Published on March 10th, 2015 | by Solicitor Dan Johnson0
SOLICITOR’S SIDEBAR: KERSHAW COUNTY MAN PLEADS GUILTY AND SENTENCED TO LIFE IN PRISION
Columbia, SC – In Richland County General Sessions Court, 26-year-old Nickolas Jermaine Miller pleaded guilty to the 2011 murder of Beverly Hope Melton. Miller pled before the Honorable D. Craig Brown and was sentenced to life in prison. He was charged with murder, kidnapping and criminal sexual assault. Due to serious evidentiary and forensic issues with this case, Fifth Circuit Solicitor Dan Johnson and Fourth Circuit Solicitor Will Rogers agreed that it was in the best interest of justice to withdraw the State’s Notice of Intent to Seek the Death Penalty and allow Nickolas Miller to plead guilty to all charges and be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. In addition, Nickolas Miller waived all of his appellate rights to seek judicial review of his conviction and sentence.
On December 26, 2011, Nickolas Miller encountered Hope Melton at Jack’s Convenience Store in Jefferson, S.C. Ms. Melton left the store parking lot in her vehicle and Nickolas Miller followed behind her in his vehicle. A short time later, Hope Melton called her grandmother and reported that a black man in an orange car was following her and attempting to run her off the road. Ms. Melton was telling her grandmother that she was afraid, when the call abruptly ended due to poor phone reception in the area. That was the last time anyone spoke to Hope Melton. Family members, concerned for Hope Melton’s safety, began searching for her and located her car on Angelus Road in Chesterfield County. It was found still running and her purse was in the front seat.
They notified law enforcement and a search for Hope Melton was initiated. Chesterfield deputies returned to the convenience store where Ms. Melton was last seen. From surveillance footage, they identified Miller as the suspect and his vehicle. Later that afternoon, Nickolas Miller was stopped by Deputy Graig Burns of the Chesterfield Sheriff’s Office. Miller was driving an orange Chevrolet HHR. Miller followed Deputy Burns to Jefferson Town Hall to be interviewed.
Upon arrival at the Jefferson Town Hall, Miller was advised of his Miranda Rights, which he waived. While Lieutenant Page was questioning Miller, Sheriff Sam Parker arrived and began to participate in the interview. Law enforcement reported that twenty (20) minutes after Sheriff Sam Parker’s arrival, Nickolas Miller requested to speak with Sheriff Parker alone. All the other deputies left the room to accommodate his request.
According to Sheriff Parker, Nickolas Miller told him that he noticed a white female while inside Jack’s Convenience store and that he followed her and attempted to stop her. Miller further stated that once he stopped the Hope Melton’s vehicle, his mind blacked out, he grabbed the Ms. Melton, hit her with a bat, put her in his car and drove to the Jefferson Armory area where he had sex with her. He went on to say that he drove around with Ms. Melton and ended up around two old barns in Kershaw County. Miller agreed to take Sheriff Sam Parker to Hope Melton’s body, which was located behind a turkey barn on Sandy Grove Road in Kershaw County.
While Nickolas Miller and Sheriff Parker were at Sandy Grove Road, law enforcement officers, pursuant to a lawfully obtained search warrant, searched Nickolas Miller’s car which was still located at Jefferson Town Hall. Officers recovered Hope Melton’s wallet and a bloody baseball bat from his vehicle. Nickolas Miller was taken into custody by the Kershaw County Sheriff’s Department. Investigator Jamey Jones and Lieutenant Steve Knafelc again advised Nickolas Miller of his Miranda rights, which he again waived. During their questioning, Miller once again requested to speak with Chesterfield County Sheriff Parker. He was allowed to speak with Sheriff Parker and subsequently provided the Kershaw County Sheriff’s Department with a one page written statement confessing to the kidnapping, rape and murder of Hope Melton.
On March 19, 2013, Chesterfield County Sheriff Sam Parker was indicted by the State Grand Jury on two (2) counts of Furnishing Contraband to Inmates and four (4) counts of Misconduct in Office. Subsequent to Sheriff Parker’s indictment, members of the Fifth Circuit Solicitor’s Office met with Lieutenant Chris Page of the Chesterfield County Sheriff’s Office. Lieutenant Page informed them that on December 26, 2011, former Sheriff Sam Parker told Nickolas Miller: “We know you killed her, give her family some closure and show us where the body is and I can promise you that you will not get the death penalty.” Sergeant Ellerbe of the Chesterfield County Sheriff’s Department was present and heard Sam Parker make this statement. Importantly, according to Lieutenant Page and Sergeant Ellerbe, Sheriff Parker’s “promise” to Miller preceded any incriminating statements given by Miller.
Under South Carolina law, the test for determining the admissibility of a statement is whether it was knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily given under the totality of the circumstances. State v. Rabon, 275 S.C. 459, 272 S.E.2d 634 (1980). A statement induced by a promise of leniency is involuntary only if so connected with the inducement as to be a consequence of the promise. See State v. Broome, 268 S.C. 99, 232 S.E.2d 324 (1977); and 23 C.J.S., Criminal Law, § 825. The State bears the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt the statement given was voluntary. State v. Goolsby, 275 S.C. 110, 268 S.E.2d 31 (1980), cert. denied, 449 U.S. 1037, 101 S.Ct. 616, 66 L.Ed.2d 500. The South Carolina Supreme Court clearly stated in State v. Peake that the statement that Sam Parker made was tantamount to a promise not to seek the death penalty if the defendant gave a statement, thus rendering any statement given by Nickolas Miller subsequent to Sam Parker’s promise inadmissible. See State v. Peake, 291 S.C. 138, 139, 352 S.E.2d 487, 488 (1987).
As a result of Sam Parker’s gross misconduct in coercing Nickolas Miller’s confession with a promise of leniency (not seeking the death penalty), all statements made in reliance on that promise would be properly suppressed at a trial in this matter. The suppression would also include Miller’s statement taken by the Kershaw County Sheriff’s Department, even though the Kershaw County Sheriff’s Department deputies committed no misconduct and followed all proper protocol and procedures when questioning Nickolas Miller. At the time of questioning, Investigator Jamey Jones and Lieutenant Steve Knafelc were not aware of Sheriff Parker’s misconduct. However, the statement obtained by Kershaw County was a product of the prior illegal statement made by Sheriff Sam Parker and was therefore would be properly suppressed as well. Further, the discovery of Hope Melton’s body and the accompanying forensic evidence were discovered as a result of Nickolas Miller’s coerced confession.
On January 31, 2014, Miller’s legal team motioned to have most of the evidence in the State’s case suppressed under the legal theory of “fruit of the poisonous tree.” The defense specifically moved to suppress all evidence derived from Miller’s “involuntary” statement made on December 26, 2011, including but not limited to: statements from witnesses whose identity law enforcement learned of from Nickolas Miller’s statement, all items from the scene at Sandy Grove Road, including the body of Beverly Hope Melton, her clothing and swabs from her body; and other evidence of its condition, the ceiling molding, and all photographs of the scene and Nickolas Miller’s DNA.
The “fruit of the poisonous tree” doctrine provides that evidence must be excluded if it would not have come to light but for the illegal actions of the police, and the evidence has been obtained by the exploitation of that illegality. See Wong Sun v. United States, 371 U.S. 471, 83 S.Ct. 407, 9 L.Ed.2d 441 (1963). However, the challenged evidence is admissible if it was obtained from a lawful source independent of the illegal conduct. State v. Cox, 287 S.C. 260, 335 S.E.2d 809 (Ct.App.1985). This plea will prevent Judge Brown from having to hear oral arguments or issue a ruling on this matter.
Additionally, during the trial of State of South Carolina v. Sam Parker, South Carolina Department of Corrections Inmate, Michael Lee, testified that Sam Parker allowed him to live at the Chesterfield Armory during this investigation so he could guard the evidence. He further testified that while Nickolas Miller’s Chevrolet HHR was in police custody, he and another inmate, William Skipper, discovered Hope Melton’s wallet in the HHR, after it had been processed by SLED. However, Chesterfield County Animal Control Officer Clay Sikes has stated that he is the individual who found Hope Melton’s wallet in the Chevrolet HHR with what appeared to be hair and blood on it. This evidence was turned over to the State Law Enforcement Division.
Further complicating evidentiary and forensic issues in this case, in December of 2014 former department of corrections inmate, Michael Lee, stated on Facebook that he recovered evidence in this case while processing Nickolas Miller’s vehicle.
A prosecutor has the responsibility of a minister of justice and not simply that of an advocate. This responsibility carries with it specific obligations to see that defendants are accorded procedural justice and that guilt is decided upon the basis of sufficient evidence. These responsibilities extend to every defendant, including those charged with the most heinous of crimes. To this end, based on the gross misconduct committed by former Sheriff Sam Parker, Fifth Circuit Solicitor Dan Johnson and Fourth Circuit Solicitor Will Rogers withdrew the State’s Notice of Intent to Seek the Death Penalty and allowed Nickolas Miller to plead to a sentence of life without the possibility of parole. Additionally, Nickolas Miller waived all of his appellate rights to seek judicial review of his conviction and sentence.
Columbia Man Pleads Guilty and is Sentenced for Multiple Burglaries
Columbia, SC – Orlando Reeves also known as “The Park Ranger,” pled guilty in General Sessions court to three (3) counts of Violent Burglary in the 2nd Degree. Reeves,
who was employed by the City of Columbia Parks and Recreation Department during the time frame of these crimes, pled before the Honorable James Barber. The State recommended a sentence of 15 years.
The defendant was implicated in three separate burglaries which occurred between April 4, 2011 and August 4, 2012 within the Columbia City limits. The City of Columbia Police Department was the arresting agency for each burglary. The Court sentenced the defendant to fifteen (15) years suspended to the immediate service of seven (7) years in prison, followed by a thirty (30) month probationary period.