Kansas Supreme Court upholds guilty verdict from 2nd trial of Lawrence man who killed wife in 2004

Martin Miller waits for the fifth day of his retrial to begin on Friday, April 3, 2015 in Judge Paula Martin's courtroom at the Douglas County Courthouse. Miller is charged with first-degree murder in the 2004 death of his wife, Mary Miller. Miller was awarded a new trial in 2014 because of an erroneous jury instruction.

After being twice convicted, by two separate juries, of murdering his wife in 2004 in Lawrence, Martin K. Miller again appealed to the Kansas Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court has again affirmed Miller’s conviction.

The Supreme Court on Friday released its published decision in the case. According to an accompanying news release, while the majority of justices affirmed Miller’s conviction it was not unanimous, with two justices penning dissents due to the “cumulative effect” of smaller errors in the court process.

Following Miller’s first trial in 2005 in Douglas County District Court, the jury convicted him 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, a former carpenter and Christian school leader, of strangling his wife in her sleep because he had been having an affair with another woman and he wanted to collect $300,000 in life insurance money.

The Supreme Court affirmed the jury verdict from Miller’s first trial, but in 2012 the Kansas Court of Appeals granted Miller’s motion for post-conviction relief and ordered a new trial, a decision the Supreme Court affirmed, according to Friday’s news release. Miller had another trial in 2015 and was again convicted of premeditated first-degree murder.

Miller was then, again, sentenced to life in prison.

Miller, now 59, remains imprisoned in Kansas.

“In his appeal of the retrial, the court held that the district court’s denial of Miller’s motion for a change of venue based on publicity surrounding his first trial, and corresponding pretrial publicity on retrial, did not deny Miller his constitutional right to a trial by an impartial jury,” the Supreme Court’s news release said.

photo by: Kansas Department of Corrections

Martin K. Miller

The Supreme Court also considered but rejected numerous other claims that Miller’s defense team said should have gone differently, according to the release.

Those included an issue with a prospective juror; mentions of pornography and Miller’s access to dating websites during the trial; and a claim that district court should have bifurcated Miller’s trial into two phases so jurors would not be influenced by evidence of motive (such as his affair) when determining his wife was in fact killed.

The defense also suggested that the entire Douglas County District Attorney’s Office should have been disqualified from prosecuting the case because Miller’s son, a witness for the state, was temporarily living rent-free with Assistant DA Eve Kemple, who was not participating in the trial but whose own son was a friend of Miller’s son. The Supreme Court agreed that the DA’s office had safeguards in place to ensure Miller wasn’t prejudiced by the living arrangement.

“The court rejected Miller’s argument that the trial judge committed misconduct when ruling on objections, finding that the judge’s rulings were not erroneous, much less misconduct,” the Supreme Court release said.

Justice Lee Johnson and assigned District Judge Wendel W. Wurst each wrote dissents, saying they would have reversed Miller’s conviction and remanded the case for a new trial based on the “cumulative effect” of circumstances they said denied Miller his right to a fair trial.

Contact Journal-World public safety reporter Sara Shepherd


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