In 2008, Blaine Milam and Jessica Carson were 18-year-old teenagers living together in Milam’s trailer in Rusk County, Texas. Jessica had a 13-month-old child named Amora Carson. The couple met earlier that year while Jessica was still in high school. Milam proposed to Jessica on her prom night. She moved out of her family home and into Milam’s trailer.
Something terrible happened to the couple that summer. Jessica drifted away from her family, and by October of 2008, she had severed all contact with them. She had for some reason became convinced that her mother had killed her father that summer. Milam also changed. He became controlling, dominant over Jessica. His change began when the couple began communicating through a Quija board. The couple became convinced their shared trailer was possessed by evil spirits, so they moved in Jessica’s mother.
Deluded Man Performs Exorcism, Kills Toddler
The move didn’t help Milam. Jessica became convinced he was also possessed with evil spirits. He reinforced this belief when he told Jessica he could communicate with God after a demon came to him. He also told Jessica that Amora had become possessed by a demon as well. He told Jessica that God has instructed him to perform an exorcism on the child.
In a February 1, 2013 decision, a state court of appeals described in horrific detail what happened to Amora during the exorcism:
“As a result of the ‘exorcism’ conducted by Milam, Amora suffered innumerable injuries that led to her death. Forensic evidence showed the child was beaten so severely that the multitude of fractures to her skull connected with each other like a jigsaw puzzle, and her brain was torn and severely damaged. An arm and leg had spiral fractures indicating they were twisted in two, her torso was either struck by a blunt object or squeezed until the ribs and sternum broke, and her body (neck, chest, abdomen, buttocks, both elbows, both forearms, both feet, right arm, left shoulder, left upper arm, left hand, right thigh, and left knee) was riddled with no less than twenty-four distinct bite marks. Her head and face were so scraped and bruised that all the discrete injuries combined into ‘one giant injury.’ Her liver was torn, and her vaginal and anal orifices were so torn that the vagina and rectum were actually connected, an injury the forensic examiner had never seen before. The underside of her tongue was lacerated from blunt force trauma. She was also strangled. Because of all the injuries she sustained, it was not possible to determine which one was the final injury, and no specific, singular cause of death was determinable. Forensic testimony reflected that several of the injuries standing alone would have each been fatal. Police were called several hours later; when they arrived, the child was entirely stiff and in rigor.”
Convicted of Capital Murder, Sentenced to Death
Milam and Jessica were indicted for capital murder by a Rusk County grand jury. Because the case had generated so much public outrage in Rusk County, trial of the case was transferred to Montgomery County. A Conroe jury in that county convicted Milam in 2010 and sentenced him to death. Another jury convicted Jessica the following year and sentenced her to life imprisonment.
Stay of Execution to Revisit Bite Mark Evidence and Intellectual Disability
This past September a Montgomery County court set January 5, 2019 as the execution date for Milam. But the day before the execution was to be carried out the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals intervened and granted a stay of execution. The court instructed the lower courts to revisit the bite mark evidence used to convict Milam and to re-assess his intellectual disability in light of a 2017 U.S. Supreme Court decision that was critical of how Texas courts interpret this issue.
Bite Mark Evidence Undermines Integrity of Conviction
We recently posted a piece about how the junk science of bite mark evidence caused an innocent man to spend 25 years in a Texas prison. A state medical examiner testified that he found 24 bite marks on Amora’s body and identified some of them as belonging to Milam. While there is no credible evidence that Milam is innocent of the crime for which he was convicted, there is no way to realistically assess what, if any, influence the bite mark evidence had on the jury’s decision to impose the death penalty. The fact that the evidence was used at all undermines the integrity of his conviction.
While we find the use of the bite mark evidence disturbing, the issue of Milam’s intellectual disability concerns us the most. Both the reason for little Amora’s horrific murder and the brutal manner in which it was carried out convinces us that it was likely Milam was too intellectually disabled to distinguish between right and wrong when he committed the crime.
Intellectual Disabilities Should be Informed by Medical Experts
In that 2017 Supreme Court decision which held Texas could not use a decades old definition of intellectual disability to determine who lives and who dies at the hands of the state, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote that “adjudications of intellectual disability should be ‘informed by the views of medical experts,’” adding that the courts do not have the discretion to “diminish the force of the medical community’s consensus.”
The high court was especially critical of Texas’s practice of using one definition of intellectual disability for assessing juveniles in the criminal justice system or assessing a student’s intellectual disability in the education system while using a more restrictive definition in state’s death penalty process where lives are at stake.
No one in his or her right mind could commit the kind of crime committed against a 13-month-old child as was done in the Milam case. The crime was so deranged as to defy definition, much less comprehension. This nation does not, and certainly should not, execute “insane people.”
The Milam/Ridgeway human contradictions have historically roiled the death penalty debate in America—and it will continue to do so as long as the death penalty remains a lawful and constitutional punishment. Texas, nor any other state, should be in the business of killing human beings. Texans no longer kill horse and cattle thieves on the spot. It is time for Texas to put the death penalty in the same past—a historical relic not to be proud of.