A 26-year-old Conneaut man will spend the rest of his life in prison after pleading guilty Wednesday afternoon to the February murder and rape of his girlfriend’s 4-year-old daughter.
Joshua Million, of East Main Road, agreed to a deal that spares him the death penalty but guarantees he will live his remaining days behind bars with no chance of parole. Satisfied that Million understood what was at stake, Ashtabula County Common Pleas Court Judge Gary Yost accepted the plea arrangement during a hearing that took less than an hour to complete.
“This is a devastating tragedy for everyone in the courtroom and in the community,” Yost said. “It is not an easy thing to do, but the (agreement) is in the best interest of justice and approved by the court.”
Under the terms of the agreement, a charge of felonious assault was dropped and the capital components of charges of aggravated murder and rape were dismissed. Million faced the death penalty because of the age of the victim and because death occurred during a sexual assault.
The plea agreement was the idea of the family of the victim, Melanie “Lanie” Powell, Ashtabula County Prosecutor Nicholas Iarocci said during the hearing. “The prompt and quick resolution (of the case) emanated from the family’s need for closure,” he said.
A trial on the charges had been scheduled for April 2015.
“I’m pleased there will be no need for a trial,” Iarocci said after the hearing. “I expected it to be a traumatic trial.”
Million, wearing dark dress pants and a white dress shirt, sat between attorneys Marie Lane and Gregory Meyers. At the prosecutor’s table were Iarocci, chief assistant prosecutor Harold Specht Jr. and Conneaut Detective Sgt. Mike Colby, lead investigator on the case.
The courtroom was filled with spectators: a few were supporters of Million, but the vast majority were family and friends of the victim. Many wore pink T-shirts emblazoned with a red heart and the phrase, “Love You, Lanie.”
Visitors on both sides could be seen with heads bowed, holding hands and dabbing at red eyes during the hearing. Emotions spilled over, and deep sobs echoed through the room, when Michelle “Missi” Williams of Conneaut, Lanie’s maternal grandmother, addressed the court. She read a letter written as if it had been authored by the victim. In the note, the victim says she loved her family — and her killer — adding:
“Why did you do this, Josh? Why did you do this to me? Why take me away from everyone? What you did will never be forgiven by my family or me. I never did anything but love people and enjoy life.”
Given the chance to speak, Million stood — his back to the gallery.
“I apologize from the bottom of my heart,” he said in a steady monotone. “I took this plea with our families in mind.”
Once the session was concluded, Million was handcuffed by sheriff’s deputies and led from the courtroom. No one in the courtroom said a word as he left.
One distraught woman cried out “Love you, Josh,” as he was led into the courtroom. After the hearing, the same woman followed him a short distance down the corridor, crying and sobbing.
Family members of the little girl sent word they would not speak to the media after the hearing.
During the hearing, Iarocci said the prosecution would have been able to prove that Million alone had the opportunity to commit the Feb. 6 crime. He was left in the care of the child while her mother, Macie Powell, went to work at a Conneaut industry. Million and Lanie drove Powell to her place of employment and dropped her off. En route, they stopped at a credit union drive-thru window, where surveillance cameras captured images of a “happy and joyful” Lanie in the back seat of the family vehicle, enjoying a lollipop, Iarocci said.
Million picked up Powell at work around 11 p.m., Iarocci said. The girl was in a child restraint seat in the rear. Powell noticed her child’s head was “tilted to the right and she appeared to be sleeping,” Iarocci said. As she was carried into the house by Million, Lanie seemed to be “extra floppy,” Powell told police, according to Iarocci. The child was “cold and unresponsive,” he said.
While undressing the girl, Powell noticed bruising on her stomach and face, Iarocci said. Powell told Million she was taking Lanie to UH Conneaut Medical Center and would also be calling the police. Million said he would be waiting at home, which is where officers found him a short time later.
The girl was flown by helicopter to a Cleveland hospital, where died at 9:32 a.m. on Feb. 7. She suffered “blunt impact injuries,” including a severe head wound, as well as contusions and abrasions, Iarocci said.
Million admitted repeatedly to police that no one else had access to the girl while her mother was at work, Iarocci told the court. “(Million) had the exclusive possession and control of the child during those eight hours,” he said.
Million told police he had placed the child in a bathtub, then fell asleep at the kitchen table. When Million awoke and checked on the girl, she was unconscious, he told investigators.
Lane, during the hearing, said the defense had no objection to the plea agreement.
After court was adjourned, Iarocci told reporters he did not know how the fatal injuries were inflicted. “We don’t know what was used and how it was done,” he said.
Iarocci was appreciative that a trial that would have proved a painful ordeal for the family was avoided. The child suffered “severe, severe injuries,” Iarocci said outside the courtroom.
“The photos are horrifying,” he said. “As a prosecutor, I’m glad we don’t have to present them at trial.”
“For a capital case, this one moved at lightning speed,” Iarocci said. “I’m pleased with the plea agreement. I’m pleased Mr. Million and his attorneys recognized the evidence (against him) was overwhelming.
By Mark Todd - Star Beacon, Ashtabula, Ohio (MCT)
©2014 the Star Beacon (Ashtabula, Ohio)
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