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UPDATE: Man charged in Mercedes Lain murder case sentenced to 65 years in prison

Published: Jan. 17, 2022 at 8:10 PM EST
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KNOX, Ind. (WNDU) - Justin Miller, the man charged in the death of 11-month-old Mercedes Lain, has been sentenced to 65 years in prison. On Tuesday, Starke County Circuit Court Judge Kim Hall assigned Lain’s killer the maximum sentence for his murder charge, after weighing several “aggravating” and “mitigating” factors.

Hall acknowledged Miller, who lied several times to detectives, ultimately led police to the wooded area where he buried Lain, whose parents had asked Miller to babysit the child. The judge said Miller did plea guilty to murder, which waived his right to the appeals process.

However, the judge defended the 65-year sentence, telling Miller he committed the worst act possible by killing a baby.

The maximum sentence sat well with Mercedes’ family.

“I feel good about the sentencing, but the 65 years is never going to be enough for us. I mean, [Miller] took away a precious soul from us. It’s just painful,” said Angela Owens, Mercedes’ grandmother.

Since the case did not go to trial, Marshall County Chief Deputy Prosecutor Tami Napier called detectives and a FBI agent to the witness stand to testify on the evidence that provided clarity on Mercedes’ final day.

Napier said it’s gratifying to tell the baby’s story.

“It’s why I go to work. It’s what inspires me to do my job, getting justice for the victims, especially victims who have no power, no authority, no voice. They don’t get a say in this. You know, the defendants they always have a choice, but victims don’t have a choice,” said Napier.

Miller’s attorney, Alexander Hoover, agreed what Miller did was abhorrent. In court, he “asked for mercy” on Miller’s behalf, presenting “mitigating” factors for sentencing consideration, such as his client helping police locate Lain’s body and pleading guilty to murder.

“I think that the process was, you know, as, as easy as it can be. Obviously, like I said in court, the offense was heinous. Um, but, the State of Indiana - Ms. Napier - and I work a lot of cases together, um, she’s great to work with. For the most part, it, it went about as smoothly as it could,” said Hoover.

On Thursday, January 20th, Mercedes’ parents are due in Marshall County Court after being charged with neglect of a dependent. Court records show her father, Kenneth Lain, has a hearing to enter into a plea agreement while Tiffany Coburn has a status conference.

ORIGINAL STORY:

STARKE COUNTY, Ind. (WNDU) - The man charged in the death of 11-month-old Mercedes Lain last year is expected to appear in court Tuesday.

Mercedes lived in Marshall County last August when a long-time friend of her father’s agreed to babysit. Reports say 37-year-old Justin Miller got into an argument with his girlfriend and Mercedes became agitated.

Miller said he backhanded the baby to keep her quiet, causing her head to hit a wall. Mercedes was next given a bottle, which calmed her down, but only until the argument later reignited. That’s when Miller said he smacked the child again, and that she went back down.

Miller said he awoke later that day and discovered the child was not moving. Miller loaded her body into his Jeep and drove to a rural area of Starke County where he wrapped the child’s body in a pink blanket, buried her, and spread debris to try and hide the grave.

Miller is expected to be sentenced to a prison term between 45 and 65 years.

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