Man who killed Minneapolis police officer in 1981 out on work release

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A man who shot and killed a Minneapolis police officer in 1981 is now out of prison on work release, while serving a “life” sentence.

Officer Richard Miller was shot and killed on August 29, 1981. His killer, Isaac Brown, was granted work release on July 10. He will live in a halfway house and will be eligible for parole in a few months.

Officer Miller’s widow, Lea, will soon be 90 years and knows, better than most, how both precious and cruel time can be. She has spent the last 37 years remembering another life, the one she shared with her husband Richard Miller, memories lasting longer than their marriage.

Officer Richard Miller joined the Minneapolis police force late in life, at the age of 40.

"He loved being a policeman,” she told the Fox 9 Investigators. “He loved going to work when he was working the night shift, I could hear him whistling on his way to work, just a good soul."

Miller was a patrol officer in north Minneapolis, the same community where the Millers lived and raised their two children. 

“He always said he worked on the north side where you could hear the grass grow," his widow recalled. "And that’s where he was killed, on the north side,”

On August 25, 1981, Officer Miller was just a few months from retirement when he would cross paths with a 22-year-old man named Isaac Brown. 

It was at North 16th Avenue and Girard Avenue North, that Miller pulled up on a stolen truck. Brown got out, and said, “everything’s cool, everything’s cool,” then reached into a bag, pulled out a pistol and shot Miller three times in the chest.

“The sergeant came to the door, ‘I’ve got to take you, Dick's been hurt,'" Lea remembered.

Miller died at the hospital.

There was a massive manhunt for the suspect. The Minneapolis Star said the next day: “There was a tangible feeling in the neighborhood that if you were young, tall, black and male, you’d better mind your own business and stay off the streets."

The police union would sharply criticize the police chief for one-man squads, saying it put officers' lives at risk. 

Then, on the day of Officer Miller’s funeral, Brown turned himself in. 

When asked what she remembered about the trial, Lea responded: “He was smirking all the time. Isaac Brown, he always had a smirk on his face.”

Brown showed no remorse, telling a bailiff: “That old man had to die. He was a punk anyway.”

He was the first person convicted under a new law at the time that required life prison sentences for the first-degree murder of police officers.

At sentencing, the judge said he never wanted Brown to see the outside of a prison. 

"When they said ‘life,’ I thought they meant life and I thought there’d be no question to it,” she said.

But Brown served his life sentence under an old system that included the possibility of parole.

Over the years, he’s gone before the parole board six times. At his last hearing in April, Corrections Commissioner Tom Roy wrote: “I have decided to continue your review for six months,” transitioning him to work release, “an opportunity to experience life.”

Now 59, Brown will be released from prison on July 10 and taken to a halfway house. A spokesperson for the Department of Corrections said Brown will be closely supervised and placed on a GPS monitor.

Still, it is a second chance Officer Miller never got.  

"He was just a wonderful man, a wonderful daddy. I wish he would’ve lived long enough to see his children and grandchildren,” Lea said.

Lea Miller never thought she would live to see Brown get out of prison. 

“And one of the things I always said: me, my children, all of those who loved him, he’ll always be in prison," she said. "Why shouldn't he?”

A year after the murder of Officer Miller, state lawmakers changed the statute and removed the possibility of parole for those who kill police officers. It’s now a life sentence without parole.