From 1967 through 1971, several young black prostitutes were found strangled in a wooded area of Stamford, Connecticut, adjacent to the Merritt Parkway.
In April 1969, James Miller, a preacher in Stamford, reported to police that he had received an anonymous phone call. He said the caller, who sounded like a black male, described the location of a body that had not yet been found and expressed his wish that the deceased woman receive “a Christian burial.” By that time, three bodies had been found.
The investigators created a list of all Millers who were clergymen in the area, including Benjamin Miller. Benjamin Miller was a white postal worker who claimed to be an ordained minister and spent much of his time preaching to the black community, especially to black women. He had a history of mental illness dating back to 1953. Police invited Miller in for an interview, but when he said he was too busy with church work, the matter was dropped.
By January 1972, a total of six black prostitutes had been found strangled and a task force of state and local police detectives was created. These investigators followed up on the earlier mention of Benjamin Miller and learned of his psychiatric history and his contacts with black women.
Over the course of the next few weeks, the detectives interrogated Miller several times. Miller denied committing the murders but admitted that he once had sex with one of the victims, Gail Thompson, in his car in North Stamford. The autopsy report on Thompson did not reveal recent sexual intercourse. However, some of Miller's statements included previously unpublished information related to the murders. For example, when the detectives showed Miller a picture of Thompson’s body and asked what he thought was around her neck, Miller responded, correctly, that it was a handkerchief, although the public information was that Thompson had been strangled with a brassiere. A polygraph test of Miller's denial that he had committed the murders proved inconclusive, apparently because of his erratic behavior.
In February 1972, the detectives suggested that Miller speak with a psychiatrist. Miller agreed to see Dr. Shirley Williams, a psychiatrist he had consulted previously. After Dr. Williams and another psychiatrist evaluated Miller, he was diagnosed with chronic schizophrenia and involuntarily committed to a hospital. He was placed on suicide watch at times and was regularly administered medication. Hospital records described him as delusional.
While hospitalized, Miller was interviewed several times by a third psychiatrist, who told investigators he believed Benjamin Miller had committed the murders and encouraged them to continue investigating Miller. On February 29, the psychiatrist told detectives that Miller wished to speak with them.
When the detectives arrived, Miller wrote on a pad that he had killed seven women. He later stated that he had killed Thompson and others he could not remember. He described the murder of Thompson in detail and made a more general statement about killing three others. On March 1, Miller signed typed versions of these statements and accompanied the detectives to the area where the bodies had been found. He reenacted the Thompson murder and led them to the spots where three other bodies had been found.
Miller was arrested on March 17, 1972, and charged with the murders of Thompson and four other women.
His defense attorney interviewed Miller's father, who said that Benjamin had telephoned him to say he had signed a confession but that he was sick and would have signed anything.
Benjamin Miller told his defense lawyer that during the first several interrogations, the investigators had repeatedly tried to get him to confess to the murders, but he continued to deny killing the women. He said one psychiatrist had shown him a statement that he could sign in order to plead not guilty by reason of temporary insanity, but he told the psychiatrist he had not committed the murders.
Miller told his lawyer he had confessed because he was frightened and afraid of being beaten, and because the detectives told him that unless he confessed he would lose his job and his family would suffer. He said he was also concerned that because he had admitted adulterous conduct with black women, police would charge him with adultery and his wife would divorce him. Miller said the detectives asked him leading questions and showed him photographs of the murder scenes many times. When they took him to the site of the murders and asked him if they were in the right place, he claimed he had said “I think so” just to please them.
Miller was evaluated by a court-appointed psychiatrist who reported having no “certain idea” whether Miller committed the murders, but said that Miller was “chronically psychotic and delusional and totally incapable of discerning right from wrong,” and that “[t]he force of his insanity drove him into the midst of the daily life of the people he is accused of having murdered.”
In 1973, following an agreement between the prosecution and Miller’s lawyer, two counts of murder were withdrawn and Miller pled not guilty by reason of insanity to three other murders. The case was then heard by a three-judge panel in Fairfield County Superior Court. After the prosecution and the defense jointly urged that the insanity defense be accepted, Miller was found not guilty by reason of insanity and was committed to a mental institution for a term of 25 years.
In 1982, a federal petition for a writ of habeas corpus was filed on Miller’s behalf alleging that the prosecution had failed to disclose to the defense extensive evidence that connected another man, Robert Lupinacci, with at least four of the five women that Miller was accused of killing.
Lupinacci had been arrested in July 1972—several weeks after Miller was arrested—while he was attempting to strangle a black prostitute in the same area where the other victims had been found.
Miller’s father read about Lupinacci’s arrest and sent clippings to his son’s defense lawyer. But the lawyer did not pursue the evidence because he was convinced that Miller's confessions revealed details that only the killer could have known.
According to the habeas petition, the prosecution had failed to reveal that an investigation of Lupinacci showed he was considered a “sex nut,” with a history of patronizing black prostitutes, and was known to make racist comments. Also, the bodies of three of the women allegedly killed by Miller had been found within 100 feet of the spot where Lupinacci was arrested and Lupinacci's car had been seen near the murder scenes several times.
In 1967, Lupinacci had been seen in bars in the vicinity of Port Chester, New York (near Stamford), bars that one of victims also frequented. Employees at the Hotel Hazelton reported that in 1968, when one of the victims was a resident of the hotel, they had seen Lupinacci there.
Other evidence that had not been revealed to the defense included the fact that in 1971, Lupinacci worked at a motel at which Thompson resided. Lupinacci was known to sell pornographic playing cards, and in the trunk of his car police found a pornographic deck with the queen of hearts missing; a similar card had been found near Thompson's body. Thompson was last seen alive in a vehicle resembling Lupinacci's car, and such a vehicle was seen near the scene of her murder. Police found body hairs in the trunk of Lupinacci's car that appeared to have come from a black person. And in August 1971, the fifth victim was last seen alive on Grey Rocks Place in Stamford. At the time, Lupinacci was a member of a club located on Grey Rocks Place.
In October 1983, despite all of this evidence, Miller’s habeas petition was denied.
But in 1988, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reversed the denial and ordered a new trial. The court held that “when the undisclosed facts possessed by the prosecution are added to the fact that Lupinacci was arrested in the act of attempting to strangle a black prostitute in the very area where the other victims had been found strangled, we conclude that the withheld information is sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome of both Miller's decision to forgo any challenge to the State's assertion that he was the murderer and the decision of a rational fact finder as to whether the identity of Miller as the murderer was established beyond a reasonable doubt.”
On May 8, 1989, a judge dismissed the case, ruling that a second trial would constitute double jeopardy, and Miller was released. However, he was immediately voluntarily recommitted to a mental institution after his lawyer said that Miller’s long confinement left him unprepared to live on his own.
– Maurice Possley