DES MOINES - The Iowa Court of Appeals granted a new trial Thursday to a man serving a 50-year prison sentence in the 2007 death of his infant daughter, saying mistakes were made during jury deliberations.
Curtis Miller's 3-month-old daughter, Kimisha, died weeks after suffering head injuries while in his care. Two years later, he was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and child endangerment resulting in death.
At trial, one juror deliberated for two days and then was allowed to leave for an out-of-state funeral with no return date set. Miller's attorney moved twice for a mistrial, which was denied.
Miller then agreed to have the court substitute an alternate juror, rather than wait for the original one to return for deliberations. The jury with the alternate juror convicted him.
The appeals court said the juror substitution was not acceptable.
"Because the court allowed a juror to begin deliberations and then separate from the rest of jury without any certainty as to when deliberations would resume, we believe the defense motions for mistrials should have been granted," the appeals court said.
The Iowa attorney general's office was studying the decision, spokesman Geoff Greenwood said. Miller's defense attorney did not immediately return a message left seeking comment.
Miller had argued that he was entitled to a new trial because substituting one juror for another after deliberations began violated a rule of criminal procedure.
The appeals court agreed, saying it "has interpreted this rule as prohibiting the substitution of alternate jurors for seated jurors during deliberations."
It also noted a 1997 decision requires trial courts to discharge alternate jurors once a jury begins deliberations. It "follows that a court is not authorized to keep replacement jurors waiting in the wings" and then require the defendant to choose between waiving his right to appeal the irregularity or hold deliberations after an extended interruption, it said.