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Paul Miller was born in the hills of Tennessee. His defense attorney says because of that, a jury could misunderstand his testimony when he stands trial for charges of second-degree murder.
“There’s a certain kind of talk that’s southern talk, and it can mean completely different things (to non-southerners)” said Douglas Williams, Miller’s attorney, at a hearing Monday.
Williams requested that a professional certified linguist be hired at the state’s expense to analyze Miller’s speech in depositions. Circuit Judge J. David Walsh upheld his request, although prosecutors will have the chance to review the linguist’s report and potentially object to the linguist acting as a witness before trial.
Miller is accused of shooting his neighbor, Dana Mulhall, March 14 with a Kel-Tek 9mm handgun after the two men got into an argument about Miller’s barking dog. They’d had arguments before.
Williams punctuated his argument for a linguist with several examples of “southern talk.” For one, “I wouldn’t care to go to” means, “I’d like to,” Williams said.
“When you talk about those kinds of phrases that are going to spread throughout this trial, which have been said voluntarily by my client, this interpretation is going to be crucial to the trial to help jurors understand what (the phrases) actually mean,” Williams said.
State attorneys said the risk of using a linguist to interpret Miller’s testimonies is that such a linguist would be delving into the realm of intent and meaning, which should come from Miller alone.
There is no known prior case law about using an expert to speak on the meaning of certain words. Walsh said granting Williams’ motion for a linguist could be a “slippery slope,” but that it seemed pertinent to see what such an expert has to say. Once the defense has a linguist’s report on Miller’s speech, there may be another hearing to decide whether to allow the report to play a role in Miller’s trial.
Miller had already been found indigent to pay for his trial expenses. Walsh approved Williams to hire a linguist at the Justice Administrative Commission’s rate of a maximum of $200 per hour, or $2,000 total for the case.
Miller’s case is approaching its one-year anniversary. Walsh said he wanted to stop continuing the trial, and asked that both prosecuting and defense attorneys file all of their motions and complete all pretrial hearings by a docket sounding April 18.
Williams said he planned to file a stand your ground motion as a part of Miller’s defense, referring to a federal law that says using force may be justifiable if it is done in self-defense.
Miller called 911 moments after the shooting. He later told deputies that Mulhall made a gesture that he interpreted as threatening before Miller fired five shots, three of which hit Mulhall, according to court documents.
Miller wasn’t initially arrested as officers investigated the nature of Mulhall’s gesture. Two days after the shooting, Miller was arrested and charged with second-degree murder.
Walsh scheduled Miller’s trial to being April 22 and last seven trial days.