Michigan Court of Appeals Reopens Case Involving Baby’s Death

Original Case Details

Battle Creek Woman Tonia Miller was 19 years old when she was convicted of second-degree murder for the death of her infant child. She was sentenced to 20 to 30 years in prison back in 2003 for the death of her 11-week-old due to what a jury believed was a case of shaken baby syndrome. Miller’s baby was said to have problems breathing, where she would frequently stop breathing for no apparent reason. Miller testified that while she was feeding her baby, her baby stopped breathing and Miller gently shook her which started her breathing again. Miller was told by doctors that nothing was wrong and that she was being paranoid. Doctors at the time of the baby’s death believed that the death was due to shaking. The scientific understanding of the medical records in this case has now changed and medical experts believe that the cause of death may have been due to pneumonia, and not due to being shaken by her mother. In 2018, lawyers for Miller from the University of Michigan Innocence Clinic filed a motion for a new trial due to the new medical viewpoints. Two years later, the Michigan Court of Appeals has made their decision regarding re-opening Miller’s case.

Court of Appeals Decision

The Michigan Court of Appeals hears cases as panels of three judges, where at least a 2-1 majority is needed for a ruling. The Michigan Court of Appeals ruled 3-0 in favor of Miller stating, “the parties agree that the underlying physical evidence- the medical and autopsy records- remains the same. The understanding of those records has allegedly changed. The issue is whether scientific understanding and knowledge after her trial calls into question the reliability of the jury’s verdict.” The case now goes back to Calhoun County where a different Circuit Court judge will hold an evidentiary hearing about the matter. It is likely that this hearing will be limited to the testimony of medical experts who could refute the original interpretations of what happened to Miller’s baby and what the cause of death was exactly. The Circuit Court judge will have to be satisfied the testimony at this hearing would be pertinent for a jury to hear and the information learned could influence the verdict in order to take this appeal any further.

What Happens Next?

The current point that Miller is at in her case is she remains convicted of second-degree murder; however, this evidentiary hearing could lead to further proceedings in her case. If the cause of death of Miller’s baby is interpreted as something other than shaken baby syndrome at this evidentiary hearing, then it is possible that Miller could get a new trial. The prevailing medical readings of Miller’s baby are at the heart of this case. The prosecutor in this case continues to maintain their belief that Miller’s baby died from abuse at the hands of her mother. If the defense is able to show another theory, then it could ultimately end with an acquittal nearly 20 years later. Miller is almost to the end of her 20-year minimum sentence. She will be eligible for parole in April of 2023 regardless of what happens in the coming evidentiary hearing. Miller will remain in custody while the case proceeds forward.

Any Further Questions?

If you or a loved one has been charged with a crime or being investigated for one, then it is important to speak to an experienced criminal defense attorney immediately. At Grabel & Associates, our attorneys have over 100 years of combined experience in successfully defending criminal cases all over the state of Michigan. This experience extends not only to adult cases, but also to juvenile charges. We are not a general practice firm. We are a team of criminal defense attorneys; it’s all we do. We offer a FREE consultation to anyone with questions relating to a possible or existing criminal charge against them or a loved one. Feel free to contact us on our 24/7 defense line at 1-800-342-7896. You can also contact us online or come visit us at one of our three statewide locations. We can also come to you.

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