Rochester Man Goes On Trial For Setting 7 Fires in 1992 — (New Hampshire Union Leader)

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New Hampshire Union Leader (Manchester, NH)

February 11, 1994

Author: PATRICK HEALY Union Leader Correspondent

DOVER – The insanity trial of Rodney Miller, the Rochester man who has admitted to setting seven separate fires in that city during 1992, began yesterday in Strafford County Superior Court, as defense witnesses testified about Miller’s past disturbing behavior.

Miller, 31, who is currently serving a sentence in the state prison in Concord for an unrelated burglary conviction, has entered a plea of innocent by reason of insanity.

According to defense lawyer Marian N. Sagona, Miller suffers from an obsessive-compulsive disorder which caused the defendant to set seven separate fires between April and June of 1992. The arson counts include fires at the Encore Shoe building on Wakefield Street, the Shop and Save building on Milton Road, and the Northgate Apartment building on Farmington Road.

Assistant Strafford County Attorney Harry Starbranch, the cases’ prosecutor, said yesterday in his opening statements that Miller did indeed suffer from OCD – but the illness had nothing to do with setting fires.

”Typically Ob Comp individuals do not participate in criminal conduct,” Starbranch told the jury hearing the trial. ”Even If you buy (that Miller is PC), the evidence is going to show you that the fire setting is not even his obsession.”

Starbranch said Miller’s motive for setting some of the fires was to avenge himself on individuals or groups that the defendant felt had wronged him in the past. Starbranch also reminded the jury that defense lawyers had to prove that Miller was insane during the time of the fires, and he cautioned jurors that the defense had to link the disorder specifically with fire setting.

Sagona said the defense would call practicing doctors and medical experts to testify on Miller’s behalf, and she added the arsons were grounded in Miller’s longtime disorder.

The first defense witness was Dr. Alexander Smith, a general practitioner in Rochester, who has been the Miller family doctor for more than 40 years. Under questioning by the defense, Smith testified that Miller came to see him several times over the last decade, complaining of anxiety, depresssion and lack of sleep.

Smith also testified that Miller had been prescribed several anti-anxiety and anti-depressant drugs, including Prozac.

Much of the afternoon testimony was given by Miller’s father, John, the defendant’s brother George Douglas, and the defendant’s wife, Darcy. The family members all described a pattern of erratic behavior on the part of Miller, who witnesses said has complained of mental problems since his childhood.

John Miller testified that he has suffered from mental trauma related to his World War II experiences. In graphic detail Miller described how the defendant spent much of his childhood watching the elder Miller go through bouts of depression and suicidal episodes.

George Douglas Miller, who also testified to having experienced mental disorders himself, said over the years he has seen his brother lie down in the middle of the Route 125 highway as well as fake car accidents. Miller’s brother also testified that he had seen Rodney suffer through repeated suicidal episodes.

After yesterday’s portion of the trial ended, Sagona said she would call Rodney Miller as her first witness when the testimony resumes this morning at 9:30 a.m.

Judge Bruce E. Mohl informed the jury that the jury that the trial is expected to last through Monday. Mohl also denied a defense motion to sequester the jury, although he instructed individual jurors to avoid reading or listening to media accounts of the trial.

Copyright 1994, 2002 Union Leader Corp.
Record Number:  0F545061518ECCE2