Teen guilty of murder in Basu case He is also convicted of kidnapping, could get life in prison without parole

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The teen-ager convicted of participating in the Pam Basu slaying, a crime that prompted state and federal officials to toughen carjacking laws, now faces the possibility of spending the rest of his life in prison.

Bernard Eric Miller, 17, of Washington was convicted yesterday of felony murder and six related charges for his role in the Sept. 8 slaying. He can be sentenced to a maximum penalty of life in prison without parole at a hearing in Howard Circuit Court on June 29.

Senior Assistant State's Attorney Michael Rexroad said after the verdict was announced that local and national outcry over the carjacking played only a small role in the pursuit for a conviction.

"You have to relate the verdict to the facts and evidence presented to the jury, not what people across the country thought," Mr. Rexroad said. "We always hope any time there's a successful prosecution, the word 'deterrence' will go out."

Prosecutors are now turning their attention to the trial of co-defendant Rodney Eugene Soloman, 27, of Washington. Described by prosecutors as the leader, he faces the death penalty when he stands trial in Baltimore County in August.

Mr. Rexroad said the Miller trial will have little impact on Mr. Soloman's case because potential jurors biased by the conviction will be weeded out during questioning sessions. Public Defender Carol Hanson, who represents Mr. Soloman, could not be reached for comment.

Some of the half-dozen friends and relatives of Dr. Basu, including her husband, Biswanath "Steve" Basu, flinched when the jury foreman announced that they found Miller guilty of felony murder.

As the verdict was announced, Steve Devare, Dr. Basu's father, sobbed silently, while others fought back their own tears and held each other's hands. The family declined to talk with reporters before they were whisked away from the courthouse in two cars about an hour later.

"The Basu family asked me to extend to everyone their deep appreciation and they're extremely pleased with the verdict," Mr. Rexroad said. "They would like to have time alone. They need time to be by themselves."

Miller, who remained passive as details of Dr. Basu's death were accounted during the trial, sat with his head bowed and his hand to his brow while the jury's foreman listed the guilty verdicts.

He looked back to his mother, Deborah Miller, seated in the gallery, as sheriff deputies cuffed him and led him from the courtroom. Ms. Miller refused to answer reporters' questions as deputies escorted her from the courtroom.

Alone, outside, she was asked if there was anything she wanted to say. Fighting tears, she bowed her head and shook it slowly.

The jury deliberated about 11 1/2 hours between Thursday night and yesterday before finding Miller guilty of felony murder, kidnapping, robbery, attempted theft, assault, battery, and assault with intent to rob. The defendant was found not guilty on additional counts of robbery and kidnapping.

Laurack D. Bray, a Washington attorney for Miller, started talking about appeals and post-conviction motions moments after the jury of seven men and five women announced its verdict.

"We've said all along that he [Miller] was not getting a fair trial," he told reporters. "There were a multitude of improprieties in this trial."

Specifically, Mr. Bray attacked Judge Dennis Sweeney's decision to prevent the jurors from reconsidering the 12 verdicts they reached early Friday morning when they reconvened later yesterday. Mr. Bray wanted the jurors to have the option of

changing their minds.

Mr. Bray, representing Miller for free, maintained that his client had an "innocent presence" during the incidents and was threatened by Mr. Soloman to get into Dr. Basu's stolen BMW. Miller did not testify.

Jurors said they didn't buy that.

The verdict came after eight days of testimony in which prosecutors detailed a "reign of terror" that started with two attempted carjackings and climaxed with the slaying of Dr. Basu. The 34-year-old research chemist was dragged for about two miles to her death after having been forced from her BMW near her Savage home while her young daughter sat in the back seat.

Prosecutors said they believe that Mr. Soloman was the aggressor in the incidents but that he could not have followed through without the participation of Miller.

The trial was highlighted by details of the gruesome crime, eyewitness accounts of the carjacking, and the tearful testimony of Mr. Basu, who told the jurors about the last day of his wife's life.

Prosecutors capped their case with a Basu family video that shows the defendants walking by the Basu's home as Dr. Basu puts her daughter into the BMW to take the girl to her first day of nursery school.

The jury's foreman said the video had little impact. "I don't think it was much help at that stage," said the foreman, who declined to give his name. "There was no doubt that Mr. Miller was there."

For the slaying of Dr. Basu, the jury convicted Miller of felony murder. The charge means that Dr. Basu was slain during the commission of a felony -- the theft of her BMW.

Prosecutors initially charged the defendant with first-degree murder, but decided to pursue the felony murder count. First-degree murder would have required prosecutors to show that Miller used premeditation.

By convicting Miller on felony murder and robbery, the jury did not have to deliver verdicts for assault, battery and theft, according to the judge's instructions.

Miller was also convicted for the kidnapping of Sarina Basu, Dr. Basu's 22-month-old daughter, who was tossed from the 1990 sedan shortly after the carjacking. She was unharmed.

The jurors appeared to be blocked on a kidnapping count involving Dr. Basu, based on several questions for clarifications on the charge the jury passed onto the judge and attorneys in the case. They acquitted Miller of the charge.

Asked why the jurors' deliberations took so long, the foreman said: "I don't want to be specific. We considered all the evidence as carefully as we could."

Another juror added that the panel had to take its time considering all the evidence -- testimony of 40 witnesses and more than 160 exhibits -- for 13 charges against Miller.

The jurors acknowledged that Mr. Bray had a difficult time presenting a defense against a wealth of evidence that was presented in an organized, systematic manner by prosecutors.

"The evidence was overwhelming, and his [Mr. Bray's] job was very difficult," the foreman said.

The brutal crime prompted the government to toughen the punishment for convicted carjackers. Then-President George Bush signed a federal law on Oct. 26, which has resulted in 60 arrests and at least five convictions nationally, said outgoing U.S. Attorney Richard D. Bennett. Earlier this year, Maryland legislators agreed to make carjacking a separate crime with a maximum 30-year prison term.

At least three other states -- Massachusetts, Michigan and Virginia -- and the District of Columbia have laws aimed at the crime. Twenty other states are also considering carjacking laws.

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