OGDEN, Utah (AP) – A jury Friday found a Utah man guilty of child abuse homicide in the death of a teenage baby sitter who prosecutors say died after the man gave her a lethal dose of drugs during a night of sex that also included the man’s wife.
The eight jurors reached their verdict about two hours after they were given the case. Eric Millerberg, 38, was also found guilty of unlawful sexual contact with a minor, obstruction of justice and desecration of a dead body in the 2011 death of Alexis Rasmussen, 16.
Sentencing was set for March 18. He faces up to life in prison.
During a three-day trial, prosecutors brought detectives, medical examiners, prisoners and Millerberg’s wife, Dea Millerberg, to the stand to show that he recklessly injected Rasmussen with lethal doses of heroin and methamphetamine.
Prosecutors told jurors that Eric Millerberg and his wife then dumped Rasmussen’s body in the woods of northern Utah while lying to police as the girl’s mother desperately searched for her for more than a month.
Dea Millerberg, 40, is awaiting her own trial in April on charges of desecration of a body. She testified against her husband.
Family and friends of Rasmussen cried when the verdict was read. It was emotional for family and friends that dearly miss Rasmussen and have been waiting more than two years for this day, said Scott Rudd, the victim’s uncle.
“We are extremely thrilled about it. It helps with a little closure,” Rudd said. “But the fact of the matter is we still don’t have Lexi.”
Weber County Attorney Dee Smith said the case hit home not only with Rasmussen’s family and friends, but police officers and prosecutors who worked the case since she went missing. The teenager was missing for 38 days until her body was found.
The verdict showed the jury had little doubt about Eric Millerberg’s guilt, Smith said.
“It’s not going to change what happened, it’s not going to bring her back,” Smith said. “But it’s important for the family to know the person responsible is being held accountable and will spend a significant time in prison.”
Eric Millerberg’s attorney, Randall Marshall, told reporters his client was disappointed. Marshall said he expected guilty verdicts on some charges, “but I was a little disappointed in some of it.”
Smith had started his closing argument Friday by showing the jury a picture of a smiling Rasmussen holding her little sister about one year before her death. Then, he showed a picture of her dead body covered by a muddy piece of foam in the woods of northern Utah.
Smith said the Millerbergs dumped her there, “discarded like a piece of trash,” and then lied to police for more than a month about her whereabouts.
Smith called Eric Millerberg’s actions with Rasmussen deplorable, saying he had supplied her with drugs and had sex on previous occasions as well, later bragging to fellow prisoners that he partied with teenage girls. Smith reminded the jury that laws exist to protect teens who are prone to experimenting and making mistakes when they aren’t with their parents.
“Ordinary people don’t inject little girls with heroin and methamphetamine,” Smith said, later adding: “You don’t have sex with 16-year-olds when you’re a month away from turning 36. You don’t look for dates with juniors in high school.”
Marshall argued that the case against Eric Millerberg is based on lies by Dea Millerberg meant to protect herself. He reminded jurors that she struggled to remember details during cross-examination about the night of Rasmussen’s death.
“Dea Millerberg told a great story, but it doesn’t add up,” Marshall said.
He said there’s no evidence, other than Dea Millerberg’s account, to prove Eric Millerberg injected Rasmussen with the drugs.
“How do we know Dea didn’t shoot her up?” Marshall said.
He reminded jurors that the state medical examiner stopped short of declaring Rasmussen’s cause of death was a drug overdose. Marshall also suggested to the jury that Dea Millerberg was responsible for the death and recruited her husband to help her dump the body.
Earlier Friday, an assistant medical examiner, Joseph White, testified that Rasmussen had seven times the lethal amount of methamphetamine in her system and high levels of morphine and amphetamines, and that likely caused her death.
“These are obviously significant results,” White said. “Certainly, enough to explain the death.”
But White said he couldn’t rule out other possibilities such as strangulation, stabbing or blunt-force trauma because the girl’s body was badly decomposed.
Rasmussen’s body was found in a remote, wooded area in Weber County.
“It’s a foul circumstance, and it seemed clear that somebody else was involved,” White said, while later adding, “I felt it was most intellectually honest to list the cause and manner (of death) as undetermined.”
Defense attorneys didn’t bring any witnesses to the stand during trial, and Eric Millerberg also declined to testify.
He sat with his attorneys during the trial wearing glasses, and a suit and tie that largely hid his array of neck and arm tattoos. He occasionally spoke to his attorneys but remained largely stoic.
Family and friends of Rasmussen filled the front row of the gallery, carefully listening to testimony as they whispered to each other. Rasmussen’s mother cried during the prosecution’s closing arguments.
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press.