The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

January 2, 2013

Man wins new murder trial

BY BRIAN L. HUCHEL
Commercial-News

DANVILLE — A Hoopeston man serving more than three decades in state prison for the slaying of his wife during a domestic dispute must receive a new trial.

Steven Miller, 38, of Hoopeston, agreed in January 2006 to plead guilty to one count of first-degree murder in the Sept. 5, 2005, shooting death of his wife, 36-year-old Eva R. Miller.

Miller was released Monday from the Illinois Department of Corrections and moved to the Public Safety Building jail in Danville as a result of the recent decision by the Fourth Appellate Court that reversed his plea and granted him a new trial in the case.

Vermilion County State’s Attorney Randy Brinegar said the appeal by Miller and the appellate court’s decision revolve around a discrepancy between the terms of the plea agreement and facts of the case presented during court proceedings by then-Assistant State’s Attorney Larry Mills.

Brinegar said the plea was to an amended first-degree murder charge that did not state the use of a firearm in the killing. However, Mills — in his factual statement to the court — made reference to the fact that the murder was as a result of a shooting.

Brinegar said it was not a mistake by Mills, noting such a situation was routinely done and not considered an improper plea. Court rulings in other cases since that time, however, have changed opinions, prompting the appellate court to determine the Miller plea to be improper.

He noted he was surprised the appellate court did not simply remand Miller back for resentencing rather than retrial.

In the plea he entered in January 2006, Miller admitting to shooting his wife as part of a domestic dispute at their home on Lincoln Street in Hoopeston.

At the time, the state’s attorney’s office contended Miller thought his wife was having an affair with a co-worker. The couple argued and he went upstairs and retrieved a .380 pistol. He came back downstairs and confronted his wife.

Miller pointed the gun at the woman from a distance of 2 or 3 feet. As she reached for the gun, he squeezed the trigger and a single gunshot struck the woman in the face.

As a result of the gunshot, Eva Miller’s body fell into a chair. Mills said her husband tossed the firearm on her stomach and placed her hand on the gun to portray it as a suicide. Miller later recanted his story that he had discovered his wife when he came home from work.

With the appellate court’s order for a retrial, the case is effectively back at square one. Brinegar said the case will be scheduled for a new trial and his office will evaluate the case and confirm the status of the witnesses that are needed.

“Now it’s back to the same status as a new case with the exception of the status of witnesses on a seven-year-old case,” he said.

Brinegar noted the order for retrial doesn’t preclude the possibility of Miller simply entering another plea agreement in the case.