State resolves case against Cambodian restaurant consultant
BRATTLEBORO -- Aided by a video-conferencing connection to the capital city of Cambodia, authorities on Friday resolved a two-decade-old Brattleboro criminal case -- a file that, some argue, had remained open only due to miscommunication.
Former local resident Jay Miller, now 43 and a restaurant consultant in Phnom Penh, appeared in Windham Superior Court Criminal Division via Skype to plead guilty to violating his probation from a 1994 conviction for lewd and lascivious conduct.
Officials also discharged Miller from probation, meaning he is no longer is under state supervision.
But that only begins to tell the story of why Miller had found himself a wanted man in Brattleboro 20 years after his last court appearance here.
"This is a really unusual situation," said Miller's defense attorney, Brattleboro-based James Valente.
Miller was convicted of lewd and lascivious conduct with a child on Aug. 31, 1994, in Windham County. According to a court filing from Valente, the case arose from a relationship Miller had in 1991 with a female five years his junior.
Miller was sentenced to three to five years, with that prison time suspended in favor of probation. When he moved west in 1995, the case "was transferred to California, he completed his probation satisfactorily, he was discharged, and he was done in 1999," Valente said.
But Miller's discharge from correctional supervision in California did not translate to a discharge from probation in Vermont. That's in part because Vermont courts can impose indefinite terms of probation and had done so in Miller's case.
Valente also cited a lack of communication between states, saying he is not sure whether word of Miller's discharge from probation in California never reached Vermont or whether Vermont officials failed to acknowledge and/or act on it.
"There was no correspondence between either California and (Vermont Probation and Parole) or defendant and either of the entities between Oct. 4, 1999, and Oct. 12, 2011 -- a period of almost exactly 12 years," Valente wrote in court documents. "During this period, (Miller) assumed that his probation had been discharged."
It might have been a moot point, except for the fact that Miller eventually found himself in further legal trouble. In 2008, documents show, he was sentenced in California for interstate transportation of stolen goods -- a federal crime.
Miller was ordered to serve 18 months confinement and three years of supervised release, from which he was granted an early discharge in 2010. In addition to those federal penalties, the conviction also triggered a violation of Miller's indefinite term of probation in Vermont.
Word of that violation apparently took years to reach Miller, though. Valente said his client first received notice of a potential issue in 2011, when he was in Istanbul, Turkey.
In court Friday, Miller said that, when he communicated with Vermont officials at the time, he was told there "would be no violation, I should sit tight, not worry."
However, court documents show that, in September 2012, a warrant was issued for Miller's arrest based on the probation violation. Miller was "unaware of the warrant until it turned up after a routine background check following a job interview," Valente wrote in court filings.
Then, "on July 28, 2014, (Miller) learned that representatives of the U.S. consulate intended to detain him and return him to the United States due to the existence of the warrant," Valente wrote.
Court records include a July 18 message to Miller from Phil Damone, a program supervisor at Brattleboro Probation and Parole. Damone urged Miller to return to Brattleboro to appear in court.
"This is a very old case but, as you can see, it has far-reaching consequences and really needs to be dealt with," Damone wrote.
From Cambodia, Miller hired Valente, who petitioned to have the arrest warrant stayed so that his client would not be taken into custody in Cambodia. On July 29, Judge Katherine Hayes granted that request.
"He would have had to be flown here and detained had that warrant not been lifted," Valente said.
The issue of an outstanding probation violation in Vermont still remained, though. So Friday's hearing was scheduled, in effect, to allow Miller's case to be disposed of without his having to return to U.S. soil.
The hearing began at 1 p.m., or at midnight in Phnom Penh. Via the Skype connection, Judge David Suntag accepted Miller's guilty plea to a probation violation and explained that Miller's discharge from Vermont probation would be deemed "unsatisfactory" due to that violation.
Authorities also recorded his Phnom Penh address and said that, if Miller returns to Vermont, he would have to register as a sex offender due to the 1994 conviction.
In court, Damone told Suntag that his department was satisfied with the outcome of the case.
"This just seems like a reasonable and appropriate response," Damone said.
Valente, who said his client operates "the most-popular restaurant in Phnom Penh," noted the complications stemming from Miller's geographic location.
"His living in Cambodia prevents him from meaningfully asserting a lot of defenses without significantly affecting his life," Valente said.
Miller spoke briefly on his own behalf, raising concerns about the way his case has been handled. After being discharged from probation in California in 1999, "I never received any notification from Vermont until 2011, saying that my case was still open," Miller told the judge.
He also said he had continued to register as a sex offender in California until 2011, when he was informed that he no longer had to.
"I felt like I was doing everything I could possibly do to comply with my conditions of probation," Miller said.
Officials said an interstate compact has improved communication among states and makes cases such as Miller's relatively rare these days.
"There's a system designed to prevent this with procedures," Valente said after Friday's hearing.
Still, he said, "it's a reminder of why it's so important to treat each case carefully."
Mike Faher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 275. Follow him on Twitter @ReformerMike.
Due to misstatements made by Miller's attorney in Windham District Court, this story has been corrected from the original version.
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