In August 1981, two teenagers, Elizabeth and William, were attacked by a white male at gunpoint in Danbury, Connecticut. The attacker, who wore a bandana to cover part of his face, beat both victims repeatedly, handcuffing one victim, and hitting both with his gun. Elizabeth saw her attacker’s face after the bandana came off during a struggle; William did not see the attacker. Both victims lost consciousness during the assault. It was determined that the handcuffs were the same brand used by several federal agencies. Elizabeth was shown numerous photographs over several months in an attempt to identify the attacker. Three photographs of Lawrence J. Miller Jr., an employee at a federal correctional facility, were included in the sets shown to her and she failed to identify Miller as her assailant. It wasn’t until April 1982, after being shown a newer photograph of Miller, that she identified him as the attacker. Two months later, she had a chance encounter with Miller at a local department store and identified him as her attacker at that point as well. William was unable to identify his attacker. Elizabeth testified at Miller’s trial about her prior identifications and identified him in court. Miller testified that he was at his sister’s home, a statement supported by his wife, sister, sister’s friend and mother. A jury convicted Miller in November 1983 of two counts of felony assault, and he was sentenced to 32 years in prison.
Prior to Miller’s trial, a man named Daniel Johnston approached Miller and his wife and said that he knew Miller wasn’t the real criminal. Miller reported this to investigators. A sheriff questioned Johnston, who gave an alibi later determined to be false. Johnston also stated at one point that he would not deny that he was the attacker, but would not admit it. In talking with law enforcement officials, including during a taped interview that occurred before Miller’s trial, Johnston insisted repeatedly that Miller did not commit the crime. The tape of the interview was not turned over to Miller’s attorney.
After Miller’s conviction, Johnston eventually confessed that he, not Miller, had been the attacker. Testimony he provided at a habeas hearing, including his account of the sexual assault on Elizabeth, the brand of handcuffs and the type of gun used, were consistent with the physical evidence in the case. Miller’s conviction was overturned and he was granted a new trial in 1996. The charges against him were dropped in 1997.
- Stephanie Denzel