Kent: The entire event probably transpired in maybe eight seconds, 10 seconds total.
Keith Morrison: Without any feelings about that man as you were doing it?
Jason Kent: At that moment, no.
And now? Well, now, he says, he is plagued by remorse.
He has a message for Doug’s family.
Jason Kent: I'm asking that they would forgive me. And I understand that that might never come at all. But I just want them to know that I’m sorry and that I was wrong.
Keith Morrison: Boy, that's the ultimate "can't take it back" thing, isn't it?
Jason Kent: Certainly. Certainly.
And Jason can't take back his prison sentence. He has filed a clemency petition with the governor of Florida but even his own attorney admits his odds are not good.
Keith Morrison: You'll never be a naval officer, you'll never be a father of your own offspring .you'll never be out of here, you'll die in here. And I just don't know how you unpack that.
Jason Kent: For me, that's where -- and I mentioned some of this earlier. But that's where I try to find things that I can be thankful for.
The man who could never stop making lists as a boy and who made a chilling murderer's list as a man, continues to make lists to get him through prison one day at a time.
Jason Kent: A list of all the things in my life that I am grateful for, whether it's family, whether it's having a little bit of money in my canteen account.
Jason still runs every day along a prison fence, not a boardwalk. He wonders if he'll ever see April again, the woman he killed for. April, who told those stories about her ex-husband.
Keith Morrison: Have you ever had occasion when you felt, oh God is that really true, all of that stuff?
Jason Kent: No, I haven't. I haven't.
Keith Morrison: Never doubted it?
Jason Kent: No.
Keith Morrison: Even when they didn't come anymore?
Jason Kent: Even when they didn't come anymore.
And sometimes, in the darker corners of his new existence, he does hard time by learning how to let them go.
Jason Kent: I just pray that they are successful, and that they feel loved, and that they feel safe.
Keith Morrison: And if another husband and father comes along, how will that be for you?
Jason Kent: I’ll just have to learn to deal with that, too.
It’s a kind of life.
Jason stands erect, offers a polite goodbye, and strides off again to his life in prison.
Although Jason Kent has not seen April and the girls in nearly two years, they do write. Kent's lawyer says it could be another three to four years before his clemency request for a reduced sentence is considered by the governor's office.
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