Mother speaks out
Published 11:03 pm Wednesday, August 3, 2011
Editor’s note: This is the first in a two-part story including an exclusive interview with the mother of one of four Niles teens facing criminal sexual conduct charges in a trial scheduled for October.
In just three months, Martell Miller, who would be starting his senior year at Niles High School, will be seated in a courtroom rather than a classroom.
Miller, 18, is just one of four Niles men facing a number of criminal charges, the most severe being criminal sexual conduct in the 1st degree, which carries the maximum of a life sentence.
Now, Miller faces a setback in his case, and in an exclusive interview with the Star, his mother is speaking out.
Mrs. Miller, who requested her first name not be printed for the story, told the Star that as of late July, Martell’s lawyer, Niles’ Sean Drew, had withdrawn himself from the case, forcing her to request services from a public defender until she can find new representation.
As she sat in her living room, she said the fallout with Drew came after Martell was bonded out of custody of the Berrien County Jail.
“The whole entire time Mr. Drew was OK with everything until he found out that Martell was out of jail and that’s when his demeanor and his disposition changed toward us,” she said.
As pre-trial proceedings were under way, Judge Scott Schofield who is presiding over the case, ruled Miller’s bond be reduced and he be allowed to return home under the restrictions of house arrest should his bond be posted.
This put Mrs. Miller in between two financial hard spots: having been laid off from her job at Fapco Inc. for two years and scraping money together through donations and garage sales for legal fees, she now needed money to put toward a bondsman to get her son out of jail, with money owed yet for her lawyer’s retainer.
Mrs. Miller said friends, family and members of her church pulled together $1,100 needed for the bondsman in order to bring Martell home.
Drew was reportedly unaware his client had even been released from jail, according to Mrs. Miller. When he called her to see how his client was doing, he found out he was home.
Mrs. Miller said Drew expressed to her that he believed the money raised should have gone toward his retainer as a balance remained outstanding.
When she retained his legal representation, Mrs. Miller said Drew had expressed his usual retainer as being $10,000 but an agreement was made between him and Martell’s father for $5,000.
Mrs. Miller has receipts for a total of $2,800 paid to Drew for his legal services.
“I don’t know law, I haven’t studied law, so you can’t expect me to understand these things of a lawyer. I felt like he should have explained everything precise so I would understand,” Mrs. Miller said.
“One thing I will say,” she added, “is, we were not able to keep the agreement like we said but we were steady paying him money. There was never a breakdown in us paying him.”
Drew said his decision to withdraw from the case comes down to a breakdown in the relationship between himself and his client and he asserts the elements of that breakdown are not financial.
“Basically, we had a breakdown between the attorney-client relationship, and I didn’t feel as though I could continue to represent him in the manner he obviously deserved and needed and actually, Mr. Miller concurred in court,” Drew said.
Miller was scheduled July 22 for a court appearance and while Mrs. Miller was under the impression Drew would make yet another motion for dismissal of the charges against her son, instead, her lawyer made a motion to withdraw himself from the case.
When Judge Schofield asked Miller if there were any objection to Drew’s withdrawal, Miller said no.
A case conference for Miller has been scheduled for Friday morning. Mrs. Miller said she has filed paperwork for representation by a public defender but she wants her son to have independent counsel.
“I was upset because my thoughts are, this is my son’s life,” Mrs. Miller said. “For him to walk out like that, for anyone to walk out like that is heartless, there was no compassion.
“I know that a lot of times the court appointed (attorneys) are for the court,” Mrs. Miller said. “And it’s the truth.”
For his part, Drew believes the communication between he and his client was clear and he believes his withdrawal from the case is for Miller’s own benefit.
“I’m very good at what I do,” he said. “And I like to have a relationship with the client and if it’s not there … it’s for his benefit and mine.”
Regardless of disagreement from either side, Mrs. Miller said she is now “praying that my prayers be answered” and she will be able to find private counsel for her son.
She said she doesn’t believe Drew to be “a bad person.”
“He possibly just has a lot of things going on,” Miller said. She said she’s made a number of calls to attorneys, but is being told the case would be too time-consuming.
Drew said his former client still has ample time to find a new attorney who can get caught up on the case.
“Do I think he’s prejudiced by my withdrawing? No,” he said. “Because he has more than sufficient time between now and then to find alternative private counsel or find court appointed counsel.”
Asked if he would ever consider taking the case back on, Drew said flatly, “no.”
“I don’t think that would be in his interest or my interest,” he said. “I like the family. I’ve known them a number of years. I wish them the best of luck and I worked very hard on their behalf.”
Mrs. Miller holds a strong front as she talks about her son’s uncertain future, the approaching date of Martell’s trial and how she hopes to find a way to find him adequate representation, but at times, she is quiet, her eyes brimming with tears.
It is a side unseen in what has already become a sensationalized story for the Niles community, generating considerable speculation.
“We’re quite aware of what’s going on,” Mrs. Miller said of the complexity of Martell’s case. “But I have faith in God and that’s what I stand on. And that’s what he stands on.”
Read more of the Star’s exclusive interview with Mrs. Miller in part two of this story Friday.