The man who killed outlaw country singer and local favorite Wayne Mills has been charged with second-degree murder.
Mills was shot and killed at the Pit and Barrel Bar in Nashville around 5 a.m. on Saturday, November 23. The man who pulled the trigger was Mills’ friend and the bar’s owner, Chris Ferrell, who claims the act was in self-defense.
Mills left behind a wife and 6-year-old son, along with countless devastated friends and fans, including many right here along the Gulf Coast, where the singer often played.
Initially, those close to Mills were frustrated at both the lack of information concerning the details of that night and Metro Nashville Police Department’s decision to not detain Ferrell immediately after the shooting.
According to media reports, a group of friends including Mills had been to a George Jones tribute concert earlier in the evening and had stopped at a few other bars before ending up at the Pit and Barrel, which was closed at the time of the shooting. According to friends in the group, Mills and Ferrell began to argue after Mills lit a cigarette in a non-smoking area of the bar. According to reports, the friends had left the bar already but reported hearing gunshots.
In the weeks following Mills’ death, Metro Nashville Police Department did not divulge much information concerning this crime. This lack of information sparked outrage amongst those close to Mills. However, lead Detective Leonard Peck and his colleagues at the Central Precinct were busy performing a thorough and rigorous investigation of the bar owner’s self-defense claim. Detectives studied the crime scene, statements from witnesses and the autopsy results.
The detectives substantiated some of the details that had been reported by media. According to a press release from Metro Nashville Police Department, an argument had taken place between Mills and Ferrell, but they did not reveal the details concerning what led to this argument. Shortly before 5 a.m., Mills suffered a gunshot wound to the head. He died later that evening at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
On Fri., Dec. 6, Peck met with the Davidson County Grand Jury, and an indictment was issued. Ferrell was taken into custody that day, after he surrendered to authorities at his attorney’s office. He was charged with second-degree murder, and bail was set at $300,000.
As the weeks pass by, Mills’ friends have expressed both sorrow and anger over his tragic death.
Country mega-star and co-host of “The Voice” Blake Shelton tweeted, “Extremely sad to hear about the death of my old friend Wayne Mills @WayneMillsBand… Rest in peace brother.”
Shelton, along with Jamey Johnson and “American Idol” winner Taylor Hicks all played with Mills early in their careers, according to Mills’ website. Musicians Shooter Jennings, Jason Isbell, Dierks Bentley and Jerrod Niemann have also all publicly expressed their condolences.
Mills, was a native of Arab, Ala., and lived in Nashville, but his death has affected so many beyond just those communities.
Beginning in the ‘90s, Mills and his eponymously named band, frequented the stages at watering holes and roadhouses across the Southeast, and he made quite a few friends along the way.
Mobile native and musician Wes Loper recently relocated to the Nashville area and counted Mills as a close friend, especially since both of them were experiencing the joys of fatherhood at the same time. He is not surprised at the effect Mills’ death has had on the musical community.
“He’s got so many friends in Nashville and all around the Southeast that it’s affecting everybody,” Loper said. “I can imagine it’s tragic for everyone.”
Some local musicians have seen their sorrow turn into anger over the incident and have channeled that anger into their craft. Johnny Barbato & the Lucky Doggs, who played often with Mills at the Flora-Bama, quickly released a song “So Called Self-Defense” and dedicated it to the fallen singer.
Singer-songwriter Eric Erdman says that Mills frequent performances at Monsoon’s quickly established tight bonds in the Azalea City for the then up-and-coming country artist.
“Unlike right now, where there seems to be 10 to 15 professional caliber bands that travel around and are all friends,” Erdman said. “At that time, there were only three or four. Wayne would always play at Monsoon’s, so he became a part of the Mobile family.”
For both Erdman and Loper, Ferrell’s claim of self-defense does not sound like the Wayne Mills that they knew and loved.
“The worst case scenario was that it was bar fight between friends. I’m not saying that Wayne wasn’t above getting into bar fights, but Wayne wouldn’t kill a fly. So, the guy was never in danger of losing his life,” Erdman said.
“He’s just not that guy,” added Loper. “He’s always been the teddy bear and the loving guy. He’s a hugger. He’s everybody’s buddy. Have I ever seen him agitated? Yes, but I’ve never seen him fight. That’s just not the Wayne that I know.”
On Sun., Dec. 8, Mills’ body was laid to rest in his hometown of Arab. Until questions are answered, Mills’ family, friends and fans will mourn his death. Many memorial concerts have been held from Tuscaloosa to Nashville, and there are more benefits soon to follow. After all is said and done, there are many people in the Southeast who will miss both his music and his friendship.
“I’ll miss his smile and his laugh,” Loper said. “I’ll miss his fire and appreciation for his music. He was always fired-up, and he loved music. He was just always real accepting of everything. As much as he was an outlaw, he loved good people, and he loved good music.”
To donate to the fund set up for his wife and child, visit http://www.xaust.com/waynemills.