Sentence upheld for teen convicted of killing ex-girlfriend in 1996

Joshua Miller is serving a life sentence without parole for a 1996 murder he committed when he...
Joshua Miller is serving a life sentence without parole for a 1996 murder he committed when he was 14 years old.(MDOC)
Updated: Jun. 4, 2020 at 5:01 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WDAM) - The Mississippi Court of Appeals affirmed a Lamar County Circuit Court decision Tuesday denying a resentencing in a 1996 murder.

A Lamar County jury convicted Joshua Charles Miller in July 1997 of murder for shooting and killing his 13-year-old ex-girlfriend, Kristin Aultman, on Aug. 18, 1996.

The slaying happened in a church parking lot in the Oloh community. Miller was 14 years old at the time.

Miller was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Following a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court decision ruling mandatory life sentences for juveniles are unconstitutional, Miller challenged his sentence and was granted an evidentiary hearing in 2018 to seek a new sentence with eligibility for parole.

Though the Supreme Court ruling did not prohibit life sentences without parole for juveniles, it required that several factors regarding the offender’s age be considered before imposing the sentence.

In the 2018 evidentiary hearing, family members testified that Miller experienced physical and verbal abuse at home.

Dr. Criss Lott, a clinical and forensic psychologist, testified that Miller had been diagnosed with ADHD and prescribed Ritalin, though he was taken off the medication at some point, which Miller believed was a mistake if the medicine helped with his impulse control.

It was Lott’s opinion that the murder was impulsive, though evidence introduced at trial suggested that there had been some planning and premeditation of the murder, including discussing it with a friend beforehand.

Lott testified that he believed Miller could be rehabilitated and should be eligible for parole.

After the hearing, Lamar County Circuit Court Judge Prentiss Harrell ruled that Miller was not entitled to a resentencing and denied his motion.

Miller appealed, claiming the judge erred by denying him a resentencing.

The Mississippi Court of Appeals found that Miller was given a full and fair hearing, and that Harrell appropriately weighed the factors required by the Supreme Court in sentencing a juvenile to life without parole.

Court of Appeals Judge Anthony N. Lawrence III concurred with the majority ruling, though he issued a separate written opinion joined by Judge David Neil McCarty.

In the opinion, Lawrence said he agrees that the Circuit Court judge granted a full and fair hearing and correctly applied the proper legal standards in issuing his ruling, but he was concerned that the judge’s order did not specifically state on the record its determination “that Miller was irreparably corrupt or permanently incorrigible.”

Lawrence said that in order to impose the sentence, the court must find that the offender irreparably corrupt or permanently incorrigible, though Mississippi currently does not require that the court articulate that finding in the ruling.

“With that language missing, we are left to guess or presume that the circuit court actually found that which is required,” Lawrence said in the opinion. “When a juvenile is facing a life-without-parole sentence, guesses and presumptions should not bring doubt upon the safeguards of the legally mandated and constitutionally required sentencing process.”

Judge Virginia Carter Carlton disagreed with the majority ruling, writing a separate dissenting opinion joined by Judge Latrice Westbrooks and Judge Deborah McDonald.

Carlton wrote in the opinion that she believed the Circuit Court judge failed to properly consider Lott’s medical testimony regarding the adolescent brain and how Miller’s untreated ADHD affected his brain at the time of the crime, particularly Miller’s impulsiveness.

It was her opinion that the judge’s order should be reversed and remanded to the judge with instructions to fully consider the medical testimony in regards to the requirements for imposing a life without parole sentence on a juvenile.

Miller is currently 38 years old and is incarcerated at the East Mississippi Correctional Facility.

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