By Joe Beck
WOODSTOCK - The prosecution and defense in the Nicole Dawn Miller capital murder case gave brief accounts of where they stand Wednesday in Shenandoah County Circuit Court before agreeing to another status hearing at 1:30 p.m. Dec. 4.
Miller, 26, appeared in court with co-counsels John C. Halloran and William W. Eldridge, both of Harrisonburg. She smiled toward members of the audience as she was led back to jail at the end of the hearing.
Miller is accused of killing a 20-month-old child who was the son of her fiancé, Jeremy Alexander Vermillion, according to authorities. Vermillion has been charged with felony child endangerment, although he was not with Miller or his son at 135 Valley Vista Drive, Woodstock, the night Miller allegedly injured the boy.
Police arrived at the apartment on the evening of June 3 to find the child not breathing and bruises covering his face and body. He died two days later at the University of Virginia Medical Center in Charlottesville.
Commonwealth's Attorney Amanda Wiseley filed a notice Monday in Shenandoah County Circuit Court stating her intent to seek the death penalty for Miller.
Steve Milani, who leads the Capital Defender Office in Roanoke, said Wiseley's decision to seek the death penalty means the Miller case will be far more elaborate than a non-capital murder case. The Capital Defender officers are arms of the state public defender.
"When you charge capital murder, you put the wheels in motion for a very complicated and expensive process," Milani said.
Milani said capital murder cases require several features not found in other criminal cases. For example, he said a jury must be death penalty qualified. That means jurors are told of the maximum penalty for conviction before the trial and asked whether they are open to imposing such a punishment.
In the penalty phase of the trial, assuming a conviction, the prosecution is allowed to tell the jury about previous crimes linked to the defendant, even if they produced no charges or convictions, Milani said.
The law also guarantees a capital murder defendant will be represented by two attorneys certified by special training and experience to handle death penalty cases, Milani said.
Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or firstname.lastname@example.org