Sunday, February 3, 2008

Transient gets death sentence for Easter 2006 slaying of Orlando woman

Lionel Miller enters an Orange County courtroom in Orlando on Friday. He was sentenced to death for the April 2006 slaying of Jerry Smith, 72, in Orlando. (George Skene, Orlando Sentinel / February 1, 2008)

Jim Leusner

Sentinel Staff Writer

February 2, 2008

A transient, career criminal and crack-cocaine addict was sentenced Friday to death for killing an Orlando woman at her Delaney Park home on Easter Sunday 2006.

Lionel Miller, 59, was sentenced to die by lethal injection for the fatal stabbing of 72-year-old Jerry Smith and the attempted murder of a neighbor who tried to save her life.

"Lionel Miller, you have not only forfeited your right to live among us as a free man, but under the laws of the great state of Florida, you have forfeited your right to live at all," Orange-Osceola Chief Judge Belvin Perry said.

A Circuit Court jury found Miller guilty in November. Jurors later voted 11-1 to recommend the death sentence. Perry's sentence automatically will be appealed to the Florida Supreme Court.

During a 45-minute hearing Friday, Perry read excerpts of his 20-page order in determining Miller's sentence. He noted that Miller has served 35 years of his adult life behind bars, including 1975 manslaughter and 1984 robbery convictions in Oregon. He was paroled there in 2004, but fled supervision and the state.

According to witness testimony and Miller's confession to Orlando police, he had seen Smith wearing a lot of jewelry while tending to her yard.

After an Easter Sunday that started with church services and a family brunch, Smith encountered Miller about 8 p.m. The two struck up a conversation, and she offered Miller water and invited him inside.

There, they talked about Key West, and Smith was "as nice as she could be" while showing off her paintings, the judge quoted Miller as saying.

But then the woman "sensed something was wrong" and opened the blinds of a window so people could see inside. Miller threw her onto the couch. She started screaming and fled out the back door. In an attempt to silence her screams, Miller stabbed her in the back, side and arm, causing a "very torturous, painful, fearful death," Perry said.

Neighbor Larry Haydon, who heard the screams, was stabbed once by Miller when he tried to stop the attack.

Perry sentenced Miller to a life sentence for that attempted murder, plus two more life sentences for burglary and attempted robbery with a deadly weapon.

Perry said he weighed various factors about Miller, including that his mother was a heavy alcohol and drug user who abandoned him; that he briefly served in the U.S. Army in 1966; and his anti-social personality disorder.

Jim Leusner can be reached at or 407-420-5411.

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