The stakes couldn’t be much higher for Keenan Miller.
The 22-year-old Rock Hill native is charged with murder, attempted murder and weapons charges in a March 2016 shootout between rival groups. It all happened in the middle of Rock Hill’s Keels Avenue. Court documents show the trial is set for Monday.
Miller will have no lawyer, court documents show. He fired his two previous lawyers, court records show, and told the court in filings and in an August hearing he plans to go to trial without an attorney and argue self-defense.
Miller faces up to life in prison if convicted of murder. An attempted murder convict would mean 30 years.
Charleston School of Law Professor Miller Shealy said, without a lawyer, the chances are not good for getting an acquittal in a case as serious as murder.
“You have a better chance of winning the Powerball,” Shealy said.
Tom McKinney, a defense lawyer in York County for more than 50 years, said he can’t remember another York County murder case, or set of such serious allegations, where the defendant tried to argue reasonable doubt without an attorney.
“This young man is rolling the dice big time,” said Kenneth Gaines, a University of South Carolina law school professor and expert on criminal procedure.
A pair of high-profile trials in the past year in South Carolina where the defendant used no lawyer ended with guilty verdicts. In Columbia in 2016, Nathan Martinez was his own lawyer in a rape case. He was convicted and sentenced to life plus 30 years.
Dylann Roof, a white supremacist who killed nine black parishioners at a Charleston church in 2015, represented himself in a federal civil rights trial last year. He was convicted and sentenced to death.
On the day in August when a hearing was held for Miller to remove his appointed lawyer, the lawyer filed a motion telling the court Miller would argue self-defense. Self-defense must be disproven by prosecutors in court, Gaines said. Miller does not have to prove self-defense, Gaines said.
The only court papers Miller has filed from the York County jail, where he has been since his March 2016 arrest, are hand-written. One note states, “I want a trial by a jury of my peers,” then adds “I plead not guilty to all the charges.”
Another note Miller written last month to a judge reads: “Your service is no longer needed or wanted, you are hereby relieved of your service to me. Thank you for serving.”
But that note had no effect. The judge remains.
In an Aug. 31 note, Miller wrote that he is his own lawyer. He filed a motion asking for a dismissal on grounds of “inconclusive evidence,” and “violation of Constitutional rights.”
Miller has the Constitutional right to go to trial without a lawyer, based on a U.S. Supreme Court decision.
In the August hearing, Miller was warned that he was making a decision he did not have to make, documents show. Any accused person has the right to a lawyer if he wants one, and the state must pay for the lawyer if the person can’t afford one.
The judge ruled that Miller “wishes to exercise his right to represent himself despite the warnings this court discussed with him during the hearing,” a judicial order states.
Miller does have an a lawyer to be what Gaines and the other experts called “stand by counsel.” The judicial order states the lawyer will be there for the “sole purpose of advising the defendant of court procedure.” That lawyer cannot address the court or jury on Miller’s behalf, the ruling states.
Jarrius Harding, 18, was killed in the Marach 2016 shootout on Keels Avenue, police and prosecutors have said in previous hearings. Prosecutors have alleged a “dispute with bad blood” between two factions.
Harding, Quintonio Porter and another man were in a car when gunmen in another vehicle began firing at them, prosecutors have previously stated in court previously. Porter pulled a gun that became entangled in his seat belt, and in attempting to fire back at the other car, accidentally shot Harding in the head as Harding ducked in the back seat, prosecutors said in 2016.
Miller, who was on probation at the time for other crimes, has been charged with three counts of attempted murder and weapons charges. In October 2016 he was indicted for the alleged murder of Harding, court documents show.
Miller claims he is wrongly accused in court filings.