Contrasting portraits of Miller painted at sentencing hearing in murder case

Man was convicted of killing Carroll teen

February 08, 2000|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,SUN STAFF

CUMBERLAND -- John A. Miller IV was described yesterday as a slick fielder on the softball field and a sharpshooter on the pool table, a good buddy to his friends and a loving father to his children -- and as a murderer whose life nonetheless should be spared.

"He loves his children. You could see that in his face when he tells stories about them. He glows," said Lydia Becker, a former billiards-tournament partner of Miller's from Rochester, N.Y.

Asked during the first day of a sentencing hearing how she would react if Miller, who was convicted last week of killing a Carroll County teen-ager, was sentenced to die, Becker said, "I would lose a part of my life, a good friend. Someone I care about, and someone who cares about me."

Becker -- along with other friends of Miller's, his mother and a videotape of his two children -- was presented by the defense in a bid to attach a human face to a killer on trial for his life.

The defense said the jury will learn later that Miller came from a dysfunctional family, was sexually abused at age 8 and grew up in a household where drug use and domestic violence were the norm.

Miller, 27, was convicted of first-degree murder, a first-degree sex offense, robbery and false imprisonment in the July 1998 death of Shen D. Poehlman. According to testimony, Miller lured her to his Reisterstown apartment with the false prospect of a baby-sitting job, then sexually assaulted her and strangled her with a belt.

The girl's father, Charles Poehlman, said in a brief interview that he rejected Miller's offer to plead guilty in exchange for a sentence of life without parole.

"Anything he wants, I'm against," Poehlman said. "I wish death for him."

An Allegany County Circuit Court jury will decide whether Miller is sentenced to death, life in prison without the possibility for parole or life with the chance of parole.

The trial was moved to Allegany County after the case received extensive publicity in the Baltimore area.

`Like a nightmare'

Also yesterday, the jury that will decide Miller's fate heard of the effect his crime has had on the family of his 17-year-old victim.

"Our family has lived in a fog, like a nightmare you can't wake up from," Janice Poehlman, the murder victim's mother, told the jury. "I have never asked, `Why Shen?' or, `Why us?' All I can do is hang my head in silent disbelief."

Baltimore County prosecutors said yesterday that the jury should find that the murder was committed in the course of the sex offense and robbery. Such as "aggravating circumstance" would be weighed against "mitigating" factors to determine whether Miller should be sentenced to death.

Defense attorney Jerome M. Levine said the jury should consider that Miller had never been convicted previously of a violent crime, his "youthful age" and that he is unlikely to participate in further criminal activity.

"We will ask you to spare the life of John Miller and punish him as he deserves to be punished, with a life in prison," Levine told the jury.

A grandmother's loss

Miller's mother, Toni Miller, was the first of several witnesses to testify that her son has undergone a religious transformation in the past six months.

While she testified, defense lawyers showed the jury a videotape of Miller's two young children, playing with Christmas toys and mugging for the camera. "Hi, Daddy, I love you," a small voice is heard saying.

Toni Miller said the children, who live with their mother in Rochester, have been told that their father is in Maryland, but nothing of his involvement in murder. She said that if her son is sentenced to die, their mother plans to tell them that their father died in an automobile accident.

"And she's going to keep them from us," Toni Miller said. "Not only will we lose him, but we will lose our grandchildren."

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