Murderer picks death-penalty hearing by jury

Defense for teen's killer scrambles for a loophole

February 05, 2000|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,SUN STAFF

CUMBERLAND -- John A. Miller IV, facing the possibility of a death sentence in the strangulation of a Carroll County girl in 1998, decided yesterday to let the jury that convicted him of murder decide his fate.

In a hearing scheduled to begin Monday, the jury will be asked to rule on whether an "aggravating circumstance" -- that Miller committed a sexual assault and robbery in addition to the murder -- outweighs any "mitigating" factors presented by the defense. If so, Miller could be sentenced to death.

Prosecutors agreed yesterday that Miller should receive credit for one mitigating factor: the absence of convictions for any crime of violence. Miller, who is from Rochester, N.Y., has had previous run-ins with the law, but none that qualifies as a violent crime under Maryland's death penalty statute.

Miller, 27, was convicted Thursday of first-degree murder, a first-degree sexual offense, robbery and false imprisonment in the killing of 17-year-old Shen D. Poehlman in July 1998. Miller lured the girl to his Reisterstown apartment with the false prospect of a baby-sitting job, then sexually assaulted her and strangled her with a belt, according to testimony.

During his trial, the defense conceded that Miller had killed the girl. But defense lawyers disputed the sexual-offense and robbery charges -- convictions needed to support a possible death sentence.

Also yesterday, defense lawyers provided a glimpse of their sentencing case. Jerri A. Peyton-Braden, an assistant public defender, said she plans to present a social worker to testify about the effect a death sentence would have on Miller's family.

She plans to show jurors a videotape of Miller's two young children, who live with their mother in the Rochester area, and of a niece. She then asked the judge to order the news media not to publish the children's names, ages, or physical descriptions.

When lawyers for The Sun and the Carroll County Times challenged that motion, she said that her client would "seriously consider" dropping his defense if presenting the evidence would adversely affect his children.

The Sun has chosen not to publish the children's names.

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