Scotland father charged with killing infant seeks to shift blame to wifeTYNDALL — A Scotland man charged with killing his infant son will seek to cast suspicion on his wife for the baby’s death, one of his lawyers indicated during a court hearing Wednesday.
By: Tom Lawrence, The Daily Republic
TYNDALL — A Scotland man charged with killing his infant son will seek to cast suspicion on his wife for the baby’s death, one of his lawyers indicated during a court hearing Wednesday.
Chris Miller, 37, has been charged with first-degree murder, second-degree murder, first-degree manslaughter, aggravated assault against a child and being a habitual offender.
His 4-month-old son, Jacob Miller, died March 8, five days after authorities were called to the Scotland home of Chris and Stacy Miller on a report of a child who was not breathing.
Chris Miller was arrested after Jacob Miller died. He has been held in the Bon Homme County Jail ever since on $700,000 cash bond.
On Wednesday, one of his two court-appointed lawyers, Tim Whalen, of Lake Andes, spelled out the line of defense Chris Miller will use.
“There is evidence, we believe, the wound, and eventual death of Jacob occurred subsequent to the time my client delivered the child to Stacy,” Whalen said.
The defense team, which includes lawyer Scott Podhradsky, of Wagner, had submitted three motions for First Circuit Court Presiding Judge Glenn Eng.
One called for hiring an expert to examine the crime scene and other factors to see if there was another cause of death for the child.
Prosecutors allege Chris Miller beat and shook Jacob Miller and caused his death. They have said there is evidence Jacob had been hurt before, with some indication he had suffered rib injuries days or weeks before his death.
Eng allowed the defense team to hire a biomechanical engineer to study Jacob’s death. The defense lawyers were also interested in hiring a neurological pathologist but said they would at first hire the biomechanical engineer.
Whalen said he wants to explore “shaken baby syndrome” and said there is a growing “controversy” over it.
Eng denied two other motions, including one to gain access to Stacy Miller’s medical files.
The motion, filed at the county courthouse, claims that Stacy Miller was “extremely depressed” before and after she gave birth to Jacob and was also “very unstable.”
The defense is also looking into reports that she suffers from a brain tumor and has suffered other brain injuries in falls.
Deputy Attorney General Bob Mayer, who is leading the prosecution, said the prosecution does not have the records.
Mayer also said the defense is “putting the cart ahead of the horse a little bit” by asking for those records at this time.
“I think that’s a gross invasion of privacy,” he said.
Whalen said he feels Stacy Miller’s mental condition is a key part of the case, noting she said at one point her last memory of her son was bouncing him and playing with him.
He said state Division of Criminal Investigation agents who spoke with her helped “refresh her memory” during an interview.
“We fully expect Stacy will testify in this case, either for the defense or the prosecution,” Whalen said.
Both Stacy and Chris Miller had been drinking when Bon Homme County authorities arrived at their home at 410 Third St. in Scotland on March 3. Stacy Miller’s blood-alcohol level was well above the legal limit for driving, a test given at the Scotland hospital a short time later revealed.
Chris Miller has said he found his wife passed out atop their child, and he’s said that’s when the 911 call was made. When authorities arrived, Chris Miller was not at the home, but he returned later.
At the hospital, Chris Miller, who was on probation and legally prohibited from consuming alcohol, also had alcohol in his system, according to court documents. The documents say he also threatened to kill his wife and law enforcement officers while at the hospital.
Eng denied the motion seeking Stacy Miller’s record on a procedural basis but said it could be re-filed at another time.
The defense also asked for a change of venue, saying Bon Homme County’s population is so sparse, it will be difficult to empanel an impartial jury, since the case has received considerable media attention.
Mayer, who is working with Bon Homme County State’s Attorney Lisa Rothschadl, said the argument in favor of moving the trial was “clearly not enough” to call for a relocation.
Eng agreed but said the motion could be brought up again at another time.
The next motions hearing was set for next month. A trial date may be set at that time, all sides agreed at the end of the 40-minute hearing.
Chris Miller came to the third-flood courthouse with one law enforcement officer escorting him. Miller was dressed in an orange T-shirt with the word INMATE in all capital letters on the back.
He briefly spoke with his stepmother, who sat behind him, and conferred with his lawyers and took notes during the hearing. Chris Miller did not speak aloud during the hearing.
Stacy Miller, who filed for a divorce from Chris Miller on April 28, sat with three family members behind the prosecution team. She and her family members met in a small office off the courtroom after the hearing and later met with the prosecutors.
Stacy Miller and her family declined to comment for this story.
First-degree murder is a Class A felony with a mandatory sentence of death or life imprisonment in the state penitentiary and a possible $50,000 fine. The prosecution has not yet said if it will seek the death penalty.
Second-degree murder is a Class B felony, and manslaughter is a Class C felony, each with a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment in the state penitentiary and a possible $50,000 fine.
Bon Homme County Clerk of Courts Joanne Balvin said this would be the first murder trial in the county since 1995.