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Robert Lee Miller, Jr.

Other Oklahoma Exonerations
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On September 3, 1986, 83-year old Anna Laura Fowler was found raped and murdered in her apartment in northwest Oklahoma City.

On November 27, 1986, someone tried to break into the nearby home of 76-year-old Izabella Lendway, who woke up shortly after 3 a.m. and called police when she had someone trying to get in. A neighbor reported seeing a man run away just before police arrived.

Two months later, on January 10, 1987, 90-year-old Zelma Cutler was found raped in murdered in her apartment across the street from Fowler’s residence.

A stain believed to be semen was collected by police as well as blood, hair and saliva samples from the two murder scenes.

Based on serology tests from evidence at the murder scenes, investigators believed the perpetrator was a secretor with type A blood (a secretor is a person whose blood type can be determined from other body fluids). Further testing of the crime scene evidence revealed an allotype profile that was attributed to the perpetrator. An allotype is a genetic marker associated with the human immune system.

The lab report indicated that the allotype obtained from the evidence occurred with more frequency in the African-American population. The report went on to erroneously suggest that this meant there was a high likelihood that the perpetrator was African American (racial statistics about the distribution of certain genetic markers do not correlate to a prediction of the likelihood of the perpetrator’s race). Based on this faulty assumption, police focused their search on African-American men.

Oklahoma City police officers canvassed the neighborhood and asked black men to provide blood samples. Among those tested was 27-year-old Robert Lee Miller, Jr. The results showed that he was a Type A secretor. Police brought him in for questioning and conducted a 12-hour interrogation, half of which was recorded by a hidden camera. His public defender later said that Miller “began talking about dreams, visions, spells and hair.” He also said that Miller was probably under the influence of marijuana cigarettes dipped in PCP at the time of the interview, as he was known to hang around a drug house as a “street watcher.”

During his interview with police, Miller attempted to answer questions as if he were clairvoyant and could see how the crime took place through the killer’s eyes. He believed he was helping police solve the crime by telling them pertinent details and at no point realized that he could have implicated himself in the crime. Police eventually led him to what the prosecution called an admission of guilt, even though a later examination of the tapes revealed many inconsistencies between Miller’s statements and the actual circumstances of the crimes.

Miller was charged with two counts each of murder, rape and burglary and one count of attempted burglary.

In May 1998, he went to trial in Oklahoma County District Court. The prosecution relied on Miller’s purported admission of guilt and the testimony of Oklahoma Police forensic analyst Joyce Gilchrist. The prosecution claimed that in the videotaped interrogation, Miller indicated specific knowledge of both crimes that only the perpetrator would have known. Most of the information that supposedly implicated Miller came from general speculation, details that were previously released in newspapers or televised crime reports, or random guesses or inferences he made about the crime scenes. The prosecution aggregated these statements and presented them as an admission of guilt, despite multiple instances in the videotape in which Miller adamantly denied involvement in the crimes.

In addition to the videotape, the prosecution emphasized the results of hair and semen tests conducted by Gilchrist, who would later be fired for misconduct and false testimony in dozens of cases. Gilchrist testified that lab results indicated that semen from the crime scene came from a person with type A blood.

She said Miller had this blood type and had other markers in common with the evidence, so she could not eliminate him as a suspect. Significantly, Gilchrist also tested blood and saliva samples from the same crime scene and found different blood markers, inconsistent with Miller’s blood samples. She justified this result by stating that the sample was mixed and could have included markers from the victim’s blood. Based on her report, the prosecution had eliminated Ronald Lott, another primary suspect in the investigation.

Gilchrist also testified that hair samples found at the crime scene had “Negroid characteristics” but said she couldn’t identify an individual. Defense attorneys asked her about the possibility of DNA testing, but no tests were conducted as DNA testing had recently been developed and not yet been accepted by Oklahoma courts.

Gilchrist also testified that animal hairs collected from the crime scene had similar characteristics to hairs from a neighborhood dog that Miller was known to care for.

On May 27, 1988, the jury convicted Miller guilty of all counts. He was sentenced to death for the two murders. For the two rapes, he was sentenced to 287 years and 392 years. He was sentenced to 20 years for each burglary charge and 10 years for the attempted burglary.

At the request of attorneys for Miller, forensic scientists reexamined the semen evidence in 1992 using DNA testing. The lab compared the semen from the crime scenes to Miller’s DNA profile and concluded he could not have been the source. Two years later, the hair samples originally analyzed by Joyce Gilchrist were reevaluated by another private lab.

Analysts said Gilchrist’s comparison of hair fragments from the crime scene to Miller’s scalp hair was “essentially meaningless” and “completely unjustified.” Analysts also said that Gilchrist’s testimony at trial about dog hairs had been invalid.

The results excluded Miller and included Lott, who had originally been suspected, but excluded as the perpetrator. At that time, Lott was serving a 25-year prison term for rape and burglary. He had pled guilty in 1987 to raping a 71-year-old woman and a 74-year-old woman. Those crimes occurred after Miller’s initial arrest and less than 20 blocks from where Fowler and Cutler were killed.

Based on the test results, Oklahoma County District Attorney Robert Macy agreed to vacate Miller’s convictions and grant him a new trial. But Macy then filed new charges against both Miller and Lott, alleging they acted together.

In 1996, the prosecution dismissed the murder charges against Lott and said it planned to prosecute Lott for the rapes based on the DNA evidence. Miller—although he had taken polygraph examination that indicated no deception when he denied involvement in the crime or that he knew Lott—would be prosecuted for the murders, Macy declared.

Miller was granted a new preliminary hearing and in February 1987, Judge Larry Jones, after reviewing the tape of Miller’s statements, ruled there was insufficient evidence to prosecute the case. Judge Jones dismissed the charges against Miller.

On January 22, 1998, the prosecution dismissed the charges against Miller and he was released. The prosecution said it would retain the right to refile charges against Miller if they found more evidence. Miller had spent 7 years on death row and almost 10 years wrongfully imprisoned.

Two years later, on January 18, 2000, Miller filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against Oklahoma City seeking compensation. Oklahoma City lawyers filed a motion to dismiss and argued that the dismissal had not made with prejudice and therefore the criminal case was not over. In Marcy 2000, Miller’s lawyer voluntarily dismissed the lawsuit.

In November 2000, the district attorney’s office refiled new charges against Miller and Lott, accusing Miller “aided and abetted” Lott in the Cutler and Fowler rape and murders.

Lott went to trial alone in January 2002 and was convicted by a jury of the two murders. He was sentenced to death. Meanwhile, the charges remained on file against Miller. Although investigators attempted to find more evidence against Miller and apparently none was found, the charges were not dismissed. At one point, the prosecution offered Lott a deal to resentence him to life in prison if he would testify against Miller, but Lott refused. On December 10, 2013, Lott was executed.

In September 2016, Miller filed a motion in Oklahoma County District Court requesting that the pending charges against him be dismissed. In January 2017, Judge Michele McElewee denied the motion, ruling that she did not have jurisdiction to consider the case. Miller appealed and in April 2017, the Oklahoma Supreme Court reversed. “We find that the District Court of Oklahoma County has jurisdiction and order that the Court address the issues,” the court ruled.

On May 19, 2017, the Oklahoma District Attorney’s office filed a motion to dismiss the charges pending against Miller. The motion was granted that day.

In May 2018, Miller filed a motion seeking a judicial declaration of innocence. On March 5, 2019, Judge Amy Palumbo issued a finding of innocence. Miller then filed a federal civil rights lawsuit seeking compensation.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date:  Before June 2012
Last Updated: 5/30/2019
State:Oklahoma
County:Oklahoma
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:Rape, Attempt, Violent, Burglary/Unlawful Entry
Reported Crime Date:1987
Convicted:1988
Exonerated:2017
Sentence:Death
Race:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of reported crime:27
Contributing Factors:False Confession, False or Misleading Forensic Evidence, Perjury or False Accusation
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:Yes