Basu killer's conviction upheld by court His lawyer plans more challenges

May 18, 1993|By Norris P. West | Norris P. West,Staff Writer

Bernard Eric Miller has lost his first effort to persuade an appellate court to overturn his conviction in the carjacking death last September of Pam Basu.

The Maryland Court of Appeals, in a one-paragraph order signed Thursday, denied a petition to reverse Miller's April 23 conviction.

But the ruling by Maryland's highest court ended just the first phase of the appeals process for Miller, a 17-year-old from Washington. He will be able to take his case back to the state's appellate courts after Howard Circuit Judge Dennis M. Sweeney sentences him June 29.

Laurack D. Bray, who represents the teen-ager, had asked the high court to make an early ruling on the conviction. The appeals court can overturn a conviction at this stage of the process only when it finds a lower court has grossly exceeded its authority. "We were trying to avoid having him remain convicted on an invalid verdict before sentencing," Mr. Bray said yesterday.

The defense lawyer argued in his petition that Judge Sweeney improperly closed the jury-selection process to the public and refused to allow jurors to reconsider their verdicts on 12 counts against Miller while they were deliberating over a 13th charge.

Mr. Bray said he will make the same two arguments in future appeals, and that he will bring other challenges. He said he will contend prosecutors unfairly kept a black man off the jury because of his race and gender in a trial of a black male.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that race-based jury strikes are not allowed, and the Court of Appeals recently overturned the convictions of two men in the death of James "Jay" Bias after concluding that women were being excluded from the jury.

Mr. Bray said he also will argue in the future that the case should have been moved to another county.

His recent petition was challenged by the Assistant Maryland Attorney General Sarah E. Page, who discounted the two reasons given for the initial appeal.

Ms. Page said Miller's lawyer agreed to close the jury-selection process. The proceeding was opened on the second day of jury selection after The Sun filed an objection.

She also said there was no requirement that the jury reconsider verdicts it already had reached. Verdicts on 12 counts were sealed to allow jurors to go home before resuming deliberation over a kidnapping charge that eventually resulted in an acquittal.

Miller was convicted of murder and six related charges in the Sept. 8 carjacking death of Dr. Basu near her home in Savage. The victim was dragged about 2 miles after she was forced out of her car and became entangled in a seat belt.

The teen faces a maximum sentence of life in prison without parole. Rodney Eugene Soloman, 27, is charged with murder in the incident.

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