Man originally facing murder charge gets probation on lesser charge

Crime

A jury on Wednesday sentenced James Miller to 10 years of probation and 6 months in the Travis County Jail. 

Miller was found not guilty of murder Tuesday afternoon, but guilty of a lesser charge — criminally negligent homicide — in connection with the 2015 stabbing death of Daniel Spencer, 32. 

Miller, 69, was also found not guilty of manslaughter. He faced two to 10 years in prison or 10 years probation.

In addition to the probation and jail time, he will also have to pay $10,000 in fines for restitution, have an alcohol monitor for a year or until a judge decides to remove it, 100 hours of community service and pay off the court costs. 

The prosecution said Spencer was an upstanding member of our community, “who was killed by the defendant for no good reason.” 

The state called a number of witnesses to the stand, including the victim’s mother. 

“I have a huge hole in my heart. Something’s wrong in the world when you lose your child before you go,” explained Marsha Spencer. “I’m tortured by the thought of how Daniel died and I’m tortured by the fact that he suffered and that he was alone when he died. It’s a loss that cuts deeply.” 

The defense argued that Miller acted in self-defense and so he should be eligible for the minimum punishment associated with the charge. 

“It was so uncharacteristic of Mr. Miller that for him to engage in this behavior clearly had to be an act of self-defense,” said Charlie Baird, Miller’s defense attorney. “We’re going to ask the jury to accord him probation and to allow him to return to his family and his home, and to the community.” 

The victim and the defendant were playing music and drinking together the night Spencer was killed. The defense argues Spencer came on to Miller, and he stabbed him in self-defense. 

The prosecution said the evidence does not support the self-defense argument, pointing to blood evidence at the scene they say didn’t match Miller’s story. Further, prosecutors argued it could have been Spencer who turned down Miller’s sexual advances.

Austin police were called around 3:45 a.m. on Sept. 21, 2015 from a service station at the 700 block of East 8th Street. Miller told Austin police “I think I killed someone,” and, “I stabbed him.”

The affidavit states that Miller said, “We were playing. We were doing the good music. We were playing back and forth and everything and I just let him know — Hey, I’m not gay. We been playing. We’re musicians and all that kind of stuff, but I’m not a gay guy. Then it seemed like everything was alright and everything was fine. When I got ready to go — it seemed like [expletive] just started happening.”

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