Miller v. State

Citation380 Md. 1,843 A.2d 803
Decision Date19 February 2004
Docket NumberNo. 90,90
PartiesJohn Albert MILLER, IV v. STATE of Maryland.
CourtCourt of Appeals of Maryland

843 A.2d 803
380 Md. 1

John Albert MILLER, IV
STATE of Maryland

No. 90, Sept. Term, 2000.

Court of Appeals of Maryland.

February 19, 2004.

Reconsideration Denied April 2, 2004.

843 A.2d 807
Michael R. Braudes, Asst. Public Defender (Stephen E. Harris, Public Defender; Martha Weisheit and Margaret L. Lanier, Asst. Public Defenders, on brief), Baltimore, for Appellant

843 A.2d 808
Annabelle L. Lisic, Asst. Atty. Gen. (J. Joseph Curran, Jr., Atty. Gen., on brief), Baltimore, for Appellee


843 A.2d 804
843 A.2d 805

843 A.2d 806
WILNER, Judge.

Appellant, John Albert Miller, IV, was charged in the Circuit Court for Baltimore County with the murder, attempted rape, first degree sexual offense, robbery, and false imprisonment of 17-year-old Shen Poehlman. After the State filed a notice of its intention to seek the death penalty, the case was removed to Allegany County for trial. A jury in that court convicted Miller of premeditated murder, first degree sexual offense, robbery, and false imprisonment. A judgment of acquittal was entered on the charge of attempted rape.

At a separate sentencing proceeding, the jury found, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Miller was a principal in the first degree in the murder and that the State had proven, as an aggravating circumstance, that the murder was committed in the course of a first degree sexual offense. The jury found that a second alleged aggravating circumstance—that the murder was committed in the course of a robbery—was not proved. Five mitigating circumstances were found by one or more of the jurors. Two such circumstances, found unanimously, were that Miller had not previously been convicted of a crime of violence and that he had a poor family environment. At least one, but not all, jurors also found as mitigators that Miller had children, that he was remorseful, and that he would likely die in jail. The jury unanimously concluded, by a preponderance, that the aggravating factor outweighed the mitigators and thus sentenced Miller to death. In addition to the death sentence imposed for the murder, Miller was sentenced to 30 years in prison for the first degree sexual offense, five years consecutive for the robbery, and one year concurrent for false imprisonment.

Miller appealed, raising fifteen issues that were fully briefed by him and the State. Just prior to the date set for oral argument, however, Miller filed a motion for new trial, claiming, as newly discovered evidence (1) the decision of the United States Supreme Court in Ring v. Arizona, 536 U.S. 584, 122 S.Ct. 2428, 153 L.Ed.2d 556 (2002), which he urged rendered the statutory process for weighing mitigating factors against aggravating factors unconstitutional, and (2) that Clarence Bobbitt, a State's witness against him, had received an inducement for his testimony. We postponed argument on the appeal to give the Circuit Court an opportunity to resolve the motion. In August, 2002, the court denied the motion, finding that (1) assuming the evidence relied upon by Miller with respect to Bobbitt constituted newly discovered evidence, he had not met his burden of demonstrating a substantial or significant possibility that the verdict of the jury in either the guilt/innocence or sentencing phases of the trial would have been affected, and (2) the decision in Ring v. Arizona did not constitute newly discovered evidence and did not, in any event, render the Maryland statute unconstitutional. Miller appealed from the denial of his motion, and we consolidated the two appeals and held oral argument on both. By the choice of counsel, the oral argument focused on the issues raised in the motion for new trial.

843 A.2d 809
Because of an unusual divergence of views among the members of the Court, there is in this case no majority opinion on all of the issues. Judge Raker would affirm the verdicts and the prison sentences but vacate the death sentence based on her view that the preponderance standard, required by statute and Rule of this Court to be used in determining whether the aggravating factor found by the jury outweighed any mitigating factors found by one or more of the jurors, is unconstitutional under principles enunciated in Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466, 120 S.Ct. 2348, 147 L.Ed.2d 435 (2000) and Ring v. Arizona, supra. In declaring that the death sentence should be vacated on that ground, she is joined by Chief Judge Bell and Judge Eldridge. Judge Battaglia, joined by Chief Judge Bell and Judge Eldridge, believes that the entire judgment should be reversed and that Miller should be awarded a new trial because of newly discovered evidence that the witness, Bobbitt, may have been promised leniency by the State in return for his testimony. They believe that, had that new evidence been presented to the jury, there is a reasonable possibility that the jury would have acquitted Miller of the first degree sexual offense charge, which would have made him ineligible for the death penalty, or, at the sentencing proceeding, would have failed to find the necessary aggravating factor, that he committed the murder while committing or attempting to commit the first degree sexual offense.

Along with Judges Cathell and Harrell, I believe that Miller has presented no basis for disturbing either the verdicts or the sentences. Judge Raker joins us in holding that the verdicts and prison sentences should be affirmed. The Court is thus in the very peculiar position of having three votes to reverse the death sentence under Apprendi/Ring, three votes to reverse the convictions and all sentences on the ground addressed by Judge Battaglia, four votes to affirm the verdicts and prison sentences, but four votes to reverse the death sentence. The judgment of the Court will therefore be to affirm the verdicts and prison sentences, reverse the death sentence, and remand for a new sentencing proceeding on the murder conviction, with no majority of the Court as to why. The opinions authored by Judges Raker and Battaglia address only the one issue upon which they would reverse. Because Judge Cathell, Judge Harrell, and I would affirm the judgment in its entirety, it falls to us to address all of the issues raised by Miller.


A. Introduction

Miller does not contest that he lured Shen Poehlman to his apartment at the Bentley Park Apartments, in the Reisterstown area of Baltimore County, on July 28, 1998, with an offer of a baby-sitting job, and he no longer contests that, while she was in his apartment, he strangled her to death, using a belt. He also does not contest that he engaged in sexual activity with Ms. Poehlman. The substantive issues relevant to this appeal are (1) whether the sexual activity was consensual on Ms. Poehlman's part, as Miller maintained, or was violent and non-consensual and was of a nature to constitute a first degree sexual offense, and (2) whether the murder was committed in the course of a first degree sexual offense.

B. Ms. Poehlman's Disappearance and Events Leading to Miller's Arrest

In July, 1998, Shen Poehlman was a 17-year-old young woman who had just graduated high school with honors. She had a boyfriend, was working part-time during the summer, and was about to go off to college in Florida. She spent the afternoon

843 A.2d 810
of July 27 with her best friends, Lauren and Jessica, at the Bentley Park Apartments pool, where Jessica worked as a lifeguard. Shen and Lauren were employed as part-time telemarketers and were due to work from 5:30 to 9:30 that evening. Lauren left the pool around 3:30 or 4:00, but Shen remained for a while with Jessica. The girls agreed to meet at Lauren's home after work and spend the night there. Shen left the pool at about 4:30. She later told Lauren that, as she was leaving, a man had asked her to babysit for him the next day and that she had agreed.

After Shen left, Miller, a resident of the apartment development who had been to the pool on earlier occasions, sometimes with a woman, approached Jessica and asked whether she and Shen had boyfriends. During a conversation that lasted about 45 minutes, he told Jessica that the woman he sometimes brought to the pool was an ex-girlfriend, that he had an ex-wife and children who lived in Rochester, New York, and that he had a five-year-old nephew who was coming to stay with him. Jessica observed a distinctive tattoo on Miller's arm and said that she had previously seen him driving a Geo Tracker. She recalled that he used the name "John."

When Shen and Lauren finished work, they went to Lauren's home. Lauren left to pick up Jessica, but Shen remained because she was waiting for a call about the babysitting job. Upon their return, Shen said that she had received the call. Lauren and Jessica were concerned, and Lauren advised Shen not to take the job with someone she did not know, but Shen persisted, although she agreed to page them when she arrived at Miller's apartment, at about 10:00 a.m.2 When no message had been received from Shen the next day, Lauren and Jessica became worried and began looking for her car or the Geo Tracker. Unable to locate either, they contacted Shen's mother. When Shen failed to report for work at 5:30, the Baltimore County police were called.

Officer Ransom met with Jessica, Lauren, and Shen's mother at the apartment pool around 6:00. Lauren and Jessica related to him the events of the previous day, and Ransom radioed a description of both Shen and Miller. Based on what he had learned, Officer Ransom did not regard the matter as a routine "missing juvenile," and he called his supervisor, who dispatched additional officers to assist in locating Shen. By 7:00, they learned that a John Miller lived in Apartment 3B at the Bentley Park Apartments, and they went to that address. They also had obtained a New York registration for the green Geo Tracker that Jessica had described.3...

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