Eric Millerberg, left, and his defense attorneys Haylee Mills, center, and Randall Marshall listen to opening statements by Deputy Weber County prosecuting attorney Chris Shaw, Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014, in Ogden, Utah. Millerberg has been charged with injecting his 16-year-old baby sitter, Alexis Rasmussen, with a fatal dose of heroin and methamphetamine, then taking his wife and infant daughter along to dump Rasmussen’s body near a river. (AP Photo/The Salt Lake Tribune, Leah Hogsten, Pool)
OGDEN, Utah (AP) — A jury Friday found a Utah man guilty of child abuse homicide in the death of a teenage baby sitter who prosecutors say died after the man gave her a lethal dose of drugs during a night of drugs and sex that also included the man’s wife.
The eight jurors reached their verdict about two hours after they were given the case. Eric Millerberg, 38, was also found guilty of unlawful sexual contact with a minor, obstruction of justice and desecration of a dead body in the 2011 death of Alexis Rasmussen, 16.
Sentencing was set for March 18.
During a three-day trial, prosecutors brought detectives, medical examiners, prisoners and Millerberg’s wife, Dea Millerberg, to the stand to show that he recklessly injected Rasmussen with lethal doses of heroin and methamphetamine during a night of drugs and sex that also included his wife. Prosecutors told jurors that Eric Millerberg and his wife then dumped her body in the woods of northern Utah while lying to police as the girl’s mother desperately searched for her for more than a month.
Dea Millerberg, 40, is awaiting her own criminal trial in April on charges of desecration of a body. She testified against her husband during the trial.
Weber County Attorney Dee Smith started his closing argument Friday by showing the jury a picture of a smiling Rasmussen holding her little sister about one year before her death. Then, he showed a picture of her dead body covered by a muddy piece of foam in the woods of northern Utah.
Smith said the Millerbergs dumped her there, “discarded like a piece of trash,” and then lied to police for more than a month about her whereabouts.
Smith called Eric Millerberg’s actions with Rasmussen deplorable, saying he had supplied her with drugs and had sex on previous occasions as well, later bragging to fellow prisoners that he partied with teenage girls. Smith reminded the jury that laws exist to protect teens who are prone to experimenting and making mistakes when they aren’t with their parents.
“Ordinary people don’t inject little girls with heroin and methamphetamine,” Smith said, later adding: “You don’t have sex with 16-year-olds when you’re a month away from turning 36. You don’t look for dates with juniors in high school.”
Defense attorney Randall Marshall argued in closing arguments that the case against Eric Millerberg is based on lies by Dea Millerberg meant to protect herself. He reminded jurors that she struggled to remember details during cross-examination about the night of Rasmussen’s death.
“Dea Millerberg told a great story, but it doesn’t add up,” Marshall said.
He said there’s no evidence, other than Dea Millerberg’s account, to prove Eric Millerberg injected Rasmussen with the drugs.
“How do we know Dea didn’t shoot her up?” Marshall said.
He reminded jurors that the state medical examiner stopped short of declaring Rasmussen’s cause of death was a drug overdose. Marshall also suggested to the jury that Dea Millerberg was responsible for the death and recruited her husband to help her dump the body.
Earlier Friday, a Utah assistant medical examiner, Joseph White, testified that Rasmussen had enormous amounts of methamphetamine and heroin in her system that likely caused her death. She had seven times the lethal amount of methamphetamine in her system and high levels of morphine and amphetamines, White said.
“These are obviously significant results,” White said. “Certainly, enough to explain the death.”
But White said he couldn’t rule out other possibilities such as strangulation, stabbing or blunt-force trauma because the girl’s body was badly decomposed.
Prosecutors say the girl was found 38 days after her death in a remote, wooded area in Weber County.
“It’s a foul circumstance, and it seemed clear that somebody else was involved,” White said, while later adding, “I felt it was most intellectually honest to list the cause and manner (of death) as undetermined.”
Defense attorneys didn’t bring any witnesses to the stand during trial, and Eric Millerberg also declined to testify.
He sat with his attorneys during the trial wearing glasses and a suit and tie that largely hides his array of neck and arm tattoos. He occasionally spoke to his attorneys, but he remained largely stoic.
Family and friends of Rasmussen filled the front row of the gallery, carefully listening to testimony as they whispered to each other. Rasmussen’s mother cried during the prosecution’s closing arguments.