DOC#: 911827 White Male
Porter County Superior Court
Judge Roger V. Bradford
Prosecutor: James H. Douglas,
Gwen R. Rinkenberger
Defense: Ron V. Aungst, Robert
Date of Murder: November 14,
Victim(s): Christel Helmchen
W/F/19 (No relationship to Miller)
Method of Murder: shooting with
Summary: At 1:30 a.m. Valporaiso
Police discovered that Christel Helmchen, the attendant at the White
Hen Pantry on Calumet Avenue was missing. A few hours later, her
body was found near Highway #6 with evidence of sexual assault and
severe injuries to her pubic area and anal canal. The cause of death
was a shotgun wound to the head.
Helmchen's checkbook was later found in Miller's
driveway. Miller's stepson, Rodney Wood, had lived with Miller at
that address for 3 months, and during that time committed numerous
burglaries and thefts.
Wood and his friend, William Harmon, were
arrested in Kentucky in a stolen car that contained clothing
belonging to Helmchen. Wood entered into a plea agreement whereby
the State would not pursue a Death Sentence in exchange for a
In the statement, Wood admitted that he, Miller,
and Harmon had discussed robbing the White Hen, and that Harmon told
them he had found a remote place to take the clerk where they could
rape her and kill her.
Miller drove Wood and Harmon to the White Hen and
waited in the car while Wood and Harmon went inside, robbed the
clerk at gunpoint, and escorted her to her car. Wood drove
Helmchen's car and Miller followed to Highway #6. Harmon gagged and
tied her and she was then dragged to a construction site. Miller
fondled her, threw her to the floor and ordered Wood to have sex
with her, which he did.
Miller instructed Wood and Harmon to tie her
upright to a wall and Miller beat her with his fists. Harmon struck
her with the shotgun. Miller then beat her with a 2 X 4 and stuck
her with an ice pick in the thigh and breast. Upon Miller's
direction, Wood and Harmon retrieved a tire iron and inserted it
into her rectum while Miller watched.
Miller and Wood then walked to the car. Harmon
followed Helmchen out, put the shotgun to the back of her head and
fired. An ISP hair examiner identified pubic hairs from Miller on
the body of the victim.
Conviction: Murder, Confinement
(B Felony), Rape (A Felony), CDC (A Felony), Robbery (A Felony),
Conspiracy to Commit Murder (A Felony)
Sentencing: May 20, 1991 (Death
Sentence, 20 years, 50 years, 50 years, 50 years, 50 years)
Aggravating Circumstances: b (1)
Rape, CDC, Robbery; b(9) On parole
Behaved well as a prisoner for 19 years, kind and helpful to
roommate and child, during childhood did not display sadistic
tendencies, sensitive and caring individual, stepdaughter allowed
him to babysit
On 08-07-01 Miller entered a guilty plea to the
charges pursuant to a Plea Agreement calling for a 138 year sentence,
and was sentenced by Porter County Superior Court Judge Roger V.
Bradford to consecutive terms of 60 years (Murder), 50 years (Conspiracy
to Murder), 20 years (Confinement), and 8 years (Robbery).
Miller admits killing Helmchen; gets life
By Vicki Urbanik and Kevin Nevers - Chesterton
August 8, 2001
After a decade of declaring his innocence, Perry
Steven Miller admitted on Tuesday that he is guilty of the 1990
murder of Chesterton High School graduate Christel Helmchen.
The confession, reached in a plea agreement with
the Porter County Prosecutor, will spare Miller the death penalty
but will put to rest speculation that he will be retried and
possibly walk free.
Miller, now 53, will instead serve a 138-year
sentence for murder, conspiracy to commit murder, robbery and
criminal confinement. He will not be considered for release from
prison until he is 112 years old.
For Robert and Judy Helmchen of Jackson Township,
the plea agreement finally gives them some closure to the murder,
rape and torture of their then-17-year-old daughter, who had been
working alone at night at a White Hen Pantry just weeks before she
was to begin college when she was abducted by Miller and two teens.
But the fact that Miller won’t be executed for
his crimes also symbolizes to them the unfairness of the justice
“We feel the U.S. justice system is very unfair,”
said Robert Helmchen. “It’s not just, because he took Christel’s
life brutally and joyfully ... and preplanned it in great detail.
And he gets away with it.”
The plea agreement was reached following the
surprise decision in late June by a three-judge panel of the 7th
Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago that overturned Miller’s murder
conviction and death penalty sentence. The panel determined that
Miller’s public defender at his county trial 10 years ago was
ineffective and that he should either be retried or walk free within
Indiana Attorney General Steve Carter currently
has a petition pending for a rehearing before the full, nine-judge
7th Circuit, hoping to reverse the three-judge decision. Carter has
said that if that effort were to fail, he was prepared to take the
case to the U.S. Supreme Court. That effort, however, will now be
dismissed as a result of the plea agreement and Miller’s new 138-year
Porter County Prosecuting Attorney James Douglas
told the Chesterton Tribune today that the possibility of a plea
agreement was first generally broached by Miller’s attorneys, and
while the 138-year sentence is a disappointing substitution for the
death penalty, it will nevertheless “guarantee” that Miller dies in
Miller, he noted, will be removed from death row
and placed into general population.
Douglas did say that though “the chances are very
good we would have won” the re-trial and that Miller would
“probably” have been sentenced once again to death, “anytime you
retry a case after a long period of time, there are problems.” These
include not only the general ones of fading memories on the part of
witnesses and perhaps even jurors’ changing attitudes to the death
penalty itself, but also the specific problem presented in this case
by the need to secure the testimony of Miller’s accomplices in the
murder. Ten years ago, he said, the state had some degree of
leverage over those accomplices, leverage since lost by the
disposition of their own cases. In any case, Douglas remarked, even
a second conviction, followed by a second death sentence, would have
led to the same round of appeals and the same cycle of delays.
“From the very beginning he was the principal
player,” Douglas said of Miller. “But for him this would not have
happened. And I always felt Miller to be the most culpable.”
Robert Helmchen said the 7th Circuit panel didn’t
look at the truth and was ready to allow a murderer to walk free.
“They just looked at the nitty gritty details of
what went wrong with the trial,” he said, adding, “this is totally
The 7th Circuit’s decision has led Helmchen to
believe that the justice system is biased toward the criminal. “The
victim doesn’t have half as many rights as the criminal,” he said.
On the other hand, Robert Helmchen said he and
his family are relieved that the longstanding case is over.
“Now hopefully we can close the book and to try
heal the wounds that the 7th Circuit tore right open again,” he said.
“We will never forget Christel,” he added. “The
whole family was killed as a family when she was taken away.”
Helmchen added that it has been of great comfort
to the family to read comments in newspaper stories by people who
agree that an injustice has been done and that Miller should never
have been given the opportunity to walk free.
The plea agreement was presented Tuesday to
Porter County Superior Court Judge Roger Bradford, who presided over
Miller’s original trial in 1991 and sentenced him to die.
Bradford, using the pre-sentence report filed in
1991, accepted Miller’s confession and sentenced him to 60 years for
murder, 50 years for conspiracy to commit murder, 20 years for
criminal confinement, and eight years for robbery.
Miller will have to serve at least one-half of
that sentence before he will be eligible for release.
Douglas said in his statement that he conferred
with the Helmchens prior to entering the plea agreement and that
they requested that the court accept it.
Miller, then 43, along with his stepson, William
Harmon, then 19, and friend Rodney Wood, then 16, was found guilty
of abducting Helmchen from her late-night job at the former White
Hen Pantry in Valparaiso in November of 1990, taking her to a
construction site in Jackson Township, and raping and torturing her
before Harmon killed her by shooting her at close range. Miller, a
LaPorte resident, was considered the mastermind behind the crime;
Harmon and Wood have also been convicted.
At the time, Miller was free on probation from a
life sentence for kidnapping. He had also been convicted of rape and
Miller has maintained his innocence and has
unsuccessfully appealed his conviction to former Circuit Court Judge
Raymond Kickbush, the Indiana Court of Appeals, the Indiana Supreme
Court and U.S. District Judge Allen Sharpe. It wasn’t until his case
was presented to the 7th Circuit that an appeal found in his favor.
Perry S. Miller