WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court on Monday refused to hear a Maryland death row inmate’s charge that his murder conviction was based on evidence derived from an illegally taped cell-phone conversation.
Jody Lee Miles wanted the high court to throw out evidence — including his confession to the 1997 murder of Edward Joseph Atkinson — as “fruit of the poisonous tree,” because it stemmed from an illegally intercepted and recorded cell-phone conversation between Miles and his wife.
Miles charges that officials were only able to catch him in the murder and robbery of Atkinson in Mardela Springs because Caroline County resident James Towers overheard Miles’ cell-phone conversation about the murder over a radio scanner.
Guessing it pertained to Atkinson’s recent murder, Towers taped the cell- phone transmission and turned it over to police, who identified the speakers on the tape as Miles and his wife, Jona. Police then got search warrants for the Miles’ properties in Greensboro, Md. and Harrington, Del., interrogated Jona Miles and arrested Jody Miles for robbery and first-degree murder, to which he eventually confessed.
During his trial in Queen Anne’s County, Miles tried to suppress not only the taped cell-phone conversation, but all evidence obtained as a result of it. Maryland law bans the recording of private communications unless all parties have consented, and forbids the use of intercepted communications or “evidence derived therefrom” from being used in court.
The circuit court judge agreed to exclude the taped conversation and materials seized during the search of the Miles’ properties, but ruled that Jody Miles’ confession and his wife’s implicating statements were fair evidence.
A jury convicted Miles of first-degree murder and robbery with a deadly weapon and sentenced him to death.
The Maryland Court of Appeals in September upheld the admissibility of evidence derived from the phone call. It also rejected Miles’ challenge to his death sentence. He claimed that notes from some jurors, including “mercy shown to defendant” and “life imprisonment without parole is sufficient,” called into question the unanimity of their sentencing verdict.
Miles raised the same challenges to his sentence and the evidence to the Supreme Court, which declined without comment to take the case.
Monday’s ruling was the last in his direct appeal of his conviction, but likely will not be Miles’ last appeal to the high court. Arthur A. Delano Jr. of the Office of the Public Defender declined to comment specifically on Monday’s decision, but said the next step generally in capital cases is to bring in “private counsel to handle the defendant’s petition for post-conviction relief.”
He described the post-conviction phase of the appeal “as sort of a collateral procedure that attacks the situation sideways, typically on grounds such as ineffective counsel or events that have happened out of court that could not be raised during the appeal process.”
“At each stage of the process, the Supreme Court iss the last word, so there are more potential Supreme Court appeals in the future,” Delano said Monday.
Officials with the Attorney General’s Office who are prosecuting the case declined to comment on Monday’s decision.
In their brief to the high court, however, they argued that Miles’ conviction is valid because the connection between the illegal phone tap and the confessions from Miles and his wife are too weak to justify excluding them. They also rejected Miles’ claims about the sentence on grounds that a jury can recognize mitigating circumstances and still decide unanimously to sentence someone to death.
Miles is being held in the Supermax prison in Baltimore. No execution date has been set in his case.