Miller sentenced to 120 years for role in shooting death

Updated: May 6, 2008, 8:02 PM ET
Associated Press

BOZEMAN, Mont. -- Former Montana State basketball player Branden Miller was sentenced Tuesday to 120 years in prison in the shooting death of a suspected drug dealer.

District Judge Mike Salvagni sentenced Miller to 100 years in prison for deliberate homicide, 10 years for the use of a weapon and 10 years for tampering with evidence. Miller also was sentenced to five years for a bar assault that occurred six days before the murder. The sentences are to run consecutively.

Miller pleaded guilty to deliberate homicide in the June 2006 shooting death of 26-year-old Jason Wright, whose body was found in a field near Montana State University. However, he says he did not shoot Wright.

Miller will be eligible for parole in about 30 years.

Miller's arrest, along with drug charges filed against several current and former MSU athletes led the school to re-evaluate its recruiting practices.

Salvagni said Miller was solely responsible for his "heinous actions," and Gallatin County Attorney Marty Lambert has said the evidence points to Miller as the gunman.

Investigators have said the murder weapon was one of two .40-caliber handguns Miller bought from a pawn shop two weeks before Wright was shot.

Miller has testified that he helped co-defendant John Lebrum cover up the murder. Lebrum has pleaded guilty to robbery and his sentencing hearing was scheduled to begin Wednesday.

Lebrum, a former redshirt football player at MSU, told authorities he watched from the road as Miller shot and killed Wright for drugs and money.

Miller, of Milwaukee, transferred to Montana State from Colby (Kan.) Community College in the fall of 2004. He started 27 of 28 basketball games during the 2004-05 season. He became academically ineligible and was dismissed from the team on Dec. 6, 2005.

Miller's attorney, Peter Ohman, said Montana State didn't do enough to support Miller after he was suspended.

"Had Branden not been recruited to MSU on a full scholarship, lost the scholarship, lost any meaningful support from MSU, and left to go at it on his own in this foreign community, this homicide would not have occurred," Ohman wrote in a memo to Salvagni seeking a reduced sentence for Miller. "This community and, in particular the MSU administration, owes itself some serious introspection."

The school has undergone an evaluation by the NCAA as well as by a team of faculty, students, former student-athletes and community members, who suggested changes for the athletics department. Both said Montana State needs to involve faculty in the recruiting of student athletes and offer better support for minority students.


Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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