Judge gives Justin Miller maximum sentence for Mercedes Lain murder

KNOX — obnoxious. Horrible. Horrible. Unspeakable. Difficult to understand.

These are the words Starke Circuit Court Judge Kim Hall used to describe the murder of Mercedes Lain, 11 months at the hands of Justin Miller before sentencing him on Tuesday to 65 years in prison.

“What you did that day when you killed that baby was as bad an act as a human being could do,” Hall said.

As Hall delivered sentence and Miller was led away, members of Mercedes’ family wept and huddled in the courtroom gallery.

Miller, 37, pleaded guilty to kill the child last month in a deal that saw prosecutors reject a repeat offender enhancement, which could have added up to 20 years to his sentence.

After hearing testimony from detectives from the Plymouth Police Department and the FBI – who explained how Miller initially lied to police about Mercedes’ whereabouts before eventually showing investigators where he left the baby body in starke county “Hall agreed to the deal and sentenced Miller.

Mercedes Lain's grandmother, Angie Owens, left, and her aunt, Stacy Milton, speak during a press conference outside Plymouth Police Department on Tuesday August 17, 2021.

Tami Napier, a special assistant prosecutor handling the case, asked for the maximum sentence for Miller, noting the brutality of the crime and how he repeatedly lied to investigators.

“It was not a quick and painless situation. This was a vicious, sustained and brutal attack on a 10 month old child,” she said.

Following:Mercedes Lain’s babysitter pleads guilty to murder in toddler’s death in Plymouth

Alexander Hoover, an attorney representing Miller, argued that without Miller’s eventual cooperation, investigators would not have found Mercedes’ body, giving the family some closure. He also noted how quickly Miller pleaded guilty to the offense.

Ultimately, Hall said, the fact that Mercedes was less than a year old and dependent on Miller to care for her led him to issue the 65-year-old warrant.

The search for Mercedes

Mercedes’ parents met Miller at a motel in Plymouth on August 12 and gave him the baby to hold so they “could take a break”, according to court documents.

The child’s father, Kenneth Lain, was initially in touch with Miller via text, but Miller stopped responding on August 14. The next day, Lain contacted Plymouth Police to file a missing person report for her daughter, according to court documents. A silver alert was issued that night and the search for Mercedes began, with agents from multiple Marshall County agencies and the FBI involved.

Police arrested Miller early in the morning of August 16 in Starke County. Police also arrested Lain and Tiffany Coburn, Mercedes’ mother, and both now face child neglect charges.

Detective Ben McIntyre testified Tuesday that Miller was initially evasive about Mercedes’ whereabouts, saying he dropped the baby off with a woman at a motel in Plymouth.

Eventually, police learned that Miller had been staying at his girlfriend’s apartment in Mishawaka the night of August 13, with Miller and Mercedes sleeping on a futon in one room and his girlfriend in a separate bedroom.

FBI agent Tim Freel testified that Miller and his girlfriend had an argument and at some point during the night Miller’s girlfriend went to Miller’s bedroom to argue, waking Mercedes.

Sometime in the early morning of August 14, Miller punched Mercedes multiple times, causing what McIntyre called “excessive and quite senseless” injuries, including extensive bruising, brain hemorrhages, cuts and swelling of the eyes , cheeks and mouth. and the chin.

Miller eventually led investigators to the Starke County area near the intersection of County Roads 1025 East and 50 North, where he wrapped Mercedes’ body in a pink blanket and covered the site with trash, including including a broken porcelain toilet seat.

Police also said they found a number of items in Miller’s car with his and Mercedes’ blood on them.

After law enforcement’s testimony, Mercedes’ grandmother, Angela Owens, spoke out, saying Miller “took everything” from the child he was supposed to care for.

“The rest of our lives are now hell, so why shouldn’t yours be?” she said, addressing Miller from the back of the courtroom.

Miller stared straight ahead as he read her statement.

Miller’s wife, who said she is currently filing for divorce, spoke briefly on his behalf saying he had never been violent before.

“I just don’t understand why this happened,” she said. “That poor baby, she didn’t deserve this.”

Kenneth Lain and Tiffany Coburn are due to be heard this week on child neglect charges. Lain intends to file a plea agreement, records show.

Email Marek Mazurek at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter: @marek_mazurek

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