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Jesse Miller, Jr.

Other Florida Cases with Perjury or False Accusations
On May 1, 1999, 18-year-old Nicholas Megrath, the night manager of a Chick-fil-A restaurant was found shot to death in the back of the restaurant in the Palm Beach Mall in West Palm Beach, Florida. Megrath, who was supposed to be off that night, but agreed to fill in for someone else, was duct-taped to a folding chair and shot once in the head.

On a table was a notepad with the combination to the safe—
although one number was incorrect. A cash box was smashed open and about $600 was missing. The safe containing $4,000 was not opened.

A ski mask was found in a dumpster outside the restaurant. Fingerprints were lifted inside the restaurant, and all but one were matched to store employees.  The unmatched print was never linked to anyone.

Within a month, Marlon Johnson, a cook at the restaurant, was charged with murder after an acquaintance of his told police that Johnson claimed to have opened the back door for the robbers. The charge later was dismissed when the acquaintance admitted he had falsely accused Johnson.

In September 2000, police arrested Jesse Miller, Jr., a former employee of the restaurant and charged him with first-degree murder, armed robbery, burglary and kidnapping. Miller became a suspect after police learned that four months prior to the murder, Megrath reported to a supervisor that Miller sold food to a customer and pocketed the money instead of putting it in the cash register. Miller, then 17, was demoted, and two months later, he was fired. The arrest warrant for Miller stated that DNA tests conducted on the ski mask found a DNA profile that was a “100 percent match” to Miller.

However, in November 2001, the prosecution dismissed the charges after police admitted that the 100% claim was not true. In fact, crime lab analysts found a mixture of DNA profiles on the mask and could only say that Miller could not be excluded as a source of some of the DNA.

In 2003, police charged Otto Wright with the murder of Megrath and said that he confessed to acting as the lookout for two others who actually went inside and committed the murder. Wright, however, did not identify Miller as one of the two other robbers.

Wright was convicted, almost solely on the basis of his confession, although he testified that his confession was false. He was sentenced to life in prison.

In July 2007, Miller was arrested and charged again with the murder, as well as kidnapping, armed robbery and burglary. The investigation of Miller had been revived when detectives consulted with handwriting analysts who concluded that Miller was the author of the words and numerals—the combination to the safe—found on the notepad at the scene.

Miller went to trial in Palm Beach County Circuit Court in January 2009, but a mistrial was declared when the jury was unable to reach a unanimous verdict.

He went to trial a second time in July 2009. Several restaurant employees testified for the prosecution. One said that in early 1999, Megrath accused Miller of stealing money and at first demoted Miller from his position as crew leader and cut his hours. Two months prior to the murder, Megrath fired Miller for poor job performance.

Another worker said that Miller was angry with Megrath and wanted to fight him. Another said Miller referred to Megrath as a “squealer” and a “rat,” but had not been angry with Megrath.

Yet another employee testified that although Miller was upset, they both simply went their separate ways. An additional worker heard Miller talking about robbing the restaurant. That employee also said that on one occasion after Miller was fired, he returned to the restaurant and formed his hand into the shape of a gun and pointed at Megrath.

Another employee said that at some point after Miller was fired, he returned to the restaurant and told Megrath he was going to kill him.

The prosecution also called two handwriting analysts who both testified that they concluded, after examining samples of Miller’s handwriting, that he had written “55, 65, 9, 10,” “4 time stop,” and “left right left right” on a yellow notepad found on top of a desk. The prosecution’s theory was that Miller forced Megrath to give him the combination, and then killed him. When the combination turned out to have one wrong number and the safe could not be opened, Miller took $600 from a cash box that was not in the safe.

Both analysts were allowed to testify that their work was independently reviewed by others before a final opinion was issued. Miller’s defense attorney objected to the testimony as improper bolstering of the analysts’ testimony. Miller’s lawyer said the testimony suggested that others had also analyzed the writing and concurred, but that he had no opportunity to cross-examine them about their conclusions. His objections were denied.

The prosecution also presented testimony that Miller could not be excluded as a source for some of the DNA on the ski mask.

Miller’s lawyers called Otto Wright to testify and he denied that he was involved in the murder and claimed his confession was false. The defense was then able to introduce Wright’s confession, which did not name Miller as an accomplice.

On July 27, 2009, the jury convicted Miller of first-degree murder, armed robbery, burglary and kidnapping. He was sentenced to life in prison.

In December 2012, the Florida Fourth District Court of Appeal vacated Miller’s convictions and ordered a new trial. The appeals court held that the testimony by the handwriting analysts about the review process and the conclusions of other analysts confirming their findings was improper bolstering.

Miller went to trial a third time in June 2014. The prosecution presented the same evidence that was presented in 2009. The defense, however, called its own experts—one who testified that the prosecution’s DNA analysis was flawed and one who testified to the unsound and unproven nature of handwriting analysis.

The prosecution’s DNA expert had testified that the chance that the DNA was someone other than Miller was one in 180 million. The defense expert said the prosecution analyst had misidentified several parts of Miller’s DNA profile.

The defense called a forensic expert who testified that handwriting analysis is an unproven and “quintessential junk science,” and that the analysis of as a small sample of writing as was done in this case was particularly unreliable.

Miller testified in his own defense and denied that he was involved in the crime. He said that he not stolen any money. He explained that employees were allowed to take home food that was left over at the end of the day. He told the jury that he was about to leave with two boxes of chicken nuggets when a customer came in at the last minute and asked for chicken nuggets.

Miller told the jury that the customer offered cash, so he took it and gave the customer the two boxes of chicken nuggets that he was intending to take home. He testified that Megrath saw him pocket the money and reported it as a theft.

In rebuttal, the prosecution called a prison inmate who claimed that Wright had told him that he committed the murder with Miller and another man. That testimony was inconsistent with Wright’s confession—which the prosecution had relied on in Wright’s own trial during which he did not name Miller as an accomplice.

Before the jury began deliberating, the prosecution dismissed the robbery, kidnapping and burglary charges because the statute of limitations on those crimes had expired.

On June 30, 2014, the jury deliberated for less than three hours before acquitting Miller of murder and he was released.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 10/6/2014
State:Florida
County:Palm Beach
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:Robbery, Kidnapping, Burglary/Unlawful Entry
Reported Crime Date:1999
Convicted:2009
Exonerated:2014
Sentence:Life
Race:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:17
Contributing Factors:False or Misleading Forensic Evidence, Perjury or False Accusation, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No