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Burden of Innocence
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Year of incident: 1989
Conviction: Aggravated rape; aggravated robbery
Sentence: 26-45 years
Year of conviction: 1990
Year of exoneration: 2000
Sentence served: 10 years

[Update: In March 2006 the city of Boston agreed to pay Neil Miller $3.2 million to settle the wrongful conviction suit he had filed in 2003. Miller's lawyers, Howard Friedman and Innocence Project Co-Director Peter Neufeld, alleged that testimony in their lawsuit shows the Boston police manipulated evidence to help prosecutors win a conviction. They charged the senior criminologist in the city's lab gave false testimony about the blood evidence to increase the likelihood that Miller would be convicted, and they alleged a police detective ignored evidence that the rape was likely to have been committed by someone else. Following the city's settlement, Miller told the Boston Globe "It's still not over" [because] "there are still other guys who are sitting up there because of this forensic guy. Until they're cleared, everything isn't fine with me. It's not over." Miller said he had no plans for the settlement money. "I'm going to give it away," he told the Globe. "I don't know to who, maybe some other righteous person who could use it. It'll do some good for a while."]

Miller's Case: On Aug. 29, 1989, a 19-year-old Emerson College student was asleep in her apartment when a man brandishing a screwdriver forced his way inside, robbed and raped her, and forced her to perform oral sex on him. After the victim reported the crime, a Boston detective went to her apartment, where he dusted for fingerprints and took as evidence a semen-stained sheet. The victim then went to the police station, where another detective showed her books of photographs. She was unable to identify any of the men in the photographs as her attacker.

A few weeks later, the victim was shown more photographs, but was still unable to identify a suspect. She described the assailant to a police artist, who sketched a composite. A few officers noted that the man depicted in the composite resembled Neil Miller, a young black man who had been arrested in Suffolk County, Mass., several years before on charges of receiving stolen goods, but was never incarcerated.

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» In His Own Words

After several more weeks, Miller's mug shot from his previous arrest was added to a new photo array. The victim identified his photo and that of another suspect. The police picked up Miller -- who was now many years older and had filled out considerably -- on an unrelated charge of disorderly conduct. They took his picture and included it in another photo array. This time, the victim identified Miller alone as the perpetrator.

The victim saw Miller for the first time in person in the hallway of the courthouse at the pre-trial hearing, where she testified that Miller was her attacker. He claimed that he had never seen her before, had never been in her apartment, and that the case was one of mistaken identity. At trial, the prosecution's case rested almost entirely on the victim's eyewitness testimony after the tests on the physical evidence were deemed inconclusive.

On Dec. 19, 1990, a jury found Miller guilty of aggravated rape while armed, and breaking and entering with intent to commit a felony. He was sentenced to 26-45 years in prison.

In 1998, lawyers with The Innocence Project succeeded in reopening Miller's case and tested the DNA from the semen stains. The results did not match Miller's DNA. In 2000, after 10 years in prison, he was exonerated and released.

photo of neil miller

Miller has been unable to find a job since his release.

For the first year after his release, Miller lived with his sister, Demaris, and her husband, Dana Smith. He struggled unsuccessfully to find work, but was hindered because he was forced to disclose his conviction on job applications. Like many states, Massachusetts doesn't expunge the records of the wrongfully convicted; it seals them. Miller declined to have his record sealed, however, out of fear that prospective employers would suspect he was hiding something.

After years of fruitless job-hunting, he feels defeated. He spends his time playing video games and drinking. "I drink more than I eat, at times," he told FRONTLINE. "I drink more than I laugh. The only bit of solace and peace that I have is drinking."

Understandably, Miller is angry and bitter at his predicament. He has received no monetary compensation from the state, and although the victim sent Miller a letter two years after his release in which she told him that she regrets that he became a "second victim," Miller doesn't consider this a formal apology.

Meanwhile, a man connected with two other rapes has been identified through the state's DNA database as the source of the semen stains on the victim's sheet. The victim, however, does not want to testify in another trial now that so much time has passed, so charges have never been brought against him.

Meanwhile, a bill spearheaded by State Rep. Patricia Jehlen, which would provide compensation for the wrongfully convicted and would force the state to expunge their records, has been pending in the Massachusetts legislature for four years. (See "Compensating the Exonerated" for state-by-state information.) On May 1, 2003, Miller's lawyers filed suit on his behalf in federal court seeking unspecified damages. The suit argues that the police and prosecutors involved in Miller's case misrepresented facts and hid evidence that could have helped exonerate him.

Miller is now on probation after facing two charges of assault and battery while he was drinking -- once while at a liquor store where he formerly worked and another at his sister's house. He lives with another sister and her family in Dorchester, Mass.


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published may 1, 2003

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