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Over a three-day preliminary hearing, a judge saw differing portraits of a 14-year-old girl charged with killing her disabled older sister. The defense for Claire Miller argued she is capable of rehabilitation and had experienced a psychotic break when she allegedly stabbed sibling Helen Miller, 19, to death. The prosecution, however, said she had for months expressed a desire to hurt someone. Now Judge David Workman has to decide whether Claire, now 16, has to stay in adult court or move to juvenile court. A ruling is expected to take place July 18, according to WGAL-TV.
Authorties have said that Claire met the police outside of the family’s home in Manheim Township, Pennsylvania early Feb. 22, 2021. Her hands and pants were allegedly covered in blood as she told officers she stabbed her sister. Manheim Township police officer John Martin testified Tuesday that the 14-year-old asked officers about getting her breakfast.
“Oooh, McDonalds,” she said, according to the officer’s testimony (which was in turn reported by the website PennLive). “I would have killed someone sooner if I knew I was going to get McDonalds.”
Martin said he watched her in a juvenile detention cell, but she did not, in the outlet’s phrasing, “appear distraught, sad or upset.” Miller began talking about horror movies after the officer’s phone played the theme from the 1978 slasher movie “Halloween” as a text notification.
“I Michael Myers’ed my sister,” Miller allegedly said.
Dr. Wayne Ross reportedly testified to Helen being stabbed seven times: two times in the chest, two times in the jaw, and three times in the neck.
Police found a knife in the 19-year-old’s neck. She was wheelchair-bound from cerebral palsy. Authorities said the killing began as Helen was sleeping.
Claire Miller is charged with criminal homicide, and such cases go to adult court as a default in Pennsylvania. The defense has to petition for a transfer to juvenile court, where the focus is more on rehabilitation and less on punishment.
Between the prosecution and defense, the judge heard conflicting accounts about Claire Miller, who was described as a gifted, award-winning student who served as class president. Indeed, her parents testified on her behalf.
“We love both of them,” mother Marie Miller testified, according to WGAL. “I know Claire did not mean to do this. We lost Helen and we don’t want to lose Claire too. We don’t want her to be punished, not get help and be put away for a long period for something that was out of her control. We can’t lose her too.”
The mother described the defendant as a caring sister.
“Helen had times she was in pain,” Marie Miller said. “Claire did all she could to help Helen feel better.”
Psychiatrists Aneela Khan and Susan Rushing testified that the defendant lived with auditory hallucinations which told her to cut her own throat the night of her sister’s death. They diagnosed her with major depressive disorder, anxiety, and psychosis. The doctors attributed the diagnoses to stress from gender dysphoria, bullying, and the COVID-19 pandemic. Claire attempt to cut herself on the neck, then she attempted stabbing the hallucination until her sister’s blood snapped her out of it, Rushing said.
The defendant was in psychosis and her brain had yet to fully develop, Rushing testified.
“Even our best and brightest children have demons,” defense lawyer Robert Beyer said, according to WGAL. “We need to deal with them.”
Prosecutors presented a different picture of the teenager. They highlighted evidence that indicated long-term homicidal ideations and the lack of a psychotic break. Citing thousands of texts, the state maintained Claire for months expressed the desire to hurt someone.
Miller was “a kid who had it all but was obsessed with homicide,” prosecutor Amy Muller said, according to WGAL.
The prosecutor did say that Claire loved Helen, but that the 19-year-old was described as an easy target who could not fight back.
Forensic psychiatrist John O’Brien, who testified for the state, said he could not reach a diagnosis for defendant Miller. She had mild symptoms, which were not unusual for teenagers. He mentioned how prison medical providers described the 14-year-old as normal, contrasting with the defense’s position.
“She described gasping for air, talking about her hallucinations and was upset and anxious and tearful,” O’Brien said. “There was a night and day difference between Rushing and personnel at the prison.”
He said it was unclear where the defendant would respond to treatment. It was unclear if the way she acted was how she is, or the way she was presented herself, he said.
“The ability to define the diagnosis guides the treatment,” he said.
Several police officers testified that Miller occasionally cried after Helen’s death, though she seemed calm, and not paranoid or frantic, according to PennLive. She was responsive and cooperative, the authorities said.
[Booking photo via Manheim Township Police Department]
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