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Insight Center: News

John Miller, Wrongfully Imprisoned for 21 Years, to be Released From Prison

Pepper Hamilton LLP and The Pennsylvania Innocence Project Worked for Eight Years to Prove John Miller's Innocence

John Miller, Wrongfully Imprisoned for 21 Years, to be Released From Prison

Sentenced to Life in Prison Following Second-Degree Murder Conviction in 1998, Miller to be Freed After Legal Team Uncovered Previously Withheld Evidence

After 21 years of wrongful imprisonment, Philadelphia resident John Miller today will walk out of the State Correctional Institution at Mahanoy in Frackville, PA, a free man. His release is occurring hours after a hearing in the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia, where Judge Lillian Ransom granted the District Attorney’s motion to dismiss all charges against Miller. This decision followed a July 1 Order by U.S. District Court Judge Anita Brody to release Miller subject to the District Attorney’s decision as to whether to pursue a new trial within 180 days.

“I’m very happy and excited that after 21 years I’m finally being heard and that my innocence has reached the surface,” said John Miller. “I’m going home to my family. I’m overwhelmed, excited, and happy. I have a good team who helped me through this. Without them, I don’t know what would have happened or where I would have been.”

Pepper Hamilton LLP has spent nearly 3,000 hours working with the Pennsylvania Innocence Project (PAIP) over the past eight years to secure Miller’s release.

In 1998, a jury found Miller guilty of second-degree murder in the 1996 slaying of Anthony Mullen, a parking lot attendant who was shot and killed near 30th Street Station in Philadelphia. Miller’s initial arrest and conviction were largely based on the testimony of David Williams, a childhood acquaintance of Miller’s, who pinned Miller for the murder following his own arrest, and Mike Arnold, an acquaintance who claimed he had seen Miller pick up a gun at one time.

At Miller’s trial, Williams recanted his testimony, claiming he had lied, and stated that Miller was not the shooter. Despite Williams’ claim and the fact that no physical evidence linking Miller to the crime was found, Miller was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison.

From 1998 to 2011, Miller filed more than 10 appeals, many on his own behalf. All were denied.

In 2002, Williams wrote to Miller’s mother confessing that he knew Miller had not committed the murder, because he himself had shot Anthony Mullen.   

As Miller continued to file appeals, he contacted the PAIP in 2009, the year of the program’s inception. The PAIP has a stringent four-stage review system to screen potential cases. In 2011, after nearly two years of review and research, it accepted Miller’s case.

Thomas Gallagher, Chairman of Pepper Hamilton LLP, a PAIP board member and a former federal prosecutor, agreed to represent Miller as a pro-bono client. Gallagher partnered with his mentee and fellow Pepper Hamilton partner Hannah McPhelin to investigate Miller’s case.

Gallagher, McPhelin and the Pepper-PAIP team scoured the records, interviewed potential witnesses and thoroughly investigated the case. Gallagher hired two former colleagues from his days in the U.S. Attorney’s Office, both retired FBI agents, to locate and interview critical witnesses. The Pepper-PAIP team discovered exculpatory evidence that had not previously been disclosed to Miller.

Their discovery was pivotal in contributing to Miller’s release today, eight years after the legal team began its work.

Pepper partners Thomas M. Gallagher (right) and Hannah Dowd McPhelin (second from left) with Nilam Sanghavi from the Pa Innocence Project (middle) with John Miller's family.
“The entire team at Pepper Hamilton is thrilled for both John and his family,” said Gallagher. “To see John walk out of prison as a free man today is an almost indescribable feeling. It has been an honor to represent John and a pleasure to partner with the PAIP over the past eight years to secure his freedom.”  

“I am in awe of the strength, resolve and willpower John has shown over the past 21 years,” said McPhelin. “He is a man of tremendous patience and grace.” 

John Miller’s case was one of the first accepted by the Pennsylvania Innocence Project – and ended up being one of the longest, said Nilam Sanghvi, legal director of the PAIP.

“We are so happy for John that he has been exonerated and will be reunited with his family and grateful to the DA’s office for its thorough review of his case and decision not to retry him,” she said.

The legal team will take Miller and his family for a steak dinner – Miller’s request for his first dinner outside of prison – in Philadelphia tonight to celebrate his long-awaited freedom.

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