Defendant's statements allowed as evidence

Allegany judge's ruling favors prosecution in Poehlman murder case

October 14, 1999|By Dail Willis | Dail Willis,SUN STAFF

John A. Miller's statements to police about how 17-year-old Shen Poehlman died, and where he hid her clothing and her purse after her death, can be presented to jurors when he is tried in her killing, a judge ruled yesterday.

Miller, 27, is accused of killing Poehlman, an Eldersburg, Carroll County, tennis star who had won an academic scholarship to Florida State University. Her body was found in her car at the Bentley Park Apartments in Reisterstown on July 29, 1998 -- the day after she had agreed to baby-sit for a stranger who approached her at the apartment complex's pool.

Miller's statements and the evidence he led police to are crucial to the state's case against him. The unemployed store clerk from Rochester, N.Y., could receive the death penalty if he is convicted. Trial is scheduled to begin in late January in Cumberland.

The trial was moved to Allegany County at the request of the defense after extensive publicity about Poehlman's death.

Miller, who lived at the Bentley Park Apartments, is charged with first-degree murder, attempted rape, first-degree sex offense, robbery and false imprisonment.

In pretrial motions, public defenders Jerri Ann Peyton-Braden and Jerome M. Levine had asked Allegany County Circuit Judge Gary G. Leasure to suppress Miller's statements to police and evidence gathered as a result of his statements and phone conversations overheard by police while he was in custody.

Peyton-Braden and Levine argued that the statements were improperly obtained by police and should be excluded from evidence -- a contention challenged by Baltimore County prosecutors Mickey J. Norman and Robin S. Coffin during hearings in Cumberland last month.

Several Baltimore County police officers testified that Miller had been told of his right to remain silent and to have a lawyer repeatedly before writing and signing a statement about Poehlman's death.

The defense, in a surprise move, called Miller to testify on his own behalf. He insisted he had been manipulated by police officers during a lengthy interrogation. He said he was told he could make no phone calls until he finished writing his statement.

Leasure ruled that everything except a few statements Miller made to police before he was placed under arrest would remain as evidence -- including Poehlman's purse and clothing, found in trash containers where Miller said they would be. Miller testified that he thought telling police officers where to find the items "was the right thing to do at the time."

Poehlman, who had worked full-time for a marketing and public opinion firm the summer before she planned to attend college, did not usually take baby-sitting jobs, family members and friends said. But, after meeting a man at the Bentley Park Apartments pool, she agreed to watch his toddler on the morning of July 28.

When her friends didn't hear from her, they became alarmed and called Janice Poehlman, Shen's mother, who notified police. Poehlman's body was found early the next day in her car at the apartment complex.

Pub Date: 10/14/99

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