Letter stirs Mills debate

By Renee Brown, The Times-Reporter
Posted 7/18/2008

The contents of a letter – written out of concern that Marsha Mills may not have received a fair trial – may cause a stir but apparently won’t carry any legal weight.

While Tuscarawas County Common Pleas Court Judge Elizabeth Lehigh Thomakos was on vacation last month, her office received a short letter from a Dover woman who said she had some concerns about how Mills’ murder trial was conducted.

According to the letter, the woman’s concern arose as a result of a conversation she had with the sister of a male juror in the case. The conversation took place while the trial was ongoing in June 2007.

“She told me that (the juror) had told her that he just wanted to find the b---- guilty so he could go back to work,” the letter states.

“I always wondered how this woman could get a fair trial when a juror already felt this way before the trial was even over.”

The woman said she wrote the letter because the comment had been bothering her and she felt the need to tell Thomakos.

“I don’t know if this has any merit toward Marsha Mills getting a retrial, but you have to ask yourself if this was fair towards Mills,” the writer continues.

“I don’t know Marsha Mills, I really don’t know what went on during the trial but if the jury had this kind (of) feelings before the trial was over, maybe she wasn’t judged fair and deserves a new trial.”

Thomakos responded to the woman and had the letter placed in Mills’ criminal case file Tuesday.

The Mills’ trial began on May 30, 2007, and lasted 12 days from the first day of jury selection to June 15, 2007, the day of the verdict. Jurors deliberated a total of five hours before finding Mills guilty of murder, felonious assault and child endangering as a result of the investigation into the May 2006 death of Noah A. Shoup, 2, of New Philadelphia from injuries that occurred as Mills baby-sat him.

Mills, 57, of Dover is serving a life sentence in prison with parole eligibility after 15 years are served.

J. Dean Carro, professor at the University of Akron School of Law, said Wednesday the aliunde rule would prevent Mills’ attorneys from using the letter in her defense.

“That rule essentially states that an individual juror or a group of jurors may not impeach (discredit) their own verdict,” Carro said.

“For example, if there was testimony from the bailiff that he went in and saw them playing cards and choosing how to vote – that’s independent evidence. A juror on his or her own may not impeach the verdict.”

The second hurdle to be overcome, Carro said, is the fact the letter is double hearsay – the writer is telling what she claims to have heard from the sister, who allegedly heard it from the juror.

“Hearsay historically is unreliable,” Carro said.

In her response, Thomakos thanked the writer for her “interest in the administration of justice in your community.” Thomakos also wrote that under law, she is obligated to provide both sides with a copy of the letter and her response.

Mills’ appeal was argued to the 5th District Court of Appeals on June 17. No decision has been made