Prosecutor: 8-Year Term For Ex-Sunset Hills Officer ‘Terribly Inappropriate’

By Valerie Schremp Hahn
St. Louis Post-Dispatch

CLAYTON – Frustrated that former Sunset Hills police officer Christine Miller received only an 8-year prison sentence this afternoon for a drunken driving crash that killed four people, St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert P. McCulloch called it "a terribly inappropriate sentence.

He added, "It seems to me she got four free felonies."

His assistant on the case, Alan Key, had recommended a 20-year term for the 2009 collision Miller caused, off-duty, in Des Peres.

Defense attorney Scott Rosenblum did not make a specific recommendation, except to ask that Circuit Judge Michael T. Jamison choose from the low end of a sentencing range that runs from probation to 67 years.

Under Missouri law, Miller can expect to serve a little less than seven years of the eight. She was led from the courtroom here in handcuffs.

During the hearing, Miller, 43, faced relatives of the dead, who had come to America from India for the hearing, and read a statement that said, in part, "There are not enough sorries I could ever say…"

She said her "heart broke into pieces" when she learned what she had done. She also said, "I was amazed at what profound, heartfelt and selfless people you are, after learning that you were praying for me after what I had done, while you were going through your own grieving." As she spoke, she dabbed her eyes and nose with a tissue.

Miller suffered severe head trauma in the crash on March 21, 2009, which happened as she drove the wrong way on Dougherty Ferry Road at Des Peres Road. Officials said her blood alcohol level was 0.229, almost three times the legal limit of 0.08. She has said she does not remember the collision.

Nitesh Adusumilli, now 29, of Ballwin, told the court that he drove the car Miller struck and feels guilty about surviving his own serious injuries.

"I had and I still have a strong sense of guilt for the four souls that have been lost," he testified. "I somehow felt I was indirectly responsible." One of the dead was his fiancee, Anitha Lakshmi Veerapaneni, 23, of Charleston, Ill.

Adusumilli said none of the occupants of his car drank alcohol.

He said he remembered dining at an Indian restaurant and bowling that night, and nothing else until five days after the crash. "It wasn’t until I was shown a newspaper did things sink in," he explained.

Besides Veerapaneni, those killed were Anusha Anomulu, 23, and Priya Muppavarapu, 22, also of Charleston, and Satya Subhakar Chinta, 25, of Aurora, Ill.

Rosenblum asked Judge Jamison to consider Miller’s 12 years of service as a police officer. Jamison said he took into account the numerous letters he received in Miller’s support, but noted that she bore a "greater responsibility" because of her job.

Outside court, Rosenblum said, "I did not envy the judge in this particular case. Obviously, it could have been harsher."

McCulloch, the prosecuting attorney, told a reporter, "Of all the crimes that are out there, this is one that is absolutely, 100 percent preventable."

Miller, on unpaid leave from the police department since the crash, resigned Tuesday, Police Chief William LaGrand said.

In December, Miller pleaded guilty to four counts of involuntary manslaughter, plus one count of second-degree assault for injuring Adusumilli.

The judge ordered an eight-year term on each manslaughter charge and seven years for assault, with the sentences to run concurrently.

Miller had been off-duty, drinking at O’Leary’s Restaurant & Bar, about 1,000 feet from the Sunset Hills police station, before the wreck. Key, the case prosecutor, said at her plea hearing that her purse contained a receipt for five cosmopolitans.