Murder defendant Dana Moro trembled as he prepared for the punishment phase of his trial.
A Fairfax County Circuit Court jury found Moro, 47, guilty of second-degree murder on Wednesday, July 19. The next day, the jury recommended that Moro serve 30 years in prison for murder and three years for credit card theft.
Moro killed Eric Miller, 45 of Alexandria, with a lead pipe in Room 16 of the Alexandria Motel on Aug. 29, 2005. And while Miller lay dead on the floor of the hotel room, his companions Kristin Kozak and Moro smoked the crack cocaine Miller brought to the hotel.
<b>"WE’VE HEARD</b> a lot about the last few months of Eric’s life. That certainly doesn’t depict who he was," said his father, A. Melvin Miller, the first to testify in the penalty phase of Moro’s trial.
"This has not only taken his life, it’s devastated the lives of all of us," he said.
Eric Miller, the first African-American to go to St. Stephen’s School in Alexandria, graduated with honors, his father testified. He also graduated with honors from Amherst College and graduated from Harvard Law School before working as an attorney for the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
"I tried not to tell him this, but he was the smartest person I ever knew," said Melvin Miller, who was a member of the Alexandria School Board and is currently chairman of the Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority Board of Commissioners.
Melvin Miller called his son a "very bright articulate young man," and "an excellent trial lawyer, one of the best."
Ericka Miller, Eric’s sister, also called him "generous with his intellect, and he was something of a born teacher throughout his life."
One of her first memories, she said, is Eric teaching her to read in the garage of their home. "Eric was determined to teach me to read before I got to school," she said. "He taught me so many things in my life."
Miller’s family told the jury the impact his death has had on them.
"There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about my brother. It’s very hard to see the pain in my family. It feels like there is a very dark cloud over my family," she said.
Eric Miller was a devoted father to his two children. He coached their teams, taught Sunday school and brought them to Edison football, basketball and baseball games.
"We try to make up for Eric’s loss, we’re doing the best we can, but it’s a job that can’t be done," said Melvin Miller. "He worshipped those two boys, he did everything for them."
<b>AS SMART</b> as Eric was, he "didn’t pick friends very well," said Melvin Miller.
Miller was involved in a sexual relationship with Kozak, who was also involved with Moro. The three had been using crack cocaine on a weeklong binge, according to testimony in prior court proceedings.
On Aug. 29, 2005, Miller brought cocaine with him to the hotel, but didn’t want to share the crack with Moro. Kozak grew frustrated with Miller, and Miller pushed Kozak to the floor. In the ensuing altercation, Moro hit Miller with a heavy metal pipe that Kozak kept with her for protection when she went into the city to buy drugs.
Moro testified he acted in self-defense and to protect Kozak. He thought he only hit Miller hard enough to cause him two knots on the head, he said.
<b>DANA MORO,</b> a carpenter who was also addicted to crack cocaine, had been convicted of five felonies including assault, burglary, grand larceny and drug possession before murdering Eric Miller.
After the murder, Moro used Miller’s ATM debit card so he and Kozak could buy cleaning supplies to clean up blood in the hotel room and a sleeping bag to haul Miller’s body away.
Moro, of Alexandria, and Kozak put Miller’s body in the trunk of the Ford Taurus Miller had rented, and later took the car to 911 3rd street in Southeast Washington.
On Aug. 31, 2005, Moro doused Miller’s body with gasoline and ignited the car while Kozak waited a block away.
D.C. Metropolitan police found the rental car while it was still on fire and discovered Miller’s charred body in the trunk.
Moro’s sister, Donna Joseph Delia, also testified Wednesday during the sentencing phase of the trial, and described the disadvantages her brother faced growing up. Their father was in prison his whole life, and their stepfather was "brutal" and abused them, she testified.
Moro started drinking by the time he was 10 years old, Delia said. And even though she said she has conflicting feelings about her brother and his alcohol and drug use, she said she was the most proud of him when he was accepted to the Corcoran Gallery to study art.
"All he had to do was finish high school," and his foster-care family agreed to pay for his tuition, she said.
Moro dropped out of high school after 10th grade.
Fairfax County Circuit Court Judge David T. Stitt will formally sentence Moro later this year.