Jurors choose death for killer
The defendant told jurors
he does not remember the killing.
By LAURE CIOFFI
VINDICATOR PENNSYLVANIA BUREAU
NEW CASTLE, Pa. — A Lawrence County man found guilty of killing his girlfriend will go to Pennsylvania’s death row.
Jurors spent less than two hours Friday deliberating the fate of 36-year-old Dennis Reed after finding him guilty in his girlfriend’s death on Thursday.
He will be the only man from Lawrence County on death row. Currently 223 men and five women are on Pennsylvania’s death row.
Wendy Miler, 28, was killed in December 2001 of a single gunshot to the back of her head. Her body was left by Reed in the woods near the Neshannock Creek. Reed then took three of her children and lived out of Miller’s vehicle for a week driving from New Castle to Butler.
Prosecutors presented only one witness during the trial’s penalty phase. Miller’s now 13-year-old daughter Jayla McKnight, testified that her mother’s death has affected everyone in the family.
“I can’t do things other kids do with their moms,” she said while sobbing.
Reed presented no defense during his trial, but did take the stand Friday in the penalty phase.
He spent nearly two hours on the stand giving a rambling account of his life, often regressing back to being assaulted in the Lawrence County Jail when he was 18 or 19.
Reed told the jury that he was jumped by seven or eight men and knocked unconscious. When he awoke he was wearing high-heeled, red women’s shoes and had been sexually assaulted.
He mentioned through his testimony about claims that he is still being targeted by people in jail because they knew of the sexual assault.
“It’s something that mentally did damage to me. I got somebody who tried to take my manhood,” he said.
Reed told jurors that he started to have “psychological symptoms” that included sensitivity to light and dizziness after he was released from a four-year state prison sentence and moved in with Miller.
Reed and Miller had been high school sweethearts who had a son together when Miller was 16. They separated while he was incarcerated, and she had a relationship with another man that produced three children.
They eventually reunited when he was in state prison.
Reed said after he moved in with Miller he started to self medicate with alcohol and drugs to mask the light sensitivity and dizziness he was feeling.
He said his relationship with Miller started to deteriorate, too.
“We started to have arguments about her hearing from other people about me. Eventually she started to be quiet,” he said.
Eventually Miller sought and got a restraining order against Reed and it was then that he set out to kill her, prosecutors said.
Reed claims he had a nine-day blackout and does not recall anything about Miller’s murder or kidnapping her three youngest children. He claims after learning about the restraining order, his next memory is being arrested by police in Butler.
Jurors decided prosecutors proved the two aggravating circumstances outlined for death. They were that he committed the murder while committing another felony. The jury had convicted him of seven felonies during trial that included a felon not permitted to carry a gun and kidnapping. They also found that he killed Miller knowing there was a restraining order against him prohibiting contact with Miller or her children.
Reed will be formally sentenced in about 45 days.
His attorney, Randall Hetrick, said he wasn’t surprised by the jury’s decision.
“The evidence is what it is. That’s what we were presented with,” he said.
District Attorney John Bongivengo called the verdict just.