There was one glaring question raised by Tuesday’s courtroom testimony detailing Brandon Miller’s involvement in the shooting death of a woman last month in Tuscaloosa: Why hasn’t the Alabama basketball star been charged with a crime?
Did Miller merely demonstrate poor judgment the night of the fatal shooting, when he allegedly brought teammate Darius Miles his handgun after Miles texted asking Miller to do so? Or does allegedly delivering the gun used to kill 23-year-old Jamea Jonae Harris potentially make Miller an accessory to murder?
Asked Tuesday by AL.com why Miller hasn’t been charged with a crime, Tuscaloosa chief assistant district attorney Paula Whitley said, “There’s nothing we could charge him with.” Legal experts told Yahoo Sports on Wednesday that statement suggests Whitley and her colleagues lack sufficient evidence to prove that Miller intended to assist in a crime.
“They’re saying they don’t have any evidence that he knew what the gun would be used for,” said Philip Holloway, a Georgia criminal defense attorney who has been following the case. “They would have to prove that when he provided the gun to the third party, he was knowingly participating in some kind of criminal act. If he didn’t know that, and there was nothing else illegal about the transfer of that weapon, then there’s no crime.”
That’s essentially what Miller’s Tuscaloosa-based attorney argued in a statement released Wednesday. Attorney Jim Standridge said that when Miller gave Miles a ride to a Tuscaloosa nightclub on the night of the shooting, Miles brought his handgun and left it hidden under some clothing in the backseat of Miller’s car. Miller “never saw the handgun, nor handled it,” according to Standridge.
Miller, the leading scorer for the second-ranked Crimson Tide and a possible lottery pick in the upcoming NBA draft, was already on his way back to the nightclub to pick up Miles, according to Standridge, when Miles texted asking Miller to bring his gun. By then, Miles and longtime friend Michael Davis had allegedly already encountered Harris and her boyfriend outside the club and gotten into a disagreement. Davis danced in front of Harris’ black Jeep and tried to get her phone number, according to AL.com. Harris’ boyfriend told Davis to move on.
When Miller arrived at the scene, Miles told Davis where the gun was and that there was a round in the chamber. Minutes later, Davis allegedly shot into the victim’s Jeep, striking Harris in the face. Harris' boyfriend, Cedric Johnson, allegedly returned fire, wounding Davis.
Standridge did not dispute that Miller was present when the shooting occurred but said he “never got out of his vehicle or interacted with anyone in Ms. Harris’ party.” Miller “never touched the gun,” according to Standridge, “was not involved in its exchange to Mr. Davis in any way and never knew that illegal activity involving the gun would occur.”
“He had no knowledge of any intent to use any weapon,” Standridge concluded.
Legal experts say Standridge's focus on Miller’s intent is not accidental. According to Alabama law, someone can be found guilty of being an accessory to a crime only if they assist another “with the intent to promote or assist the commission of the offense.”
“He may have made a bad choice doing what he did, but there’s apparently no evidence that he had knowledge of what the gun was going to be used for,” Birmingham-based criminal defense attorney Tommy Spina told Yahoo Sports on Wednesday. “Can they prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he had a specific intent to aid and abet in the death of this young lady? I think they think they can’t, and that’s why they didn’t charge him.”
A judge ruled Tuesday that there was enough evidence to indict Miles and Davis on charges of capital murder. Miller has conducted multiple interviews with investigators and has voluntarily granted them access to his phone and his vehicle, according to his attorney, but he so far has been treated like a witness.
The revelation that Miller is entangled in the fatal shooting of Harris has brought more attention to the incident. Not only is Miller the best player on an Alabama team that is 24-4 and poised to secure a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament next month, the 6-foot-9 freshman might also be the best NBA prospect playing college basketball this season.
Miller has started every Alabama game since the Jan. 15 shooting and is averaging 18.7 points and 8.0 rebounds this season. Coach Nate Oats said Tuesday that he was aware of Miller’s presence at the murder scene but that Miller is “not in any trouble.”
Standridge’s statement refuted reports that Miller’s automobile blocked the road where the victim’s Jeep was parked and prevented her escape. The attorney said that Grace Street “was never blocked by Brandon’s vehicle” and that Miller had already parked when the Jeep pulled up behind him.
Holloway and Spina said it’s likely the Tuscaloosa DA’s office looked into the location of Miller’s vehicle and determined that the evidence didn’t show he intended to block the victim’s escape route.
“To charge him with a crime, they would have to prove that was the purpose in using the vehicle that way,” Holloway said.
The attorneys who spoke to Yahoo Sports said the Tuscaloosa district attorney’s office might continue to investigate Miller, but he’s in a good position for now. Without evidence that Miller intended to help Miles and Davis commit a crime, the DA’s office cannot hope to build a case against him, they said.
“Was it a good idea to bring the gun to a friend who had been out partying until the late hours of the night?” Alabama attorney Bart Siniard said. “No, it’s not a good idea. But without more evidence of intent, it’s not a crime.
“You can’t be held criminally liable for bringing somebody their own weapon. You have to show that you brought it with the knowledge they were going to use it to hurt someone.”