Corey "C-Murder" Miller found guilty of murder
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In declaring rapper Corey "C-Murder" Miller guilty of murder Tuesday, a Jefferson Parish jury struggled for more than 13 hours over two days and nearly grounded the case in a mistrial after the judge rejected one verdict and deliberations degenerated into yelling, crying and "people getting violently sick and vomiting," in the words of one juror.
In a 10-2 vote, the minimum for a second-degree murder conviction, the jury found that Miller shot Steve Thomas once in the chest as the teen lay on his back while being beaten by the rapper's friends in the now-closed Platinum Club in Harvey on Jan. 12, 2002.
The contentious decision came nearly three hours after Judge Hans Liljeberg of the 24th Judicial District Court rejected the panel's earlier guilty verdict that he said was invalid because one juror may have changed his or her vote just to end the deliberations. Around 1:40 p.m., the jury said it had reached a decision.
Miller, 38, will be sentenced to mandatory life in prison on Friday.
It was the second time Miller was convicted in the case. After a unanimous jury found him guilty on Sept. 30, 2003, then-Judge Martha Sassone later awarded Miller a new trial months later. The state Supreme Court upheld the decision in March 2006, setting the stage for a second trial.
As Tuesday's verdict was announced shortly before 2 p.m., Miller dropped his head. Outside the Jefferson Parish Courthouse in Gretna, his family cried aloud, accusing the judicial system of corruption.
"All this corruption they do in Jefferson Parish, " Miller's sister Germany Miller screamed repeatedly. "We'll have the last victory. Justice will be done."
"It was a corrupted trial," Miller's aunt Marie Miller said. "It's not fair from the beginning."
They assailed Liljeberg for pressing the jury to continue deliberating despite an impasse and the specter of a hung jury, which would have led to a third trial.
"The judge was putting too much pressure on the jury," Marie Miller said.
No pressure, juror says
But one juror who asked not to be identified "for her safety" said she felt that the judge was fair and that at no time did the jury feel pressured by Liljeberg.
"He did his job, he warned us this is going to be a very difficult process," the juror said. "I can say that on behalf of the entire jury, we never felt pressured, none of us, by the judge, not one."
The jury heard three days of testimony last week. By the time deliberations began Monday morning, nine of the 12 jurors already believed Miller was guilty, one vote short of a legal verdict, the juror said.
In the jury room, the jurors who believed in Miller's guilt tried to convince any of the three others to change their vote, which resulted in "a lot of yelling, a lot of arguing and a couple of people getting violently sick and vomiting," the juror said.
"It definitely took a toll on us," she said.
She said they unanimously discredited the defense's four witnesses because they all placed Miller at different parts of the club, and because none of them showed up in person to testify. Ron Rakosky, Miller's attorney, was forced to use their recorded testimony from Miller's first trial. Most jurors believed that the prosecution "tore them to shreds" upon cross-examination six years ago, she said.
Most jurors also thought the state's two key witnesses, Darnell Jordan and Kenneth Jordan -- who are not related -- were credible. Of the state's 13 witnesses, they were the only ones who testified they saw Miller shoot Thomas.
Kenneth Jordan has a lengthy criminal record, which in the view of some jurors discredited him, the juror said. In deliberation, she said the jury made "some headway" Monday evening as jurors began viewing Kenneth Jordan as more credible because he testified he had not been threatened. Darnell Jordan said he had gone to authorities after an owner of the Platinum Bar told him that Miller had been "riding for him."
"We felt that Kenneth had nothing to gain, nothing to lose from testifying," the juror said.
But the jury's impasse could not be breached Monday evening. They agreed to be sequestered at a hotel overnight in exchange for a break. The tension continued Tuesday morning. The jury's split remained unchanged, the juror said.
The jurors sent out a note telling Liljeberg that one juror had a Bible and was quoting Scripture. That juror fell asleep several times during the trial.
"She wants off this jury and really doesn't seem to be able to handle this process, " according to the note, which Liljeberg read aloud in court while the jury was out of the courtroom.
Liljeberg spoke with three jurors privately in court, including the young college student who had the Bible. He told all of them that Bibles weren't allowed.
"You can use your common sense, but you can't use extraneous factors in making your decision, " Liljeberg told them.
About 50 minutes later, the jury had a verdict: guilty as charged. Rakosky asked to poll the jurors. The vote was 10-2, making it a legal verdict.
But one juror wrote on a slip of paper she had changed her vote "under duress" to end deliberations quicker.
Liljeberg rejected the verdict as illegal. As he had done several times before, he told them they could not change their vote for the sake of expediency in reaching a verdict. And he sent them back to deliberate more.
The move led Rakosky to seek a mistrial, a request Liljeberg denied.
"I don't think I pressured them at all," he told the attorneys.
"If they hang, they hang," he said of a hung jury verdict.
Another one of the holdouts had been stuck on the fact that there were some inconsistencies between the two Jordans' testimonies, and the lack of physical evidence that they could touch and feel, the juror said. The majority of the prosecution's evidence consisted of written documents that the jurors were not allowed to see under state law.
About 1:35 p.m., the jury had reached its verdict. The court polled the jurors. The outcome was a 10-2 vote. The juror who agreed to be interviewed said she did not know which of her colleagues changed their vote.
"The court finds it is, in fact, a legal verdict, " Liljeberg announced.
A deputy immediately placed Miller in handcuffs.
"It was just very long and the process was very stressful, " the juror said. "It was probably one of the hardest things I've had to do in my life because you have two lives on the line there. But when it all came down to it, to the end, I think we definitely came out with the right verdict."
Thomas' parents, Dolores and George Thomas, attended every hearing since the case began.
"Thank God it's all over, " Dolores Thomas said. "Now we can rest, and my baby, too."
George Thomas tearfully fell into embraces from well-wishers and the prosecution team in the courtroom.
"My baby can rest, " he said. "I'm not rejoicing over this. I feel sorry. At least they (Miller's family) can see him. All I got is a grave."
Student idolized rapper
A student at L.W. Higgins High School who worked at a McDonald's, Thomas idolized Miller and his rapper brothers, Percy "Master P" Miller Jr. and Vishonn "Sillk the Shocker" Miller. He fashioned gold teeth from golden ashtrays he got from work, and he hung posters of his rapper heroes in his bedroom, his father testified.
On Jan. 12, 2002, Thomas told his father he was going to see a movie. Using a fake identification, he went to the Platinum Club instead, knowing Miller was there. It was a rap competition, and Thomas performed, according to testimony.
No evidence was presented during the trial for how or why a fight broke out. But Thomas was beaten by a throng of men who wore "CP3" on their hooded sweatshirts, short for Calliope Projects, 3rd Ward, where Miller was raised, according to testimony.
While Thomas lay on his back, pummeled by punches and kicks, Miller fired a single shot into the center of Thomas' chest, the jury found. The .38-caliber class bullet punctured his heart and left lung.
A grandmother's belief
Maxine Miller, the rapper's grandmother and family matriarch who attended most of the court hearings in recent years, defended her grandson, saying "he did not kill that boy."
"I raised all my children in the church, and they want to treat them like criminals, " said Miller, who used the equity in her Kenner home to help Corey Miller post bond and allowed him to be incarcerated in house arrest there.
Miller's father, Percy Miller Sr., was ordered out of the courthouse earlier in the day, after exchanging words with Liljeberg's criminal minute clerk. He did not reappear after the verdict.
Rakosky left the courthouse immediately after the verdict without talking to reporters. He has said several times that Miller has not been able to pay him for his representation and he made a failed bid in April to be removed from the case.
Miller's family members did not respond when asked if they would try to retain Rakosky for an appeal.
Prosecutors stood by the trial's outcome and Miller's chances of overturning it on appeal.
"We feel confident he won't be able to do that," said Assistant District Attorney David Wolff, who led the prosecution. "A just verdict was reached."
Assistant District Attorney Shannon Swaim praised the jurors. "They worked so hard," she said. "They never gave up."
The prosecutors' case rested largely on the testimony of Darnell Jordan and Kenneth Jordan, who were found as far away as Georgia and were arrested in recent weeks to ensure their appearance in court.
Prosecutors and the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office also wrangled with witnesses who refused outright to talk, witnesses who were threatened and witnesses who disappeared, requiring "a tremendous amount of effort" during the past 7 1/2 years to keep the case from falling apart, District Attorney Paul Connick Jr. said.
"Looking back on it, I would have to say this is one of the most difficult cases we've handled from a witness standpoint," said Connick from Connecticut, where he said he is working on an upcoming prosecution. "There were a lot of hurdles. I'm very grateful to the witnesses."
Miller will be sentenced in another case, in Baton Rouge on Aug. 25, for his no-contest plea to two counts of attempted second-degree murder. He tried to shoot a nightclub owner and bouncer in Baton Rouge on Aug. 14, 2001. The plea deal calls for a 10-year sentence, minus the time he has spent in jail and house arrest.
Connick confirmed Tuesday that lawyers in the Baton Rouge case sought in late May to package the plea there with the Jefferson Parish case. He said he turned down the offer, despite the case against Miller in Jefferson teetering on the edge of collapse for a lack of witnesses.
"I just couldn't do it, " Connick said of the offer. "At the time, we hadn't located any of the two witnesses for this trial. I just couldn't go along with such a deal."
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