A 33-year-old West Branch man convicted in the 2007 death of his 3-month-old daughter and sentenced in 2009 to 50 years in prison will get a new trial, according to an Iowa Court of Appeals ruling.
Curtis Antoine Miller appealed his convictions for felony involuntary manslaughter and child endangerment resulting in death arguing that a judge permitted “jury separation and juror substitution” during the deliberations portion of his trial that should not have been allowed.
Following Miller’s three-week trial, and after two days of deliberation, the court allowed a juror to leave for a family funeral. Miller twice asked for a mistrial because the juror was allowed to deliberate and then separate, according to a Court of Appeals decision released Thursday.
But his requests were denied, and Miller eventually agreed to the substitution of an alternate juror rather than waiting at least a week to resume deliberations.
The new jury convicted Miller, and he appealed on grounds the court shouldn’t have denied his mistrial motions and his counsel should have fought against a substitute juror.
“Because the court allowed a juror to begin deliberations and then separate from the rest of the jury without any certainty as to when deliberations would resume, we believe the defense motions for mistrials should have been granted,” according to the decision.
The Court of Appeals said Miller did not waive his right to appeal the mistrial rulings by agreeing to the substitute juror.
“We reverse and remand for a new trial,” according to the ruling.
Miller’s daughter, Kimisha Miller, died at age 3 months on Oct. 11, 2007 as a result of rotational or inflicted head trauma.
According to court testimony, Miller was watching his daughters on Sept. 20, 2007, with the father-in-law of a friend also present in the home. The father-in-law, Jerry Lamb, told investigators he was watching television in the living room when he heard Miller’s voice from upstairs saying, “Why are you crying? Won’t you stop crying? I don’t know what’s wrong with you.”
Lamb said he heard water running and eventually noticed Miller had driven off with Kimisha.
Miller testified that he was on the phone with his mother-in-law when he heard the baby crying “a real dramatic cry, like something was wrong.” He testified that she started making weird noises like she was choking or coughing, and she wasn’t breathing right, so he drove her to a fire station, according to Thursday’s ruling.
At a hospital, doctors discovered the child had a skull fracture and retinal hemorrhages in both eyes. The infant died Oct. 11, 2007.
Miller was charged with first-degree murder, but the jury chose the lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter, which has a penalty of 10 years in prison. Child endangerment carries a term of 50 years.