FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — The woman who beat her stepson to death in their Fort Wayne home a week before Christmas last year has been sentenced.
‘This was not a quick death. This death took hours’ – Karen Richards, prosecutor
Allen County Prosecutor Karen Richards said the injuries 9-year-old Elijah Ross received at the hands of his step-mother were so numerous and cruel that she’d never seen anything like it in her 41 years here.
The woman responsible for this incomprehensible beating, Alesha Miller, 31, was in court Tuesday for her sentencing after taking a plea in October. Allen Superior Court Judge Fran Gull stuck to the plea deal hammered out and gave Miller 35 years in prison for aggravated battery resulting in death and two Level 6 felony counts for neglect.
Miller wiped away tears as she apologized for the beating death of Elijah, the biological son of her same-sex spouse, Jenna Miller. Jenna Miller agreed to a plea Monday, the day before her trial was to begin and will be sentenced Jan. 6.
The slight boy with a mischievous smile was the youngest of three brothers, one of them biological. Both boys witnessed the beating and would have been asked to testify, something Richards said she wanted to spare them, she said.
“You’ve scarred two young boys for life who saw what you did,” Richards told Miller after going through Elijah’s injuries, including a tear to his penis. Some contusions were four inches by four inches, she said.
“This was not a quick death,” Richards said. “This death took hours.”
One person missing from the sentencing was Elijah’s father, Lethaniel Ross, known as Lamar to his friends. He fought to see Elijah and his older brother, but was kept away after Jenna slapped a no contact order on him in January 2019, claiming that that Ross had threatened to cause physical harm to her and placed her in fear of physical harm.
Jenna Miller’s January, 2019 statement read: “I was at work when my wife (Alesha) sent me a message stating that Lethaniel Ross was at our home beating on the doors, windows and anything other that he could beat on. He drove around the block continuously honking his horn and screaming out of the window. He also sent pictures to me of my house from the driveway and from the front street stating that he was not going to leave until he confronted me face to face. He then stated to myself that he was coming to me which led into my leaving work, not knowing if he would show up. He stated that he will continuously pop up until he has seen me and the children. The incident occurred in June 2018, she said.
At the time of Elijah’s death in December, Ross was serving time at the South Bend Community Re-entry Center, also known as work releas, for cocaine possession.
Tuesday, he was in the Allen County Jail after being charged with a misdemeanor for criminal mischief causing a probation revocation in a previous case. He reportedly had an altercation with a neighbor over his son’s death, according to two friends who attended the hearing, but didn’t speak. Neither of them want to be associated with the notoriety of the case, but have supported Ross in his efforts to fight for custody of his remaining son.
Ross would have been the only one standing up for Elijah. The family of Jenna Miller was absent from the courtroom.
“In my whole entire life, I just wanted to see my boys,” said Ross who also wanted custody of the oldest boy. Ross said he was emancipated from his parents and was hoping to keep his family whole.
“I was in the (foster C\care) system,” Ross said. “I know what it’s like first hand to feel like you’re a paycheck. I know what it’s like to feel alone. It took me some years to get over that.”
He still has nightmares after he attended Elijah’s funeral and saw the bruises on his face. “That’s a recurring nightmare I have almost every night,” Ross said during an impromptu interview at the Allen County Courthouse in May.
The beating death of Elijah shocked the city way beyond its borders. A memorial sprang up in front of 824 Putnam Ave. where the women lived with Jenna’s three boys. Neighbors continue to keep it supplied with teddy bears, flowers, pinwheels and other mementoes.
The beating began on Dec. 17, 2021 after his mother and step-mom returned from a Christmas party. They’d received a phone call that the boys were fighting, they said. Alesha Miller struck Elijah over and over again with a broken wooden paddle. Police reported they found a belt nearby that could have also been used in the beating, court documents said.
After midnight, Elijah was barely conscious when the two women carried him upstairs, attempting to revive him in the shower. At that point, he was still able to speak softly. He squeezed his mother’s arm and said “Mommy,” according to a probable cause affidavit written by homicide detective Aaron Johnson who attended the sentencing with another homicide detective, Scott Tegtmeyer.
When it became apparent that he needed medical attention badly, the two women trundled him into Alesha’s white Jeep and took him to St. Joseph Hospital downtown. The receiving attendant described Elijah’s body as “cold and limp” with rigor mortis setting in.
“I hope you live with this the rest of your life,” Richards said.