The Eric Millerberg Trial for Killing Alexis Rasmussen
The case of the death of 16 year old Alexis Rasmussen began with the discovery of her body in a remote part of Morgan County, Utah, on October 16, 2011. At the crime scene, investigators found a badly decomposed body in a shallow grave, covered by a muddy piece of foam in the woods. After examination by the Utah State Medical Examiner for dental records and fingerprint identification, the examiner confirmed the identity of Alexis Rasmussen, who was reported missing on September 10, 2011. It was 38 days since she was reported missing.
Brenna Cain, Alexis’ best friend, testified about their relationship with the suspects, Brenna’s neighbors, Dea and Eric Millerberg. Alexis was hired by the Millerbergs as their babysitter to watch their baby, but later on they became friends. Alexis and Brenna would regularly be at the Millerberg’s house or get a hotel room, where they would be partake in drugs, alcohol, and occasionally sex. Cain also testified that when she confronted Eric Millerberg about Alexis being missing, he denied knowing anything about her disappearance and that he would never do anything to hurt either of them.
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The morning when Alexis didn’t return home deeply concerned her mother, Dawn Miera. She went to look for her at the Millerberg’s home, and found a very frantic Eric Millerberg. Alexis had told her mother that she was babysitting for the Millerberg’s the night before and that she wouldn’t be home until later in the night.
Dea Millerberg testified in return for immunity of the crimes she have committed. She revealed that the night Alexis died, the Millerbergs spent a night of injecting methamphetamines and heroin while smoking marijuana and drinking alcohol. When Alexis was taking a shower, she told Dea that she felt cold and was shaking. This is when Alexis collapsed and Dea found white mucous forming around her mouth. Dea tried to resuscitate her, but it did not work and Alexis had died. In a panicked state, the Millerberg’s hid Alexis’ body and later, with the help of Eric “Peanut” Smith, transported her body to a remote area in Morgan County, where they buried her.
The charges imposed on to Eric Millerberg were obstruction of justice, unlawful sexual conduct with a minor and abuse and desecration of a human body. While Dea Millerberg was also charged with the abuse and desecration of a human body, because she testified against Eric Millerberg, she was granted immunity which means that anything that she testified in Eric’s trial would not be used in her own trial.
This case featured many aspects of forensic evidence used for identification of the body, identification of the chemicals in the body in order to determine the manner, cause, and mechanism of death, and the analysis for any types of bodily injury that may have also attributed to the death.
In terms of confirming the identity of the body found at the crime scene, fingerprint analysis was used to determine this identification of Alexis Rasmussen because fingerprints have individual characteristics for identifying a person. Since many of the DNA evidence and visual confirmation could not be used due to the break down and putrification of a body that has been dead for over a month, fingerprint analysis was vital in figuring out the identification of the body. Along with fingerprint analysis, the forensic examiners also used her dental records for identification, since dental records have individualized characteristics that can be used for this purpose of identifying the body. The reason why other evidence for identification was not used was because the fingerprints and dental records already confirmed her identity first, the DNA evidence and visual confirmation may not have been needed.
One source of evidence that played a role in this case is the confession and testimony of the parties is involved. Brenna Cain’s testimony about her and Alexis’ prior involvement with methamphetamines, heroin, marijuana, and alcohol along with underaged sex at the Millerberg’s home set the control group for the types of chemicals to look for in Alexis’ body. Dea’s confession of what happened the day that Alexis died also provided the basis for the chemical detection in Alexis’ body.
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The toxicology examination in the report made by the county medical examiner had findings that confirmed the testimony of Dea Millerberg and Brenna Cain. In the autopsy report, the examiners found a lethal dosage of both morphine and methamphetamine in her system. Assistant Medical Examiner Joseph White testified that Alexis had sevens time the lethal amount of methamphetamines in her system, along with the amphetamines and morphine.
The lethal dose of any drug is called the LD50, which stands for “Lethal Dose for 50% of the population”. This lethal dose is determined as a dose that is a standard of measure. These determination of doses are administered to lab rats and mice to measure the LD50 for a particular substance. The LD50 of Methamphetamine is 55mg/kg with rats and 57mg/kg with mice. LD50 is always portrayed as the amount of the substance in milligrams per kilogram of body weight. This LD50 is most likely the method in which the Assistant Medical Examiner used to determine Alexis Rasmussen’s body to have seven times the amount of methamphetamines, or seven times the 55-57mg/kg of Alexis’ body weight. In the reports about this case, they did not mention how the substances were detected. I would imagine there would have been lots of issues with finding this information from the deteriorated flesh of the body. One way, as mentioned in class, is through detection of the substances through hair analysis. Chemicals in the bloodstream are stored in the follicles of the hair. These chemicals could also be detected in the blood and urine of the victim, but after more than a month, the blood and urine may not have been useful in the body. Typically the chemicals would be separated from the blood or urine and put through a gas chromatograph to find out exactly what chemicals were in the body.
As far as the examination for wounds that Alexis might have sustained, which could have attributed to her death, Medical Examiner Joseph White could not rule out the possibility of other injuries, such as strangulation, stabbing, or blunt force trauma because the body was so decomposed to a point where those injuries could not be recognized. There was also no indication of verifying Dea Millerberg’s testimony that Eric Millerberg had sexual intercourse with Alexis also due to the body being undiscovered for more than a month and semen would not be alive for that long.
As far as the opposing viewpoints of the defense, the method the attorneys went about it was to try to discredit Dea Millerberg’s testimony, by explaining how Dea’s testimony is the only evidence there is and that she could have been the main culprit of the crime and turned Eric Millerberg in to the scapegoat of the crime, while she get granted immunity for testifying. The defense argued that there is no way to prove that Dea wasn’t the one injecting seven times the lethal dose of methamphetamines into Alexis. It could have been a total possibility that Eric could have been only an accessory to hide the body, that Dea was the one who committed all the crimes.
At the end of the day, however, the jury took very little time in convicting Eric Millerberg. The three day trial ended on February 14, 2014, where Eric Millerberg was found guilty to child abuse homicide, as well as, unlawful sexual conduct with a minor, obstruction of justice and desecration of a human body. The jury of eight deliberated for two hours before making the final verdict, while sentencing was set for March 18, 2014.
Kiyatkin, E. A., & Sharma, H. S. (2009). Acute Methamphetamine Intoxication: Brain Hyperthermia, Blood-Brain Barrier and Brain Edema. Int Rev Neurobiol, 88, 65-100. Retrieved March 12, 2013, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3145326/
Leonard, W., & Anderson, M. (2014, February 12). Man injected baby sitter, put her body in garbage bag, prosecutor says | KSL.com. Retrieved from http://www.ksl.com/?nid=148&sid=28690095
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Martinez, E. (2011, October 24). Body identified as that of missing Utah teen Alexis Rasmussen. Retrieved March 12, 2013, from http://www.cbsnews.com/news/body-identified-as-that-of-missing-utah-teen-alexis-rasmussen/
McCOMBS, B. B. (2014, February 14). Utah man found guilty of teen babysitter's murder. AP Online. Retrieved March 12, 2014, from http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1A1-16a18aec88dd48bfbcda0c80b07304b1.html?refid=easy_hf
Morgan, E. (2012, June 26). Case of man charged with killing teen baby-sitter inches toward trial. Retrieved from http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865558151/Case-of-man-charged-with-killing-teen-baby-sitter-inches-toward-trial.html
What is a LD50 and LC50? (2013, August 28). Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, Retrieved from http://www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/chemicals/ld50.html