Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Court Ruling Could Spare Jacksonville Killer's Life Man Who Shot Store Guard Has IQ of 64

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Court Ruling Could Spare Jacksonville Killer's Life Man Who Shot Store Guard Has IQ of 64

Article excerpt

Byline: Jim Saunders, Times-Union staff writer

TALLAHASSEE -- When Willie B. Miller robbed a Northwest Jacksonville grocery store in 1993, he fatally shot a security guard in the face and made off with $40.

Duval County juries twice called for the execution of Miller, who sits on Death Row at Florida's Union Correctional Institution.

But after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last week that executing mentally retarded people is unconstitutional, Miller -- who has an IQ of 64 -- could be spared death by lethal injection.

Miller could be one of the first Death Row inmates in Florida affected by the ruling, which is expected to touch off a surge of appeals from convicted murderers. The Florida Supreme Court already heard arguments this month about whether Miller should be executed because of his mental capacity and now can use the ruling from the nation's highest court in deciding the case.

Refik Eler, a Jacksonville attorney who represented Miller in a 2001 sentencing hearing, said he thinks the ruling should spare Miller from execution. Eler described Miller, 42, as "childlike" and said he meets the U.S. Supreme Court's criteria for being considered mentally retarded.

"We argued that it would be like executing a child," Eler said.

But Assistant State Attorney Steve Bledsoe, who prosecuted the case, called the crime a "vicious killing." He described Miller as being "borderline" mentally retarded and said he should remain sentenced to death.

"This individual, in my view, is not retarded," Bledsoe said.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruling, issued in a Virginia case, said that executing mentally retarded people violates the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment. But justices did not give detailed standards to states about how to put the ruling in place.

Florida last year banned executing mentally retarded people, but the ban did not affect inmates, such as Miller, who were sentenced before the law took effect. Generally, people with IQs below 70 are considered mentally retarded, but the ban also requires inmates to show that they had below-average academic performance before age 18 and problems such as an inability to live alone and hold jobs. …

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