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Attorney says Millers are 'fighting for kids'

A review this week of the steps Brian and Charity Miller are taking in an attempt to be reunited with their children showed progress, according to Brian Miller's attorney.

M. Thomas Lenway represented Miller in the criminal phase of the case as well as in the petition to terminate the Millers' parental rights.

The children have been in a foster home since authorities arrested the Millers in April.

The rural Dexter couple was convicted in July of chaining at least one of their children to a bed and withholding food from the other.

They were each sentenced to a year in jail, now being served in the Mower County Jail.

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However, the Millers retained their parental rights, thanks to the intervention of the Cherokee Nation.

Because the children are registered with the Cherokee Nation, the Federal Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) weighed heavily in the case. Under ICWA rules, the petitioner, Mower County Human Services, had to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that it had made an active effort to reunify the Miller family.

"They have failed to meet this burden of proof," District Judge Fred Wellmann said of the county's reunification efforts in a July ruling. "Thus, the Millers’ parental rights cannot be terminated, although this Court has found that they failed to meet their parental duties to (their sons), are palpably unfit to parent the children, and have caused the children egregious emotional harm."

He went on to say that the Millers have "substantially, continuously and repeatedly refused or neglected to comply with the duties imposed upon (them) by the parent-child relationship" and that returning the boys to their parents would result in further physical or emotional harm.

The Millers were also denied visitation, pending their completion of counseling.

A parenting plan was written, and the county was given 180 days to attempt reunification.

"I think it went well," Lenway said of Wednesday's review. "The county is looking toward reunification, as is required by law. The parents need to get the appropriate counseling and education before they have any contact with (the boys), so it's kind of in limbo."

The Millers, he said, have completed psychiatric assessments and parenting classes.

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"They fully anticipate on fighting for their kids," Lenway said. "They know they made a mistake, they know they've got a lot of hurdles to get over before they can convince the court that they can parent again, but they're willing to do whatever is necessary."

He, too, recognized the importance of ICWA in his client's case.

"That's why it ended up not being a termination of rights," Lenway said Thursday. "As I told my client, if this had not been an ICWA case, my anticipation is the judge would have terminated parental rights."

The Millers are scheduled to be released from jail in mid-January, Lenway said — about the same time as another scheduled 90-day progress review.

The county has yet to initiate a second termination proceeding, Aaron Jones confirmed, but declined to say if one was planned. He was the prosecutor on the initial hearing.

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