Miller handed death sentence

Jury imposes penalty for murder of Carroll teen asked to baby-sit

` I'm eternally sorry'

February 10, 2000|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,SUN STAFF

CUMBERLAND -- John A. Miller IV -- an unemployed store clerk who lured a Carroll County girl to his apartment with the false promise of a baby-sitting job, only to strangle her -- was sentenced to death yesterday.

Rejecting Miller's plea for mercy and looking past his apology to the 17-year-old victim's family, a jury deliberated for four hours and 20 minutes before finding that Miller should die for his crimes.

As the decision was announced, Miller slumped back in his chair, seemingly in despair. He appeared shaken as he was led handcuffed from the courtroom.

Relatives and friends of the slain girl, Shen D. Poehlman, nodded their heads, wept and embraced one another.

Afterward, the girl's father, Charles Poehlman, called Miller a "monster" who is "getting what he deserved."

"John Miller, I don't accept your apology," added Poehlman, who said he was the only member of his family not willing to go along with a plea agreement that would have meant a sentence of life without parole for Miller. "I hope you have a lot of fun in prison. You'll be with your own kind."

The girl's mother, Janice Poehlman, said of the sentence, "It doesn't matter to me what happens to him, as long as he can't hurt any one else. Justice can only be truly served when he goes to God."

Miller, 27, was convicted last week of first-degree murder, a first-degree sexual offense, robbery and false imprisonment in the Poehlman girl's death in July 1998. Testimony showed that he met her at a Reisterstown swimming pool and asked her to baby-sit for him the following day.

Several hours after she went to his home, her body was found in her car. She had been strangled with a belt, and her head and face were bruised. DNA tests linked Miller to semen found on her shirt, recovered from a trash bin.

"The evidence in this case shows the defendant hunted his prey," prosecutor Robin S. Coffin told the jury yesterday. "He needed to satisfy his bent. Then he wanted her destroyed."

Poehlman was a high school tennis champion and honor student who had won a scholarship to study marine biology at Florida State University. Nearly three dozen of her relatives and friends were in court yesterday for Miller's sentencing.

They watched as Miller, who chose not to testify at the trial, broke his silence and asked the jury to spare his life.

"I beg you for mercy. Not for me. For my family. My mother, my father, my sister and, most of all, my children," said Miller, whose two young children live with their mother in Rochester, N.Y. "I owe a debt that I am totally incapable of paying."

Wearing an ill-fitting gray suit, and leaning against a podium just a few feet from the jurors, he thanked his family for sticking with him. Then he turned toward the victim's family and in a soft voice said: "I truly wish I could give up my life and bring back your daughter, but I can't. Shen's life was cut short for nothing that she did. I take full responsibility.

"I'm terribly and eternally sorry."

Testimony in the case, along with a pre-sentence investigation compiled by Maryland parole officials, portrayed Miller as seldom employed and hot-tempered, a wife-beater with a criminal background that included a conviction for assault and a one-year jail term for forgery.

In the report, Miller's ex-wife says she believes he is a sex addict.

During the sentencing hearing, a social worker testified that Miller grew up in a dysfunctional household, where his father beat his mother and that Miller was both a victim and a perpetrator of sexual abuse.

Prosecutor Mickey J. Norman told the jury to disregard any family problems or attempts to show remorse.

Miller has never specifically admitted to the sex offense that made him a candidate for the death penalty.

Miller is due back in court today to be sentenced for the sex-offense, robbery and false imprisonment charges.

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