Appeal is allowed in fatal 1992 carjacking of Savage woman

'Ineffective' counsel for one of two convicted in Basu killing, judge rules

April 10, 2010|By Don Markus | don.markus@baltsun.com

A man convicted in the 1992 carjacking death of a Savage woman has won a new opportunity to appeal - more than 17 years into a life sentence for murder.

Howard County Circuit Judge Diane O. Leasure ruled Friday that Bernard Eric Miller received "ineffective" counsel from the pro bono attorney who handled his initial appeal in the killing of Pam Basu.

Miller, 34, will now file a new appeal through the Court of Special Appeals, public defender Norm Handwerger said.

Deputy State's Attorney Todd Taylor expressed confidence that Miller's 1993 conviction for murder, kidnapping and other charges would be upheld.

"I am satisfied that the Court of Special Appeals will give it adequate attention and that his guilty verdict will stand," Taylor said.

Miller was 16 on Sept. 8, 1992, when he and Rodney Eugene Solomon pulled Basu from her BMW after she put her 22-month-old daughter, Sarina, in a child safety seat. Basu, a 34-year-old scientist at W.R. Grace & Co., was taking the girl from their townhouse in Savage to her first day of preschool.

Basu tried to get her daughter out of the car as Solomon drove off. Basu's left arm became entangled in a seat belt, and she was dragged for nearly two miles. After about half a mile, the men placed Sarina Basu in the road, unharmed.

Miller was arrested with Solomon that day and convicted in 1993 of murder, kidnapping, robbery, attempted theft, assault, battery, and assault with intent to rob. He was sentenced to life in prison plus 10 years; he is eligible for parole this year.

Solomon was sentenced to life plus 60 years.

The appeal Miller filed in 1993 was dismissed because his attorney never obtained a transcript of the trial.

Laurack D. Bray, who was representing the indigent Miller free of charge, argued in state and federal courts that the Constitution required the state to pay the estimated $9,000 for the transcripts because he couldn't pay himself.

At a hearing Friday, Leasure said the appeal was dismissed due to "no fault of Mr. Miller."

Handwerger expected it would be "at least a year" before the Court of Special Appeals hears Miller's appeal. The court may rule without a hearing.

Basu's death drew national attention, and led Congress to make carjacking a federal crime, punishable by life in prison.

In 1998, Miller asked a judge to reduce his sentence. Bray, who was his lawyer at the time, said Miller was not guilty.

"There was no evidence that Bernard Miller attempted to rob or intended to rob Pam Basu," Bray said. "He happened to be in the car with Mr. Solomon. Bernard Miller didn't commit these acts. He's not that kind of person."

Steve Basu, who had taken a video of his wife and daughter shortly before the carjacking began that showed Miller and Solomon in the background, spoke against reducing Miller's sentence.

"I hope you would hold [Miller] responsible for all this," he said. "He had the opportunity to save Pam's life. He didn't."

Steve Basu did not attend the hearing Friday.

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