John Miller IV this morning was found guilty of two misdemeanor charges resulting from the death of infant Tristan Schulz, who was killed while being pushed in a stroller across a Lansdowne crosswalk last summer.
In front of a courtroom filled with the Schulz family and supporters, Miller entered a plea of no contest to a charge of reckless driving and guilty to failure to yield to pedestrians in a crosswalk. He faces a maximum sentence of 12 months in jail, plus fines and a year-long loss of his driver’s license.
The pleas came one month after county prosecutors dropped a felony charge of involuntary manslaughter, after concluding that evidence in the case would not support the elements required to obtain a conviction.
At the request of Deputy County Attorney Sean Morgan, Circuit Court Judge Stephen Sincavage agreed to schedule a two-day sentencing hearing—highly unusual for misdemeanor convictions. The hearing is expected to afford family members their first opportunity to talk publicly about the lasting impact Miller’s action will have.
In the courtroom, the family’s supporters wore powder blue ribbons and some held T-shirts that displayed a larger blue ribbon. Tristan’s parents, Mindy and Rod Schulz, sat in the front row, with Mindy clutching a stuffed toy that belonged to her son, who was 5 months old when Miller’s SUV drove over the baby’s stroller as he accelerated when the traffic signal turned green.
Early evidence in the case suggested that Miller was on his phone at the time of the incident, prompting the initial manslaughter charge. However, data collected from the two phones he had in his vehicle did not support that belief.
Sincavage and the attorneys in the case will meet Friday to schedule the sentencing hearing.
Neither the Schulz family nor Miller has publicly commented on the court proceedings, with both sides girding for an expected civil lawsuit that may follow.
After Tuesday’s hearing, Schulz family supporters were concerned by Miller’s no contest plea, saying it continued the pattern of him not taking responsibility for the death and demonstrating no remorse. With a no contest, or nolo contendere, plea, the defendant neither disputes or admits doing the crime. It nevertheless carries the weight of a guilty plea.
Supporters said they were shocked and disappointed that the felony charge was dropped. But they now are focused on getting some sense of closure for the family.
“There is really nothing that can fix what happened,” said Anna Thorner. “An apology would have been nice.”
“There is never going to be a day that grief is not present. We are talking about a child who was killed before he learned to crawl. Before he said his first word. Before he had the chance to develop fully into the silly or shy or daredevil man he was meant to be. We measure the lives of infants by days and weeks. His family has nothing but daily markers of moments he didn’t have. Moments they were robbed of with him,” Thorner said.
“They deserve justice for him,” Lansdowne resident Elizabeth Freeman said. “We all feel like we’ve lost a child in this.”
Added her husband, Dale, “The community is looking for some glimmer of justice.”