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Criminal history snares 'street hustler' with 20-year sentence

Posted: March 18, 2014 - 11:01pm
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Rorie Christopher Miller, 34, enters Juneau Superior Court for sentencing on drug-related charges on Friday.  Michael Penn | Juneau Empire
Michael Penn | Juneau Empire
Rorie Christopher Miller, 34, enters Juneau Superior Court for sentencing on drug-related charges on Friday.

Rorie Christopher Miller’s past came back to haunt him Friday in Juneau Superior Court when he was sentenced to serve 20 years in prison for dealing small amounts of drugs and a variety of other offenses.

The 34-year-old Juneau resident has three prior felonies, two of which relate to committing two armed robberies 12 years ago. Those priors placed him in a presumptive sentencing range of 15 to 20 years to serve for a felony case wherein he sold a few Oxycontin pills to an undercover police informant in 2010.

“If this was his first felony, it’d be a different story,” Judge Louis Menendez said during the hours-long sentencing hearing.

Miller received 15 years with three years suspended for the 2010 oxy case, plus additional time for involvement in a jailhouse assault, having a visitor bring him drugs into the jail, lying under oath and probation violations from the old robbery cases. The composite sentence is 20 years, but he will likely be out in nine, considering the time he has already served (four years) and Department of Corrections’ mandatory “good time” policy which knocks off time to serve for good behavior in jail.

“It’s like a death,” Miller’s mother Maria Miller told the Empire, weeping in the back of the courtroom. “It’s like losing a son.”

Prosecutors were gunning for 35 years, saying it was necessary to isolate Miller “for as long as possible” to ensure community safety. Assistant District Attorney Angie Kemp said Miller’s criminal history was lengthy and serious and that Miller is a dangerous person.

“From the state’s perspective, everything that Mr. Miller has done demonstrates that he is an anti-social person and a person who will not be rehabilitated,” Assistant District Attorney Angie Kemp said in court.

The defense decried the 35-year request as excessive and indicative of drug policy laws that are “out of control.”

Miller attorney Marcelle McDannel argued Miller wasn’t hurting anyone but himself — his last violent crime was a pair of robberies in 2001. Thirty-five-year sentences should be left for murderers and other violent criminals, she said.

“Mr. Miller’s not even some drug kingpin in Juneau,” McDannel added. “He’s just a street hustler, just trying to maintain his access to drugs and selling in small amounts of drugs so he can buy more drugs. He’s living a marginal lifestyle. He’s a community irritant, but a community irritant does not deserve to be locked up for 35 years and warehoused for the rest of his life.”

Miller has racked up 13 prior criminal convictions as a juvenile and an adult (including burglary, drug misconduct, robbery in the second degree and felony weapons misconduct), which prosecutors argued justified a substantial jail sentence.

According to prosecutors, Miller had his first contact with the juvenile justice system at 15 years old and has been in and out of jail since. As an adult in 1998, he was convicted for dangerous drugs, and in 1999, he was convicted for selling cocaine to undercover informants.

He was sentenced, and while on probation in 2001 participated in two armed robberies. One of them took place on Dec. 16, 2001. Miller, then 22, and two codefendants forced their way into a Douglas apartment brandishing a shotgun and handgun while wearing ski masks. They stole money while holding the guns on the apartment’s two residents, who were not injured.

The second armed robbery involved entering a man’s home, striking him with a gun over the head, and restraining him with duct tape as the co-defendants stole money. Miller received eight years with four suspended for weapons misconduct and being a felon in possession.

Miller had myriad parole and probation violations after he was released from prison. Fast forward to 2010, and Miller was caught selling three-and-a-half Oxy pills to an informant, which prompted a warrant for his arrest. He managed to evade police until May 2010, when an officer spotted him driving on Riverside Drive. Miller again eluded officers after a high-speed car chase.

He was finally located at a Renninger Street house in July 2010 and arrested after police chased him on foot and Tasered him. The arrest was eventful — Miller had drugs in his mouth and refused to give them up. Nurses at Bartlett Regional Hospital had to pry them out of his mouth.

It was a relatively small amount of drugs — 1.9 grams of heroin, 1 gram of methamphetamine and a small bag of marijuana. Miller said police used excessive force in trying to seize the drugs from his person, including jamming a pen in his mouth and restraining him at the hospital, according to his lawyer at that time, Natasha Norris.

Since being incarcerated at Lemon Creek Correctional Center, Miller has been indicted for perjury for testifying at a pre-trial hearing that a police officer punched him as he tried to get the drugs out of Miller’s mouth at the hospital. Prosecutors said that officer was out of town at the time of the incident.

In October 2012, Miller was indicted for assault for breaking a man’s jaw in jail. (The defense noted that the “victim” involved was a neo-Nazi and instigated the assault, and that another inmate was the main aggressor.)

In August 2013, Miller was indicted for promoting contraband for having a woman bring Buprenorphine, a painkiller used to treat opioid addiction, into Lemon Creek Correctional Center. He was placed in a dry hold and re-ingested the evidence afterward, leading him to be charged with tampering with evidence.

Miller has received 25 disciplinary write-ups at LCCC, some for starting a prison gang, the ToonRiders, Kemp said.

Kemp stressed that time and time again, Miller has disobeyed the law and failed to conform his behavior.

The defense, meanwhile, emphasized that except for the robberies — crimes for which Miller has already served his time — all of his criminal activity has been non-violent or involved just small amount of drug sales and possession.

“All of this is really just annoying, harassing, irritating conduct designed by Mr. Miller to maintain his access to drugs because he’s a drug addict who doesn’t want to stop taking drugs,” McDannel said. “But that is not the same as someone who maims, kills or injures someone. ... We need to protect the public with 35-year sentences for people who do real serious damage to other people, not for people who irritate parole (officers) and irritate the police and are pain in the ass in DOC and sold two pills to an undercover C.I.”

The judge, in the end, agreed with prosecutors.

“You’re not going to change, and the only way I can protect society from you — whether it be society in the institution or society in the streets of Juneau — is to isolate you,” Menendez told Miller, who was sitting at the defendant’s table.

When asked if he had anything to say before the sentence was handed down, Miller said he hasn’t touched a gun since the robberies. He added that he loves his family and doesn’t want to be taken away from them forever.

As he was escorted from the courtroom, his mother hugged him and told him she loved him. She said in an interview that her son isn’t the “monster he’s portrayed to be.”

“He’s a good-hearted loving person who happens to have a drug problem,” she said.

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