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Judge denies release after case reversal

A man remains jailed on other charges even though the ''stop sign'' verdict is overturned.

By DAVID KARP

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 2, 2001


TAMPA -- Thomas Miller's father went to Wal-Mart on Thursday morning to buy Dockers and a white T-shirt for his son, who has been wearing jail house orange since October.

He thought his son would be released from jail after a state appeals court Wednesday overturned Miller's manslaughter conviction in the nationally known "stop sign" case.

But Miller never got a chance to change clothes.

A circuit judge denied a request Thursday to release Miller while he awaits trial on an unrelated charge of drunken driving and drug possession. Prosecutors opposed his release since Miller had violated the terms of his bond before.

Miller, 24, Nissa Baillie, 25, and Christopher Cole, 24, were convicted in 1997 of pulling up a stop sign in rural Hillsborough County and causing a car wreck that killed three people. A circuit judge had allowed them to remain free on bail while an appeals court reviewed the case.

But last October, a judge revoked Miller's bail after a drunken driving arrest landed him back in jail. Police stopped him at 3 a.m. on his way to Diamond's Show Club, a topless bar on State Road 60, to pick up his girlfriend. Police also said they found four Ecstasy pills on him.

On Wednesday, the 2nd District Court of Appeal overturned the manslaughter convictions in the stop sign case and granted a new trial. The state attorney's office has not decided whether to put the three on trial a second time.

Thursday morning, Miller's family thought he would finally get out.

In court, attorney Joe Episcopo walked out when prosecutors told him before the hearing that they would oppose Miller's release. He headed straight for Hillsborough State Attorney Mark Ober's office to ask him to review the decision.

"This is absurdity," Episcopo said, as he paced in Ober's lobby waiting to speak to Ober's second-in-command, felony bureau chief Karen Stanley.

Later, in court, Episcopo asked Circuit Judge Herbert Baumann to release his client since the underlying conviction in the case has been overturned.

But Baumann noted the appeals court had upheld Miller's conviction of grand theft for stealing signs in rural Hillsborough.

He ordered a hearing March 16 to review the bond request.

Also Thursday, Christopher Cole spoke to reporters about the ruling that overturned his conviction.

"It hasn't sunk in," said Cole, 24, at his attorney's Davis Islands office.

- Staff writer Kathryn Wexler contributed to this report.

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