By Jane Musgrave
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 04, 2007
WEST PALM BEACH — An appeals court Wednesday seemed to take a dim view of a long-absent father's continuing efforts to cash in on the police shooting death of a son he barely knew.
"To me, this is a very easy case," appeals court Judge Robert Gross said of the protracted dispute over who is the real father of 16-year-old Jerrod Miller, who was shot dead by a Delray Beach police officer nearly two years ago.
In 1995, Gross said, a judge ruled that Kenneth Miller was the father of both Jerrod and his twin, Sherrod. Even though a DNA test last year showed that there is a 99.9 percent probability that Terry Glover fathered the twins, the Orlando truck driver never challenged the 1995 ruling, Gross said.
"I don't think the judge had any choice but to appoint Mr. Miller," Gross said, referring to a Palm Beach County Circuit Court decision that Kenneth Miller should be named personal representative of Jerrod's potentially lucrative estate.
Martha Warner, one of two other 4th District Court of Appeal judges to hear the case, seemed to agree.
While calling it an "interesting and knotty case," she said: "We already have a judgment that says Mr. Miller is the father."
During the 30-minute hearing, Glover's attorney insisted there are many reasons Circuit Judge Karen Martin erred and his client's genetic test trumps the 1995 court ruling.
Further, with the clock ticking toward a Feb. 27 deadline to sue the city of Delray Beach over Jerrod's death, attorney Patrick Cousins urged the appeals court to move quickly.
Famed Stuart litigator Willie Gary, who is representing Kenneth Miller, has already alerted the city he intends to slap it with a $7.5 million wrongful death lawsuit. The suit has stalled as the Miller and Glover battle over who is Jerrod's legal father and therefore has the right to sue the city.
As it has from the start, the case turns on ugly nuances - many that can't be proved because the twins' mother, Gwen Cornelius Gatling, died of a heart attack in 2003.
Cousins claims Kenneth Miller was named the twins' father by default. Miller didn't attend the court hearing. The judge simply accepted Gatling's word that he was the boys' father, he said.
Steven Goldsmith, who represents Kenneth Miller, pointed out that his client attended the twins' birth, signed their birth certificates, paid child support and was involved in their lives.
Cousins disagreed. He claimed Miller's mother, not him, raised the boys after their mother died. Further, he said, Miller owes roughly $161,000 in child support for the boys and their two sisters. Miller claims the amount is $5,000.
Cousins insisted that Glover wanted to be involved in his sons' lives but Gatling made him promise not to tell anyone he was their father. After she died, Cousins said, Glover tried to establish a relationship with them.
Still, he acknowledged, neither man would win father-of-the-year honors.
"None of the fathers in this case are picture-perfect," Cousins said.
But, he said, since Jerrod, who didn't have a driver's license, was shot by a rookie cop as he drove through a breezeway at the Delray Full Service Center during a school dance, Glover has forged a relationship with Sherrod.
"He now recognizes my client as his father," Cousins said.
Kenneth Miller and his mother, Phyllis Miller, disagreed. They said Glover didn't as much as send his son a card for his 18th birthday in October or for Christmas.
Phyllis Miller said Sherrod Miller didn't attend the hearing by choice.
"He was afraid that he would have to come," she said while standing outside the courthouse. "He doesn't want to come."
On the other end of the courthouse steps, Glover proudly reported that Sherrod has made him a grandfather. A boy, Little Sherrod, was born last month, he said.