Suspect says he disposed of clothes

In pretrial hearing, he recounts information about girl found dead

September 23, 1999|By Dail Willis | Dail Willis,SUN STAFF

CUMBERLAND -- The unemployed store clerk charged in the death of a Carroll County teen-ager who agreed to baby-sit for him acknowledged being in possession of the victim's personal belongings after the girl was killed.

John Albert Miller IV, 27, charged with sexually assaulting and strangling 17-year-old Shen Dullea Poehlman of Eldersburg, was a surprise witness in a pretrial motions hearing here as defense attorneys sought to suppress his statement to police after the young tennis star's death in July of last year.

After writing and signing a confession, Miller said, he showed officers where he had thrown a shirt, a purse and a Honda car key belonging to the victim.

Explaining why he put the girl's clothing and accessories into three refuse bins near his apartment, Miller said: "It was the right thing to do, I thought at the time. I just was carrying them home in disbelief at what happened, and I threw them away. I panicked."

Miller's testimony sent one family member weeping from the courtroom and upset others.

"[Police] showed me a picture of Shen," Miller testified of the police interrogation. "They said, `Look, you can't even look at her. You know you did it.' I couldn't bear knowing what happened and not saying something."

The stocky, dark-haired Miller was the only witness called by public defenders Jerome M. Levine and Jerri Ann Peyton-Braden, who also were seeking to suppress testimony about Miller's telephone conversations while in custody and evidence collected at his Reisterstown apartment.

The pretrial motions are being held in Allegany County; the trial is to begin next week in Garrett County. However, defense attorneys have asked for a postponement, and Garrett County Circuit Judge Gary G. Leasure is likely to grant that request today, pushing the trial back to February.

The death penalty case, which received extensive publicity, was shifted from Baltimore County to Western Maryland at the request of defense attorneys.

Miller is charged with first-degree murder, attempted rape, first-degree sex offense, robbery and false imprisonment.

Seven Baltimore County officers testified that Miller had been read his Miranda rights at least four times, and that his oral and written confessions were voluntary. They also said Miller had called his mother, his former wife and others while in custody and admitted killing the girl.

"He said he'd been arrested for first-degree murder; he had really screwed up," said Detective Michael Hill, describing a telephone conversation.

Miller corroborated much of the officers' testimony. He said his first statement to police, that he had played golf and gone shopping the day of the killing, was not true.

The victim, described by friends and family as a sensitive girl who donated her time as a community volunteer, was due to begin studies in the fall at Florida State University on an academic scholarship. She accepted the baby-sitting job from Miller after meeting him at Bentley Park Apartments in Reisterstown.

She had gone there to visit a friend working as a lifeguard at the swimming pool, police said. But officers testified yesterday that a friend, uneasy with the baby-sitting arrangement, asked Poehlman to page her by 10: 30 a.m.

The page never came, and the friend's unease turned to alarm later in the day when the teen-ager failed to show up for work at a telemarketing firm in Eldersburg.

Friends alerted her mother, Janice D. Poehlman, who reported her daughter missing.

Court records show that Miller was charged with several crimes, including assault, in his hometown of Rochester, N.Y.

The pretrial motions hearing will resume today, with both sides making oral arguments.

Another hearing is scheduled for December.

Pub Date: 9/23/99

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