Crime

Miller trial in Overland Park triple killing begins Monday with jury selection

F. Glenn Miller Jr. is scheduled to go to trial beginning Aug. 17. He is representing himself in the case.
F. Glenn Miller Jr. is scheduled to go to trial beginning Aug. 17. He is representing himself in the case. tljungblad@kcstar.com

Almost from the moment of his arrest 489 days ago, F. Glenn Miller Jr. has demanded his “day in court.”

That day comes Monday, as the first group of Johnson County residents arrives at the courthouse in Olathe to determine who will be picked as jurors in the county’s first death penalty trial since 2002.

The 12 who are ultimately chosen will be asked to decide if the 74-year-old southern Missouri man is guilty of capital murder in the April 13, 2014, shooting deaths of three people outside the Jewish Community Center and Village Shalom Care Center in Overland Park.

If he is found guilty, the jury will next decide if he should be sentenced to death or life in prison with no parole.

Although death penalty trials are typically among the most complicated criminal prosecutions, Miller’s trial promises to be unusual because he has chosen to represent himself.

That will be a first in a Kansas death penalty trial.

“It’s just a nightmare for a trial judge,” law professor Laurie Levenson said of defendants acting as their own attorneys.

They tend to be unfamiliar with basic courtroom procedures and etiquette, and often have little incentive to follow the rules, said Levenson, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.

Levenson said that while the judge’s job is to ensure a fair trial and maintain order in the courtroom, defendants bent on self-representation are often more concerned with making speeches to jurors or espousing their beliefs without being properly sworn in and subject to cross-examination.

“Judges tend to give them some leeway,” she said. “But he can’t allow him to hijack the trial.”

Miller, who has been prone to arguing with District Judge Kelly Ryan and speaking to people in the courtroom during pretrial hearings, has been warned by Ryan that such outbursts during trial could result from his removal from the courtroom.

That would be well within a judge’s discretion, Levenson said, but like all aspects of a capital murder trial, it would face intense scrutiny from the appellate courts.

“The judge has to show enormous patience,” she said.

Ryan, a 1985 graduate of Washburn University law school, was appointed to the bench in 2008 by Gov. Kathleen Sebelius. He served a stint early in his law career as an assistant district attorney in Johnson County.

Throughout the pretrial process, he has mostly ignored Miller’s attacks on his personal integrity, though at times he has firmly admonished Miller to behave himself.

Miller, also known as Frazier Glenn Cross Jr., is an avowed Nazi and anti-Semite, who for decades has been active in the so-called “White Power” movement. He has sought elective office on a number of occasions.

In an interview with The Kansas City Star last fall after his arrest and in subsequent oral and written statements, Miller has said he was trying to kill Jewish people that day.

However, none of the victims — 53-year-old Terri LaManno, William Corporon, 69, and 14-year-old Reat Underwood — were Jewish.

Miller fired his court-appointed lawyers, in part, he said because they were paid by the government which he has called “my enemy.”

Those three experienced death penalty litigators are now acting as “stand-by” counsel and will be present in the courtroom. But Miller will be conducting his own questioning of potential jurors, and during trial will cross-examine the state’s witnesses and make his own legal arguments.

If he is removed from the courtroom or if he refuses to participate in the trial, Ryan said the stand-by lawyers would then be asked to step in and continue the trial without him.

One of those attorneys, Mark Manna, said that they would pursue a defense much different than the one Miller wants to use.

After a preliminary hearing earlier this year, Miller demanded a speedy trial despite the protests of his then-attorneys who argued that they would need at least a year to prepare an adequate defense.

The judge granted the request, setting the Aug. 17 date. Attorneys said it was the quickest that a death penalty case has gone to trial in the state. Miller is also the oldest person in Kansas to be charged with capital murder.

He is also charged with three counts of attempted first-degree murder, aggravated assault and shooting into an occupied building.

More than 800 potential jurors were mailed lengthy questionnaires earlier this summer. Of those, 200 have been summoned to the courthouse Monday to begin the selection process.

Prosecutors have said they expect jury selection to take about a week.

Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe and Assistant District Attorney Chris McMullin said it will take about a week to present their case in the guilt phase of the trial.

It is not known what evidence and testimony Miller intends to introduce. Ryan has denied his use of a “compelling necessity” defense during the guilty phase.

However, if the trial proceeds to the penalty phase, he would have wide latitude in what type of evidence he could present.

Prosecutors have filed notice that they will seek a death sentence because more than one person was killed and because the killings were “especially heinous, atrocious and cruel.”

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