On January 29, 1996, 63-year-old Cecil White was fatally shot during an attempted robbery after he left Charles’ Steak House restaurant in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. White came to the restaurant almost every night to eat and gamble.
The murder remained unsolved until 2003 when Maurice Ladon Miller, who was serving a 17 ½ year federal prison sentence for distributing crack cocaine, came forward and said he had information about the murder.
Miller told Oklahoma City detectives that the murder was committed by Farrell Ray Jones, Travis Lamore O’Neal and that he had been involved, but he was not the man who shot White. When detectives went to interview Jones, who was serving a federal prison term of almost six years for distributing crack cocaine, Jones admitted he was involved in the crime.
In October 2003, Miller, O’Neal and Jones were charged with first degree murder and conspiracy to commit robbery.
Prior to trial, Miller argued that the charges against him should be dismissed because when he pled guilty in federal court, his plea agreement conferred immunity from prosecution based on statements he made about other crimes. That motion was denied.
After losing the motion, Miller told his attorney, Oklahoma Public Defender Robin McPhail, that he was not involved in the crime. According to Miller, he ran into Jones in federal prison and Jones confided that he had been involved in the attempted robbery and murder of White. Miller said he thought he would be immune from prosecution and he wanted to try to win some leniency on his federal drug sentence, so he told investigators that he had been involved in the shooting with Jones and O’Neal. Miller said he put himself in the crime because he thought the story would be more believable.
As improbable as that story seemed, McPhail asked Jones’ attorney if she and her investigator could interview Jones. Jones’ lawyer agreed and allowed McPhail and her investigator to interview Jones without his presence. During the interview, which was tape-recorded, Jones admitted that he was involved in the crime and said that Miller was not involved at all.
Miller went on trial separately from Jones and O’Neal in Oklahoma County District Court in May 2005. A detective testified to Miller’s statement that he committed the crime along with Jones and O’Neal.
The defense called Jones as a witness, but he invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and refused to testify. McPhail then tried to call her investigator as a witness and play the recording of the interview with Jones during which he said Miller took no part in the crime, but the trial judge refused to allow the testimony or the tape to be played.
Miller testified on his own behalf and admitted that he had given the statement to the detectives in which he said that he and Jones and O’Neal had committed the crime. Miller explained that he thought he had immunity from prosecution because of his federal plea agreement. He said he put himself in the crime story because he thought his statement would be more credible and that he only gave the statement because he hoped it might prompt the authorities to reduce his 17 ½ year federal prison term.
On May 11, 2005, the jury convicted Miller of first degree murder and conspiracy to commit robbery. He was sentenced to life in prison. Jones and O’Neal were later tried separately and each was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
By that time, Miller had been charged with another crime—the murders of 76-year-old James Walker West and his 78-year-old wife, Lena Belle, who were stabbed to death in December 1994. The prosecution said that Miller, then 17, and another teenager, Billy Wayne Henderson, broke into the house to commit a burglary and killed the couple.
Henderson had died years earlier and Miller went on trial in 2006 for the double murder. No physical evidence connected him to the crime. However, his ex-girlfriend, a crack cocaine addict who had numerous drug convictions and was in jail at the time of the trial, testified that after the murders, she heard Miller telling some friends that he had committed the crime. She said that when she asked him about it, he said he was joking.
In June 2006, Miller was convicted of the double murder and sentenced to life in prison.
In July 2006, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals reversed Miller’s conviction for the murder of Cecil White and ordered a new trial. The court ruled that the trial judge had erroneously barred the tape recording of Jones saying that Miller was not involved in the attempted robbery and shooting of White.
The court noted that Jones, during the interview, “admitted in (his) statement that he knew Mr. Miller was the one who exposed his involvement and knew Mr. Miller placed himself in the crime when he talked to an Oklahoma City police detective in hopes of getting a reduction in his federal sentence” and yet, Jones still maintained that Miller was innocent.
The statement by Jones was “vital” to Miller’s defense, the court held.
When the case was returned for retrial, Miller took and passed a polygraph examination. As a result, on April 18, 2007, the Oklahoma County District Attorney dismissed the case.
Miller remains incarcerated on the federal drug conviction with a release date in 2017. At that time, he will be transferred to state prison in Oklahoma to serve the life sentence in the double murder case.
– Maurice Possley