Fate of parents who chained their kids looming

Published 10:44 am Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Mower County residents have watched, horrified, as a Dexter couple who deprived their two sons of food and chained one to his bed have made their way through the justice system.

The parents, Brian and Charity Miller, pleaded guilty to criminal charges and are awaiting sentencing; they are also waiting to see what will come of their parental rights.

But with two gross misdemeanor charges against each of them, the toughest sentence either could receive is two years in jail. Jeremy Clinefelter, assistant county attorney, said the County Attorney’s office would have charged the couple with felonies if it had been possible.

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“Had we had the evidence, we would have been happy to charge the felonies,” Clinefelter said. “We’ve reviewed, in making our decision, not only the evidence from the scene … but the medical records. Those have been thoroughly reviewed and were part of the charging decision.”

The Millers’ 5-year-old boy weighed only 30 pounds and had marks on his leg from being chained to his crib when child protective services intervened. But the damage was not enough to constitute “substantial bodily harm,” which is necessary to charge someone in these circumstances with a felony, Clinefelter said.

“The major difference and key component here is the substantial bodily harm. That had to occur,” Clinefelter said. “If the evidence isn’t there, you shouldn’t be charging them. You shouldn’t be overcharging or undercharging.”

In their plea hearing on May 12, the Millers explained the process of chaining up the 5-year-old. Brian said he or Charity would roll down the boy’s sock as a cushion and put the chain around the sock and pant leg, looping the chain around his leg once and locking it to itself with a padlock. Charity said there was usually room for one or two fingers between the boy’s leg and the chain.

“We were to a point where gates and locks didn’t work with him,” Brian said in court. He said the boy was getting into knives and other things that “could harm him.”

Clinefelter said he suspects some people think the Millers’ behavior should be considered felony-level due to the nature of their crimes.

“That conduct — they think it should be more severe than it is under Minnesota law,” he said.

The Legislature is the entity that calls the shots in that area, and the County Attorney’s office can only follow the guidelines mandated by the government.

The Millers will be sentenced July 22. However, they will appear in civil court Friday, May 27, for a pre-trial on their parental rights. They can choose to go to trial or voluntarily give up their parental rights. If they go to trial, the judge will make a decision within a couple weeks.

Until a decision is made, the Millers’ two boys are in temporary foster care.