Nearly four years ago, AIDS researcher Eric Miller died of arsenic poisoning. On Tuesday, his wife, Ann, made her first court appearance since being charged with his murder. She wore a jail uniform of baggy pants, an indigo-and-white striped top and salmon-colored plastic slippers. Kontz, formerly known as Ann Miller, smiled wanly at defense attorney Joe Cheshire after he patted her right shoulder, then left the courtroom for her jail cell.
A hearing date to decide whether or not the state will seek the death penalty will be set within the next 10 days.
Before making her first court appearance, Miller spent some time with her attorney, Joe Cheshire.
"She's extremely sad. She's continually asking after her daughter and yesterday was a shock. She was hoping that day would never come," he said.
Miller was arrested Monday evening. Her arrest came after a long probe by Raleigh Police and the Wake County District Attorney's office.
"There has been an investigation for years. There are very, very complex issues in this case," Assistant District Attorney Rebecca Holt said.
Investigators believe Eric Miller was poisoned the night of Nov. 15, 2000, while bowling at the AMF Bowling Center in Raleigh. He was with some of his wife's colleagues, including Derril Willard. Police say Willard was having an affair with Ann Miller.
The day after bowling, Eric became violently ill and stayed in the hospital for a week. Medical tests found arsenic in his body. Later on Nov. 30 after eating a meal prepared by his wife at home, police say Eric became ill and went to the hospital. Police interviewed him there, before he died Dec. 2.
Over the next month, investigators began to focus on Derril Willard and Ann Miller. According to court papers, phone records showed the couple called each other 110 times that fall -- some close to the time of Eric's death. In January 2001, police searched Willard's home and took his computer, confirming he exchanged e-mails with Ann. The next day, Willard killed himself.
Throughout this time, Ann Miller has refused to talk to police.
"I think everyone knew they had targeted her as a suspect and they were going to proceed against her," said attorney Rick Gammon, who represented Willard.
In May, the Supreme Court ordered Gammon to tell Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby what Willard said about another person tied to the case.
"I'm sure the information that was provided by Mr. Willoughby was important to the investigation and it was used to make the charges," Gammon said.
Gammon expects prosecutors to call him to the stand.
"Now the question is, 'Can I be compelled to testify?' and I'm sure Ann Miller's lawyers will contest that vigorously," he said.
"It's her position that she had nothing to do with the death of her husband. She hoped the investigation would lead to that conclusion," Cheshire said. "The longer it went, of course, we're talking about almost four years, the longer it went, the more one would think you were not going to get charged."
Miller is being held without bond in the Wake County Jail. Cheshire hopes she will be released while she awaits trial.
"She showed up here and turned herself in. There's no risk of flight. There's no reason why in my mind that she shouldn't get bond," he said.
Ann Miller hired two prominent local attorneys, Cheshire and Wade Smith, shortly after her husband's death.
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