Coroner: Slaying victim asphyxiated

A coroner said Thursday that asphyxia — lack of oxygen often caused by suffocation — killed a Kansas University librarian whose husband is charged with murdering her.

Coroner Erik Mitchell’s comments broke a monthlong silence about the cause of death for 46-year-old Mary E. Miller, found dead July 28 inside her family’s home at 2105 Carolina St.

Mitchell said it did not appear that poison, drugs or alcohol played a role in the death.

“There’s no toxicology, at this time, of consequence,” he said.

But the coroner declined to discuss the autopsy further because of the first-degree murder charge against Miller’s husband, 45-year-old carpenter and former Christian-school trustee Martin K. Miller.

Mitchell’s comments came the same day his private office in Topeka finished a written autopsy report about the death and sent a copy to Douglas County Dist. Atty. Christine Kenney’s office. Mitchell refused to release a copy to the Journal-World, saying he wanted to wait until law enforcement officials received their copies.

The morning of the death, Martin Miller told police he awoke to find his wife not breathing in another room. Police initially said it appeared she died of natural causes.

Two days later, they said a coroner had ruled it a homicide and announced they’d arrested Martin Miller — a devout Christian, owner of The Carpenter’s Shop and son of two well-known 1960s and 1970s Lawrence activists.

Miller is free on $150,000 cash bond, which his attorney said had been posted by his parents. But Thursday, Martin Miller told a judge he didn’t have enough money to hire his own attorney.

In a brief hearing in Douglas County District Court, Miller’s attorney, Michael Riling, told a judge Miller had not been able to come up with enough money to retain him to handle the rest of the case.

Judge Paula Martin reviewed a statement describing Miller’s finances and asked Miller how much money he earned. He told her it ranged from $2,000 to $4,000 per month. Martin then found Miller was eligible for appointed counsel and appointed Mark Manna, a salaried attorney with the state’s Death Penalty Defense Team in Topeka, to handle the case.

Even though Miller’s is not a death-penalty case, Douglas County increasingly has relied on members of the death-penalty team to defend high-level felony cases.