By Joe Beck
WOODSTOCK -- Defense attorneys Wednesday continued to place a high priority on preventing the prosecution from learning their legal strategy in the capital murder case of Nicole Dawn Miller.
Miller was arrested in June and charged with murder in the death of a 20-month-old boy.
Judge Dennis L. Hupp spent part of the afternoon ruling on several contested motions from Harrisonburg attorneys John C. Halloran and William Eldridge. Two of the motions sought to conceal the identity of witnesses, including paid experts, from the prosecution during trial preparations.
Hupp ruled that the defense could seek funding to pay for expert witnesses in a closed hearing that would prevent Commonwealth's Attorney Amanda Wiseley from learning the witnesses' identities.
Wiseley argued that the defense had to present a specific reason for withholding the identity of the witnesses from her, and Halloran and Eldridge had failed to do so.
"It's hypothetical. It's conjecture. It's speculation," Wiseley said of the defense attorneys' reasoning.
Eldridge cited a state law that allows criminal defense attorneys to withhold the identities of their witnesses by communicating with judges in closed hearings.
"The whole purpose of that statute is to protect us from having to disclose to get funding from the court," Eldridge said.
Hupp delayed issuing a ruling on another request from Halloran and Eldridge, who want to keep their witness subpoenas under seal and unavailable to the prosecution.
Hupp scheduled another hearing for 3:30 p.m. Feb. 26, by which time he hopes to be able to set a trial date.
Hupp said he was puzzled by the amount of time it is taking to receive an autopsy report from the state medical examiner's office. Wiseley and the defense attorneys had no explanation for the long wait.
The examiner's office received the victim's body in early June when Miller was arrested and charged with murder. The victim had been under her care at a Woodstock apartment she shared with a man authorities identified as her fiance and the father of the child.
Wiseley has filed a notice stating she intends to seek the death penalty against Miller, 26.
Miller appeared in court with her attorneys Wednesday and was returned to custody after the hearing.
Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or firstname.lastname@example.org