NILES — A Niles teenager accepted a plea-bargain agreement this morning in Berrien County Trial Court in Niles, ending his trial before a jury could be seated.
The agreement will result in a maximum one-year jail sentence for the teen, Martell Miller, 18, the youngest of five Niles teenagers linked to a sex video that according to previous testimony was used to extort sexual favors from an underage girl.
Originally charged with a series of offenses, the most serious of which was first-degree criminal sexual conduct punishable by as much as life in prison, Miller entered guilty pleas to attempted assault to commit great bodily harm less than murder and assault and battery. The former charge is a felony, punishable by as much as five years in prison, and the latter a 93-day misdemeanor.
But his previously flawless record, under sentencing guidelines, will mean he’ll serve at most 12 months in jail. Judge Scott Schofield virtually guaranteed as much in court today, promising Miller he could withdraw his guilty pleas should Schofield depart upward from the guidelines.
The assault-and-battery charge stems from alleged sex acts the youth attempted to engage in with a 16-year-old girl at Niles High School in February, although Miller admitted in court to nothing more than grabbing the girl’s shoulder. As for the felony charge, Miller agreed he “allowed the extortion (of the victim in the sex video) to continue’’ allegedly by sexually assaulting her as she was being driven home by Miller, Parnell Martin and Martise Washington the night of March 18.
The assaults that night followed by four days Washington’s secret recording of sex acts the girl willing performed with him. According to testimony at Washington’s trial, he threatened to post the video on Facebook unless the girl performed additional sex acts with him and his friends.
Assistant Berrien Prosecutor Steve Pierangeli told reporters a major factor in the plea-bargain offer was the apprehension the victims faced had they been called to testify.
“The process was becoming as traumatic to them as the sex assault itself,’’ he said.
Washington was convicted and was sentenced to a 20-to 40-year prison term. The others — Leon Murphy, Trey Nichols, Martin and now Miller — have now all accepted plea bargains and are awaiting sentencing. Miller’s will be Jan. 30.
Staff writer Lou Mumford: