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Appeals court upholds death sentence for man involved in Tucson murder

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WASHINGTON – A federal appellate court Monday upheld the death sentence for Kevin Miles, an Arizona man involved in a 1992 carjacking and murder in Tucson.

Miles, 44, was convicted of felony murder for his role as an accomplice in the carjacking, robbery and slaying of Patricia Baeuerlen, who was driven into the desert and shot by one of Miles’ two companions.

A divided three-judge panel of the 9th U. S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected Miles’ claim that his trial attorney was ineffective during sentencing because she failed to highlight his drug habit and his troubled history growing up in Winslow.

“The mitigating evidence that the court never heard – post-traumatic stress disorder from having been physically abused as a child, with paddles, whips, sticks and fists – the sentencing judge never heard that,” said Assistant Federal Public Defender Tim Gabrielsen.

Those factors “gave Kevin Miles less opportunity to withstand the commands of the more culpable co-defendant who actually performed the shooting,” Gabrielsen said.

Miles was 24 when he and two 16-year-old acquaintances forced their way into Baeuerlen’s car after one of the youths, Levi Jackson, approached, asked for a light and then pointed a .45-caliber handgun at her head.

After Miles and Ray Hernandez got in the car, Jackson drove into a secluded desert area outside of Tucson as Baeuerlen pleaded for her life. He turned onto a dirt road, ordered Baeuerlen to get out and remove her shoes and jacket.

As Baeuerlen complied, Jackson taunted her, and after five to 10 minutes shot her once in the heart, leaving her in the desert. Miles later said he thought she was still alive as they drove away.

Miles drove Baeuerlen’s car to Phoenix later that day, used her ATM card to withdraw money and exchanged her children’s Christmas gifts that were in the car for other goods. The next day Miles met with friends and laughed about the murder over drinks.

He was convicted in 1993 and sentenced to death. The judge noted that aggravating factors – prior robbery convictions and the especially cruel manner of the killing, among others – outweighed any mitigating circumstances.

In his latest appeal, Miles argued this his initial counsel, Barbara Sattler, had erred by downplaying his drug addiction and troubled childhood.

But Circuit Judge Susan Graber said that Sattler’s decision was a strategic one as she sought to portray Miles as a normal man overwhelmed by tribulations and bad company.

“(Miles) received a capital sentence primarily on account of three aggravating factors – previous convictions for three armed robberies, committing the carjacking in pursuit of pecuniary gain, and committing the murder in an especially cruel manner,” Graber wrote. “To portray him as a crazed drug addict with a sordid past would have contradicted the chosen strategy.”

In a partial dissent, Circuit Judge Marsha Berzon criticized Sattler’s handling of information about Miles’ turbulent upbringing.

“Sattler was focused on finding people in Tucson who might know something about the crime, rather than on finding information about Miles’ background,” Berzon wrote. “Sattler did ask the investigator to interview four people from Winslow. Of these, the investigator spoke to three high school friends who knew nothing of Miles’ earlier childhood.”

State prosecutors welcomed Monday’s ruling.

“We’re pleased by the court’s decision,” Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Bass said in an email. “It’s been 20 years since Patricia Baeuerlen’s murder, and her family shouldn’t have to wait this long for justice.”