Death penalty to be sought in baby sitter's slaying Indictment includes attempted rape charge

August 25, 1998|By Joan Jacobson | Joan Jacobson,SUN STAFF

Baltimore County prosecutors will seek the death penalty against John Albert Miller IV, who was indicted yesterday on first-degree murder, attempted rape and other charges in the strangulation death last month of a 17-year-old honor student and tennis star from Eldersburg.

The body of Shen Dullea Poehlman, a Liberty High School graduate who had been headed to Florida State University on an academic scholarship, was found July 29 in the back seat of her blue Honda the day after she had accepted a baby-sitting job from Miller in Reisterstown.

Assistant State's Attorney S. Ann Brobst said that the charge of first-degree murder, coupled with "attempted rape, first-degree sex offense and robbery are all aggravating circumstances" that allow prosecutors to legally seek the death penalty.

Jerri Peyton, an assistant public defender who is representing Miller, said yesterday that she would have no comment on the indictment. Miller, 26, is being held without bail in the Baltimore County Detention Center. His trial has yet to be scheduled.

Reached yesterday by telephone, Shen's father, Charles Poehlman, declined to comment. Other relatives of the girl could not be reached for comment.

Miller, an unemployed store clerk, was arrested and charged with murder the day Shen's body was found. The indictment by a grand jury added the charges of attempted rape, first-degree sex offense, robbery and false imprisonment.

Brobst said Miller is charged with robbing Shen of her car, purse, car keys and personal papers, including her driver's license. But Brobst declined to discuss the circumstances of Shen's death or give details of the alleged attempted rape and sex offense.

The indictment was the first confirmation from public officials that the girl may have been sexually assaulted.

Shen's mother, Janice D. Poehlman, reported her daughter missing July 28 after she failed to call her friends as promised from her morning baby-sitting job with Miller, whom she met at a Reisterstown swimming pool that week.

The friends, who told police they also had been approached by Miller to baby-sit, became increasingly alarmed when Shen failed to show up for another job in Eldersburg at 5: 30 p.m.

According to a police report, Miller confessed to "killing the victim by smothering and strangling her in the apartment on that morning, then placing her body in the back seat of her vehicle." He said he then drove to a nearby location and threw unspecified evidence -- which was later recovered -- into trash bins.

According to court records, Miller had been charged with several crimes, including assault, in his hometown of Rochester, N.Y. He was convicted of using another man's identification cards to set up credit accounts at department stores and was sentenced to a year in jail after violating probation on the forgery charge.

Shen, a tennis champion described by friends and family as a sensitive girl who donated her time as a community volunteer, had accepted the baby-sitting job from Miller after meeting him at the Bentley Park Apartments in Reisterstown. She had gone there to visit a friend working as a lifeguard at the complex's swimming pool, police said.

But she may have felt uncomfortable with the arrangement because she told her friends to come looking for her if she didn't call them at 9: 30 the morning she was to baby-sit.

The Miller case is one of two pending murder trials in the county in which prosecutors are seeking the death penalty. Brobst said the other case is against David W. Crist, a Pennsylvania man charged with hiring two men to murder his brother, Scott C. Crist, who was shot to death in Cockeysville in 1982.

Pub Date: 8/25/98

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