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West Branch Man Pleads Guilty in Daughter's Death, Will Serve 15 Years

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - A West Branch man who won an appeal last year pleaded guilty to lesser charges Wednesday and was sentenced to 15 years in prison, instead of going through another trial and risking the chance of another conviction.

Curtis A. Miller, 34, made an Alford plea to child endangerment resulting in serious injury and involuntary manslaughter. By taking the plea agreement, he admitted to risking the physical safety or causing physical injury to his 3-month-old daughter Kimisha Miller, who died from rotational-inflicted head trauma Oct. 11, 2007. He also admitted to unintentionally causing her death.

In an Alford plea, a defendant doesn't admit to the act but admits the state could likely prove the charge.

Miller declined to comment before the judge sentenced him to 10 years on the child endangerment and five years on the manslaughter charge, which will run consecutively for a total of 15 years in prison.

Todd Weimer, Miller's attorney, said Miller had served nearly six years being in custody since he was charged in 2007 and with good time could be eligible for parole as soon as he starts serving today's sentence. He explained the plea agreement was more appropriate than the original conviction and if they had gone ahead with a new trial there could be a risk of conviction, as with any trial.

"It was difficult for Curtis to accept this offer," Weimer said. "He is remorseful of what happened to his daughter. He has served nearly six years, being in custody since 2007, and he misses his daughter and his other family. He accepted the plea to move forward with his life."

First Assistant Linn County Attorney Nick Maybanks said the state spent more than $40,000 in putting on a case for trial and with the appeal, the "state faced the difficult decision of whether to try this case again. We decided it was best to offer a plea and move on."

According to court documents, most of the expenses went for about 19 medical doctors to testify about Kimisha's injuries in an effort to prove the charges.

Maybanks said Miller has been and is being held responsible for Kimisha's life.

Miller was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and child endangerment resulting in death and sentenced to 50 years in prison in 2009. He appealed his convictions based on "jury separation and juror substitution" during deliberations. Following his three-week trial and after two days of deliberations, the court allowed a juror to leave for a family funeral.

Miller's attorney asked the court twice for a mistrial because the juror started deliberations but then left and one of the alternates took his place.

The Iowa Court of Appeals ruled the court should have granted Miller's motions for mistrial because the court allowed the juror to leave deliberations and couldn't determine when deliberations would resume.

Miller agreed to the alternate juror rather than wait for an indeterminate amount of time for deliberations to resume, according to the appeal.

According to trial testimony, Kimisha died from rotational-inflicted head trauma. About 19 medical doctors testified that Kimisha had suffered a skull fracture, extensive retinal hemorrhaging, subdural hemorrhaging of the brain, wrist fractures and bruising to her forehead and right cheek. The doctors testified the injuries were the classic remnants of child abuse.

The defense maintained, as its single expert witness testified, that Kimisha could have sustained those injuries by falling off a bed.

Miller's attorneys also argued investigators had not thoroughly investigated another man who was in the house at the time, whom they claimed caused the child's injuries.

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