Man to stand trial in slaying of 77-year-old woman

Published 7:43 pm Tuesday, July 25, 2006

The trial of a man charged in the 2001 beating death of a 77-year-old Starkville woman is set to begin next week.

Willie Prater, 29, is one of five men charged with capital murder in the Aug. 20, 2001, slaying of Juanita Miller of Starkville.

Miller was found severely beaten inside her home by Starkville firefighters responding to a fire report. Her husband, Lee, was not home at the time.

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As they extinguished the flames in two rooms, the firefighters found Miller, a former elementary school teacher and Oktibbeha County Hospital volunteer, lying on the floor with head and other injuries. She later died at a Columbus hospital.

It was later revealed that Miller was beaten with an iron, and the autopsy confirmed that she died from blunt trauma.

Two other suspects in Miller’s death are already serving prison sentences and three have yet to stand trial.

Devail Hudson, 30, was convicted on a capital murder charge in Miller’s death in September 2004 and is serving a life sentence. Prosecutors said Hudson is the one who killed Miller, while the other suspects were involved in other ways.

Demarcus Evans, 19, pleaded guilty to a manslaughter charge in November 2005 and is serving a 20-year prison term.

Two other defendants, Bentore Riley, 24, and Derrick Marlo Turner, 26, await trial. Riley was a prosecution witness during Hudson’s trial.

Prater’s trial in the case began in February 2005, but stopped when he began behaving erratically in the courtroom during jury selection.

A judge ordered Prater to undergo a mental examination at the Mississippi State Hospital at Whitfield that found Prater was competent to stand trial. However, doctors said Prater suffers from a degree of mental retardation so prosecutors won’t seek the death penalty.