Miller’s Crossing: Anthony Jerome Miller Convicted in Redwood Trust Double Murders

By Van Smith

Published in City Paper, Mar. 21, 2007

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Just before 4 p.m. on March 15, as a Baltimore City Circuit Court jury was preparing to render its verdict in the double-murder case against Anthony Jerome Miller, prosecutor Sharon Holback turned to the victims’ family and friends, who were assembled in the courtroom, and said, “Let’s hope for something poetic with a verdict on the Ides of March.” The jurors did indeed hand down a poetic verdict, convicting Miller of two counts of second-degree murder, nearly four years after the April 2003 night when 22-year-old Sean Wisniewski and 31-year-old Jason Convertino were shot to death in Convertino’s Upper Fells Point apartment.

Judge Robert Kershaw, who presided over the nine-day trial, scheduled sentencing for June 8, and each murder count carries a maximum sentence of 30 years. But the jury also acquitted Miller of eight other charges arising from the state’s theory that he went to Convertino’s apartment intending to rob, shoot, and kill the victims. If they had believed the large body of evidence that the crime was premeditated, as the state contended, the jurors would have found Miller guilty of first-degree murder and the other felonies, and he’d be facing two life sentences–and then some.

Miller, 31, was charged last January, after Baltimore Police detective William Ritz took over the lapsed investigation as a cold case in late 2005. Ritz quickly developed evidence that included Miller’s DNA on a latex glove left at the murder scene, a map of the movements of Miller’s cell phone at the time of the crime, business records indicating Miller robbed Convertino, and testimony from Convertino’s next-door neighbor, who was first interviewed by police two and a half years after the slayings.

After the verdict, the two sides made the usual statements. “I believe my client was not guilty, and we’re going to continue to fight to prove his innocence,” said Miller’s attorney, Paul Polansky, who promised to file an appeal. State’s Attorney’s Office spokesman Joseph Sviatko said, “We’ll obviously ask for the maximum” sentence. Holback announced that she was “very happy” with the outcome.

But Convertino’s mother, Pam Morgan of Binghamton, N.Y., says she is disappointed that the jurors didn’t hand down convictions for first-degree murder, gun crimes, and robbery. “I guess I should be grateful for something,” Morgan says of the guilty findings the day after the verdict. “But how do they think the bullets got in the kids’ heads?”

The autopsy revealed that Convertino’s fatal back-of-the-head shot was accompanied by two others, one also to his head and the other to his right arm. Wisniewski died of a single gunshot to the head. A firearms expert testified that the bullets were fired from a .38- or a .357-caliber handgun.

Morgan sees Miller’s conviction as partial justice not only because the verdict wasn’t as comprehensive as she would have liked, but because she remains convinced that Miller did not act alone. She intends to pursue her theory that the killings were a conspiracy, as she has since shortly after the crime. “It’s not really over for me,” Morgan says. “I have to say I’ll definitely not be sitting back on this.”

Scott Henry, a prosecution witness and Wisniewski’s friend and employer, agrees that Miller’s prosecution addresses only a part of the crime’s complexity. “I hope this is only the beginning, because you and I both know there is a lot more to this [case],” Henry told City Paper after his hourlong testimony on March 6. Neither Wisniewski’s family nor the jurors could be reached for comment in time for this article.

Trial testimony described the nightlife milieu in which the murders occurred. Wisniewski worked as Henry’s assistant and handled radio programming for Buzzlife Productions, a concert promoter based in Washington, D.C. At the time, Buzzlife held events on Saturday nights at Redwood Trust, the historic downtown bank-turned-nightclub where Convertino was general manager. Shortly before the murders, Miller had worked briefly at Redwood Trust on the security staff. Convertino worked for Redwood Trust owner Nicholas Piscatelli, but at the time of the murders he was arranging to leave Piscatelli and take the gigs he was booking at Redwood Trust to Bohager’s, another venue that has since closed.

The state’s case was that Miller was hardly employed, working itinerantly at a car wash and as a security guard at a car dealership, and was marrying Tarsha Fitzgerald, a successful older woman, so he needed money to pay for their honeymoon in Mexico. With greed as his motive, the state tried to prove that Miller gunned down Convertino (Wisniewski was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time), stole and pawned his laptop, and fraudulently used his credit card to pay the travel agency. Holback painted Miller as a cunning and deceptive charmer who fooled a lot of people, including Convertino and Fitzgerald. Holback described the latter as Miller’s “living victim.”

Polansky’s defense of Miller was composed solely of four character witnesses, including New Psalmist Baptist Church Bishop Walter Thomas, who testified that the defendant was a religious man who would never commit such atrocities. But Polansky also cross-examined the state’s witnesses in an effort to suggest a vague, alternate theory of the case to jurors: that Piscatelli, not Miller, had a motive to kill Convertino, who was in the process of taking high-profile hip-hop events away from the Redwood Trust. Investigators, Polansky stated in his closing argument, “rushed to judgment” in deciding early in the investigation that Miller was the killer, and suffered from “tunnel vision,” so they “didn’t look at Nick Piscatelli a little more carefully.”

Piscatelli testified as a prosecution witness for 45 minutes on the second day of the trial, March 6. Holback asked him to look at the jury and answer a series of questions about whether he killed Convertino, or had Miller kill him. Piscatelli repeatedly answered “no” to the questions. He also stated that he doesn’t know Miller: “I thought I might recognize him today,” Piscatelli said from the witness stand, “but I do not.” Piscatelli told City Paper for an article last year (“Late Discovery,” Mobtown Beat, Dec. 6) that Miller asked him for money to pay for the honeymoon, which Piscatelli declined to lend. “I didn’t really know” Miller, he said then.

“The truth is in the evidence,” Polansky said during the trial, arguing that “this was an execution” and “not a robbery at all,” and that “what happened here is that Jason Convertino crossed the wrong people.”

In addition, Polansky pointed out that Holback made Miller out to be “so slick, so smart,” yet at the same time the evidence against Miller attests to a remarkable level of stupidity. It’s as if Miller “wanted to get caught,” Polansky said, because he “leaves the only evidence that he was there . . . right on the dead man’s bed,” where the glove containing Miller’s DNA was recovered. The evidence also showed that Miller left his fingerprints all over the fruits of the alleged robbery by pawning the laptop at a shop Miller regularly patronized, producing his driver’s license to validate the transaction, and using Convertino’s credit card after the murders.

“Either Anthony Miller did it,” Polansky told jurors, “or somebody went to an awful lot of trouble to make you believe he did it.” Judging by the verdict, the jurors decided Miller did indeed do it–though they didn’t buy the state’s version of how the deed was done.

Late Discovery: A New Twist in the Redwood Trust Double-Murder Case

By Van Smith

Published in City Paper, Dec. 6, 2006

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“I don’t know why they’re digging into my past,” remarks 56-year old Nicholas Argyros Piscatelli, a local developer and owner of the now-defunct downtown nightclub Redwood Trust. He’s on the phone with a reporter, commenting about the double-murder case involving the club’s former manager, Jason Convertino (pictured, above left), who was shot to death in April 2003 in Convertino’s Fells Point apartment, along with Sean Wisniewski (pictured, above right), who worked for Buzzlife, a nightlife promotions company that held events at Redwood Trust. Suspect Anthony Jerome Miller‘s trial in the case, which turns largely on the presence of DNA consistent with Miller’s found in latex gloves discovered at the crime scene, is scheduled to start in January. But Piscatelli is concerned about recent indications that the case is delving into the possibility that he had something to do with the crime.

“I see what they’re going to do, which is a shame,” Piscatelli continues, referring to Miller’s defense, mounted by attorney Paul Polansky. “Which is to cast doubt and get this guy off.” Neither Polansky nor prosecutor Sharon Holback will discuss the case, and there is no indication that information about Piscatelli will be used by either side at Miller’s trial.

Casting doubt to get people off is what criminal-defense attorneys do for a living, and part of that effort involves understanding the evidence that police and prosecutors gather to bring charges against their clients. In Miller’s case, the nature of that evidence had been limited for the most part to the DNA analysis–until recently, when a new prosecutor took over the case and, as the law requires, submitted to Polansky voluminous documentation about the lengthy investigative process that led to Miller’s indictment in January. Delays in “discovery,” as this process is called, in large part have been responsible for rescheduling the trial date, which was reset four times and is now scheduled to start Jan. 24, 2007.

In October, Polansky argued in court that the state’s discovery failures had been so severe that the charges should be dismissed. A judge disagreed, so the case is proceeding, and on Dec. 5 Miller’s request for a change in his no-bail status was denied. Meanwhile, the late-arriving discovery has fattened the case file with information stating, among other things, that Convertino’s mother was told shortly after the murders that Piscatelli ordered them.

On Oct. 27, Holback disclosed in a memorandum to the defense that “Pam Morgan [Convertino’s mother] has stated that an unknown man approached her at a benefit in Binghamton, New York, held for her son’s child shortly after his murder. The man advised her that Nick Piscatelli was behind her son’s murder, he covered his tracks and hired someone to kill him.” The memo does not indicate when Morgan shared this information with investigators, but she told City Paper during a Nov. 30 phone interview that the event was held in May 2003, just weeks after the murders.

“At the benefit, this guy comes up to me and he says he knows who was behind my son’s murder” Morgan recalls. “I didn’t know Nick [Piscatelli] at that point.” Since then, though, Morgan says she has kept in regular, friendly phone contact with Piscatelli.

“Oh boy! She said that?” Piscatelli says when informed of Morgan’s statement about the man’s visit to the Binghamton gathering. “That’s unfortunate. I’ve spoken to her several times, and she’s never mentioned anything like that to me. That’s certainly sad to hear. There has been no animosity between us.”

Over the phone from her home outside of Binghamton, Morgan describes the man who dropped Piscatelli’s name at the benefit as white, in his 30s, several inches shy of six feet tall, with “lightish hair,” of “medium build,” and “wearing a long coat, like a trench coat.”

“He came in, talked, and left,” she continues. “I was like, `Whoa!’ And that’s when I first started questioning the club, and had these theories [that Piscatelli might be involved]. And I also thought, did [the man] do it purposefully, to throw it off someone else by naming Nick? Because there is no evidence against Nick.”

Still, she says she’s fearful of Piscatelli, and now that her suspicions have been made public in Miller’s case file she says she will stop calling him. “That was my last call to him, probably in September,” Morgan recalls, when she says she discussed with Piscatelli items still in his possession that belonged to her son. (The Oct. 27 memo also discloses that Morgan told investigators that this reporter shared with her information about Piscatelli obtained through unnamed sources.)

Morgan’s statements are not the only ones mentioning Piscatelli in the discovery documents. A Nov. 9 discovery memo states that “a record of firearms owned and registered to Nicholas Piscatelli” was shared with the defense. Piscatelli reacts to this news by saying that “it was years ago–during the 1990s, or the 1980s–that I bought a couple of guns for hunting or target practice,” and asserts again that Polansky and Miller are “trying to use whatever they can to cast a shadow of a doubt.”

On Oct. 24, court documents also show prosecutor Holback shared with the defense “notes of detective’s interview of Carl Weaver (who is believed to be also known as Carl Curry)” that provide information about Weaver’s relationship with Piscatelli and “several other men,” including one that “obtained drugs for Nick Piscatelli.” Neither Weaver nor the two men whose names are mentioned could be located by City Paper in time for this article, and Piscatelli asserts he doesn’t know them. As for Weaver’s allegation about drugs, Piscatelli, who in the mid-1990s pleaded guilty to cocaine possession in Howard County, doesn’t directly respond but says that “there were no drugs in that club and no evidence of that going on.”

In fact, as City Paper has previously reported (“Club Trouble,” Mobtown Beat, June 11, 2003), evidence of drugs at the Redwood Trust does exist in the public record. In 2002, police executed a search-and-seizure warrant there and seized small amounts of cocaine and other drugs from the club. However, despite the evidence, the Baltimore City Liquor Board acquitted Redwood Trust of the resulting violations. “The fact [is] there were drugs there, obviously,” then-liquor board Chairman Leonard Skolnik said at the 2002 hearing.

In a November 2003 police report, Piscatelli stated that, while at the club, he was forced to sign a fraudulent promissory note for the sale of the nightclub business to another party, who, along with three armed men wearing masks, threatened Piscatelli and his business partner, Paul Chrzanowski, and asked them to sample “cocaine in a paper towel” (“Deadwood Bust,” Mobtown Beat, April 28, 2004). No criminal charges resulted from the incident, though competing lawsuits over the promissory note ended in October 2005, with Piscatelli winning a $1 million judgment against the buyer, Omar Haughton of Ellicott City.

Miller, meanwhile, worked for Redwood Trust, according to Piscatelli, who said prosecutors have asked him to produce Miller’s employment records. In court cases against him in the 1990s, Miller used an alias and three different dates of birth that today would place him in his mid-30s. One case, for murder in 1993, resulted in an assault conviction and two months of incarceration. Miller’s other conviction was for forgery in the mid-1990s, though he has dodged drug-conspiracy and other charges.

The state has accused Miller not only of murder in the Redwood Trust case but also armed robbery. This is apparently due to the fate of Convertino’s laptop computer, which court documents show Miller pawned the day after the bodies were found on April 16, 2003. Court records also indicate that Miller used Convertino’s credit card to pay for his honeymoon in Cancun, Mexico. Miller was first interviewed by detectives at Baltimore-Washington International Airport on May 14, 2003, when he and his wife, Tarsha Fitzgerald, returned from their honeymoon. During that interview, according to a detective’s notes contained in the court file, Miller described Convertino as a friend.

“Jay was a good guy,” the detective wrote of Miller’s statements at the airport. “Jay was willing to help anyone out at any time.”

Miller has consistently maintained his innocence and asserted his right to a speedy trial since his arraignment this past March. Until the trial, it’s anyone’s guess how Miller’s DNA was found in the gloves left at the murder scene, what Miller was doing with Convertino’s laptop, and how Miller came to use the victim’s credit card to pay for his honeymoon.

Piscatelli says Miller also asked him for honeymoon money, though he declined to lend it. “I didn’t really know [Miller],” Piscatelli says, “and didn’t really hire him” to work at Redwood Trust. That, he maintains, was Convertino’s decision.

Piscatelli is bewildered by indications that the case against Miller is developing to include information that suggests Piscatelli is being investigated in connection with the crime. “It’s a shame this thing is going in this direction,” he states ruefully. “I wouldn’t ever dream of doing anything like that. . . . I wouldn’t hurt a fly.”

Trying Time: Double-Murder Suspect Pleads Not Guilty

By Van Smith

Published by City Paper, March 22, 2006

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Pam Morgan drove to Baltimore from near Binghamton, N.Y., to attend the March 15 arraignment of the man she and city prosecutors believe murdered her son. Since April 16, 2003—the day the gunned-down bodies of her son, 31-year-old Jason Convertino, and Sean Wisniewski, 22, were found in a Fells Point apartment, about five days after the murders allegedly occurred—she has anticipated the day when a suspect would face reckoning for the crime.

That day is coming soon. Randallstown resident Anthony Jerome Miller, whose court records indicate he’s either 30, 33, or 35 years old, pleaded not guilty to the double-murder and related charges, after the indictments were read aloud to him as he stood before Baltimore Circuit Court Judge Shirley Watts. The case was then put on the court docket for trial starting June 19. The evidence against Miller includes DNA collected from latex gloves left at the crime scene. Miller and the victims were affiliated with the Redwood Trust nightclub downtown, which Convertino managed for owner Nicholas Piscatelli.

Outside the courtroom after the arraignment, Morgan, who had kept stoically dry-eyed during the proceeding, commented on how her son had tried to fight off his attacker. “Jason was a fighter, but look at Miller,” she said. Broad-shouldered and buff, Miller, according to court records, stands 5-foot-10 and weighs 225 pounds.

“I am so glad I came to see Miller,” Morgan wrote in an e-mail to City Paper the next day. “I said I didn’t know how I would react, and I really surprised myself. I felt a God-given strength all of a sudden, and felt like my son was standing right beside me. Strange, huh? I hope I’m that strong through the trial.”

Miller’s attorney, Paul Polansky, declined to comment on the case after the arraignment, other than to say his client is not guilty.

Polansky, standing with four of Miller’s friends and family members in the foyer outside the courtroom, also declined to discuss previous charges for which he represented Miller: a 1993 double-murder case in which Miller was found guilty of assault; the state declined to prosecute him on the murder charges. A request was made to the Baltimore City State’s Attorneys’ press office to speak with the prosecutor of that case, David Chiu. Chiu, however, was not available as of press time.

The court file for that 1993 case, retrieved from archives, paints a confusing picture. The police report describes not two victims but one: 28-year-old Joseph Earl Carter. Carter was found June 13, 1993, dead from a gunshot wound to the head, his body reposed in the middle of the 1800 block of Westwood Avenue in Sandtown-Winchester. A shot also was fired into Carter’s car, which struck another victim, Ramona Jones. According to the report, she “later pulled the deformed projectile from her hair (it did not penetrate the skin) and handed it to investigators.” Miller was identified by witnesses as being part of a group that had attacked Carter’s friend. Ultimately, though, it appears from the case file that the gunman was never arrested.

Miller’s wife, Tarsha Fitzgerald, was interviewed over the phone by City Paper on Feb. 19, and stated that “I will definitely sue if my name is mentioned” in an article about the Redwood Trust murders. She said that Miller, who turned himself in on a warrant in January, never expected to be detained on the charges, and that he’s a religious man “in second-year discipleship at church.” In May 2003, shortly after the killings, “police kicked the door in” at her previous Randallstown residence, Fitzgerald claimed, and “took Anthony’s clothes and boots,” but that the “paperwork disappeared” regarding the incident. After the police raid, she said, she sold the house, and she and Miller moved to another house she purchased in Randallstown. She sold that home, which is Miller’s address in the charging documents, shortly before Miller surrendered.

Redwood Bust: Suspect Indicted in 2003 Double Murder of Nightclubbers

By Van Smith

Published by City Paper, Feb. 22, 2006

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On Feb. 17, a Baltimore City grand jury indicted Anthony Jerome Miller (pictured) for the April 11, 2003, murder of Jason Michael Convertino and Sean Michael Mietus Wisniewski in Convertino’s Fells Point apartment at 1917 Gough St. Convertino, 31, was the manager of Redwood Trust, a downtown nightclub, and Wisniewski, 22, worked for Buzzlife, a Washington, D.C.-based entertainment company that held events at Redwood Trust on Saturday nights. Miller, who is being held without bail, turned himself in Jan. 23, four days after a warrant was issued for his arrest. His arraignment is scheduled for March 15.

Miller’s arrest was the first break in the case, which has remained shrouded in mystery since three of Wisniewski’s friends discovered the bodies on April 16, 2003. Convertino’s mother, Pam Morgan of Binghamton, N.Y., says that one of the initial homicide investigators “told me there was not any evidence at all. They [the perpetrators] covered all their tracks—that’s what he said about this. And I thought, Oh my god, no one’s going to be caught for this.” Since then, the case ended up in the hands of cold-case investigator William Ritz. “Thank God for Ritz,” Morgan says, “or we wouldn’t be where we are today.”

Attempts to reach Wisniewski’s father to comment for this article were unsuccessful. Redwood Trust owner Nicholas Argyros Piscatelli and Miller’s attorney, Paul Polansky, did not return messages. Ritz, reached by phone at the cold-case squad’s office Feb. 20, would not comment, since the case, he said, is still “in the early stages” of being investigated.

According to court records, the murder weapon was “a .38/.357 caliber handgun.” Wisniewski was killed by a single gunshot wound, court records show, and sources familiar with the case, who asked to remain unnamed, say it was delivered to his head. Convertino, court records reflect, died of multiple gunshot wounds. Sources close to the investigation say that two rounds were fired into Convertino’s head, and another was shot into his arm. Miller, according to some of these sources, worked at Redwood Trust during the time of the murders.

Court documents written by Ritz explain the case against Miller. On the day the bodies were discovered, a latex glove and a second partial latex glove were recovered from the apartment by crime-scene investigators. Shortly afterward, Ritz’s report continues, it was learned that Convertino’s laptop computer was missing. On May 12, 2003, investigators discovered that the computer had been pawned by Miller on April 17, 2003—the day after the bodies were found—at a pawnshop in Randallstown. Miller’s driver’s license was presented to the pawnshop during the transaction, and lists an address a few miles away, in the Rolling Ridge subdivision.

In March 2005—nearly two years after the murders—the police finished processing the physical evidence in the case, including the latex gloves, according to Ritz’s report. The gloves were found to contain skin cells inside of them. On Aug. 16, 2005, police collected blood from Miller to compare his DNA to the skin cells. The comparison was completed on Nov. 29, and the skin cells were found to be consistent with Miller’s DNA.

“[T]his investigator believes,” Ritz wrote in his report, “that the latex gloves found at the crime scene . . . [were] worn by the defendant as a precautionary measure so as not to leave any physical evidence . . . that would link him to the crimes of assault, armed robbery and premeditated murder of [the] victims.”

“With the gloves, it just amazes me that they didn’t do what they had to do earlier,” Morgan says. “They had them since the day the bodies were found.”

Morgan chalks it up to Miller’s “stupidity” that he left behind evidence, such as the gloves and driver’s license information, that could trace the crime back to him, as police allege.

Miller has had some run-ins with Baltimore police in the past. In a 1993 case, court records show, he faced two murder charges and an assault charge. Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office spokesman Joseph Sviatko says the state declined to prosecute him on the murder charges, but he was found guilty of assault in that case and received a one-year sentence, with 10 months suspended. In 1997, he was found guilty of forging a public document and received a $250 fine, a two-year suspended sentence, and 18 months of probation. Also in 1997, a drug-conspiracy case against him was shelved by prosecutors. In 1994, the state’s attorney declined to prosecute him on an assault charge and on a charge of playing dice. (In the 1994 dice case, Miller used an alias: Samuel Lester Miller. Sviatko says records show that Miller also used three different dates of birth: one in 1975, one in 1972, and one in 1970.)

Most recently, on Dec. 1, 2005, Miller was charged in Baltimore with providing unauthorized taxicab services. Court records show that the state’s attorney declined to prosecute the charge on Jan. 24, the day after he turned himself in on the murder charges.

Morgan says she believes that Miller, if he’s found guilty of the murders, did not act alone. She bases that on a conversation she had with the second set of detectives who handled the case, before Ritz took it over.

“They said that they felt from the scene that there were two people in the apartment,” Morgan recalls, stressing that the case is still under investigation, even though Miller is in custody and facing trial. The Baltimore City State’s Attorneys Office, Morgan says, told her Miller’s trial could start as soon as June, unless circumstances cause a delay.