By Joe Beck
WOODSTOCK -- A capital murder case against Nicole Dawn Miller continued to churn toward a mid-January trial date Wednesday with Circuit Judge Dennis L. Hupp approving the appointment of a mental health expert to help in Miller's defense.
Hupp approved the hiring of Dr. Eileen Ryan, medical director of the Institute of Law, Psychiatry and Public Policy at the University of Virginia. Ryan is also an associate professor of psychiatry and neurobehavioral sciences at UVA's medical school.
Miller's attorneys, John C. Holloran and William Eldridge IV of Harrisonburg, cited Miller's lack of money as one of the reasons for needing a court-appointed mental health expert. Holloran and Eldridge also said they needed to fully explore factors such as Miller's family and social history that could help them argue that she doesn't deserve the death penalty if she is convicted.
"Because death is uniquely different in its finality and severity, increased scrutiny is required at every step of the capital process to ensure that death is the appropriate penalty," Holloran and Eldridge wrote in the motion submitted several days earlier. "Having accepted the responsibility of attempting to save the life of another human being, defense counsel requires the tools needed to defend Ms. Miller's case and, if the case proceeds to sentencing, build the case for life (imprisonment)."
Shenandoah County Commonwealth's Attorney Amanda Wiseley did not oppose the hiring of a mental health expert, but argued that the person should not be chosen solely at the discretion of the defense attorneys.
Miller, 26, is accused of killing a 20-month-old child in early June 2013 in an apartment she shared with the boy's father, Jeremy Alexander Vermillion. The boy died June 3 at the University of Virginia Medical Center in Charlottesville.
Hupp issued a written opinion Thursday upholding the defense attorneys' request that Wiseley list the aggravating factors that the law requires the prosecutors to identify in seeking the death penalty.
Holloran and Eldridge wrote in their motion that want to know whether Wiseley intends to cite the "vileness" of Miller's alleged actions and whether she constitutes "a continuing serious threat to society" as aggravating factors in the case.
Wiseley said in an interview that Miller is being held in the Rockingham County Jail while she awaits trial. Wiseley said Miller was moved to Rockingham County after another woman inmate attacked her in the Shenandoah County jail last year.
Miller's assailant was later convicted of assault and sentenced to one year unsupervised probation.
"Some people have trouble getting along with other people in jail," Wiseley said of the assault and Miller's subsequent transfer to another facility.
Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or firstname.lastname@example.org