Arkansan Lawyer Raises Concerns with Prosecutor’s Brandon Miller Statement Around Hogs Game

Brandon Miller, Alabama basketball, Arkansas vs Alabama
photo credit: Alabama Athletics

So, let’s get one thing out of the way right away: If Alabama basketball star Brandon Miller had not played on Saturday afternoon against a rapidly improving Arkansas basketball squad hungry for revenge after losing to the Crimson Tide last month, Alabama would not have won the closely fought contest.

Miller put up 24 points and, unsurprisingly, proved to be the hardest Crimson Tide player for Arkansas to contain in an 86-83 Alabama win in Tuscaloosa. He was especially devastating through much of the second half when Alabama stormed back from a 9-point halftime deficit.

It had been just a few days since Miller put up a season-high 41-point performance at South Carolina despite the swirling controversy around his program and himself. Yes, he’s saved Alabama’s bacon these last two games — but it’s not a lock he will stay on the court in the coming days and months. 

As most of the sports world knows by now, former Alabama basketball player Darius Miles and his co-defendant are charged with capital murder stemming from the shooting death of a single mother outside of a Tuscaloosa night club.  

Miller, the presumptive SEC Player of the Year and Alabama’s leading scorer, allegedly brought the gun to Miles and blocked the victim’s car from leaving the scene. One of Alabama’s other freshman standouts, Jaden Bradley, allegedly blocked the victim’s car in a similar manner.

Poor decision making doesn’t begin to describe the actions of the three Alabama players involved. Two-fifths of Alabama’s starting five and a role player were involved in the shooting.  

The prosecutor in the case stated Brandon Miller could not be charged under Alabama state law. Speaking as a criminal defense lawyer with nearly 20 years of experience, I am not so sure. Accessory to a crime is no longer how most state criminal codes define culpability of persons involved in crimes.

Instead, the legal term that defines such culpability is known as the law of parties. Most states have adopted laws similar to the Model Penal Code, a set of criminal laws promulgated by legal scholars in the 1960s in an attempt to make state criminal laws more uniform and fair. Different states, including Alabama, have adopted parts of the Model Penal Code over the years with whatever changes they see fit.

In Alabama, a murder committed with a deadly weapon while the victim is in a vehicle is a capital murder.

The relevant portions of the statute regarding this matter in Alabama state law are as follows:

Criminal liability based upon behavior of another – Complicity.

A person is legally accountable for the behavior of another constituting a criminal offense if, with the intent to promote or assist the commission of the offense:

(1) He procures, induces or causes such other person to commit the offense; or
(2) He aids or abets such other person in committing the offense

Darius Miles has been charged with Capital Murder under this statute despite the allegation he did not fire any shots. The co-defendant is alleged to have fired multiple shots into the victim’s car.

An aggressive prosecutor could argue Brandon Miller is criminally liable based on the allegations of his delivery of the gun to Darius Miles and the placement of his vehicle to prevent the victim’s car from leaving.

The decision to seek charges in these situations is difficult and highly fact dependent. It is possible there are additional facts that were not presented or not reported, which make a charge for Brandon Miller more or less plausible.

For instance, consider that one of the revelations that Miller’s lawyers have recently made involves the positioning of Miller’s vehicle. Miller’s attorney states Miller was already parked when the victim’s car arrived. This refutes any allegation Miller blocked the victim’s car with his own.

Regardless of whether charges are possible, at this time Brandon Miller has not been charged with any crime. This seems unlikely to change by Saturday.  

It’s important to remember that first-hand reports from the hearing do not provide a full context of the testimony provided in the hearing, so what is essentially a game of telephone plays out. Often, a news report is providing a statement about a statement about a statement.

This is one reason armchair commentators like myself should be slow to judgment and defer to the people who are actually handling the case.  

No matter the outcome, this is just a tragic situation for everyone involved.

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Nate Oats’ uncomfortable press conference on Tuesday is a must watch if you want to see someone struggling to answer a question about the incident in a way that doesn’t include the words, “in light of recent developments, we have suspended two additional players the rest of the season.”

I don’t want to be flippant about this tragic situation, but is it more impressive that the team has continued to play at such a high level with the knowledge these allegations would eventually come to light? It boggles the mind. I understand that everyone involved has been instructed not to make any public statements, but how you stay the course in this situation is hard to believe.

What is a worse outcome for Alabama basketball fans? That the shooting doesn’t derail their best season ever or that it does? Do any fans feel great if they win a national championship knowing two of their best players were involved in the shooting death of a single mother?  

I have some sympathy for Nate Oats. If he drew a line in the sand and suspended Miller and Bradley, he would have been asked repeatedly as to why and would have been unable to answer the question. But this week’s news means he must now answer those questions repeatedly, unless everyone makes an agreement to not bring this up again.

Objectivity is difficult when you are judging the actions of a borderline rival opponent in the same conference. I like to think in a similar situation the University of Arkansas would have suspended all three players involved in the murder regardless of whether criminal charges were filed against them.  

In my fantasy world, all college coaches have something similar to Batesville native Charlie Strong’s five rules for players. “No guns” would be top of the list.  

More on Brandon Miller and Alabama Basketball

Alabama released a statement prior to the Alabama-South Carolina game Wednesday night concerning Brandon Miller.

“UA Athletics continues to cooperate fully with law enforcement in the on-going investigation of this tragic situation,” the statement read. “Based on all the information we have received, Brandon Miller is not considered a suspect in this case, only a cooperative witness. Today’s statement from Brandon’s lawyer adds additional context that the University has considered as part of its review of the facts. Based on all of the facts we have gathered, Brandon remains an active member of our team.”

Miller’s attorneys published a two page memorandum clarifying his actions on the night in question. You can find a discussion and a link here.  

The attorney’s statement stresses Miller never handled the gun and was possibly unaware the gun was in his car. However, Miles clearly sent Miller a text asking Miller to bring his gun.  

According to the statement, Miller had previously dropped Miles and co-defendant Michael Davis, Miles’ friend, off at a sports bar across the street. Miles left his gun in the backseat of Miller’s car. Miles and Davis later clashed with Harris’ group after, reportedly, Harris, who was with her boyfriend and a cousin who is a U of A student, rejected advances by Davis, as Yahoo’s Dan Wetzel lays out the situation.

As mentioned above, perhaps the bigger revelation in the statement is the positioning of Miller’s vehicle. Miller’s attorney states Miller was already parked when the victim’s car arrived. The attorney also mentions Miller drove away as soon as shots were fired. Although the attorney fails to mention Miller’s car as being struck by multiple bullets, as has been reported elsewhere. Miller’s attorney stresses he has been completely forthcoming with investigators.

So what to make of the conflicting accounts? First, I am reminded that any reporting on court proceedings is a game of telephone. Even when exact quotes are used. Some of the testimony comes from law enforcement. Law enforcement (detectives, police officers, District Attorney investigators) were not direct witnesses, but are describing facts they have developed in an investigation.

It is my experience that police officers can and do often shade their descriptions of evidence to make whoever is charged with a crime seem more culpable. We have an adversarial system. A statement made by a witness for the State on direct examination is often clarified or changed slightly on cross-examination, if not entirely refuted.

There are all kinds of relevant questions out there to be asked, as Wetzel pointed out: For instance, where was Miller before and — maybe more importantly, after the shooting? What was he doing? Did he drive, with a gun, onto campus, where possession would be a violation of school rules?

Now to Arkansas Basketball

The below as written before Arkansas vs Alabama:

In the world’s most no s*** Sherlock observation, the Hogs have to feel pretty good about the return of Nick Smith Jr. Great players make everyone around them better. All of a sudden, the opposing team’s best perimeter defender is no longer on Anthony Black or Ricky Council IV. Smith’s shooting opens up the floor for the other players on offense and he appears to be a plus defender.

My father has repeatedly pointed out how well Smith moves without the ball. He consistently finds the soft spot of the defense and puts himself in position to score, whether that means cutting to the basket or lingering around the 3-point line. I can only imagine this improves as he develops more chemistry with his teammates, particularly Black and Davonte Davis. Both players have a flair for the dramatic pass.

Apparently, people who project him as a NBA lottery pick may know what they are doing.  

The blowout win against Georgia was by far the best shooting night of the season from downtown for the Hogs. Making shots can be contagious.  

As an aside, I really enjoyed Ron Slay’s color commentary on the Georgia game. Slay’s attempt to keep the blow out game interesting for TV viewers was appreciated. His reaction to Council’s dunk in the first half was pure gold. After showing a replay of the dunk, they cut to a shot of Slay’s head flying back and his mouth open for an excited, “Ohhhhhh!” It captured the moment perfectly. I’m not saying I prefer him to Jimmy Dykes (whose basketball camp I attended in seventh grade), but it was nice for a change.

Arkansas basketball coach Eric Mussleman has a different set of problems now. In addition to Smith’s return, Jalen Graham has emerged as a true offensive focal point over the last few games. He is a matchup nightmare for certain teams. Prior to looking like a young Kevin McHale against Florida, the first Alabama matchup was Graham’s best performance of the season. Can Musselman keep Devo Davis and Jordan Walsh engaged on both sides of the court as they adapt to somewhat diminished offensive roles?

The team looks to be rounding into shape for another run in March. The final three games of the season, in which Tennessee and Kentucky follow Alabama, were always going to be a struggle. Sure, Arkansas seems to match up well against Kentucky this year, but the Wildcats are playing much better as of late.

Arkansas must win one of the last three games to finish .500 in SEC play. While they seem to be firmly in the field of 68 at this point, ending the season on a three game skid and finishing 8-10 in the conference is not the most reassuring way to go into the SEC Tournament and Selection Sunday. Hopefully, rejuvenated Nick Smith Jr. and company will not be in the position of having to sweat out being on the bubble by winning one of the three remaining games.

The writer, a native of Little Rock, is a criminal defense attorney in Texas with almost 20 years of experience and a lifelong Arkansas fan.  


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