Miller gets life term for murder

Daughter berates father for secrecy, betrayal

A carpenter and former Christian-school leader convicted of strangling his wife pressed his hand to his heart Wednesday as he pleaded with a judge for a new trial.

“The system failed,” Martin K. Miller told Judge Paula Martin during his sentencing in Douglas County District Court. “I feel that my trial was a tragedy. … Give all of us hope that a wrongfully convicted man can find justice in this courtroom.”

But Judge Paula Martin said there were no grounds to grant Miller’s request. She gave him the sentence required under state law for first-degree murder: life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years – what Miller called “essentially a death sentence.”

Speakers at the hearing included Miller’s 15-year-old daughter, Melodie, who kept her composure as she stood to address her father in front of a full courtroom. She told him she didn’t know whether she could forgive him or trust him again.

“Why did you do the things you did? Why did you allow the deceit and lust and so many other things to fill your life, or your second life?” Melodie Miller asked.

The 45-minute-long hearing ended a nearly yearlong ordeal that began early on the morning of July 28, 2004, when Martin Miller called 911 and said, “I think my wife is dead.”

Martin K. Miller was given a life sentence Wednesday without the possibility of parole for 25 years as punishment for the strangulation of his wife, Mary E. Miller, in July 2004.

A jury convicted Miller last month of strangling his wife, Kansas University librarian Mary E. Miller, during the night as Melodie and her younger brother slept in nearby rooms.

Miller picked apart his conviction Wednesday, arguing that jurors were unfairly prejudiced against him because of evidence about his sexual behavior.

Prosecutors alleged he wanted to pursue sexual relationships with other women but had too much to lose if he got divorced. Evidence included pornographic photos found on his computer and detailed descriptions of a sexual affair he was having with a Eudora woman.

Miller apologized for his affair, his pornography addiction and for betraying the trust of people in his church and at Veritas Christian School, where he was board president.

But he repeatedly said he was incapable of murder and that there was no crime the night Mary Miller died.

“I will leave this courtroom with a clear conscience,” he said.

One of the key pieces of evidence against Miller was that he changed his story of what happened the night of the death. He initially told police he’d been sleeping in the living room, didn’t hear his wife make any noises and found her dead in bed the next morning.

But after his children told police they heard their mother making wheezing noises and heard their father telling her to calm down, he admitted being in the bedroom. He didn’t admit that at first, he said, because he felt he’d failed his wife by not seeing she was in medical distress.

Miller said the autopsy evidence, which showed bruising in Mary Miller’s throat, wasn’t strong enough to prove the death was a homicide.

His mother, Ocoee Miller, also addressed the judge. She said she doubted the death could have been premeditated, in part because Martin Miller didn’t close the bedroom door. She questioned what good it would do to send him to prison.

“This is not a dangerous man. Society is not safer by locking this man up,” she said. “His life is ruined. Isn’t that adequate punishment?”

Later, Dist. Atty. Charles Branson said, “The memory of Mary Miller demands life imprisonment.”

The judge found that Miller had adequate representation at trial and that prosecutors put on enough evidence to sustain the charge. She said a “careful balancing” before trial kept evidence that was unfairly prejudicial.

At the end of the hearing, a deputy grabbed Miller by the left arm and led him out of the courtroom.