Facing a first-degree murder charge and its accompanying mandatory life in prison without parole charge, defendant David Miller was found guilty on Wednesday of a lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter.
The jury in Miller’s case announced its verdict at around 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday. The defense had rested Monday without calling any witnesses.
The Code of Iowa offers this definition for voluntary manslaughter (Section 707.4):
“A person commits voluntary manslaughter when that person causes the death of another person, under circumstances which would otherwise be murder, if the person causing the death acts solely as the result of sudden, violent, and irresistible passion resulting from serious provocation sufficient to excite such passion in a person and there is not an interval between the provocation and the killing in which a person of ordinary reason and temperament would regain control and suppress the impulse to kill. Voluntary manslaughter is an included offense under an indictment for murder in the first or second degree. Voluntary manslaughter is a class “C” felony.”
Under Iowa law, Class C felonies have a maximum 10-year prison sentence and a $10,000 fine.
The jury also found Miller guilty of two counts of second degree theft, a Class D felony punishable by up to five years in prison.
A sentencing hearing will be scheduled at a later date.
“Questions we couldn’t answer”
Benton County Attorney David Thompson said he was disappointed that the jury did not return a verdict of murder, but complimented the jurors on their attentiveness during the trial and their hard work on the case.
“They had questions we couldn’t answer,” he said. “They wanted a time of death, and we couldn’t provide one.”
During testimony, Dr. Michele Catellier of the Iowa DCI lab in Ankeny testified that despite what crime TV shows seem to imply, it is impossible to determine an exact time of death during an autopsy.
Also, some of the items sent for lab analysis came back with no specific results; other items collected were not tested at the DCI lab in Ankeny, Thompson said.
“That’s how our system works,” said Thompson, adding that the jury did find that Miller did, in fact, cause the death of Sabrina Hustad Janish by stabbing and/or strangling her.
Thompson also praised those who testified at trial, as well as the officers and investigators who worked on the case.
Sentencing to take place at a later date
Sentencing hearings typically take at least six weeks, says Thompson. But in this case, with more for the court to review, it may be two months or more before District Judge Ian Thornhill orders the defendant to appear for sentencing.
Thompson said that as a habitual violator with two or more felony convictions on his record (Miller was released on parole for a burglary conviction 10 days before the killing of Janish), Miller could face a 15-year sentence for each conviction, one for the manslaughter and one for each of the vehicle theft convictions. And, those sentences could be ordered as consecutive, meaning the defendant has to serve one before serving the next sentence, or concurrently, which allow him to serve them at the same time, effectively shortening the time he spends in prison.
Those habitual offender convictions include a 3-year minimum. Miller could also be sentenced to serve the rest of the sentence on which he was paroled in October of 2015.
“I wish we could tell Sabrina’s family that the defendant will spend ‘X’ years in prison,” Thompson said. “But we can’t. But we do know that he will spend a number of years in prison.”