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Cahn: When justice is derailed, we all lose
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I’m not the bloodthirsty sort. I don’t usually cry out for devastating vengeance against groups or individuals. If there was one person I wanted to know was heading to the electric chair, however, it was Nickolas Jermaine Miller, who will now spend the rest of his life in prison without parole for brutally murdering Beverly Hope Melton in December 2011.

I was absolutely incensed at this perversion of justice when I learned about Wednesday’s plea deal. For one, as the editor of Kershaw County’s paper of record, I couldn’t fathom how two other media outlets, including one from out of state, had learned of and attended the hearing to break the news.

We cannot and do not blame the authorities for our not knowing. As Kershaw County Sheriff Jim Matthews explained in Friday’s edition, the hearing was kept quiet for two reasons: a gag order on the case was still in effect and authorities were concerned Miller might be attacked on the way to or in the Richland County courtroom where the hearing took place.

I would argue the hearing should have been held here in Kershaw County -- after all, this is where Miller killed Melton -- but I understand.

I think Melton’s family alerted certain media outlets, and I understand that as well: from the beginning, they had been repeatedly traumatized not just by their loved one’s death, but by hearing after hearing, one of which resulted in Miller’s trial date being set for February 2016 -- more than four years after his arrest.

Melton’s family is, also understandably, upset with Wednesday’s deal.

Without having talked to them, I can’t know everyone with whom they might be upset. Obviously, they are mad at Miller for his brutal crime. They might even be mad at the 4th and 5th circuit solicitor’s offices for letting go of the death penalty they originally sought.

I suspect the person they are most mad at after Miller, however, is former Chesterfield County Sheriff Sam Parker. I know I am.

Those who follow law enforcement closely know Parker is behind bars on charges of misconduct in office, embezzlement and furnishing contraband to inmates. He’s serving his two-year sentence in North Carolina, “for safe keeping,” according to one media outlet. I should think so.

According to the 5th Circuit Solicitor’s Office, Parker messed up the case against Miller in at least two ways. First, Parker inappropriately promised Miller he would not face the death penalty if he confessed and led authorities to Melton’s body. That’s exactly what Miller did, but our judicial system does not allow the inclusion of a confession -- or the resulting evidence -- by a suspect whose been promised anything by anyone in exchange for that confession. The only people who could have even considered making such a deal would have been the respective solicitors from each circuit.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, we have to remember one of the charges a jury convicted Parker of was furnishing contraband to inmates. He actually did more than that. According to the 5th Circuit Solicitor’s Office, Parker allowed two inmates, including one named Michael Lee, who testified at Parker’s trial, to live at the Chesterfield Armory so they could guard the evidence.

What?! How does anyone, much less the duly-elected sheriff of any county possibly justify that?

Lee testified he and his fellow inmate discovered Melton’s wallet in Miller’s car while processing it at the armory. Unbelievable. A S.C. Department of Corrections inmate -- someone who has been convicted of a crime, not just being detained at a local jail, but a convict -- processing evidence?

At Parker’s sentencing, a judge told the disgraced sheriff, “ were made aware that you were not in compliance with a lot of the state laws and regulations. You chose to ignore them and didn’t make the changes when you had an opportunity to do them.

“You’ve done all these things that I think most sheriffs wouldn’t even think about doing as far as misconduct in office. I think most sheriffs would shudder to even think about it.”

As we now know, his decision to be friendly with two inmates (most of the charges against Parker had to do with Lee and the other inmate) has cost us all when it comes to the full justice which should have been meted out to Miller.

I don’t even know how to describe Parker. Stupid? Merely incompetent? Prideful? Power hungry?

What I do know is Parker is about to wrap up a two-year sentence (he’s scheduled to be released in July) while Miller will spend the rest of his life behind bars.

We’ve all lost because of two men’s actions, one brutal, the other at least foolish. When even one law enforcement officer decides the rules aren’t for them, it taints our entire justice system. Even with the prospect of waiting years for it to actually happen, Miller should have faced the death chamber.

Failing that, I am just filled with enough vengeful feelings to suggest -- in light of the pain and heartache and perversion of justice his actions caused -- Sam Parker should spend the rest of his life in jail, right next to Miller.

Melton’s death is squarely on Miller, but the former sheriff should pay far more for, essentially, giving Miller a pass.

Parker is lucky Miller pled guilty. The alternative is too horrible to even consider.