Jerome Gene Miller

He asserted his innocence — but pled guilty

Jerome Gene Miller, a twenty-two-year-old auto worker, told his lawyer he was innocent but nonetheless pled guilty in 1967 to robbing and murdering a Mississippi River toll booth attendant in Randolph County, Illinois, and was sentenced to 199 years in prison. Three years later, the Fifth District Illinois Appellate Court reversed the conviction and remanded the case for a new trial, holding that the trial court had failed to make an adequate inquiry to determine whether Miller understood the consequences of his guilty plea. Six months later Miller was retried on a change of venue in nearby Washington County and acquitted by a jury.

Case Chronology

May 11, 1967 — Joseph Gagnepain, fifty-five-year-old keeper of the Mississippi River toll booth at Chester, Illinois, is murdered and $11 in bills and $40 in change is taken.

May 13, 1967 — Jerome Miller is arrested after police find a box of change and a revolver in his car, which he parked near the toll both while working in St. Louis, Missouri.

June 6, 1967 — Randolph County grand jury indicts Miller for murder and robbery.

September 5, 1967 — Miller pleads guilty after his attorney, Robert H. Rice, states in open court, “I have advised Miller and believe that he has no chance of obtaining a not guilty verdict in this case. I have practiced criminal law for sixteen years. I have advised this Defendant that the only chance or issue that he is really facing before this jury is whether or not he will receive the maximum death penalty. I have informed him that in my opinion the best he can come out of this trial is with a guilty verdict and no recommendation of the death penalty. I have advised him that it is my belief and the experience of the courts of Illinois and in conversation with the State's Attorney that this option is available to us now without the necessity of a jury trial. That is, it is my opinion to Jerome Miller that he would not get the death penalty if he entered a plea of guilty.” Judge Carl H. Becker accepts the guilty plea.

September 25, 1967 — Judge Becker sentences Miller to 199 years for murder fifty to seventy-five years for robbery.

May 26, 1970 — Fifth District Illinois Appellate Court, finding that Miller did not fully comprehend the consequences of his guilty plea, reverses the conviction and remands the case for retrial.

November 16, 1970 — Jury in Washington County, where the case was retried on a change of venue, acquits Miller.

September 7, 1978 — Illinois Court of Claims denies Miller compensation for the 1,283 days of incarceration.

Case Data

Date of crime: May 11, 1967
Place of crime: Randolph County, Illinois
Type of crime: Murder
Sentence: 199 years
Defendant’s age at time of crime: 22 (born May 3, 1943)
Defendant’s gender: Male
Defendant’s race: White
Defendant’s prior adult conviction record: Burglary conviction for which he served one year in prison in Illinois
Victim: Joseph Gagnepain
Victim’s gender: Male
Victim’s race:White
Victim’s Age at time of crime: 55
How defendant became a suspect: Police claim to have received a tip that Miller had a revolver and a box of change in his car. (The victim, keeper of a Mississippi River toll booth, had been shot in the head and robbed of $40 in change.)
Date of arrest: May 13, 1967
Type of proceeding resulting in conviction: Jury trial, at which Miller changed his plea to guilty after the prosecution concluded its case.
Racial makeup of jury: All white
Principal evidence presented at trial purporting to establish guilt: Miller’s possession of a box of change (which he had told his lawyer he was saving to buy his wife a vacuum cleaner) and a revolver.
Was conviction ever affirmed on appeal? No
Date of release:November 19, 1970
Days incarcerated: 1,283
How case was resolved: Acquittal upon retrial
Date of resolution: Same as date of release
Factors leading to resolution: Ballistics tests revealed that Miller’s revolver was not the murder weapon and his testimony that he was saving the change to buy his wife a vacuum cleaner
Individual(s) responsible for bringing miscarriage to light: Privately retained appellate counsel (William Brandt)
Did defendant receive compensation for the wrongful conviction?No
After exoneration, was defendant charged with or convicted of another crime? No

— Rob Warden