Jury is targeted in Mills case

By Renee Brown, The Times-Reporter
Posted 5/14/2008

Attorneys for Marsha Mills have underscored potential issues involving five jurors, adding to their list of reasons why Mills should be released from prison and granted a new trial.

A document citing the juror issues was filed in Tuscarawas County Common Pleas Court at New Philadelphia as an addendumatothe14-point petition for post-conviction relief filed last month.

A hearing has been requested but not scheduled.

Prosecutors have until May 22 to file a response to the 15 claims for relief.

Mills, 57, of Dover was convicted last June after an investigation into the May 2006 death of Noah A. Shoup, 2, of New Philadelphia. Mills was the toddler's baby-sitter.

She was found guilty by a seven-man, five-woman jury of murder, felonious assault and child endangering and is serving a life sentence with parole eligibility after 15 years are served.

Mills now is represented by attorneys from the law firm of Kravitz, Brown & Dortch LLC of Columbus.

According to the newest filing, her attorneys contend that Mills' constitutional rights were violated because her trial attorneys ­ Public Defender Gerald A. Latanich and Assistant Public Defender Amanda Miller ­ failed to ask pertinent questions of at least five of the jurors, who eventually voted to convict Mills. Answers to those questions could have resulted in one or more of those jurors being excused.

­ One male juror indicated on his questionnaire that he worked for the same company as Shoup's mother, but no questions beyond whether he knew the woman were asked.

­ One female juror said she worked with Assistant County Prosecutor Michael Ernest's mother. Mills' trial attorneys requested that juror be removed for cause but when she wasn't, no further attempts to keep the woman off the jury were made.

­ Ernest had been a student of one male juror, but no questions about the relationship were asked.

­ One male juror indicated he'd had a conversation with a friend who knew the Shoup family but the man was not asked what he was told by this friend regarding the Shoups.

­ One male juror failed to answer the question on the questionnaire as to whether he was related to or had any close friends in law enforcement, but trial counsel did not ask any questions relating to that omission. Mills' attorneys claim that juror has a relative who is employed by the New Philadelphia Police Department.

Some information on the jurors came to light after Judge Elizabeth Lehigh Thomakos last month unsealed the special questionnaires completed by potential Mills jurors before jury selection. She had sealed them before the trial started. Other information was garnered from the typical questionnaires completed by each potential juror in every case.

County prosecutors maintain the boy died a violent death, while the defense claims he died after falling down a short flight of outside steps onto concrete.

A direct appeal of the conviction and life prison sentence is pending before the 5th District Court of Appeals at Canton and will be argued June 17.