Carjacking trial unfair, mom says She claims race affected verdict

May 01, 1993|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff Writer

The mother of convicted killer Bernard Eric Miller said yesterday that her 17-year-old son did not get a fair trial in the Pam Basu murder case because of his race.

"He is black, and they did not give him a fair chance," Deborah Miller said at a brief news conference outside the Howard County Courthouse. "He was prejudged from the beginning."

Defense attorney Laurack D. Bray of Washington called the news conference to announce his intention to appeal Miller's April 23 conviction of felony murder and six related charges in the Sept. 8 car hijacking and slaying of Dr. Basu.

Mr. Bray said his appeal is based on two issues: the fact that part of the jury-selection process was closed to the public and a decision by Judge Dennis M. Sweeney to seal verdicts already reached by the jury when the jury asked to adjourn at 3 a.m. April 23 to get some sleep before deliberating a final charge.

Ms. Miller contends that some witnesses could not clearly remember what happened Sept. 8 when the car was hijacked, with Dr. Basu's young daughter still in the back seat, and the doctor was dragged to her death.

Ms. Miller also pointed to the testimony of a witness whom Ms. Miller characterized as "frightened" by her son's appearance. The woman's exact testimony was that she was "intimidated by his presence."

Another indication that the jury was prejudiced against her son, Ms. Miller said, was a comment by the jury foreman after the trial.

The foreman said the Basu family video -- showing the Miller youth and another defendant walking by the Basu home -- had very little effect.

"I don't think it was much help at that stage," he said last week. "There was no doubt that Mr. Miller was there."

Mr. Bray said he did his best to assure a fair and impartial jury.

0$ "But I didn't get the last word.

The court had the final decision," he said. "At least six of the people I rejected were sitting on the jury anyway."

Prosecutor Michael D. Rexroad pointed out that the defense had 20 opportunities to freely dismiss prospective jurors and "used all" of them.

Mr. Bray said he has no idea when or if the court will consider his appeal, but he hopes the appeal will be heard before Miller is sentenced.

Because he is a juvenile, Miller cannot be sentenced to the death penalty.

He faces a sentence of life in prison without parole, however.

Ms. Miller said she plans to address the court at the time of her son's sentencing.

She said she had spoken with her son as recently as yesterday morning. "Bernard is taking it well, so far," she said.

Mr. Bray said he is not ready to reveal his strategy to avert a sentence of life without parole for Miller. He said there is no decision yet whether Miller will say anything at his sentencing, "but it is most probable that he will."

Mr. Rexroad said yesterday that it is "absolutely untrue" that anyone on the jury had said during the selection process that they could not reach a fair and impartial verdict.

As for the closing of the jury-selection process to the public until the media forced the issue, "closed [jury selection] is traditionally done in media-intensive cases," he said.

Mr. Rexroad also disputed Mr. Bray's contention that the jurors might have reconsidered their sealed verdicts had they been given more time.

"The jurors had an opportunity to think about it overnight," he said.

"They were individually polled" in open court as to their previous decisions. "They had opportunity to change their minds."

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