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Loudoun Man Found Guilty in Branding

Torch Lighter Used on Toddler's Arm

By Karin Brulliard
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 14, 2005; Page B06

Daniel Miller Jr. was enthralled with the popular rapper Xzibit and often mimicked the star's trademark gesture -- arms raised and crossed in the sign of an "X" -- for friends, prosecutors said.

One day last April, prosecutors said, Miller merged his fascination with brutality.

Daniel Miller Jr. was obsessed with a rapper, prosecutors say. (Loudoun County Sheriff's Office)

Irritated by his girlfriend's crying child and fueled by his obsession with the rapper -- and his own dream of becoming a rap artist and naming himself Xcaliber -- Miller broke the boy's jaw and used a torch lighter to brand his left arm with an "X," Loudoun County Deputy Commonwealth's Attorney James P. Fisher said.

Yesterday, a Loudoun County Circuit Court jury found Miller, 27, guilty of felony child abuse and malicious wounding. The jury recommended that the Ashburn man spend 20 years in prison.

"I'm extremely pleased," Fisher said. "It brings a sense of justice in this case."

Miller was charged in May, several weeks after the toddler's mother, Mary Peter Huffman, took her son to Loudoun Hospital Center on April 10, 2004. Doctors, alarmed by the injuries and the shape of the burns, called authorities.

Huffman told authorities that the child, then 23 months old, was injured while Miller and his sister were baby-sitting for him April 9 in the Ashburn apartment.

While he was jailed, prosecutors said, Miller told another inmate that he had abused the boy. The inmate, Eugene Jones, testified that Miller told him he tried to scare the child by igniting the lighter, then burned the child when that didn't work.

Defense attorneys argued that there was not enough evidence to prove Miller was the abuser. No biological evidence was introduced to connect Miller to the abuse, defense attorney Eric N. Strom said. "But for the jailhouse confession that didn't come about until November, the whole case was circumstantial."

In photos prosecutors showed the jury, the toddler's swollen face was marked with bruises, and his arms were dotted with raw, pink burn marks. Another photo showed the carpet of the child's Ashburn bedroom spattered with blood.

Jones testified that Miller, in recounting his story about burning the child, said that he had marked the boy with his name, referring to his rap moniker, and that the boy "took it like a soldier," Fisher said.

Fisher said Miller's ex-girlfriend, Lena Bonanno, testified that Miller was a fan of Xzibit, a rapper and the host of MTV's "Pimp My Ride," a program in which clunkers are transformed into luxury vehicles.

As he thanked the jurors before dismissing them, Circuit Court Judge James H. Chamblin said he had been told that the toddler, who is now nearly 3 years old, is doing "very well." Several jurors nodded their heads and smiled.

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