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Attorney Ordered To Divulge Information About Eric Miller Case

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RALEIGH, N.C. — The State Supreme Court has ruled that a lawyer must reveal to the court what his deceased client may have known about the death of Eric Miller.

The court ruled that Raleigh attorney Richard Gammon must revealconversations he had with Derril Willard Jr. before Willard'ssuicide, to determine whether Gammon should be compelled to discussit with police.

Willard killed himself after police began investigating thepoisoning of Miller, with whose wife, Ann, police said Willardwas having an affair. Gammon had discussed the case with Willardseveral times before he committed suicide.

At issue was whether the conversations between Willard andGammon are covered by attorney-client privilege even though Willardis dead.

The Supreme Court said Willard's death did not mean hisprivileged conversations with his lawyer should not be disclosed. But it said a trial court judge has the authority to determinewhether some or all of their conversations were not covered by thedoctrine, which allows attorneys and their clients to keepconversations private.

District Attorney Colon Willoughby calls the decision a victory for truth.

"After two and a half-long years, we may finally get to the truth of what happened and it may help us solve this case," he said.

The opinion noted that Willard could have implicated anotherperson without implicating himself, and that any such conversationwould not be privileged.

"When application of the privilege will no longer safeguard theclient's interests, no reason exists in support of perpetualnondisclosure," Chief Justice I. Beverly Lake Jr. wrote for thecourt.

But Lake also said the courts have a duty to defendattorney-client privilege even after death.

"Knowing that communications will remain confidential evenafter death encourages the client to communicate fully and franklywith counsel," he wrote.

Miller, a 30-year-old pediatric AIDS researcher, died Dec. 2,2000, of arsenic poisoning. No one has been arrested or charged inthe case.

Investigators said Miller first became ill after a Nov. 15bowling outing with several of his wife's co-workers. One of themwas Willard, 37, who served Miller a beer that Miller said tastedfunny, according to a brief filed with the state Supreme Court.

That night, Miller developed symptoms of the flu and washospitalized. Blood tests later showed he had ingested arsenic.

Miller was released from the hospital Nov. 24. Six days later,according to police affidavits, he became violently ill again aftereating a meal his wife prepared. New blood tests before his deathshowed high arsenic levels.

Police have said Miller's wife was having an affair withWillard, who committed suicide in January 2001. Willard and AnnMiller shared a lab at GlaxoSmithKline, and both had access to anarsenic compound.

In March, Superior Court Judge Donald Stephens ordered Gammon toprovide information to the judge about his conversations aboutMiller's death. The judge wanted to read Gammon's affidavit inprivate and determine whether it is critical enough to give toauthorities.

The ruling orders Gammon to tell Judge Donald Stephens about his conversations with Willard. Stephens will decide whether to share any information with prosecutors. Gammon could appeal, or he could refuse to talk -- an option he has not ruled out.

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