Jury selection begins in capital-murder case

Balto. Co. man charged in death of teen-ager he had asked to baby-sit

January 25, 2000|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,SUN STAFF

About 140 prospective jurors were questioned yesterday in a Cumberland courtroom as the death-penalty murder trial began for a man charged with strangling a 17-year-old Carroll County girl in 1998.

Jury selection was expected to take the rest of the week, with testimony beginning Monday in the trial of John A. Miller IV. Miller is accused of killing 17-year-old Shen D. Poehlman, who was found dead in her car at a Reisterstown apartment complex July 29, 1998 -- a day after Miller had asked the honor student to baby-sit for him, police said.

Miller, a 27-year-old unemployed store clerk originally from Rochester, N.Y., had lived in Reisterstown for about three months before being charged in the Eldersburg girl's death.

The trial was moved from Baltimore County at the request of the defense after the case received extensive media coverage.

Allegany County Circuit Court officials, who normally have about 60 potential jurors from which to choose, ordered members of previous jury panels to the courthouse to create a large pool of candidates to hear the case, according to a court official.

Yesterday, prospective jurors answered customary "voir dire" questions, such as whether they knew the judge or lawyers in the case. The panel was divided into four groups, and one day was allotted for members of each group to be asked more detailed questions about their attitudes toward capital punishment, the official said.

Baltimore County prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for Miller. Twelve jurors, with probably three alternates, are to be selected Friday.

Testimony in the guilt-innocence phase of the trial is expected to last three to four days next week. If Miller is convicted, a sentencing hearing would likely begin Feb. 7.

Miller is charged with first-degree murder, attempted rape, first-degree sex offense, robbery and false imprisonment. In a potentially key pretrial ruling in October, Allegany County Circuit Judge Gary G. Leasure ordered that Miller's statement to police about how the girl died, and where her clothing and purse were hidden after her death, can be presented to jurors.

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