Court steps in for children whose fathers killed mothers

In the past year, Melodie Miller and her younger brother, Matthew, have lost both their parents: one to a murder, the other to prison.

“We’re OK,” 15-year-old Melodie told reporters Wednesday after her father, Martin Miller, was sentenced to life in prison for the strangling death of his wife, Mary Miller. “We’re getting through it, and I think that as time goes on, we’ll be better healed.”

The Millers’ case is the second this year in Douglas County in which a father has been sentenced to life in prison for killing the mother of his child or children. When that happens, the children rely on the courts, friends and family members to provide for them and safeguard their rights.

In the case of Thomas E. Murray, who was convicted of stabbing and beating his ex-wife, Carmin D. Ross, the couple’s kindergarten-aged daughter, Ciara, has gone to live with Ross’ parents in Indiana.

Ross left behind about $300,000 that will go to her daughter, and a judge must approve all expenses from the account until Ciara comes of legal age. A $10-million wrongful-death lawsuit filed by Ross’ father against Murray – intended to benefit Ciara – is pending.

According to a recent filing, Murray has an estimated $160,000 in assets that a judge ordered frozen pending the outcome of the lawsuit. But Murray has asked the judge to allow him to spend some of the money, including $20,000 for his legal fees in the civil suit and $44,500 for the expected legal costs of his criminal appeal.

Murray’s attorney wrote that he “desires to provide for his daughter” and has offered to sell his home and personal property for her and put the proceeds into a trust. At his sentencing, Murray maintained his innocence and read a letter to his daughter, saying he loved her “to the moon and back a thousand and fifty-three times.”

Unlike in the Murray case, there were no child-guardian agreements in place when Mary Miller died last summer and Martin Miller was arrested. So prosecutors filed a “child in need of care” case in District Court.

“The state steps in as the parent, almost,” Dist. Atty. Charles Branson said. “The state’s going to look for a family member first for placement, and if it can’t find a suitable family member, you’re looking at a different placement.”

The Miller children eventually were placed with family friends who were appointed temporary guardians, an arrangement that’s expected to continue in the near future. One of the Millers’ guardians, who did not want to be identified, said he thought the judges and attorneys in Douglas County have done an “outstanding job and a compassionate job” working with the children.

Douglas County Bank has been appointed to oversee the Miller children’s financial assets, and last month the bank won an order that prohibited Martin Miller – or anyone acting on his behalf – from selling his home or any of his belongings unless the money is preserved for the children.

At Martin Miller’s sentencing, he apologized for lying to his family and others about an affair and his pornography addiction.

“I have deeply wounded many people, especially my children,” he said.

But, like Murray, he maintained his innocence.