An Indiana man admitted to killing the 11-month-old girl he was babysitting before disposing of her remains in a shallow grave in the woods. Justin Miller, 37, formally pleaded guilty to the murder of Mercedes Lain, admitting that he struck the baby multiple times because she would not stop crying, The Associated Press reported.
Miller appeared in Starke County Circuit Courthouse on Monday where he reportedly admitted that he was at his girlfriend’s apartment watching Mercedes in mid-August when he grew frustrated that the baby would not stop crying. Confirming that he was high on synthetic marijuana at the time of the assault, Miller reportedly told the court that he struck Mercedes “a couple of times” to get her to stop crying late on the evening of Aug. 12 or early Aug. 13.
A copy of the plea agreement obtained by South Bend ABC affiliate WBND reportedly said that Miller “backhanded” Mercedes “in the head” causing the child to hit the wall.
Miller reportedly said he realized Mercedes was dead on the morning of Aug. 14, when he got out of bed and “rolled a joint of synthetic” before seeing Mercedes’ lifeless body. Then he went to a neighbor’s house and borrowed money for gas, then grabbed the baby’ body and buried her in a remote wooded area in Starke County, the report added.
Miller’s attorney reportedly negotiated the plea agreement with the Starke County Prosecutor’s Office, which stipulates that the final decision in Miller’s sentencing will be at the discretion of the court. If the presiding judge accepts the terms of the deal, Miller will face a minimum of 45 years in prison and a maximum of 65 years in prison.
The child’s parents — Kenneth Lain, 41 and Tiffany Coburn, 32 — were also taken into custody and face Level-6 felony charges for neglect of a dependent.
Angela Owens, Mercedes’ grandmother, told WBND that a possible sentence of 45 years is not enough for the man who murdered Mercedes.
“It’s just not good enough to plea out like that. I just can’t see how the court’s going to accept a plea from him,” Owens told the station. “I feel that he needs longer. I mean, an innocent child. My innocent grandchild. How could you just do that and expect, okay, you do forty-five years and get out and you’re fine? Where’s my baby at? Where’s her time? Where’s her life?”
As previously reported by Law&Crime, investigators discovered Mercedes’ body on Aug. 18 in a densely wooded area in northern Indiana.
Court documents allege that Mercedes’ parents dropped her off with Miller, whom they referred to as a “family relative,” on Friday, Aug. 13 because the couple was having a hard time and needed “a break” from parenting.
The couple said Miller was supposed to bring Mercedes back home two days later on Sunday, Aug. 15. After dropping off Mercedes with Miller, “both parents attempted to get a hold of Miller numerous times and could not contact him,” court documents state. When they finally reached him on Aug. 15, Miller allegedly told the couple that he had left Mercedes with a neighbor because Lain and Coburn weren’t home.
A neighbor told investigators that Coburn “brought over a duffel bag” on Sunday and asked the neighbor to “watch it because they needed to call police about their missing baby.”
“The duffel bag contained a safe,” according to a police affidavit. “It is believed that this safe contains illegal narcotics.”
Investigators located Miller in a Starke County home at approximately 3:30 a.m. on Aug. 16. He was brought to the police department where he allegedly waived his rights and agreed to be interviewed by detectives. Miller told investigators that Kenneth Lain had contacted him on Aug. 12 about purchasing synthetic marijuana, but said the conversation “then turned into the rough time they were having with [Mercedes],” according to a probable cause affidavit. Miller said he eventually told Lain that he would babysit Mercedes “for a few days” so he and Coburn could “have a break.”
According to the affidavit, Miller’s “recollection of events changed several times” during the interview process until Aug. 18, when he told police he woke up to find Mercedes dead on Aug. 14 at a home in St. Joseph County. He allegedly said he then disposed of the victim’s body on a Starke County property later that day.
Marshall County Chief Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Nelson Chipman later confirmed that the infant’s body was found “in a remote, obscure, densely forested area.”
Miller’s sentencing hearing is currently scheduled for Jan. 18.
[image via Marshall County Jail, Silver Alert]
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