Mesquite man guilty of beating baby to death; sentence is life

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by JENNIFER EMILY

The Dallas Morning News

Posted on August 20, 2010 at 2:18 PM

A Mesquite man was convicted this morning of beating 4-month-old daughter to death and sentenced to life in prison.

The sentence for 24-year-old Franzwa Miller was automatic, and includes no possibility of parole. A Dallas County jury found him guilty of capital murder.

The baby's mother, Alesha Dean, also faces trial in the death of Lea Miller.

One of the prosecutors said in closing arguments that when Miller beat his baby daughter in June 2009, he shattered her skull, making it look "like a jigsaw puzzle."

Defense attorneys Scottie Allen and Patty Morris said the baby's mother was the real killer.

The prosecution said Dean would eventually have her day in court, but that the jury in this case should concern itself with Miller's actions.

"This day is about justice for Lea as it relates to her father, Franzwa Miller," prosecutor Elaine Evans said in her closing argument.

"Why those two people were blessed with this child, we'll never know. It's a shame."

Testifying earlier for the prosecution, Dean said that on the day Lea was rushed to the hospital, Miller hit the baby "as hard as he could" across the face. The child then passed out, she said. Miller told a Child Protective Services worker that it was a "gentle slap," according to testimony.

Dean, 20, is charged with injury to a child by not stopping the abuse. She faces up to life in prison if she is convicted. In testifying against Miller, she said she has no plea deal with Dallas County prosecutors.

Lea lay unconscious on the floor for five minutes to an hour – depending on which version of events is used – before Dean and Miller called 911.

Doctors who treated the girl said she had old rib fractures, a broken arm, a skull fracture, bleeding in the back of her eyes and brain injuries.

Dean, who said Miller abused her, testified that Miller beat Lea with a spatula and once broke it while hitting her. She said he also ordered her to keep Lea in a portable crib in a bedroom closet for most of the day. She testified that she didn't prevent the abuse because she was afraid Miller would harm her.

Miller's attorneys called witnesses Thursday to support their contention that Dean killed Lea. Dean admitted on the witness stand that she once gently shook the baby to shush her. She testified that afterward she felt guilty and told her sister about what happened.

Brandi Barber, 23, who grew up with Miller and is a friend, testified that when Lea was on life support at the hospital, Dean seemed emotionless.

"She did not cry," Barber told jurors. "She had no emotion."

Others have testified that Dean was upset or tearful.

Barber said that at one point, Dean left the hospital to go to the movies with her sister and brother-in-law and did not return until the next day, after going to church and to lunch. Dean testified earlier that police instructed her to stay with her sister at all times.

A Mesquite police detective, Brandon Snyder, testified that he drove Dean to the hospital when doctors were taking Lea off life support. The detective said that as they pulled up to the hospital, Dean rolled her eyes and sighed, saying, "I don't have time to deal with all this right now." He added that Dean said she had just started a new job and couldn't afford to lose it.

Snyder also testified that family members told police that Dean had mistreated her kids in the past and had a short temper. But Snyder said they did not mention that she had physically abused them and that they could have meant that Dean yelled at them.

LaToria Barnett of Kaufman testified that Miller was never violent with her or their baby, a girl who is now 5. Barnett, 22, said the baby cried a lot when she was a newborn and Miller did a good job of taking care of her.

"It was great," she said of their relationship. "We had no problems. Well, we argued."

Barnett testified that she sometimes hit Miller or threw things at him, but "he never got physical. I could hit him all day and he never reacted to it."

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