OGDEN — It came down to two stories, a husband's and a wife's, in a trial over the death of 16-year-old Alexis Rasmussen.
Jurors believed the wife.
Following three days of testimony — half the time the trial was expected to take — the jury deliberated for less than 90 minutes Friday night before finding Eric Millerberg, 38, guilty of child abuse homicide in the teenager's death following a night of drugs, sex and alcohol when she was supposedly baby-sitting at the Millerbergs' North Ogden home on Sept. 10, 2011.
Millerberg was stone faced as the forewoman from the five-man, three-woman jury read the verdict, pausing between each count as sobs erupted from Alexis' family.
Millerberg was also found guilty of obstruction of justice, a second-degree felony, unlawful sexual conduct with a minor and abuse or desecration of a human body, third-degree felonies.
Alexis' mother, Dawn Miera, did not comment as family and friends left the courthouse, alternately weeping and celebrating. She will likely speak at Millerberg's sentencing on March 18.
Defense attorney Randall Marshall, who expressed his disappointment as he hurried from the courthouse, said he expects Millerberg will appeal the decision.
As he excused the jury, 2nd District Judge Scott M. Hadley thanked them for their prompt decision and their willingness to continue working into the evening.
"You can see it in your faces, the hard work you've done," Hadley said. "It's hard work and it's never pleasant, frankly, to judge another human being."
Much of the case against Millerberg came from his wife Dea's testimony, which Weber County Attorney Dee W. Smith called "specific and graphic" as she described her husband shooting Alexis up with methamphetamine and heroin, sex acts between the three of them and later driving around looking for a place to dump Alexis' body after attempts to resuscitate her failed.
"Normal people don't inject little girls with heroin and methamphetamine," Smith told the jurors during closing arguments.
Smith urged jurors to consider that the law defines child abuse as inflicting injuries that impair a child's health, and said that included preparing and administering narcotics to Alexis and her friend, Brenna Cain.
"That's child abuse, and the defendant committed it when he stuck that needle in (Alexis') neck," Smith said, calling the behaviors reckless and dangerous.
Cain testified that she and Alexis often secretly got drugs, alcohol and sex from the Millerbergs, and when Alexis disappeared, they were the first people she approached.
The Millerbergs told Cain — as well as police, family members and almost anyone who asked — that Alexis had left their house around 10 p.m. to go meet a friend at a nearby elementary school, though text messages to Alexis' mother placed her at the Millerberg home until at least 11:30 p.m.
At the time of the disappearance, Eric Millerberg attempted to shift responsibility from himself, saying it wasn't up to him to tell the 16-year-old she couldn't leave his house, Smith said.
It was Eric "Peanut" Smith, an inmate who met Eric Millerberg behind bars who eventually led police to Alexis' body 38 days after she was reported missing. Eric Millerberg had asked for Smith's help moving the body deeper into the trees, hoping snow would cover it before any hunters stumbled upon it.
Another friend and inmate testified that Eric Millerberg had come to him for help moving the body, but he refused.
Alexis' badly decomposed remains still bore evidence of the large amounts of drugs she had taken before she died, though Marshall emphasized a medical examiner could not conclusively identify the drugs as the cause of death.
Millerberg chose not to testify in his defense. His attorney argued in closing statements that the most damning details of Dea Millerberg's testimony were not corroborated. He argued that Alexis likely would have been more comfortable around another woman and told jurors no one could be sure that it wasn't actually Dea Millerberg who injected the girl with drugs.
"Something happened and a little girl got in trouble, and because of that, a big girl got in trouble and she went for help. She went to her husband," Marshall said.6 comments on this story
A separate trial for wife Dea Millerberg, 40, who is also charged with abuse or desecration of Alexis' body, a third-degreee felony, is set to begin in April. She received immunity from the state for testifying against her husband, meaning what she said under oath in one courtroom can't be used against her in her own trial.
Smith, who said he felt positive about the verdict when he learned the jury had reached a decision shortly before 7 p.m., will now turn his attention to the case against Dea Millerberg.
"We're going to have to sit down and evaluate the evidence we have against her independent of what she told us here on the stand, and we'll make appropriate decisions," Smith said, adding that so far no plea deals have been discussed.
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