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Phillips: Promises, promises
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This column is printed every Friday in the Chronicle-Independent, but, like everything else we do, it has to be written at least a day or two ahead of going to print. I normally write my column on Wednesday. That’s what I did last week, as usual. My point is, I would have written this column last week if I could have.

It was Wednesday evening last week when the 5th Circuit Solicitor’s Office released the news Nickolas Jermaine Miller, the admitted abductor, rapist and killer of Beverly Hope Melton, had agreed to plead guilty to all charges in exchange for a sentence of life in prison without parole and no chance to later appeal the sentence.

Just in case you’re not fully informed about this case, Miller followed Melton from a Jefferson convenience store in Chesterfield County on Dec. 26, 2011. Melton reportedly was on her way to visit her grandmother and phoned her to say she was concerned about being followed by Miller. Cellphone service is rather spotty in that remote area and the call was dropped. Melton was not heard from again. Miller forced her car off the road, abducted her and brought her into Kershaw County, where he raped her before beating her to death with a baseball bat and leaving her body behind an abandoned turkey barn near the Chesterfield County line.

Miller was identified from videotape from the Jefferson store, was seen by a Chesterfield County deputy and stopped for questioning. Miller reportedly agreed to follow the deputy to Jefferson Town Hall, where other deputies and Chesterfield County Sheriff Sam Parker met him and questioned him. Miller confessed to what he had done and told them where Melton’s body could be found.

I am thoroughly aware of the details of this case because, when it happened, I was the editor for the weekly newspaper in Pageland, just 8 miles or so north of Jefferson. I was well acquainted with Parker and he invited me to his office to tell me about the case. It sent a shockwave throughout Chesterfield County and I reported the initial story and other follow-up stories, including one on how gun sales and concealed carry classes skyrocketed in the following weeks. I know where Melton is buried and I visited there when her family and friends released balloons there. I was at the Chesterfield County Courthouse when a Palmetto tree was planted on the front lawn in Melton’s honor.

Two years and four days after the murder, I came to work here, so I was then working in the other county involved in this heinous crime. One of the first stories I did for this paper was a recap of the case and where it stood two years later, which was basically nowhere. Finally, a trial date was set for early 2016, more than four years after the crime.

So, it came as a surprise last week when the case was suddenly over and Miller was headed to prison for life rather than to the executioner. How did this happen? It happened because Sam Parker made an illegal move when he told Miller he would not be executed if he cooperated and led authorities to Melton’s body. Parker had no such authority and his promise apparently didn’t come to light until more recently. Parker’s statement to Miller made Miller’s confession null and void and any evidence that was found because of Miller’s confession, even Melton’s body, would not be admissible at a trial.

Parker was a veteran lawman. He had been sheriff for several years and before that had been with the S.C. State Law Enforcement Division. It’s very hard to believe he didn’t know the possible consequences of what he told Miller. Parker himself is now serving a prison term, however, after being convicted for misconduct in office for allowing some prisoners to live outside the jail, for providing them contraband, for misuse of county property and a rather long list of other offenses. I was still in Pageland when the charges against him first came out and he was removed from office by Gov. Nikki Haley and an interim sheriff was appointed until a new one could be elected.

Yes, I know the sordid details of both the Miller and Parker cases, and it turns out the two actually intertwined to some degree, resulting in justice not truly being found against Miller. I don’t presume to know if Sam Parker feels any shame for the offenses that landed him behind bars, but here’s another big one to add to the list. The biggest one.