Antoine Eugene Miller, once a defendant in the Reginald O. Denny beating trial, pleaded guilty Tuesday to felonious assault and two misdemeanor charges in exchange for 27 months probation and no prison time.
Miller's plea bargain comes three weeks after Damian Monroe Williams and Henry Keith Watson, his former co-defendants, were acquitted on the most serious charges stemming from the Denny beating and assaults on other people at Florence and Normandie avenues, a flash point for last year's rioting.
"I feel a lot better," Miller said as he left the courtroom, adding that he would be looking for a job.
His mother, Gwen Mayfield, said she feels "truly happy, truly blessed." Referring to victims of the riots, she said: "May God bless them too."
Miller, 21, pleaded guilty to assault with a deadly weapon on Marisa Bejar for throwing a telephone book encased in metal at the car in which she was riding--opening a gash in her head and showering her 7-month-old baby with shattered glass.
He also pleaded guilty to receiving motorist Alicia Maldonado's stolen purse and to grand theft for taking a bag containing papers from Denny's truck--both misdemeanors.
Miller, Williams, 20, and Watson, 29, had been charged with premeditated attempted murder in the assault on Denny. Miller was granted a separate trial from Williams and Watson, who were found not guilty of that charge last month.
Given those acquittals, prosecutors said Tuesday that the plea bargain was the best they could do under the circumstances. Videotape of the Denny beating shows Miller opening the door to Denny's truck, but lawyers for both sides agree that Miller, who was released on $25,000 bail last month, committed no acts of violence against the trucker.
"We do have to take into consideration the reality of what happened to the other two defendants," said Deputy Dist. Atty. Janet Moore, one of two prosecutors in the case. "What this plea does is allow Mr. Miller to accept responsibility for what he did out there at Florence and Normandie. It puts his future in his hands.
"Should he not be a law-abiding citizen, it gives us the leverage to send him to prison. It's all up to him."
Supervising Superior Court Judge Cecil J. Mills emphasized that point as he spelled out the terms of the plea bargain to Miller on Tuesday.
"You will be carrying the key to the penitentiary around in your pocket, young man," Mills said. The judge repeatedly stressed to Miller that he would not hesitate to send him to prison for violation of probation if Miller is "significantly involved" in any crime.
"If you hurt somebody, I'll be here waiting for you," Mills said, telling Miller that if he commits a crime, "you're history."
Mills told Miller that the worst that could happen to him for violating probation is a four-year prison term, but he would be given credit for the 17 months he served awaiting trial. That good time amounts to about 25 months, Mills said, meaning Miller would have to serve half of the remainder--about a year.
Miller faces no jail time on the misdemeanor charges because the time he already has spent in jail is more than the maximum sentence.
"I don't think you've had much of a chance in your life, young man," Mills said as Miller's mother sobbed and whispered, "Amen," from her seat in the courtroom.
"I don't see any reason why Antoine Miller can't be a pretty productive member of this society," Mills said after noting that Miller had not been in any serious trouble before.
When Mayfield left her seat to join Miller and his attorneys at a courtroom lectern, Mills asked her if she understood the terms and conditions of her son's probation.
"I have understood everything you've said, and God bless you," Mayfield said, tears streaming down her face.
James R. Gillen, one of Miller's attorneys, said he was wavering and had not agreed to accept the plea bargain until Miller's mother came up to stand beside him.
"Once his mother came up, that was his affirmation that he was going to receive justice," Gillen said. "He then agreed to the plea bargain."
Miller had been afraid that if he was placed on probation, "law enforcement authorities would try to roust him and frame him," Gillen said outside court. "I think Judge Mills has calmed those fears he had."
Mills canceled Miller's bond and released him on his own recognizance until he is formally sentenced Dec. 1.
"This young man's background is unfortunate," Gillen said outside court, pointing out that his mother is a recovered drug abuser and that his grandmother shot and killed his grandfather. Family friends have said Miller's grandmother killed his grandfather when Miller was 12 or 13. Shortly afterward, his grandmother died.
"If my grandmother and grandfather were living, I wouldn't be here," he said last year during an interview in jail.
"Probably everyone is glad in the city that the cases are over now," Deputy Dist. Atty. Lawrence C. Morrison, a co-prosecutor, said outside court. "The jury results somewhat handicapped our ability to go forward on all the charges against Mr. Miller."
Williams was convicted of felony mayhem for hitting Denny in the head with a brick, and of four misdemeanor assault charges. A motion to reduce his $580,000 bail was denied last week, and he faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison when he is sentenced Dec. 7.
Watson was convicted of misdemeanor assault for placing his foot on Denny's neck, but he received no jail time because the 17 months he already had served was greater than the maximum penalty. The jury was unable to reach a verdict on an assault with a deadly weapon charge against Watson for his role in the beating of trucker Larry Tarvin.
In a plea bargain reached last week, Watson pleaded guilty to that charge in exchange for three years on probation.