A Kansas Court of Appeals panel has ruled a former Lawrence carpenter and Christian school leader convicted of killing his wife should get a new trial based on errors in the jury instructions at his 2005 trial.
Douglas County District Attorney Charles Branson said prosecutors would ask the Kansas Supreme Court to review the recent decision in Martin K. Miller’s case before they prepare for a second trial.
“We are heartbroken for the Millers’ children and others affected by this case,” Branson said. “If our appeal is unsuccessful, we will retry Martin Miller for the first-degree murder of Mary Miller and again seek a life sentence.”
A Douglas County jury convicted Miller of first-degree murder for the July 28, 2004, death of his wife, Mary E. Miller, 46, at the family’s central Lawrence home. Prosecutors accused Miller of strangling his wife in her sleep because he had been having an affair with another woman and he wanted to collect $300,000 life insurance money.
District Judge Paula Martin sentenced him to serve 25 years to life in prison.
According to the unpublished opinion filed Feb. 3, a three-judge panel determined an error in jury instructions about reasonable doubt transposed the words “each” and “any” and found the switch changed the meaning of an instruction and “materially disadvantaged” Miller.
The instructions Martin gave the jurors stated they must find Miller not guilty if they have reasonable doubt about the truth of “each” claim prosecutors were required to prove and that they should find him guilty if they have no reasonable doubt as to the truth of “any of the claims” required to be proved.
“The transposition turns proof beyond a reasonable doubt inside out and permits the state to convict with patently insufficient evidence,” the opinion reads.
The panel who issued the opinion included Chief Judge Richard Greene and Judge G. Gordon Atcheson.
The Kansas Supreme Court in 2007 upheld the earlier direct appeal of Miller’s guilty verdict.
This appellate case was actually an appeal of a civil case Miller had filed against the state alleging his constitutional rights were violated during the trial and he was wrongfully imprisoned because his assistance from counsel in the case was ineffective. The court of appeals panel in this decision found his previous attorney on the earlier appeal was ineffective for not finding and raising the jury instruction issue.
“The error so undermined Miller’s constitutional rights that controlling authority from the United States Supreme Court requires he be granted a new trial,” the judges wrote in the opinion.
In this new appeal, Lawrence attorney Jessica Kunen represented Miller, who is now an inmate at Lansing Correctional Facility. Kunen could not be reached for comment Friday.
Miller, who was also a board member at Veritas Christian School, had told jurors in the trial he was sleeping in another room when he heard Mary Miller, a Kansas University librarian, having an unknown attack and went to comfort her before she died.
Branson said prosecutors were still comfortable with the conviction.
“I have no doubt that the jury reached the correct opinion in this case,” Branson said. “Having personally talked to some of the jurors after the trial, I believe they had no doubt in their verdict.”