Claire Miller

14-year-old Claire Miller is charged as an adult with homicide after police say she stabbed and killed her 19-year-old sister, Helen, during the early morning hours of Monday, Feb. 22, 2021.

Citing Claire Miller’s need for “extensive mental health treatment,” a Lancaster County judge on Monday denied a defense request to move the teenager’s homicide charge for killing her older sister to juvenile court.

Judge David Workman acknowledged how unusual the case is, in that Miller’s parents are both the victims of the crime but also support shifting their younger daughter’s case to juvenile court, a venue that prioritizes rehabilitation and supervision until a minor defendant reaches age 21.

Miller was 14 when she stabbed her 19-year-old sister Helen as Helen was sleeping in the family’s Manheim Township home on Feb. 22, 2021. She is now 16. 

In Pennsylvania, homicide is automatically treated as an adult crime, but a minor defendant can petition to have the case moved to juvenile court, which focuses on rehabilitation and includes supervision until age 21 if it serves the public interest.

Loud sobs could be heard as Workman announced his ruling, presumably from Miller, her mother, or both. Reporters watched the hearing on a remote television in a different courtroom and did not have a clear view of the other courtroom.

Defense attorney Robert Beyer and Lancaster County District Attorney Heather Adams declined comment after the hearing, with both noting that the case is still pending. Beyer said Miller's parents also had nothing to say.

Miller’s defense attorney has already filed paperwork indicating they intend to mount an insanity or mental illness defense.

‘Wake up call’

Workman said he hoped his opinion would serve as a guide in handling the case should a future court choose to follow it. He said he believed “what occurred in this case was a psychotic episode of some kind.”

Workman said, “The court is aware, and is not adverse, to the family’s request for mercy. Mercy is defined as compassion or forgiveness, but it also includes a requirement of accountability. Claire is certainly suffering from mental illness and has experienced a psychotic episode. She is dealing with multiple mental health diagnoses, including gender dysphoria and hallucinations. ... At the same time this crime involves the violent killing of a vulnerable person with a severe disability who had no ability to cry for help or run away. There must be remembrance for Helen.”

Helen had cerebral palsy and was unable to move.

Workman said he was very concerned about comments Miller made after the killing in which she seemed to joke or make light of killing her sister. While at the police station after her arrest, for example, someone brought Miller breakfast from McDonald’s.

Miller reacted by saying, “Oh, McDonald’s! I would have killed someone sooner if I knew I was going to get McDonald's.”

Workman said the case “should serve as a wakeup call to all parents to be wary of the negative implications of youth left relatively unsupervised on their phones and on social media and to be very mindful for signals of decline in their child’s mental health, no matter how insignificant those signals may be.”

The case will now be assigned to another judge. No trial date has been scheduled.

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