Convicted killer Joseph Milman has appealed the sentence handed down by Judge Morgan Laur Reinman on Oct. 26, asking Florida’s Fifth District Court of Appeals to reconsider the 30 years in prison plus two consecutive life sentences the state says the 28-year-old will have to serve.
When a jury in August convicted him of three lesser charges in the shooting death of one man and the wounding of another north of Indialantic in 2014, Joseph Milman might have expected less than the maximum sentence. He was wrong.
The harsh sentence comes as punishment for killing Scott Hyatt and wounding Robert Mell during a drug robbery in the house where Mell lived at 370 E. Riviera Blvd. near Indialantic.
The lengthy sentence was also in large part the result of the Prison Release Reoffender system in Florida, in which a defendant who commits a felony within three years of release from prison must serve the full sentence with no leeway. “PRR sentences are the statutory maximum for the crime, to be served day for day,” said prosecutor Susan Garrett.
As he did after his conviction following a three-week trial, Milman showed no emotion as the judge pronounced the sentence. He filed his appeal the very next day, but the state stands behind Reinman’s interpretation of the sentencing statute.
“The significance of consecutive life sentences is that it is designed to ensure, as much as possible at this point, that the intended life sentence stands despite any possible future changes in the law or post conviction challenges such as appeals that could reduce or eliminate one or more of the sentences on the individual counts,” Garrett said.
In a lofty, long-shot, pre-sentencing motion asking Reinman to declare that provision of the law unconstitutional, defense attorney Michael Pirolo argued that the way the law reads, the judge’s hands were tied in meting out a sentence and that she could not show any discretion, thus amounting to cruel and unusual punishment.
“The court is handcuffed and has to sentence to the maximum and have him do 100 percent of the time,” Pirolo said during the sentencing phase. “Our position is that it’s unconstitutional and prevents individualized sentencing. It does not take into account the defendant’s background, upbringing or character. We are asking the court to find this unconstitutional in that it violates the 8th Amendment and violates the Florida Constitution. It’s a violation of equal protection.”
The judge disagreed.
The state charged that Milman shot the two men as part of a plan to steal 30 Dilaudid pills from Hyatt in Oct. 2014. The shooter wore a mask during the crime and there was no forensic evidence tying Milman to the scene. Still the jury found him guilty, but on lesser charges: manslaughter with a firearm, instead of first-degree felony murder; attempted first-degree murder with possession of a firearm, instead of attempted first-degree felony murder with possession of a firearm; armed robbery with discharge of a firearm instead of home-invasion robbery with discharge of a firearm.
In the weeks following the trial, Milman hand wrote two letters seeking to overturn the verdicts. His attorneys made a more formal request for either acquittal or a new trial.
“There was confusion in the jury and they rendered an inconsistent verdict,” Pirolo told the court. “The verdicts in counts 2 and 3 are truly inconsistent with one another. In Count 2, the defendant was convicted of actual possession of a firearm. The jury did not find discharge of a firearm. On the other hand, the jury found discharge of a firearm in Count 3.”
The motion was denied.
Prior to the sentencing, Pirolo called three character witnesses on Milman’s behalf: two sisters – one on Skype from Ann Arbor, Mich. – and his father, Andrew Milman. They painted a picture of a 14 year-old who saw his world turn upside down after the cancer death of the mother who adopted him as a baby.
“He was in kindergarten when his mother was diagnosed with cancer. When she passed and we went off to college, he felt abandoned. He was sad and angry,” said his sister, Julia Bough, of Ann Arbor.
The prosecution included one in-person witness, Mell’s sister, Samantha Mell Murray, whose portrait of Milman was just the opposite. Murray, reading from a statement directed at Milman, said the crime left a pain forever. “I watched Bobby in ICU with tubes keeping him alive. He has to relive the nightmare and cope with survivor’s remorse, while you quietly laughed with the defense lawyers and a web of lies to try and prove you innocent. Your freedom ended when you chose a life of crime. May every day of your life be spent in prison.”
Unless the appellate court rules differently, it looks like Murray will get her wish.