N.J. attorney general says man jailed for 2003 murder is innocent
Attorney General Matt Platkin said a “life-altering mistake” sent Dion Miller to prison for nearly 20 years for a murder he did not commit. (Photo courtesy of New Jersey Attorney General's Office)
A Jersey City man who maintained his innocence after spending nearly 20 years in prison for an elderly neighbor’s murder was exonerated Thursday, and now walks free after the state reviewed his case.
Attorney General Matt Platkin said officers with the Jersey City Police Department and the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office used tactics that “would never be tolerated today” to get Dion Miller to falsely confess to the 2003 slaying.
“There’s nothing the state or the criminal justice system can do to completely right these wrongs,” Platkin said at a press conference Friday in Newark. “But we stand here today acknowledging the life-altering mistake that was made in the hopes that Mr. Miller and his family can find some small measure of solace in the long-delayed recognition of his innocence.”
Miller was arrested on Jan. 9, 2003, four days after Romeo Cavero, 75, was attacked outside of a senior citizen building in Jersey City and robbed of $180. Cavero later died of his injuries.
Miller was interrogated for 17 hours — during which he was intoxicated — and repeatedly confessed to police in statements authorities now believe were false, according to Carolyn Murray, director of the Attorney General’s Office’s conviction review unit. Details in those statements did not match what Cavero, before he died, told police about the attack, Murray said.
Miller’s first trial resulted in a hung jury. After a second trial in 2007, he was convicted of felony murder, robbery, and weapons possession charges and sentenced to 30 years in prison. He would have been eligible for parole in 2034.
“Mr. Miller never stopped pronouncing or proclaiming his innocence to anyone who would listen,” Murray said.
Miller, now 54, appeared in state Superior Court in Hudson County Thursday, when a judge dismissed his indictment and granted him a new trial. Miller is now with family and is processing his new life, officials said.
Asked to comment, Caitlin Mota, a spokeswoman for the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office, said in a statement that the investigation into Cavero’s killing is now being handled by Platkin’s office.
“The Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office has fully cooperated with the attorney general’s conviction review unit in its investigation of this 2003 homicide,” Mota said. “We support the attorney general’s effort to ensure justice is served in this case.”
Jersey City spokeswoman Kimberly Wallace-Scalcione said: “Then, like even today, the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office was in charge and led all homicide investigations. All without exception.”
Miller was represented by lawyers from the New Jersey Innocence Project at Rutgers University, which works on freeing wrongfully convicted people. Laura Cohen, a professor at Rutgers-Newark and the group’s director, said at Friday’s press conference that innocent people may give false confessions because they have faith that the judicial system will prevail. Too often, that faith is betrayed, she said.
About a fifth of all exonerated cases since 1989 have involved false confessions, she said, citing the National Registry of Exonerations.
Platkin said Miller’s case jumped out at him after seeing he rejected a plea deal with a sentence of time served. That’s uncommon in felony murder cases, Platkin said.
“For him to reject that told me that he knew he was innocent and he had faith that he would win the second trial,” he said.
The officers involved in the case are all now retired, the attorney general said.
Miller’s case is the second successful exoneration under the conviction review unit, which launched in 2019. Prisoners have submitted over 600 applications — a seven-page questionnaire asking for details of their case and why they are innocent — and a “significant number” are being actively reviewed, Platkin said.
He didn’t say when Miller first connected with investigators, other than to say the investigation took “a long time.” But the time between determining his innocence and getting him released was less than two weeks. Platkin attributed the lengthy investigation, in this case, to the number of witnesses.
Work will now begin to pursue Cavero’s killer, Platkin said. He said he met with the victim’s family Thursday and told them Cavero’s murder is an active investigation.
“For Mr. Cavero, who was violently taken from his devoted and loving family more than 20 years ago, justice has not yet been realized,” he said.
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