FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) The mother of a 9-year-old boy killed by his stepmother in December of 2021 was sentenced to prison Friday morning. A judge handed down a 20-year sentence for Jenna Miller in connection with the death of her son, Elijah Ross.
Miller accepted a plea deal back in November. Her spouse, Alesha Miller was sentenced to 35 years in prison in November for aggravated battery and two counts of neglect of a dependent. A third neglect of a dependent count was dropped under her plea agreement.
The 20 years was handed down for a Level 1 felony neglect charge. Superior Court Judge Fran Gull gave Miller two years on two Level 6 felony neglect charges to be served concurrently (at the same time) as the primary sentence. Another Level 6 felony charge for resisting law enforcement during the May 2020 protests downtown brought another year to her sentence.
Representing her on that charge was criminal defense attorney Jeff Terrill who minimized her involvement, however prosecutors said Miller was “loudly yelling” during the chaos and didn’t immediately pull over when police ordered her to.
It was an interesting aside to a case that has focused on her role in the death of her youngest son, Elijah, beaten to death by her same-sex spouse, Alesha as she watched.
In a probable cause written by Fort Wayne Police Department detective, Mark Gerardot, Miller was driving a 2003 white Trailblazer on Wayne Street just west of South Clinton on May 30, 2020 around 10:30 p.m. when crowds had been protesting and rioting downtown for the second night in a row. Her passengers were “sitting on the window sills” of the vehicle, “hanging out of the vehicle yelling.”
Gerardot said he repeatedly asked the passengers “more than once” to please get back inside the car and put on their seatbelts. After he approached Miller, she asked why she was being stopped and refused to hand over her ID. When the light turned green and traffic cleared in front of her Trailblazer, “she sped away turning south on to South Clinton,” before finally stopping. Then she claimed her brakes didn’t work and that was the reason she drove away. Miller was taken to the Allen County Lock-up.
The beating of Elijah began on Dec. 17, 2021 after Jenna and Alesha returned from a Christmas party, according to information included in court documents. 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 court documents.
When it became apparent that he needed medical attention badly, the two women bundled 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.
At the sentencing Friday, the courtroom was filled with family, friends and child advocates as well as Elijah’s second grade teacher, Donna Rupp, at Franke Park elementary who described the boy as bright-eyed, caring and a student who excelled at reading and math. Five teachers came to the sentencing as well as friends and family, filling the courtroom.
Rupp said Elijah never spoke about his mother, but one time he came to school with a hat he proudly told her was like his dad’s, meaning Alesha Miller. According to a probable cause affidavit, Elijah and his two older brothers were instructed to call Alesha Miller, “Dad.”
Prosecutor Rebecca Grove said the 20-year sentence to which her office agreed was made primarily to keep the older boys from having to testify against their own mother, who was said to stand by while her spouse delivered Elijah’s fatal “whooping.”
Instead, Grove said Jenna Miller was googling how to revive an individual “who was not waking up” and never called 911. If she hadn’t allowed her son to be “beaten, battered and left to die,” he would have survived, Grove insisted. The bruises covered his entire body, including a “cut to his penis.” The death “was not quick and painless,” and apparently was over a small physical squabble when one brother shoved another into a bookshelf.
Emily Bunting, cousin to Elijah’s mother, Jenna, spoke at the sentencing and agreed to come on camera afterwards.
“I don’t believe it’s enough,” Bunting said of Miller’s 20 year sentence. “I believe it’s an eye for an eye. She should have gotten life, if not the death penalty. Same thing with Alesha (Miller). Elijah’s not here anymore, so if he’s not here, why should she be?
Bunting had a similar story to Rupp who said he was willing to help other students who needed a friend or help with academics.
“Elijah was very caring. Anytime anybody needed anything, he was right there. He was willing to give you hugs. He wanted to sit with you. He would be just a delight (in the family.) More so than the other two. He just seemed more personable and his demeanor was just so cheerful. He was a very loving boy,” Bunting said.
Giving her statement, she said if she’d known what she knows now, she would have been more involved with the family living on Putnam Street where neighbors continue to keep up a sidewalk memorial outside the home where he was beaten. Besides written memorials and photos, there are teddy bears and flowers.
“I only wish there was more sympathy from the wrong doers,” Bunting said in her statement.
Sitting between her public defenders, William Lebrato and Emily Kutsenok, Jenna Miller looked down and continuously teared up. Speaking for Miller, Kutsenok said Miller was full of remorse and was “too emotional to speak.” Kutsenok said she was “filled with regret every day,” “accepted responsibility for what she’d done,” and “loved her son very much.”
At the time of Alesha Miller’s sentencing, 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.
When the school community heard that Elijah was dead, “it rocked our school and our community,” Rupp said. “He deserved the best life had to offer. He was truly capable of great things.” Using typical life expectancy statistics, Elijah died 64 years before he should have.
“Jenna did not take care of Elijah,” Rupp said and should receive the maximum sentence.
Rupp brought to life the little boy who craved his teacher’s approval and sat next to her whenever he could. After a while she learned that the early morning messages she believed to be from Jenna, were written by Elijah.
“I heard I’m the best student in the class,” he wrote her once, after she discovered he was the communicator.
Elijah was “very artistic,” and loved the special classes. “When the class walked down the hall, he walked beside me,” Rupp recalled. “He often chose to sit by me while I was working.”
One time he wrote on the school account “You look tired,” and worried that Rupp would forget him after he left her class because she couldn’t recall a former student’s name.
“Are you going to forget me, too?” he asked her. Later she sought him out to tell him that she did remember the other student’s name.
“He was different than any other student I ever taught,” Rupp told the judge while Elijah’s mother sat silently sobbing.