RALEIGH, N.C. — For the first time, a North Carolina court will decide whether or not the attorney/client privilege survives death. The court's ruling could have major implications for the Eric Miller case, and Miller's parents are speaking out in favor of Rick Gammon speaking freely about what he knows.
Investigators say Eric Miller's widow, Ann, had a relationship with Derrill Willard. After they searched Willard's house, Willard killed himself in his garage.
Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby now wants Willard's attorney Rick Gammon to testify about what his client told him before he died.
Eric Miller's parents agree with Willoughby. They are asking Judge Donald Stephens to compel Gammon to tell what he knows about the case, breaking attorney-client privilege.
statement released March 5
, they said, "If what Richard Gammon knows about our son's murder will do no harm to Derril Willard's wife, family or estate, and at the same time will help determine the truth and aid in the pursuit of justice, it seems a simple and reasonable conclusion that justice demands Mr. Gammon share any relevant and material information he has regarding the murder of our son.
"We hope that Eric's murder case does not become a fight about attorney-client privilege but about the pursuit of justice in the senseless loss of a real person: a little girl's father, a son and brother deeply missed by his mother, father, and sisters every day for the rest of our lives, and a scientist whose contribution to the cure for pediatric aids [sic] is a great loss to mankind.
We, Eric Dwayne Miller's mother, father, and sisters only want the truth and the pursuit of justice. We hope that Judge Stephens will allow Richard Gammon to aid in finding the truth. We cannot allow this hearing to overshadow the ultimate goal -- justice for Eric!"
"I think they have been very patient in wanting the process to run its course and to hopefully provide some answers. I think the family is to be commended for their patience," Willoughby said.
But what seems simple and reasonable to Verus and Doris Miller may not be so straightforward to the legal community. Gammon said that he knows that the Miller family has suffered a lot, but the case is about more than just Eric Miller's death.
By law, attorneys cannot reveal what a client tells them. Attorneys for Gammon said if the attorney/client privilege is broken in this case, it could make clients afraid to trust attorneys in the future.
"At the time Mr. Gammon met with Mr. Willard, they were both operating under the assumption that whatever Mr. Willard was telling him was privileged. If that changes, that's going to change the practice of law in his state," said Joseph Zeszotarski, Gammon's attorney.
"I think this case is of interest to every attorney in this state, to every client in this state. It's of interest to everyone in this state," said David Long, Gammon's attorney.
Willard's widow, Yvette, filed an affidavit waiving the attorney/client privilege her husband had with Rick Gammon. Gammon's attorneys claim because Willard did not specifically give his wife the right to waive the privilege in his will, the waiver is not legal.
Both parties will appear in court Thursday. Many experts speculate this legal battle will go all the way to the North Carolina Supreme Court.
Statement From Eric Miller's Parents (Released March 5, 2002)
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