Commonwealth to seek death penalty in child death case

By Joe Beck

Only 40 women have been executed in the United States in the last 100 years, but if Shenandoah Commonwealth’s Attorney Amanda Wiseley has her way, Nicole Dawn Miller will become the 41st.

Wiseley announced Tuesday she was taking the rare step of seeking the death penalty for a female defendant should Miller be convicted of first-degree murder.

Wiseley did not comment on the reasons for her decision.

“I can’t comment,” Wiseley said Tuesday afternoon. “I think when the evidence comes out at trial, it will very clear why we chose to seek the death penalty.”

Authorities have accused Miller, 25, of killing a 20-month-old child identified in court documents as the son of her fiancé, Jeremy Alexander Vermillion. Vermillion, who was not at their Woodstock apartment at the time police believe Miller injured his son on June 3, has been charged with felony child endangerment.

Police called to her apartment at 135 Valley Vista Drive reported finding the child not breathing and bruises covering his face and body.

The child’s breathing was restored on the way to Shenandoah Memorial Hospital, but he died two days later at the University of Virginia Medical Center in Charlottesville.

A doctor at Shenandoah Memorial Hospital told police that the boy’s injuries appeared to be caused by abuse and were not self-inflicted. Miller told police that she believed the boy’s injuries came from falling off a bed or from contact with another child.

Wisely filed the notice of her intent to seek the death penalty in Shenandoah County Circuit Court on Monday. The notice states:

“…by and through her undersigned attorney, and hereby provides notice to the Defendant NICOLE DAWN MILLER, having been indicted by the Grand Jury of Shenandoah County for one offense of Capital Murder, that upon a finding of guilty of Capital Murder at the trial of this matter, the Commonwealth intends to seek the penalty of death on the grounds that there is probabilty that the Defendant would commit criminal acts of violence that would constitute a continuing serious threat to socieity and/or that her conduct in committing the offense for which she stands charged was outrageously or wantonly vile, horrible or inhuman in that it involved torture, depravity of mind or an aggravated battery to the victim, pursuant to Virginia Code Annotated 19.2-264.2 (1950, as amended).”

Miller is represented by Harrisonburg-based attorneys John C. Holloran and William W. Eldridge. She is scheduled to appear in Shenandoah County Circuit Court at 3 p.m. Wednesday for a status hearing.

Wiseley admitted that prosecution of a death penalty case is lengthier, more exacting and runs a higher risk of bogging down in appeals to higher courts than a case in which the defendant’s life is not at stake.

“There’s a lot of additional motions,” Wiseley said.

The execution of Teresa Lewis by lethal injection on Sept. 23, 2010 was the last involving a woman in Virginia. Lewis was convicted in the murder of her husband and stepson on Oct. 30, 2002 in what authorities described as a plot to claim insurance money. The killings were committed by two hired gunmen, Matthew Shallenberger and Rodney Fuller, both of whom were sentenced to life in prison.

Lewis is the only woman to have been executed in Virginia since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled explicitly in 1976 that properly written death penalty laws are constitutional under the Eighth Amendment. Lewis is also only one of 13 women offenders in the United States executed since 1976.

Virginia currently has 10 inmates on death row, all of them men, according to a state-by-state database compiled by the Death Penalty Information Center.