JERSEY CITY – Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin and Director Carolyn Murray of the Attorney General’s Conviction Review Unit (CRU) announced that the CRU secured a court ruling that resulted in the release of a man serving a 30-year prison sentence for a 2003 felony homicide in Jersey City. It represents the second time that such an action has been taken by the CRU, which was formed in 2019 as one of the nation’s first statewide conviction review units.
Dion Miller, now 54 years old of Jersey City, was convicted at a second trial in 2007 of felony murder, robbery, possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose, and unlawful possession of a weapon stemming from the assault and robbery of a 74-year-old man. On February 23, 2007, Mr. Miller was sentenced to an aggregate term of 30 years in prison, all 30 of which were to be served without eligibility for parole.
The victim, Romeo Cavero, was outside a Van Nostrand Avenue senior citizens’ building on January 5, 2003, when he was struck on the head multiple times and robbed of cash by his attacker(s). Mr. Cavero was taken to Jersey City Medical Center, where his condition deteriorated and he died four days later on January 9, 2003.
Mr. Miller filed an application for reinvestigation of the case with the CRU. The CRU conducts an extensive vetting process to identify credible claims of innocence among the hundreds of eligible applications to the CRU, and the screening attorneys determined Mr. Miller’s case warranted re-examination.
“Every day throughout our country, our criminal justice system is tested. Many times justice prevails. When it fails, it damages the system’s effectiveness and credibility. It is the responsibility of each of us to acknowledge our mistakes and attempt to right the wrongs that have been done,” said Attorney General Platkin. “Through the actions taken by my office’s Conviction Review Unit, an innocent man was able to reclaim his freedom and our Cold Case Network will now pursue justice for the family of a victim whose murder remains unsolved. This is the work that the Conviction Review and the Cold Case Units were designed to pursue. While these cases are challenging, there is no limit on the pursuit of justice. Today marks a new beginning for Mr. Miller and a new phase in the investigation to identify the killer of Mr. Cavero.”
The CRU conducted a re-investigation of the facts and review of new evidence relevant to Mr. Miller’s conviction that had not been available to the jury, and concluded that there was clear and convincing evidence that Mr. Miller should not have been convicted.
Attorneys for the CRU and Mr. Miller appeared on July 27, 2023, in court in Hudson County before Superior Court Judge Mitzy Galis-Menendez, P.J. Cr., on a joint motion for a new trial. Mr. Miller was represented by Laura Cohen and Nyssa Taylor of the New Jersey Innocence Project at Rutgers University. The New Jersey Innocence Project at Rutgers University is overseen by Professor Laura Cohen and attorney Nyssa Taylor and is an inter-disciplinary, law school-based, innocence organization committed to freeing wrongfully convicted people in New Jersey.
“Mr. Miller, his family, and the New Jersey Innocence Project at Rutgers University are deeply grateful to Attorney General Platkin, Director Murray, and the entire team of the Conviction Review Unit for their vigorous, thorough, and thoughtful work on this case, and for their determination to correct this grave injustice,” said Professor Laura Cohen of the New Jersey Innocence Project at Rutgers University. “We hope that the lessons learned from this matter, particularly with regard to the causes and frequency of false confessions, will lead to exonerations of other innocent people and help prevent future wrongful convictions from occurring in New Jersey.”
Judge Galis-Menendez granted the motion for a new trial. The Attorney General’s Office then successfully moved for a dismissal of the indictment with prejudice. Mr. Miller was present in the courtroom.
Family members of the victim were notified prior to the court action. A new investigation into the robbery, assault and murder of Mr. Cavero is underway by the Attorney General’s Cold Case Network, a statewide network of regional task forces formed at the same time as the CRU to investigate cold cases, particularly cases generated by the CRU. It operates with support from the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability (OPIA), the New Jersey State Police (NJSP), and several county Prosecutor’s Offices.
“A re-evaluation of statements that the victim and Mr. Miller made to the police, of the evidence indicating other suspects might be responsible, and other information gathered on this case, undermined any confidence that the right individual had been convicted of the crime,” said Carolyn Murray, Director of the CRU. “Those who are innocent should not suffer and languish behind bars. The CRU will continue to work to ensure New Jersey’s justice system is fair, accurate, and evidence-based.”
The CRU’s review of the record revealed that the victim knew Mr. Miller, who lived with a relative in a neighboring apartment in the same building, but the victim never identified Mr. Miller as his assailant. Mr. Cavero was lucid immediately after the attack when he told family and a responding officer that he had been struck from the rear and robbed of cash by a male, who then returned and fled in a nearby vehicle.
The review also found that the only evidence linking Mr. Miller to the crime were three false confessions which lacked reliability for a variety of reasons. The three false confessions elicited by police from Mr. Miller each contained various inconsistencies in the details and descriptions of the events. Additionally, none of the confessions matched the description of the crime provided by the victim.
The investigation uncovered evidence that during the 17-hour long interrogations of Mr. Miller, officers fed him information which he then repeated back to them in his false confessions. This process molded Mr. Miller’s statements to fit the facts as the detectives believed them to be. Moreover, the evidence discovered during the investigation uncovered that immediately after making the three false confessions, Mr. Miller was questioned by one officer outside of the presence of the others involved in his interrogation. Mr. Miller told the detective who came forward with this information during the CRU’s re-investigation that he did not commit this offense and he only confessed to it because he was afraid of being hurt. This information uncovered by the CRU had never been previously presented to the court, prosecutor, defense, or the jury that convicted Mr. Miller.
Mr. Miller was convicted of felony murder, robbery, possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose, and illegal possession of a weapon. He was sentenced to an aggregate term of 30 years behind bars and would not have been eligible for parole until February 2034.
Director Murray and Deputy Attorney General Debra Conrad, Deputy Chief of the Integrity Unit, represented the Attorney General’s CRU in court, under the supervision of Assistant Attorney General Thomas Eicher, Executive Director of the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability. Mr. Miller was represented by Laura Cohen and Nyssa Taylor of the New Jersey Innocence Project at Rutgers University.
The CRU reviews claims of actual innocence, investigates those deemed meritorious, and presents its findings to the Attorney General for a decision and appropriate action.
The CRU accepts claims of wrongful conviction from a wide variety of sources, including prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, law enforcement, innocence organizations, defendants, defendants’ families, the media, and others. Since its formation, the CRU has received approximately 600 applications for review.
To ensure every claim of innocence receives proper consideration, there is a standard, readily available application form, along with a tracking system that allows for prioritizing claims and notifying petitioners and victims of the status of claims during the following review process:
- Application: The process starts with the convicted individual’s submission of an application for review. Either unit personnel or Rutgers University students conduct background research, including research on legal decisions and media coverage related to the applicant’s conviction.
- Screening: A screening team reviews the application package, including the background research, and drafts a memo with next-step recommendations to attorneys in the CRU. The screening teams are comprised of former public defenders and prosecutors, who are paired to form screening teams. Some cases are closed after screening. Where red flags for wrongful conviction are identified, cases are opened for re-investigation.
- Re-investigation: Any re-investigation is very in-depth and often takes months, due to the fact that most of these crimes occurred many years ago. The re-investigation is conducted by CRU attorneys and investigators.
- Attorney General Review: At the conclusion of the re-investigation, a recommendation about whether to seek court action is presented to the Attorney General for review.
More information regarding the CRU is available here.
Form to request that a case be reviewed by CRU is available here