Legal Ethics

Misconduct in two 1990s death-penalty cases gets ex-prosecutor suspended

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The Oklahoma Supreme Court has suspended a former prosecutor for misconduct in gaining capital murder convictions of two men nearly 20 years ago; the court declined a recommendation by the state bar association that he be disbarred.

Robert Bradley Miller, former assistant district attorney for Oklahoma County, was suspended from practicing law for 180 days and ordered to pay more than $12,800 in court costs, the Associated Press reported. Miller faced a slew of charges by the bar, and the high court winnowed some of them.

A trial panel had recommended a one-year suspension and payment for all costs in the disciplinary proceedings, totaling nearly $62,000, according to the opinion by the Supreme Court of the State of Oklahoma.

Paris Powell and Yancy Douglas were convicted in separate capital trials for the drive-by murder of a 14-year-old girl. In 2006, a federal judge threw out the convictions after ruling that the prosecution’s star witness received a deal from the prosecution that the defense was not told about. The county prosecutor at that time decided not to retry them, and the men—after years on death row—were freed.

Among other transgressions upheld by the state supreme court, Miller had used fake subpoenas to force two minors to become witnesses, a practice the prosecutor’s office used routinely at the time, according to the opinion.

The Oklahoma Bar Association had recommended disbarment for Miller. But the state supreme court majority opinion, by Justice Yvonne Kauger, noted that, “Reprehensible though Miller’s conduct might have been, and even if such misconduct is punished more harshly when it occurs now, Miller’s actions took place decades ago, and it would be unfair to hold him to a harsher standard than he would have been subjected to when his actions took place.”

Two dissenting justices said disbarment was warranted, with Justice Steven Taylor writing that Miller’s actions “take us into the dark, unseen, ugly, shocking nightmare vision of a prosecutor who loves victory more than he loves justice.”

Prior coverage: “Ex-Prosecutor Faces Legal Ethics Case Concerning His Work on 1990s Capital Murder Trials”

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