Trial for Scotland man accused of killing son pushed backTYNDALL — It could be late fall or early winter before a jury gets to hear the case of a Scotland man who is being charged with murder and manslaughter in the death of his son.
By: Ross Dolan, The Daily Republic
TYNDALL — It could be late fall or early winter before a jury gets to hear the case of a Scotland man who is being charged with murder and manslaughter in the death of his son.
Chris Miller is being held in connection with the March 2011 death of his four-month-old son Jacob Allen Miller.
The child died at his Scotland home from injuries that were alleged to be child abuse. Chris Miller was arrested shortly afterward.
On Wednesday, Miller’s attorney, Timothy Whalen, of Lake Andes, argued successfully at the Bon Homme County Courthouse in Tyndall for a continuance that could take the case well beyond the original trial date, which was set for between Oct. 29 and Nov. 9.
Whalen also argued Wednesday for a change of venue — in other words, a move of the trial to a different city.
Circuit Court Judge Glen Eng asked Whalen and the prosecuting team of Deputy Attorney General Bob Mayer and Bon Homme County State’s Attorney Lisa Rothshadl to file briefs on the venue change by next week. Noting the defendant’s constitutional right to a speedy trial, Eng asked Miller if he was OK with the trial extension.
Miller, who was seated between Whalen and attorney Kenneth Cotton, of Wagner, answered, “I do not object, your honor.” Miller is being held in the Yankton County Jail.
Mayer, speaking for the Miller child’s family, said of the extension: “They don’t like it, your honor, but they understand it.”
Whalen argued that press coverage and gossip about the case in area communities will make it impossible for Miller to get a fair trial in Bon Homme County.
Using the prosecution’s jury statistics, he also argued that the small jury pool available for the case will make it difficult to find unbiased jurors.
“I think the task of selecting a jury will be very arduous,” Whalen said, predicting that jury questioning would be exhaustive and could take up to a week if the case was kept in-county. Whalen also said that hearing the testimony of experts and witnesses on both sides will take the case beyond the original two-week schedule.
Mayer doubted the extent of jury bias claimed by Whalen and said only the “voir dire” jury selection process could determine any prejudice.
In other motions, Whalen asked the court to approve the costs of two expert witnesses: a biomechanical engineer and an emergency room physician to advise him on medical evidence being presented by the prosecution.
Eng quickly OK’d the engineer but deferred Whalen’s request for an advisory ER physician. Whalen has requested the services of Dr. Robert Rothfader, of Salt Lake City, who has previously testified in brain injury cases.
Whalen said it was unclear if some of the six physicians listed in a prosecution brief would be testifying as doctors or as expert witnesses against his client.
Whalen said opinions offered by the prosecution’s doctors jump to conclusions about the believability of his client.
“They are making a credibility call, which is reserved for the jury,” he said.
Mayer promised to better define the role of his physician witnesses in his court brief.
Eng said he will read written briefs from both sides and render a decision Sept. 5 on the venue change, a trial date and Whalen’s medical adviser.