The man accused of stabbing a woman to death on Clinton Street in January admitted to the killing Wednesday in exchange for 20 years in prison.
Perry L. Miller pleaded guilty to one count of first-degree manslaughter in the killing of 43-year-old Tammie Washington after a heated argument.
He had initially been charged with and indicted on second-degree murder, a charge that carries a maximum sentence of 25 years to life in prison.
Prosecutor Philip Mueller offered the deal to the lesser manslaughter charge, he said later, because a jury could have concluded Miller’s actions constituted intent to seriously injure, not kill, which is the distinction between murder and manslaughter.
There was also a possible self-defense argument from Miller, though prosecutors believed they could easily overcome it.
Miller and a companion got into an argument with Washington at the Salvation Army breakfast program but left the scene and walked away. Washington followed and, knowing Miller and his companion had a knife between them, armed herself by picking up a 4-foot parking sign pole from a nearby lot.
Though Washington swung the pole twice at Miller after she caught up, she had already been disarmed by the time Miller stabbed her twice, Mueller said. Even with the pole, the 43-year-old woman hardly posed a deadly threat, Mueller said.
He recounted the prosecution’s timeline of Washington’s Jan. 30 killing on Clinton Street, after Miller admitted in court Wednesday to killing her.
Miller was indicted this week on second-degree murder and other charges.
Mueller explained later that while prosecutors believe they could prove the murder case at trial the manslaughter plea provides a lengthy sentence and finality to the case.
Miller was represented by attorney Kent Gebert, who said later that the plea was an appropriate one for his client. Miller agreed to it after examining the facts and circumstances of the case, including possible self-defense claims.
Present for Wednesday’s plea were three relatives of Washington. They declined to comment afterward, saying they wanted to reserve their thoughts for Miller’s sentencing.
Mueller said he believed the family understood the reasons Miller was offered the plea bargain.
In Wednesday’s plea, Miller admitted to intending to cause Washington serious physical injury and doing so, causing her death. A murder case requires intent to kill, Mueller noted.
The confrontation between Washington and Miller was short, the prosecutor said.
“At the time that the defendant walked away and stopped his attack, the victim was still standing and talking,” he said.
They know that from witnesses who were there, as well as surveillance video.
The video did not catch the confrontation itself, but it did catch Washington as she stumbled into a nearby parking lot after she was stabbed.
“The wound that was fatal was a horrific wound,” Mueller said. “But whether he fully understood that at the time is a matter of reading his mind.”
The dispute among the three people began at the Salvation Army during that morning’s breakfast program.
They got into an argument and, when they refused to stop, they were asked to leave. Mueller characterized the argument as petty, involving jealousy. He credited program workers with preventing the scene from escalating inside the building.
Program workers tried to mediate the argument outside, but it continued off Salvation Army property. Miller and his companion, Sonya Hall, walked away, and Washington followed.
Washington is believed to have known either Miller or Hall had a knife. Hall was seen by Salvation Army workers with a knife outside their building, Mueller said.
Once Washington caught up to the pair on Clinton Street, holding the pole, the argument continued. Washington even weakly swung the pole at the younger Miller twice. The second time, she grazed his arm. Miller, though, was uninjured. He was wearing a coat.
Miller then punched Washington. She either lost control of the pole, or threw it down. Miller then stabbed her twice and left.
Washington was stabbed less than two blocks from where the argument began.
Miller and Hall were arrested soon after.
Hall pleaded guilty earlier this month to one count of third-degree criminal possession of a weapon, a felony.
She is to receive 11⁄2 to 41⁄2 years in prison.
Regarding the initial argument that led Washington to be so enraged as to follow Miller and Hall, Mueller said he’s never in his career seen an argument that was worth coming to blows about, let alone fatal blows.
“But this was the kind of thing people argue about and, if anything, have words, turn and walk away,” he said. “It unfortunately didn’t go that way.”
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