Miller sentenced to six years in DUI death

Cathy Decker/Staff Reporter

Nearly two hours of impassioned testimony from both the state and the defense on Monday, March 12, 2012, led Judge Greg Chickris to give a six-year sentence in the Illinois Department of Corrections for Joseph D. Miller, 58, of Springfield for reckless homicide by motor vehicle. The defendant will be required to serve 85 percent of the sentence.

Assistant States Attorney Meeghan Lee called four witnesses, including the 23-year-victim's mother and brother and two police officers. After almost one hour of testimony, the life and death of 23-year-old Garrett Mooberry was summed up.

Mooberry's mother testified about her son's dedication to the family's cattle farming operation and his hard work, dependability and fun loving nature. His brother talked about realizing he had lost his best friend.

The two police officers talked about the accident scene on Feb. 15, 2011 and the investigation following the accident. The van driver, Joseph Miller, crossed the center line and struck a pickup truck driven by Mooberry at the box factory curve on Ill. Route 17 about two miles east of Viola. Mooberry was dead at the scene, according to Mercer County Sheriff's deputy William Glancey, who was the first to arrive at the scene.

Since Miller was injured during the crash and had to be extricated and flown by helicopter to the Quad Cities and later to Peoria, the standard procedure of immediately interviewing the other driver in a fatality accident had to be put on hold for a while.

Glancey testified that both he and Deputy David Staley interviewed Miller on March 21 in Springfield after his release from the hospital. He said Miller did not remember the accident. According to the toxicology report from both hospitals, Miller had benzodiazepine, methadone and cannabis in his system. He did, however, have prescriptions for the medications.

Glancey was asked what Miller told him about the day of the accident.

He said Miller told them he awoke at around 3 a.m., left his home in Springfield at 5 a.m. to gather some samples for the Illinois EPA. He had three stops scheduled: London Mills, Henderson County (Oquawka) and was on his way to his third appointment in Wyoming when the head-on collision happened.

Glancey testified Miller's story changed several times about his use of cannabis, with the final story being he had last smoked about a half a joint two days prior to the accident.

Two witnesses also told law enforcement that they had observed Miller driving erratically, with one person nearly run off the road prior to the accident.

Both officers testified Miller had never given the jail or them any problems over the last year.

"My honest opinion is it was just a really bad day," said Detective Glancey.

For the defense, Dan Dalton called on a fellow EPA worker, who told the court she had worked with and known Miller for the past 13 years. Miller was employed as a biology technician with the Illinois EPA for the past 28 years. Phyllis Lau, a biologist with the Illinois EPA, said she travelled often with Miller to various sites over a five-month period on an annual basis. She called him dedicated, loyal, hard working and dependable.

Gary L. Kincaid has known Miller for the past 30 years and testified to his character. "He's the best friend I ever had," he said. He said he had no knowledge of him ever using marijuana.

Travis Boswell, a prison ministry director from Aledo, testified to his past year's experience working with Miller in the prison. He spoke of Miller's remorsefulness over the accident.

Miller also gave an unsworn statement offering condolences to the Mooberry family. He told the court he had been prescribed pain medication for prior back surgeries and problems for the past 15 years. He said he was currently suspended from his job. He said he has suffered "loss, pain and humiliation" since the accident. Calling himself a Christian he said "If anything, my faith has been strengthened."

He asked the court for leniency in sentencing, due to his prior record as a model citizen.

In closing arguments, ASA Lee asked the court for "fair punishment" for a crime that ended the life of "an innocent bystander and affected his family." She suggested the judge use the sentence towards the upper end of the possibilities (from three to 14 years) to deter others from driving while intoxicated or under the influence of drugs. She also asked for the maximum fine to be applied ($25,000).

Defense attorney Dalton closed his arguments saying, "This is a difficult case for everybody." He said his client's only other run-in with the law was a traffic citation for taking an illegal left turn. "Mr. Miller has led an exemplary life. He joined the service in 1972 and was honorably discharged."

He argued that while the mandated punishment for vehicular homicide is from three - 14 years, sometimes three is appropriate. "Mr. Miller deserves a second chance," said Dalton.

Judge Chickris said both the state and defense gave emotional arguments for this case. "In hearing the arguments, I'm agreeing with everything the state said and everything the defense said."

"No doubt the case has tragically affected the defendant's life, job and relationship with his daughter. The defendant has shown great remorse."

"On the other hand, these are very, very tragic circumstances. Nothing we do here today will change it. I understand the family wants and needs justice."

He pointed to the public policy in the state of Illinois towards DUI, that makes taking a life not probational. He said the six year sentence would involve Miller serving 5.1 years, a two-year mandatory release and court costs.