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Convicted teen seeks lighter sentence

By Kristen Bishop
kbishop@decaturdaily.com 340-2443

MOULTON — An attorney for the Moulton teen convicted of killing a 52-year-old man in his mobile home said it's unconstitutional to sentence a 14-year-old to life in prison with no chance of parole.

Bryan Stevenson, attorney for Evan James Miller, now 17, presented his case to Lawrence County Circuit Court Judge Phillip Reich on Friday.

Miller, who pleaded not guilty by reason of mental defect to charges of capital murder-arson and capital murder-robbery, was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole Oct. 20, 2006.

Stevenson has requested a lighter sentence and said he will appeal to the state Court of Criminal Appeals if his request is not granted. Reich is expected to rule next week.

According to testimony during the October trial, Miller and his accomplice, Colby Smith, then 16, beat Cole Cannon, 52, with a baseball bat after stealing his baseball cards and about $350 from Cannon's mobile home on July 15, 2003. Miller and Smith then set fire to the home in order to cover up evidence.

Investigators said Cannon's official cause of death was smoke inhalation but that the beating was a contributing factor.

Smith agreed to plead guilty and testify at Miller's trial in exchange for a lighter sentence.

Stevenson said he agreed that murder is a heinous crime, but pleaded with Reich to reconsider Miller's age at the time of the offense.

"This court could not, did not, have the discretion to consider Mr. Miller's age," he said.

He also pointed out Miller's troubled past as a factor in the murder.

Psychologists for the defense said Miller had various mental-health defects including drug dependency, had attempted suicide numerous times and had lived in an abusive home.

"You have to look at those things when you're judging a person's life," said Stevenson. "I don't think that happened here."

While walking into the courtroom Friday, Miller said he was seeking a new trial because his previous trial was unfair. Stevenson agreed.

"If the court denies this motion, we'll have lot of issues to deal with," he said.

Stevenson said he believes it's unfair to give a mandatory life sentence for a crime committed at such a young age. With a chance for parole, Miller would have the opportunity to change his life, he said.

"He would have hope and incentive to do well in prison," said Stevenson. "He'd be able to reconcile himself in a way that sees life beyond prison."

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