Prosecutors say 18-year-old Milton Dortch has admitted to the fatal shooting of Omaha jewelry store owner James Minshall. Dortch will remain held without bond.
These developments came in his first court appearance in the case on Friday afternoon.
He faces charges of first-degree murder and use of a weapon to commit a felony in Wednesday's shooting of the 71-year-old Minshall in his store, JR's Jewelry & Gifts near South 72nd and Jones streets.
Dortch allegedly planed to rob the business, telling the employees to fill the bag he brought into the store, but fled empty-handed after the shooting. Prosecutors said a .357 magnum was found in the dumpster behind the store, along with his blood. Prosecutors said Dortch admitted to leaving it there. Investigators also said he was spotted on video surveillance from the jewelry store, firing the semi-automatic 3 times.
Dortch also faces an armed robbery charge for last Saturday's holdup at the Bank of the West branch near North 135th Street and West Maple Road. He allegedly got away with $19,000 cash.
A warrant was issued Monday for Dortch's arrest in connection with the bank robbery. Police released a surveillance photo taken in the bank and his mother was able to identify Dortch.
In Courtroom #50 inside the Douglas County Jail, his mother, Leilani Dortch, watched from behind glass as prosecutors recounted new details from the bank robbery and jewelry store shooting in the last week. Judge Darryl Lowe attached a $100,000 bond for the bank robbery charge -- but the murder charge with no bond -- cancels any chance for Milton Dortch to get out of jail before trial.
On Thursday evening, family and friends of Minshall gathered at the scene of the crime for a prayer walk. The store remained closed as mourners stopped by to deliver flowers and personal messages.
A tip led investigators to a car in the parking lot of the Econo Lodge at 20th and Douglas around 9 a.m. Thursday where the Fugitive Task Force found Dortch and arrested him without incident. The Crime Lab went into the motel to collect any evidence that might have been in the room, which was rented by someone else.
While Dortch was allegedly the only person inside the store, police issued a news release stating, "The investigation also shows that Dortch was aided in this robbery by additional suspects who have yet to be identified."
“It's broad daylight, very busy area, no regard for anybody's safety," said Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine. "It put so many people at risk and so many people in fear."
WOWT 6 News spoke with Dortch's mother, who said her son stayed with her, but hadn’t been home since last Thursday. She said she filed a missing persons report over the weekend.
"I thought I had to call because he had been missing already since Thursday night," said Leilani Dortch. "I made a report Saturday not knowing anything of what's going on, just trying to find him. You know he'll call eventually. I ended up hearing Sunday after I got off work at 3 in the afternoon that he was on the news. I said 'for what? They said for bank robbery. You're kidding me? No freaking way, my kid, come on now. He ain't deprived of money, come on now, really, seriously? So I get home and get on the news feed on Facebook, great social media. And there he was."
Dortch was apologetic toward the Minshall family, but said she loves her son and will be there for him. "I never in my wildest dreams thought that my son would do something like this ever. And then to hear that he is involved in this killing, there is no way you could have ever made me believe that he was that far gone, that he did something like that."
She said she has tried to keep her son out of trouble since he was shot at 48th and Pratt earlier this year, but said he wouldn't listen. Milton was critically wounded on June 7th. His cousin, Dionte Dortch, was later arrested for the shooting.
If convicted of bank robbery and murder, Milton could be locked away for the rest of his life. Leilani said her son has recently been on a self-destructive path. “In my heart I knew it was just a matter of time. Not for this. But I knew he was going to make the wrong decision."
Leilani identified her son to police after his picture made news as a suspect in the Bank of the West robbery. “I would be less of a parent if I did not admit that was my son."
She says her son has had more than enough chances to change his ways, especially after being shot. “One of two ways you are going to end up, dead or you are going to end up in jail. So you don't think he had a wake-up call? I don't. I think so. His friends glorified him, gave him kudos."
After recovering, he fell back into the gang life. At age 18, his criminal history isn't long. His father, who has since died, is another story. Milton Dortch Sr. was convicted of manslaughter and use of a firearm to commit a felony.
Kathryn Allen was one of Minshall’s customers. “I was absolutely devastated. I'm not even family and I'm not a close friend, but I'm a customer. It affected me the whole day.”
“It was a very senseless act and it kind of tugs at your heart that things like this happen for no reason at all," said Kay Alexander. "And he was just a man trying to make a living.”
Amanda Smith was among those attending the prayer walk vigil. "To stand up against these teens who are doing these senseless things, who are throwing their lives away and took someone wonderful from the planet and walked away.”
”He had a family and he had grandchildren and everything and he didn’t think about that," said Amy Fickes. "He didn’t think what he was doing. He was only thinking of himself. He was young and stupid and we need to stand up to that so people, they can’t be doing this stuff.”
Standing shoulder-to-shoulder, arms intertwined, friends and family of Minshall shared memories. “Kind of the father that I think we all wish we had," said family friend Amber Evangelisti. "He was that quiet cowboy, the kind that would just hold the door open for anybody, that would do absolutely anything for his wife and his family."
Minshall's wife Marlena was embraced by close friends and strangers, many of whom were Jim's longtime customers. “It's just unfathomable that you would attack a family business that has served the community for so long," said Omaha City Councilman Franklin Thompson.
The family said the quick arrest provided some comfort. They thanked police for swift action, though the feeling of loss remains. The family said Minshall’s young granddaughter was his best friend and it’s painful to know she won’t get to grow up with her grandpa.
“He would have liked to have been there when she turns 16 and drives and when she walks down the aisle," said Evangelisti. "And now she'll never get that. They took that away from her."
The circumstances of the shooting remain unclear. One source told WOWT 6 News the gunman was "fidgety" and shot Minshall three times for no apparent reason, then left the store without any jewelry.
"I heard a loud boom," said Kylie Linderman, who was shopping at the nearby PetSmart. "It's a little too close to home." Linderman said she saw a silver Cadillac speed away, but police said Wednesday afternoon they don't believe a vehicle like that was involved in the crime.
"He's a good guy," said Seann Wirth. "He runs an honest business." Wirth's father-in-law was working inside the store at the time of the shooting. "He and the owner are friends and they've known each other for a while."
Wirth was working construction nearby when he received a frantic phone call from a family member about the shooting. "My heart dropped for a second and I got really nervous. Kind of scared. So we rushed down here to see if he was alright."
James Onik was one of the employees in the store at the time of the incident. "He walked right in and then stood by one of the customers for a while and then broke out a gun. He had a bag and threw it on the floor and said to put all the jewelry in the bag. The boss walks over to the counter, where he's going to give him the jewelry. Told him to get back. He told him to get the bag. The boss walked to the back, three shots rang out and he walked out."
Herb Eveland owns Tuva sports collectibles, a neighboring business. “He was a proprietor all his life. He owns everything in that store and he's worked hard for it, just like me. I'm not going to give up without a fight, but anymore they just shoot you for no reason and they don't care."
Eveland said he has security cameras “stretched out through our store and outside and we work together to try and catch the bad guys,” but he’s not sure if the video will yield any clues. “Depends on which way they went, because my video is going to cover my store. Their store is down a ways. Next door to me, still it is 30 feet on down.”
Carol Ross of Alma, Nebraska is a longtime customer of Minshall’s and said she was supposed to stop by the store on Wednesday. “We were just going to do some shopping and I had a ring to take here to the jewelry store. And we drove in and couldn't believe all we saw. I could have been one of them in the store. Very scary. You wonder where you are safe anymore."
Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert issued a statement:
“I offer my sympathies to the Minshall family. The Omaha Police Department’s partnership with the community was instrumental in solving this case. I appreciate the rapid and professional police response to this investigation. Our city is saddened by this senseless crime and the public should know that the Omaha Police Department has an extremely high success rate in solving homicides.”
OPD Chief Todd Schmaderer also issued a statement:
“The Omaha Police Department has been working around the clock to solve this homicide. As with any homicide or major crime in our city, it will not only get the attention of the Omaha Police Department, but our partner law enforcement agencies.”
Anyone with information about the murder is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 402-444-STOP or use the link on our Crime Stoppers page.