A Jersey City man whose false confessions contributed to his 2007 felony-murder conviction and 30-year sentence has been released following an investigation by the attorney general’s Conviction Review Unit.
New Jersey Attorney General Matthew Platkin announced the development at a press conference today.
In 2007, Dion Miller, now 54, was convicted of felony murder stemming from the 2003 assault and robbery of 74-year-old Romeo Cavero outside a Van Nostrand Avenue senior citizens’ facility. Cavero was struck on the head multiple times and robbed of cash by at least one attacker. Cavero died four days later.
After a jury trial, Miller was sentenced to an aggregate term of 30 years in prison. He would not have been eligible for parole until February 2034.
With the assistance of the New Jersey Innocence Project at Rutgers University, Miller filed an application for reinvestigation of the case with the CRU.
The CRU’s investigation revealed that Cavero knew Miller, who lived with a relative in a neighboring apartment in the same building, but the victim never identified Miller as his assailant. Cavero was lucid immediately after the attack when he told family and a responding officer that he had been struck from the rear and robbed of cash by a male, who then returned and fled in a nearby vehicle.
The investigation also found that the only evidence linking Miller to the crime were three false confessions elicited by police from Miller. Each, according to Platkin, contained various inconsistencies in the details and descriptions of the events. Additionally, none of the confessions matched the description of the crime provided by the victim.
The attorney general also found that during Miller’s 17-hour long interrogations, officers fed him information which he then repeated back to them in his false confessions. This process, said the attorney general, molded Miller’s statements to fit the facts as the detectives believed them to be.
The investigation revealed that immediately after making the three false confessions, Miller was questioned by a detective outside of the presence of the others involved in his interrogation. Miller told the detective — who came forward with this information during the CRU’s re-investigation — that he did not commit this offense and he only confessed to it because he was afraid of being hurt.
This information was never presented to the court, prosecutor, defense, or the jury that convicted Miller.
Yesterday, attorneys for the CRU and the New Jersey Innocence Project appeared before Superior Court Judge Mitzy Galis-Menendez. Galis-Menendez dismissed the indictment with prejudice. Mr. Miller was present in the courtroom.
“We hope that the lessons learned from this matter, particularly with regard to the causes and frequency of false confessions, will lead to exonerations of other innocent people and help prevent future wrongful convictions from occurring in New Jersey” said Professor Laura Cohen of the New Jersey Innocence Project.
A new investigation into the robbery, assault and murder of Mr. Cavero is underway by the Attorney General’s Cold Case Network, a statewide network of regional task forces formed at the same time as the CRU to investigate cold cases, particularly cases generated by the CRU.
“Every day throughout our country, our criminal justice system is tested. Many times justice prevails. When it fails, it damages the system’s effectiveness and credibility. It is the responsibility of each of us to acknowledge our mistakes and attempt to right the wrongs that have been done,” said Attorney General Platkin.
Emails were sent to Jersey City and the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office requesting comment on the handling of Miller’s case. So far, there has been no response.