KNOX, Ind. -- A man who pleaded guilty to killing an 11-month-old northern Indiana girl whose remains were found buried in a wooded area has been sentenced to the maximum 65-year prison term.
After Starke Circuit Judge Kim Hall sentenced Justin Miller on Tuesday, relatives of Mercedes Lain wept and hugged in the courtroom's gallery, the South Bend Tribune reported.
Miller, 37, pleaded guilty last month to a murder charge in Mercedes' August 2021 death.
Hall accepted Miller's plea agreement and sentenced him after hearing testimony from Plymouth police detectives and the FBI, who detailed how Miller initially lied to police about Mercedes’ whereabouts before showing them last Aug. 18 where he left her body in a wooded area of Starke County.
Tami Napier, a special deputy prosecuting attorney, sought the maximum sentence for Miller, noting the brutality of the crime and how he had repeatedly lied to investigators.
“This was a vicious, sustained, brutal attack on a 10-month-old child,” she said.
Miller said when he pleaded guilty in December that he was watching Mercedes -- a relative’s daughter -- at his girlfriend’s Mishawaka apartment when he struck the crying child “a couple of times” while he was high on synthetic marijuana.
After discovering that Mercedes was dead, Miller said he borrowed gas money from a neighbor, drove to Starke County and buried the baby's body in the woods.
An autopsy found that Mercedes died from blunt-force trauma to the head.