On the day his jury trial was scheduled to begin, an accused street-level drug dealer, whom police had described as a wanted felon on the run, changed his plea to guilty.
Rorie Christopher Miller, 32, entered into a last-minute plea deal Tuesday in Juneau Superior Court before Judge Louis Menendez.
Miller agreed to plead guilty to two felony drugs charges — second-degree drug misconduct for dealing two oxycodone pills to an undercover police informant behind Glacier Cinemas on Jan. 19, 2010, and to fourth-degree drug misconduct for knowingly possessing heroin, methamphetamine and marijuana when he was arrested on July 8, 2010.
Miller successfully avoided police on three separate occasions before he was arrested on an outstanding warrant at the Eaglewood Apartments on Renninger Street two years ago, police said. He was wanted for violating parole, police said in a release at the time.
According to court documents and testimony, when Miller was confronted at the apartment on July 8, he ran and led police on a foot chase. After being shot with a stun gun three times, officers caught up with him and placed him in handcuffs.
But when Miller didn’t say a word after being arrested, police suspected he had something in his mouth, according to police testimony. Attempts to get Miller to open his mouth were unsuccessful until he was taken to the hospital, where plastic bags of narcotics were removed from his mouth.
Prosecutors said the bags contained a relatively small amount of drugs — 1.9 grams of heroin, 1 gram of methamphetamine and a small bag of marijuana.
Defense attorney Natasha Norris had argued in hearings leading up to trial that police were overzealous in their actions, from the multiple stun gun shots to trying to forcibly remove the drugs from Miller’s mouth.
On Tuesday, Miller pleaded guilty to tampering with evidence, a felony, for trying to swallow the drugs. He additionally admitted to violating conditions of parole from a 2002 robbery/weapons misconduct conviction.
In exchange, the plea deal dismisses a felony perjury charge against him for allegedly testifying during a recent evidentiary hearing that a police officer choked him to get the drugs out of his mouth.
The plea agreement also dismissed a felony third-degree drug misconduct charge, as well as a felony charge for failure to stop at the direction of a peace officer and a misdemeanor reckless driving charge.
Assistant District Attorney Angie Kemp said the sentencing would be open to the court. Kemp and Norris told the judge they would submit sentencing recommendations to the court before the sentencing hearing, which Menendez scheduled for Sept. 7.
Miller’s sentence will depend on whether Menendez will find mitigating factors that allow the judge to impose a sentence below the presumptive sentencing ranges, and any aggravators that allow the judge to enhance the sentence above the presumptive ranges.
But potentially, Miller could face up to 35 years in prison, or more if he finds any aggravators.
Broken down by charge, Miller could face a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison for the second-degree drug misconduct charge he pleaded guilty to. That’s a class ‘A’ felony, and because Miller has three prior felonies, the presumptive sentencing range for that offense is 15 to 20 years.
The maximum penalty for the fourth-degree drug misconduct charge and tampering with evidence, both class ‘C’ felonies, is up to five years in prison for each charge. The presumptive sentencing term for that offense for Miller is three to five years.
The judge could also impose up to five years in suspended jail time for violating conditions of his release from Miller’s previous convictions.
When Miller was 22, he was convicted of second-degree robbery in 2002 for holding up homeowners in Douglas at gunpoint and taking their money on Dec. 16, 2001, according to Empire archives. Police at the time called it a drug-related armed robbery. No one was reported injured in the incident.
Now-retired Juneau Superior Court Judge Patricia Collins sentenced Miller to serve eight years for the holdup with four years suspended.
Menendez can impose any, or all of that suspended time — four years — during Miller’s upcoming sentencing hearing.
Menendez can also impose one year in suspended jail time from a third-degree weapons misconduct conviction in 2002, stemming from the same Dec. 16, 2001, offense.
For the weapons conviction, Collins had sentenced Miller to three years in prison with one year suspended.
During Tuesday’s hearing, Miller seemed at times reluctant to enter into the plea agreement. He buried his head in his hands, laid his head on the table and answered routine questions with “Sure” and “Yeah,” instead of “Yes” or “No.”
At one point, Miller reached for tissues and appeared to be wiping tears away.
“Do you want to take a moment, sir?” Menendez asked.
“I’m fine,” Miller said.
When the judge asked if anyone was making any promises in order to coerce Miller to enter into the plea agreement, Miller responded, “Yeah, the D.A.’s stacking charges against me. I gotta say it, you know?”
Menendez paused, then asked, “I’ll ask very directly: Is this plea the result of any force or threats or any promises apart from the plea agreement?”
Outside the courtroom, Norris emphasized even though police had described Miller as armed and dangerous at the time, there were no weapons involved in the crimes in which Miller was charged and to which he pleaded guilty.
“He had no weapons on him,” Norris stressed. “These are drug crimes.”
Norris said Miller never fought police — he just ran away because “he didn’t want to go back to jail,” Norris said.
After the hearing, Miller’s mother, Maria Miller, said she wanted to see her son get better, and to treat his drug addiction. She said it all started when he ran away from a halfway house and didn’t show up at the probation office.
She said he’s “not the monster” he was portrayed to be.
“I just want people to know that he’s the son of someone,” Maria Miller said. “... People do make mistakes. ... Everybody deserves a second chance.”
• Contact reporter Emily Russo Miller at 523-2263 or at email@example.com.