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Jury finds teen guilty of capital murder
17-year-old is sentenced to life in prison without parole

By Seth Burkett
DAILY Staff Writer

sburkett@decaturdaily.com 340-2355

MOULTON — A Lawrence County jury found a teenager guilty Friday of capital murder in the 2003 beating and burning of a neighbor.

Circuit Judge Phillip Reich sentenced 17-year-old Evan Miller to life in prison without parole.

Miller and accomplice Colby Smith killed Cole C. Cannon, 52, in his mobile home July 15, 2003. The two teens, 14 and 16 at the time, allegedly stole baseball cards and $350 from Cannon before beating him with a baseball bat, setting his mobile home on fire and leaving him to die.

Cannon's oldest daughter, Candy Cheatham, didn't accept the muffled apology Miller offered for the pain he'd caused.

"You say you're sorry? You have no idea what kind of pain we went through. It's very difficult to plan your father's funeral and to pick out his headstone," she said.

She is pregnant, she said, and her brother's family also has a child on the way.

"They're not going to know their grandfather. He was murdered by Evan Miller and Colby Smith. He was hit with a bat and left in a fire to die. That's what I'm going to have to tell them," she said.

Cheatham showed Miller pictures of her father as a child that she rescued from the ashes of his home.

"You know, he was a person and he mattered to us. ... I do hope when you're in prison you will find Jesus, but I can't forgive you right now, and I don't think my family can either," she said.

Troubled teen

As deputies escorted Miller from the courtroom, he told family members he loved them, to which they replied, "We love you, Evan."

Miller had pleaded not guilty by reason of mental defect. During testimony Thursday, his mother and a psychologist hired by the defense painted a picture of a troubled teen with a drug dependency and personality disorders.

Susan Miller testified that her son had attempted suicide multiple times, lived in foster care and had been in and out of psychological programs.

Following the trial, Miller told THE DAILY that she doesn't believe her son intentionally killed Cannon.

"He's not a cold-blooded killer," she said. "... My son got caught up in a terrible, terrible situation. I think Evan felt forced into participating because he was too deep into it."

Evan Miller's life essentially ended at 14, his mother said. He has been incarcerated at Lawrence County Jail for about a year since being certified as an adult, she said.

Smith, who testified, agreed to plead guilty to felony murder charges last week in exchange for a life sentence with the possibility of parole. Had he been convicted at trial, he would have faced life in prison without parole.

"I feel that they deserve punishment for what they did," said Evan Miller's sister, Aubrey Miller, 19. "But neither of them had an adult mind. They are victims of the system, but that is not an excuse for what they did. But I don't feel that Evan should have been tried as an adult."

Aubrey Miller said she shared her brother's troubled childhood — poverty, abuse and neglect.

"There are a lot of people responsible for a 14-year-old committing murder," she said. "I really believe that my mother and father should share the blame. Not just for that one night without supervision. It started when he was born. ... He wasn't thinking. No one had taught him to think. We were not taught respect and honesty.

"My daddy will say he tried to do those things, but you don't beat a child into being honest. My mother loves her children, but she's a poor parent."

Cautionary tale

She said she hopes parents will take Evan Miller's story as a cautionary tale.

Aubrey Miller extended apologies to Cannon's loved ones.

"I feel that Candy Cheatham had every right to say what she said. The whole family is justified in their pain and anger. They've waited 3 years. It was very heartbreaking to hear what she said, but they had the right. I feel pain for them, and I also carry the shame and guilt that my little brother is carrying.

"I pray that they will find closure to this, and that they will go on. ... I'm glad that they were able to face it today. I hope they will find it in their hearts to forgive Evan. I really can't find all the words that I want to say to them," she said.

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