McALESTER — It has been nearly four years since then-Seminole State College Regent Jeff Miller was charged with misdemeanor assault and battery for allegedly punching a woman in the face during a 2010 Halloween party at the McAlester Country Club.
The criminal case has yet to come to trial.
“It’s disappointing. I’m disappointed in the system,” said Christy Mercer, the alleged victim. “It’s not working for me when I need it.”
Mercer said she suffered a concussion from the blow, which left her with an orbital fracture to the left eye socket. She said the punch also left her disfigured, with one eyebrow higher than the other — a condition for which she continues to receive regular Botox treatments for cosmetic purposes.
Mercer said she doesn’t want the same thing to happen to other women and has pleaded repeatedly with prosecutors to take the case to trial — so far without success.
“It’s the good ol’ boy thing,” Mercer said, blaming many of the delays on Miller’s wealth and influence.
“Mr. Miller is a very wealthy man,” she said of the former regent who is president of Choctaw Gas Co. in Quinton.
Miller, 53, did not return telephone calls to his office. He was allowed to complete his term as a regent before being replaced at the end of June 2013.
University officials were aware of the criminal charge, but Seminole State College President Jim Utterback said back in January 2011 that Miller was a good regent and he knew of no law that would restrict him from serving on the board — even if he were to be found guilty.
Mercer’s husband, McAlester Attorney Tod Mercer, questioned the double standard of a higher education system in which freshman University of Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon gets suspended from the football team for a year for punching a woman, but a regent is allowed to finish out his term while his trial gets repeatedly postponed.
“Why should Joe Mixon be kicked off the football team and Jeffrey Miller, a grown man, gets to stay on the state regent team?” Tod Mercer asked.
Warren Gotcher, Miller’s attorney, said he was not responsible for the trial delays.
“I’m just a lawyer in this. I can’t do anything,” he said.
Christy Mercer said she didn’t really know Miller and was caught off guard when he tapped her on the shoulder and called her an obscenity. She said she told him to leave her alone and he responded by punching her in the eye, grabbing her by the throat and shoulder, and trying to throw her to the ground.
Tod Mercer said Miller apparently was responding to an earlier incident in which his wife and another woman had gotten into a verbal argument after the woman had blocked the driveway of their home with a golf cart.
Gotcher said what happened at the country club Halloween Party is “highly disputed,” but declined to discuss his client’s version.
Misdemeanor assault and battery carries a maximum sentence of 90 days in the county jail and a $1,000 fine.
Tod and Christy Mercer acknowledge that Tod’s status as a McAlester attorney and familiarity with prosecutors and judges in the Pittsburg County courthouse played a role in some of the early prosecution delays.
The local district attorney and judge removed themselves from the case, delaying proceedings for a few months.
Still, there is no good reason the trial has been delayed this long, they contend.
“This thing has just been ridiculous,” Tod Mercer said.
After the local district attorney stepped aside, the case was assigned to District Attorney Brian Kuester, whose district includes Wagoner, Sequoyah, Adair and Cherokee Counties. Kuester initially assigned the case to Assistant District Attorney John David Luton, who was a Sequoyah County prosecutor at the time.
Christy Mercer claims Luton tried to persuade her to drop the charge.
“He kept trying to intimidate me, telling me that ‘you don’t want to take this to trial,’” she said.
“He said, ‘You know, Mr. Gotcher is going to make this a dog and pony show. ... It’s not going to be pretty for you.’”
Luton strongly denied trying to convince Christy Mercer to drop the charge.
“I certainly believed her. ... I never would personally try to intimidate anyone under any circumstance, particularly not this,” he said, adding that he served as president of a Muskogee group that assisted battered women for 20 years. “I’m very sympathetic to people, particularly women, who have been assaulted.”
Luton said he did try to prepare Christy Mercer to be grilled in court by a seasoned defense attorney who might try to convince a jury that Miller was a victim rather than the aggressor.
“Things can be turned and twisted and certainly if you’re in a trial setting, that’s a possibility,” he said. “I’m certain there was discussion about that.”
Luton said he lost touch with the case when he left the Sequoyah County assistant district attorney’s office about three years ago to become a Tulsa County assistant district attorney. DA Kuester has reassigned the case twice since then to other assistants.
Frustrated by the lack of movement, Christy Mercer said she filed a civil lawsuit against Miller in October 2011, shortly before the statute of limitations for a civil lawsuit was set to expire.
Last May, Judge Jim Pratt, of Eufaula, cited the then-pending civil lawsuit as his reason for refusing to set a trial date on the criminal charge.
The civil case was resolved in August, with a Pittsburg County jury finding in Christy Mercer’s favor on a battery complaint and awarding her $9,000 in damages. The jury rejected claims of intentional infliction of emotional distress and of malice in Miller’s actions.
It has been more than two weeks since that verdict and still no date for the criminal trial has been set.
“It probably won’t be,” said a skeptical Tod Mercer. “None of the delays were requested by us.”
A Dallas police officer ticketed Miller on a subsequent municipal assault complaint Oct. 12, 2013 for an incident that occurred on the weekend of the OU-Texas football game.
Miller was accused of pushing a woman to the ground who intervened in a dispute Miller was having with another woman at the Hilton Anatole Hotel.
“All the parties involved in this incident were heavily drunk at the time,” Dallas police reported.
Online Dallas Municipal Court records show Miller has an outstanding warrant for his arrest.