LANCASTER, PA — A Manheim Township juvenile pleaded guilty but mentally ill to a charge of third-degree murder Friday afternoon in Lancaster County Court regarding the stabbing of her sister on Feb. 22, 2021, announced Lancaster County District Attorney Heather Adams.
Claire Miller, now 16 of the 1500 block of Clayton Road, will serve 12½ to 40 years in prison after a hearing Friday before Lancaster County Judge Jeffery Wright.
Assistant District Attorney Amy Muller prosecuted the case.
“The events that bring us here today are incoherently tragic,” Judge Wright said. “Mr. and Mrs. Miller sit here on the difficult challenge of supporting both the victim and the defendant.”
A person who waives his/her right to trial may plead guilty but mentally ill. During the hearing, ADA Muller asked that an expert doctor’s report detailing the defendant’s mental illness at the time of the incident be incorporated into the record. Judge Wright admitted the report.
Judge Wright asked Miller a series of questions to confirm she was knowingly, voluntarily, and intelligently entering a guilty plea. One of the questions involved Miller’s mental health. The defendant responded she has been treated for depression and an unidentified psychotic disorder and was on medication.
The defendant did not give any further statement when given the opportunity.
Judge Wright determined Miller to be mentally ill but not mentally disabled, accepted the plea and imposed sentence.
“While all homicides are tragic, this case was particularly sad because the victim was her own sister and unable to defend herself,” District Attorney Heather Adams said. “The pain this must have caused the family is unthinkable.
“The Commonwealth does not dispute that Miller suffered from a mental health event at the time of this offense, but it legally did not excuse the conduct. The sentence imposed today holds her accountable for the crime committed, but balances the nature of this offense, her young age, her mental condition at the time and the protection of society. The onus now rests with the Department of Corrections to appropriately treat her mental illness and only grant parole when it is clear that she is no longer a threat to the public.”
On Feb. 22, 2021, Manheim Township Police Department Officers were dispatched shortly after 1:00 a.m. to the 1500 block of Clayton Road after a female called and reported that she had killed her sister.
Upon arrival, officers met Miller who waved them down while standing in front of the residence and directed them to a bedroom where they found her 19-year-old sister, Helen, with a stab wound to her neck. Officers and EMS personnel performed lifesaving measures that were unsuccessful. The victim was pronounced deceased at 4:13 a.m. by the Lancaster County Coroner’s Office.
Officers observed blood on the snow outside the residence and on the defendant’s pants. Responding officers reported the defendant repeatedly said, “I stabbed my sister.”
Charges against Miller were filed in the Court of Common Pleas because homicide is a “direct file” offense. The defense filed a petition to have Miller decertified so the prosecution would occur in juvenile court. Defense counsel argued and presented testimony during the decertification hearing that Miller had a psychotic break that led to the killing, namely auditory command hallucinations coming from a woman that Miller attempted to silence by stabbing.
Miller’s petition to move the case to juvenile court was denied by Judge David Workman in July 2022 and she was ordered to be tried as an adult before deciding to plead guilty but mentally ill.
Detective Steve Newman of the Manheim Township Police Department filed the charges.
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