Irving: Hill wants death penalty for man whose '86 verdict was reversed
09:21 PM CDT on Friday, July 8, 2005

By ROBERT THARP / The Dallas Morning News

Less than a month after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned celebrated death row inmate Thomas Miller-El's murder conviction, District Attorney Bill Hill announced Friday that he plans to retry the case and will seek the death penalty.

Mr. Hill appointed veteran felony prosecutor Pat Kirlin to take over the nearly 20-year-old case. A trial date has not been set.

Although the high court found that prosecutors in Mr. Miller-El's 1986 trial had unfairly excluded minority jurors, Mr. Hill said in a prepared statement that a new trial is necessary because the facts of the case have never been disputed.

"His guilt of this heinous crime is not in question," he said.

Mr. Kirlin was unavailable for comment Friday.

Jim Marcus of the Texas Defender Service, one of the lawyers handling Mr. Miller-El's appeal, declined to comment in detail about the case now that prosecutors have decided to retry it. He was critical of Mr. Hill's comments.

"Mr. Miller-El is innocent until proven guilty in a constitutionally fair trial," he said. "To the extent that the Dallas district attorney's office is commenting on his guilt prior to his trial, they are violating the rules of ethics that govern prosecutors and are seeking an unfair advantage by attempting to taint the jury pool."

The six justices who overturned Mr. Miller-El's conviction found that Dallas County prosecutors had used a variety of techniques to make sure minorities were not selected to serve as jurors. The ruling was also critical of two earlier lower court opinions for disregarding "clear and convincing evidence" that prosecutors had discriminated during jury selection.

The justices ruled that prosecutors had treated black and white potential jurors differently when they gave the same answers to questions about criminal justice and their values. The justices also cited prosecutors' practice of shuffling the order of the jury pool to push blacks to the back of the group and make it less likely that they would be selected. Prosecutors ultimately struck 10 of 11 eligible black jurors.

At the time of the trial, a 20-year-old jury selection manual was still in circulation among prosecutors. The manual offered tips on jury selection and advised prosecutors to keep minorities off juries.

The jury in Mr. Miller-El's trial ultimately convicted him of murdering Douglas Walker, a night clerk at an Irving Holiday Inn, during a November 1985 robbery. Mr. Walker and co-worker Donald Ray Hall were bound, gagged and shot during the robbery.

During the trial, Mr. Hall, who was paralyzed in the shooting, and Mr. Miller-El's accomplice identified Mr. Miller-El as the triggerman in the shooting.

Reading from a prepared statement, Mr. Hill stressed Friday that he was not district attorney at the time of Mr. Miller-El's first trial and that the methods of selecting juries and other trial practices have changed since then.

"Miller-El's original trial took place 13 years before I assumed office as district attorney," he said. "I cannot speculate as to the motivations of the prosecutors who tried this case."

About 40 minority prosecutors stood behind Mr. Hill during the Friday afternoon news conference, during which he also stressed that his office is committed to fairness.

"Despite this sobering reality, the fact remains that we as a community and we as a district attorney's office have come far in making unlawful bias and discrimination a thing of the past," he said.



MICHAEL MULVEY/DMN Dallas County District Attorney Bill Hill announced Friday that he would retry Thomas Miller-El in the 1985 shooting death of a hotel clerk in Irving.

Nov. 16, 1985: Douglas Walker a 25-year-old clerk, dies from a gunshot wound to the back after being bound and gagged during an early morning robbery at a Holiday Inn near Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. A co-worker, Donald Ray Hall, 29, survives the shooting but is left paralyzed.

Nov. 20, 1985: Thomas Joe Miller-El is arrested after a shootout in Houston.

Nov. 22, 1985: Dorothy Miller-El, his wife and a former worker at the hotel, and Kennard Sonny Flowers are arrested in the robbery-murder.

December 1985: Mr. Miller-El is indicted on a charge of capital murder after Mr. Flowers agrees to testify against him.

March 1986: During jury selection, a judge denies a defense motion to quash the jury after prosecutors used their peremptory strikes to eliminate 10 of 11 eligible black jurors. The seated jury includes nine Anglos, one black, one Hispanic and one Filipino. During the trial, Mr. Hall identifies Mr. Miller-El as the shooter. Mr. Miller-El is sentenced to die by injection.

April 1986: The U.S. Supreme Court bars race bias in jury selection nationwide in the landmark case of Batson vs. Kentucky. It cites a study by The Dallas Morning News that shows the near-total exclusion of eligible black jurors by the Dallas County district attorney's office.

September 1986: Mrs. Miller-El is convicted of murder and attempted capital murder by a jury and receives two consecutive life sentences for helping her husband in the hotel robbery. Those sentences are later reduced to 15 years each.

March 1988: The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals orders hearings in Dallas to decide whether prosecutors used race bias in excluding eligible black jurors in Mr. Miller-El's trial. Two months later, the trial judge rules that he has found no racial motive on the part of prosecutors.

November 1992: The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals upholds Mr. Miller-El's capital murder conviction.

November 1992: Mrs. Miller-El is paroled from prison for her role in the robbery and murder.

February 2002: Mr. Miller-El's appeals attorneys persuade the U.S. Supreme Court to stay his execution while the justices hear arguments on the issue of race bias in jury selection.

February 2003: In an 8-1 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court orders the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to reconsider Mr. Miller-El's appeal after citing evidence that the Dallas County district attorney's office in 1986 was "suffused with bias."

December 2004: For the second time, the U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments on whether Mr. Miller-El was denied a fair trial because eligible black jurors were discriminated against and barred from the jury in his death penalty trial.

June 13, 2005: The Supreme Court reverses Mr. Miller-El's conviction and orders a new trial.

July 8, 2005: Dallas County District Attorney Bill Hill announces that Mr. Miller-El will be tried. He says the office will seek the death penalty.

Tim Wyatt