Dawson Scott Miller pleads guilty

Dawson Scott Miller pleaded guilty to capital murder committed during a robbery stemming from an incident in 2013.

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TALLADEGA COUNTY -- A Talladega man has pleaded guilty to capital murder committed during a robbery stemming from an incident in 2013.

Dawson Scott Miller, 19, will be sentenced April 2 at 3 p.m. by Talladega County Circuit Judge Julian King. He faces a sentence of life in prison to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

According to Talladega County District Attorney Steve Giddens, if Dawson is sentenced to life, he will have to serve 30 years day for day, with no good time credit, before he is eligible for parole.

Miller was charged with killing Ernest L. Jenkins, 75, while robbing Jenkins Store in Ironaton on Oct. 4, 2013. Miller turned 15 on Oct. 25 of that year.

When Talladega police arrived on the scene, Jenkins was dead, and Miller had been shot; he was airlifted to University of Alabama at Birmingham Hospital, treated and then arrested. He was held without bond while his case proceeded.

A person accused of murder or other violent crimes after they turn 16 is automatically certified as an adult for trial and sentencing purposes. Because Miller was younger than this when he committed the crime, however, the case was initially brought in juvenile court; following an investigation by the state probation office and a hearing before District Court Judge Ryan Rumsey, Miller was certified as an adult.

Rumsey’s ruling was then appealed to the state Court of Criminal Appeals but was ultimately upheld. Once the case was sent to Circuit Court, Miller also had the right to be tried as a youthful offender, which is not the same thing as being tried as a juvenile. A youthful offender is tried by a circuit judge and can be sentenced to up to three years in prison but will ultimately come away with a clean record after his/her time is served.

Miller’s request to be tried as a youthful offender was also denied. Giddens said if Miller had not pleaded guilty, the case would have gone to trial by a Talladega County jury later this month.

Jenkins was a Talladega County native and lifelong resident who served in the U.S. Army during the war in Vietnam. He operated a gas station/convenience store and small engine repair shop in Ironaton.

He is survived by a wife, four children, eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Giddens said Jenkins’ widow and daughter were present in the courtroom when King accepted Miller’s plea. They will be given an opportunity to address the court before Miller is sentenced in April, he said.

A capital murder conviction is normally punishable by death by lethal injection or life without the possibility of parole. Two U.S. Supreme Court rulings, however, have held that the death penalty and mandatory life without parole both constitute cruel and unusual punishment when the defendant is under 18 at the time of the crime, violating the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Giddens said the state Legislature had passed a law giving judges the option of life with the possibility of parole in these cases last year.

Miller was defended by attorney Jon Adams.