Evan Miller Offers Apology As Resentencing Hearing Wraps

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Logan Wetzel for the JJIE

Evan Miller leaves the Lawrence County, Alabama, courthouse after the first day of his resentencing hearing on Monday, March 13, 2017.

MOULTON, Alabama — Evan Miller rose to apologize to the family of his victim “for stealing the joy from your lives” as a three-day resentencing hearing ended today.

Miller is seeking a chance at eventual release five years after his case prompted the Supreme Court to strike down automatic life without parole sentences for juveniles.

He was 14 when he killed neighbor Cole Cannon in 2003, and the statement he read this afternoon was the first acknowledgment of guilt Cannon’s family has heard.

“Your dad, Cole Cannon, didn’t deserve what happened to him,” Miller said. He added, “I’m sorry for this whole ordeal. I’m sorry for taking a huge part of your family.”

But saying that “isn’t enough,” he continued. “I want to be more. I want to do more than just an apology. To be truly sorry, you have to make amends.” He expressed hope that the “chain of pain and hatred” could be broken, “and I can make amends.  

“I’m sorry once again for stealing the joy from your lives,” he said.

Miller is asking an Alabama judge to revisit his sentence, which was automatically applied after his conviction on capital murder charges in 2006. He delivered his statement after lawyers for the Equal Justice Initiative, which took his case to the Supreme Court, presented their final witnesses. He didn’t give it under oath or subject to cross-examination — and Cannon’s family called it late and weak.

“That could have been done almost 14 years ago,” Cannon’s daughter, Candy Cheatham, told reporters afterward. “You can say words and not mean them, and that’s exactly what he did.”

Cheatham said Miller’s apology “is going to look good for him to say now, when he’s looking at a chance for a judge to give him a different sentence.”

“I don’t feel he accepted responsibility … I think the apology was coached, rehearsed and insincere.”

Miller, now 28, and another teen robbed Cannon and beat him with a baseball bat before they set his trailer ablaze and left him to die in the fire. Much of the testimony this week recounted Miller’s upbringing in a family rife with physical beatings, drug abuse and neglect.

The final witness, Dr. George Davis, connected that background to the development of the adolescent brain — the neuroscience that underpinned the Supreme Court decision in Miller v. Alabama and its predecessors.

Davis, the chief of psychiatry for New Mexico’s child welfare agency, said the part of the brain that guides rational decision-making doesn’t reach “dependable, functional capacity” until someone is in their late teens or early 20s. When complete, that frontal lobe and its prefrontal cortex inhibits impulsive, emotional reactions.

“You’ll get an inhibition of emotional overreaction,” he said. “You will get the capacity to plan ahead, to foresee consequences, to strategize about the best way to get something accomplished. The frontal lobe will also do things like take different kinds of facts or factors into account, compare them and decide between them.”

A 14-year-old “is still at the beginning of that process,” Davis said. And that development is complicated by neglect, abuse and drugs, which shadowed Miller’s entire life before the 2003 killing.

Under cross-examination, Assistant Attorney General Leigh Gwathney questioned why Miller ended up a killer while his older brother and sister didn’t. Davis said children from the same family often react differently to the same circumstances, but boys tend to respond much more aggressively than girls. And while Miller ultimately killed a man, Davis said he saw no pattern of violence from his behavior before his arrest — and saw signs of improvement in the records when he was taken away from his family, both in a 17-month stint in foster care and after the killing.

“There are times at which I looked at Evan’s record and thought that incarcerating him probably saved his life,” Davis said.

The Miller decision barred only the automatic application of life without parole for juveniles, which means Lawrence County Circuit Judge Mark Craig could pronounce the same sentence after this week’s proceedings. State prosecutors argued Miller earned that original sentence, and it should be reaffirmed.

Craig said he won’t issue a decision this week and will need some time to review the extensive documents and reports introduced as evidence. But he pledged, “I will do my best to render a just and appropriate verdict.”

Earlier, Miller’s lawyers put on a series of witnesses to demonstrate that he should get a chance at eventual release.

Miller’s onetime foster mother, Robin Brown, testified that Miller “understands what he did and that he had to be punished for it.”

“He’s hopeful and still young and has a lot of life possibly left in him, and he’s expressed a desire to do something good with it,” Brown said. When she mentioned that one day Miller might show some “forgiveness of himself,” Cannon’s relatives exchanged disbelieving looks on the opposite side of the courtroom.

Brown’s daughter, Tiffani Alldredge, testified Tuesday that Miller, his sister and brother were the only foster kids with whom her family kept in touch. Under cross-examination, Brown said she didn’t recall a fight in which Miller choked her then-preteen daughter or comments to the family’s social workers that she was ready to “give up” on all three children. She said the fight would have been documented as a matter of routine, “and of course that would have been addressed.”

A childhood friend, Patrick Hitt, described the Miller kids’ parental supervision as “nonexistent.” The family frequently was short of food, lacked power and once nearly died of carbon monoxide poisoning by trying to use a charcoal grill to heat the house indoors — a story Miller’s sister, Aubrey Goldstein, had recounted earlier.

He should have stayed in foster care,” Hitt said. “In foster care, I wasn’t going to see him every day, but I knew he was being taken care of … I think if he was in foster care, he would still be out today and doing OK.”

‘A mischievous child’

Hope Berryman, a social worker who saw Miller regularly in the months before the killing, said Miller had been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity, conduct and substance abuse disorders. She called him intelligent, but less mature than other kids his age.

Both Miller and his mother would be visibly intoxicated in some of their meetings, and Miller had “explosive” emotional outbursts — but she was “shocked and disappointed” when she heard her client had been charged with capital murder.

“I had never seen any indication that Evan would have done what was done that night, and I felt disappointed that I had not been able to be more of a catalyst for change in his life,” Berryman said.

Prosecutors have tried to punch holes in the defense by pointing out Miller had racked up a series of violations in his decade-plus in prison. They include discipline for possession of contraband items like paint, cigars and cellphones, which Assistant Attorney General Leigh Gwathney said Miller once used to send a nude video of himself to a contact outside the walls.

But David Wise, Miller’s former warden, said Miller wasn’t one of his big concerns at the maximum-security St. Clair lockup, outside Birmingham.

“Although it’s not perfect, it’s my opinion that a lot of his disciplinary history is on the lines of a mischievous child in high school,” Wise said. While Miller broke some rules, “which is not good,” he wasn’t involved in violent incidents — which Wise called “a way of life” among the prison’s roughly 1,200 inmates.

Miller is housed in an “honor dorm” for prisoners who have exhibited good behavior and have been on a maintenance detail. Barry Black, who teaches welding to inmates at St. Clair, said Miller “always has a good attitude” and is “always respectful to me and other people.”

While inmates serving life without parole aren’t eligible to take vocational classes in Alabama prisons, Black said he knew Miller because he has been on a maintenance detail at the prison, and Black has been teaching him to weld on the side.

“He came into this system at a young age. I really don’t know how he’s turned out as well as he has, to be honest with you,” Black said. He said he’s never before testified on behalf of an inmate, but “I feel like Evan deserves another chance.”

This story has been updated.

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3 thoughts on “Evan Miller Offers Apology As Resentencing Hearing Wraps

  1. There is so much more to the life and history of this young man that time does not afford. There were the attempted suicide’s when he was very young. The terror of watching his Mother beatened and threatened when his father would return from being on the road. Yes, they moved a lot. But sometimes, the right place and a stable job for his father afforded Evan’s family with a 2 – 3 year calm, lending a feeling of “normalcy” as they could precieve it. All the children were very well liked in school, but the oldest had significant learning disabilities which hindered his growth emotionally. When asked why Evan committed this crime and yet his siblings did not, the irony at the time was that both boys would end up incarcerated at the same time for totally different charges.
    As the children got older, their father began to physically exert what he deemed as”discipline ” towards all members of the family, and not just towards his Mother. As she worked, he would often escalate his anger and uncontrolled rage by beating them with a belt or his hand. His Mother would step in front of them if she was present at the time. On several occasions they fled to The Battered Women’s Shelter for the 30 days allowable stay. Once in Cullman. Once in Huntsville. They didn’t have anywhere else to go for protection. No family to run to, no friends to hide them out. No money to leave on. Throughout the years of fear, the children loved their parents unconditionally as did the mother. The ‘Cycle of Violence’ doesn’t do any good if you can’t accept it and free yourself from it. I know she was often judged by others cruelly, not allowed to become too friendly with the neighbors, or allowed to own a car, or go places with friends. A wife’s place was in the home. Taking care of the husband and children. Waiting on him when he came home. The house was supposed to be spotless. Cleaning all day. No visits for coffee. No cobwebs allowed. As they children got older, these demands were enforced more frequently. Their father allowed her to go to work at a convenience store, gas station to ease the months of unemployment the father had. So while the mother worked, the children were required to go to school, and come straight home to clean. If the father was there, he would gave them massaging his feet, his back and neck, sometimes until 1:00 a.m. or later. This had a great effect on the truancy that would follow. Their Mother did call tbe police. On many occasions. He was arrested. And released. He came home. She had a restraining order. Hr broke it. Finally as things began to escalate the social workers stepped in and did what they could do. The Mother, to most people’s surprise, was not uneducated. In fact, as she began attending college, in the hopes of a degree to find a better paying job and move the children and herself to saftey, she held a 4.0 average at Wallace & Athens State. She also met people who saw what was happening and tried to help. By 1999, the kids were 10, 12 & 14. One incident that occurred was their Mother was at work and the children were at home during the summer when their father pulled up in his 18 Wheeler, and saw Evan on his bike. Apparently he was grounded, and not allowed out. When they all saw him driving up he yelled at them to get inside. He had that look. Everyone knew that look. Black eyes. Seething. Red face. Tight lips. Apparently he wanted them all in. He told them to to all line up. The house was not clean to his specifications. They were riding around unsupervised. Evan, always the baby agreed to go first. Which was a mistake. Each time he struck his bare bottom, he howled in agony! And it yscared Aubrey and John to bits. They couldn’t stand the screams! The kept inching closer to the back door, and finally Aubrey said Run! John! Go now! He flew out the dor to a neighbors down the block. Aubrey told their father, Dad! John’s gone! He left! Which was the cue she was waiting on! He STOPPED hirting her baby brother. And took off in the back alley with his bright red Camero! She just prayed he made it! In fact when he got there, he was met with a dbl barrel shot gun aimed right at him. He told her to just let him have his son. But she said No. I can’t do it David. She had seen the fear in his eyes. Later when the cops arrive, one Officer said it was abuse. And the other officer said it was discipline. But they took pics of his belt and Evan. This was just the beginning of the worst of it that would eventually free them all.

    • We continue to find false and misleading information in print as well as through television and personal interviews from perhaps well meaning individuals as well as those who may not be so sympathetic or helpful. In this case, I wish to point out that for all the detailed, graphic information this “story” claims to suggest, that is unfortunately all this article has to offer. A “Story”! Many people know this family, and many people know examples and situations surrounding their lives and circumstances. But, there are many inconsistencies surrounding some of the various compilations that appeared here, and we are saddened and more than upset having to explain an action or reaction that we had not made or said. Understandably, in a small town this may be true, but over the years the scope and magnitude have widen and gotten considerably. Broader. It is s necessity to inform readers and those in charge of this site that the person or person’s behind this article are not the actual individual claiming to be the writer of this comment. It appears that there has been a bit of hacking or impersonating of the “author”, and the family members would like to see a retraction of the article, as well as to apologize to anyone and all people that this may have hurt, embarrassed ot angered. It is not the first time nor are we sure will it be the last. We do not give interviews or post comments or statements regarding their family, their life, and most definitely not the situation surrounding this article. Thank you all very much for your time in rectifying the omission of this comment and again, our apologies to anyone it may have upset.
      Sincerely, The Bailey Family

  2. The science argument leads me to believe that any teen living in less than perfect conditions has the ability to commit murder and the inability to understand the consequences. Wouldn’t teen killers number in the thousands if not more if that were true?