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Convicted murderer loses appeal

A Scotland, S.D., man sentenced to life in prison for the murder and assault of his 4-month-old son has lost his appeal.

The South Dakota Supreme Court upheld a circuit court decision this week to admit certain testimony, and that evidence given during trial supported the jury's guilty verdict against Chris Miller.

Miller, 40, was convicted by a jury of second-degree murder and aggravated assault in January 2013 for the death of his 4-month-old son, Jacob. He was sentenced in February 2013 to life in prison for the murder conviction and 50 years for the assault conviction. He is serving those sentences concurrently, or one after the other.

In a decision filed by the Supreme Court late Wednesday, the justices addressed two of Miller's three arguments for appeal -- the circuit court denying his motion for judgment of acquittal and allowing testimony of Miller's former cell mate, Billy Chaffin.

Miller also argued that the circuit court erred by coercing a jury verdict because it gave the jury the option to keep deliberating after 8 p.m., according to a footnote in the decision. The Supreme Court noted it saw no plain error by the circuit court.

"The State argues that Miller waived this argument by failing to object at trial and in the alternative, that there was no evidence of coercion. The record shows no objection from Miller as to the manner the judge handled jury deliberations."

The justices say "the evidence including circumstantial evidence and reasonable inferences drawn therefrom sustain a reasonable theory of guilt. Therefore, Miller's guilty verdict will not be set aside."

In its decision, the Supreme Court says testimony from several people gave the jury sufficient evidence to convict Miller. That testimony included statements from Stacy Miller -- Miller's wife at the time of the crime -- about Miller's frustration with and potential abuse of Jacob, from first responders about Miller's anger and belligerency after Jacob died, and statements from physicians regarding Jacob's injuries.

Miller also argued the circuit court abused its discretion in allowing Chaffin's testimony, and that the testimony shouldn't be used because he used a letter to refresh his memory about a conversation between himself and Miller.

Chaffin told law enforcement Miller seemed to have confessed to the murder of his son.

The Supreme Court upheld the circuit court's decision to allow Chaffin's testimony in its decision, saying the court held a hearing separate from the jury to hear from Chaffin, a DCI agent and counsel regarding the issue. The court found Chaffin's testimony relevant and allowed it.

Court documents state Chaffin refreshed his memory about Miller's statement that "he was mad, he wouldn't shut up, so he hit him." Chaffin believed this referred to Miller hitting Jacob.