After hearing lawyers characterize Bernard Eric Miller as either a brutal killer or an innocent onlooker in the Pam Basu carjacking murder, jurors reached a verdict on all but one count, deciding to return this morning to deliberate further on the final charge.
The Howard County jury of seven men and five women, which began deliberations in the trial about 3:45 p.m., finally packed it in for the night at 2:07 this morning. They told the judge they had not been able to decide on the kidnapping charge and were instructed to return at 11 this morning. After the jurors signed the 12 verdicts, the judge sealed them and told them not to deliberate with each other or to discuss the case with anyone.
At 11:30 p.m., Judge Dennis M. Sweeney had called the attorneys back into the courtroom to debate how to respond to a question from the jury. Jurors sought clarification on the meaning, in the judge's instructions, of "intent to kidnap." The 13 charges against the defendant include two kidnapping counts.
The jurors also asked how long deliberations should continue before they break off for the night. Judge Sweeney told them they should decide that for themselves and report back to him. They also asked how long they should deliberate on a particular charge before they consider themselves deadlocked.
Then at 12:37 a.m., Judge Sweeney called the jurors to answer their request for clarification on the meaning of "intent" in the kidnapping charges. Intent, he said, means a defendant acted with a will to do a given criminal act. It is an act done consciously and voluntarily, not inadvertently or accidentally, he said.
The state's position, he told the jury, is that the defendant aided and abetted in the kidnapping.
Mr. Miller was a full participant, Senior Assistant State's Attorney Michael Rexroad had told the jury during an hourlong closing argument. "But for the defendant, Bernard Miller, [Dr. Basu] would still be with us today," he said.
The attorney for Mr. Miller maintained that the 17-year-old is innocent of felony murder and 12 related charges, saying he was at "the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong person."
About 10 relatives and friends of Dr. Basu were in court during closing arguments and waited into the evening for a verdict. Manas Basu, older brother of the victim's husband, Biswanath "Steve" Basu, said the trial has taken "an emotional toll" on the family. Deborah Miller, the defendant's mother, also was present.
Mr. Miller is one of two men charged in the Sept. 8 slaying of Dr. Basu, a 34-year-old research chemist who was dragged to her death after being forced from her BMW at an intersection near her home in Savage. Mr. Miller, charged as an adult, faces a maximum sentence of life in prison without parole if convicted.
Co-defendant Rodney Eugene Soloman, 27, of Washington, faces the death penalty. His case was moved to Baltimore County, where he stands trial Aug. 2.
About 7 p.m., the jury requested an audiotape of the testimony of a woman who said the defendants attempted to steal her car shortly before the Basu carjacking. After consulting with attorneys, the judge denied the request and instructed jurors to rely on memories and notes.
Mr. Rexroad said the defendants worked in a "concert of action" during two attempted strong-arm robberies and then the carjacking murder of Dr. Basu. The prosecutor said Mr. Soloman initiated the crimes, and Mr. Miller joined him.
Laurack D. Bray, the Washington attorney representing Mr. Miller, acknowledged that his client was present but said he had no role in the crimes.
"The only intention he had was to ride with Mr. Soloman to Baltimore," Mr. Bray said during his 70-minute closing argument. "He got wrapped up in a plan that caused him serious problems."
During his closing argument, Mr. Rexroad summarized his case:
Mr. Miller and Mr. Soloman were traveling to Baltimore with friends when their car ran out of gas along Interstate 95. The group separated, with Mr. Miller and Mr. Soloman going to search for fuel.
The men went to a rest area along I-95, where they confronted Grace Lagana of Laurel, Mr. Rexroad said. After Mr. Soloman failed to steal her car, the two men fled, he said.
In the Bolling Brook neighborhood in Savage, they confronted Laura Becraft, Mr. Rexroad said. Mr. Soloman grabbed her and demanded the keys to her minivan as Mr. Miller stood by, Ms. Becraft said. When she refused and yelled, the men fled.
"Does it end there?" Mr. Rexroad questioned. "I wish to God it did end there. But they left that area."
The men ended up on Horsham Drive, where they were captured on video by Mr. Basu as he taped his wife putting their young daughter into their automobile.
The video, seen by jurors Wednesday, shows Mr. Soloman and Mr. Miller walking by the Basu home moments before they confronted Dr. Basu at an intersection a block away. Mr. Rexroad asked the jurors to study the video to appreciate the tragedy that it displays.
Mr. Bray disputed the prosecution's case during his closing statement. He asked jurors to dismiss the testimony of several witnesses because of inconsistencies.
One man said the defendants approached Dr. Basu from different points, while the other said they were standing at the car together. One man said Mr. Soloman was shirtless; the other said he was wearing a shirt, Mr. Bray said.
Mr. Bray also targeted the testimony of Ms. Lagana. He noted she initially told police Mr. Miller pushed her aside as he went to the car. But when she testified, she said that the defendant "threw" her to the ground.
The defense attorney asked the jurors to acquit his client because he is not guilty of the charges. Mr. Miller joined Mr. Soloman in the Basu vehicle because the co-defendant threatened him and ordered him into the car, he said. "This boy is not that type of person to go around assaulting people," the attorney said.