OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The Oklahoma Supreme Court on Tuesday suspended a former Oklahoma County prosecutor for his misconduct in two separate murder trials nearly 20 years ago that eventually led to the release of two convicted killers from death row.
In a 5-2 decision, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ordered attorney Robert Bradley Miller be suspended for 180 days and pay more than $12,800 in court costs. The penalty was a reduction from a recommendation of a trial panel that Miller be suspended for one year and ordered to pay $61,920 for the costs of the trial panel proceedings.
The Oklahoma Bar Association charged Miller with five counts of professional misconduct for his handling of the prosecution of two reputed gang members for the 1993 drive-by shooting death of a 14-year-old girl in south Oklahoma City. Paris Powell and Yancy Douglas both were convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to die for the killing of Shauna Farrow. They also received life sentences for shooting a second person, Derrick Smith, who prosecutors have alleged was a rival gang member and the intended target.
But a federal judge dismissed the men’s convictions in 2006 after ruling that the key witness in their cases, Smith, received a deal from prosecutors that was never disclosed to the defense.
In its decision on Tuesday, the Oklahoma Supreme Court found that Miller abused the subpoena process to force witnesses to cooperate, failed to disclose evidence to the defense and even obstructed the defense’s access to evidence.
“Reprehensible though Miller’s conduct may 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,” Justice Yvonne Kauger wrote in the court’s majority opinion.
A telephone message left with Miller on Tuesday was not returned, and his attorney, Murray Abowitz, declined to comment on the court’s ruling.
While the majority of the state’s highest court agreed to the 180-day suspension, Justice Steven Taylor wrote in a dissenting opinion that Miller should have been disbarred, an opinion joined by Justice Joseph Watt.
“Whether it was ‘decades ago’ or today, no attorney should ever commit he ‘reprehensible’ conduct in death penalty (or any other) litigation as detailed in the majority opinion and trial panel report,” Taylor wrote. “The actions of the respondent take us into the dark, unseen, ugly, shocking nightmare vision of a prosecutor who loves victory more than he loves justice.”
Miller was an assistant district attorney under the late Bob Macy, a law-and-order prosecutor known for his aggressive pursuit of the death penalty who won 54 death sentences during his 21-year career.
Both Powell and Douglas are free men today, although both have had run-ins with the law since their release. Powell was acquitted of rape and kidnapping in 2011, and Douglas currently is facing charges of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, possession of a firearm, and obstructing a police officer.
Oklahoma County’s current District Attorney David Prater declined to comment on the allegations made against Miller, but he said was not surprised that both the trial panel and Oklahoma Supreme Court determined the witnesses in the original case unreliable.