What Happened to Ashleigh Miller?
Late on the evening of May 28th, 2007, a twenty-five-year-old woman was brough into the Harrisburg Medical Center emergency department in Southern Illinois with a head injury. Accompanying the young woman was her boyfriend and brother, who said they found her lying on the side of the road in Carrier Mills. Ashleigh Nicole Miller was suffering from a devastating head injury that required her to be airlifted to Deaconess Hospital in Evansville, Indiana. On June 6th, 2007, Ashleigh passed away from her injuries at the hospital in Evansville, Indiana.
Ashleigh Nicole Miller was born June 13th, 1981, to Mark Miller and Kim Leberman of Harrisburg, Illinois. Ashleigh grew up with four brothers and a sister. In her early twenties, Ashleigh started a relationship with Arnulfo “Arnold” Fonseca, a man ten years her senior. Arnold was born December 1st, 1971. The two welcomed a daughter about two years before that fateful Memorial Day weekend in which Ashleigh sustained her fatal head injury.
According to Judici, a database of criminal cases in Illinois, Arnold had a significant history of criminal behavior including a history of drug charges, racketeering, domestic battery, and driving under the influence of alcohol. He is also a registered sex offender. In the years leading up to Ashleigh’s death, there were charges filed against her as well for domestic battery and alcohol related charges. Ashleigh also filed a restraining order against Arnold in early 2005. This evidence suggests that the two had a tumultuous relationship that involved alcohol abuse and domestic violence.
On the night Ashley was hurt, May 28th, 2007, Arnold and Ashleigh’s brother brought her into the emergency room after they said they found her lying on the side of the road. According to an article in The Southern Illinoisan (2007), Arnold and Ashleigh’s brother, Caleb Miller, claimed that Ashleigh’s injuries were the result of unnamed minorities. This story was found to be false. Fonseca also told authorities that Ashleigh called him, telling him she was going to jump out of a moving vehicle. Finally, Fonseca said that he and Ashleigh were traveling to Carrier Mills to purchase cocaine when Ashleigh either fell or jumped from Arnold’s truck.
Fonseca went on to explain that he lied before because he was driving under the influence of alcohol and did not have a valid driver’s license at the time of the incident. At that point, Saline County authorities arrested Arnold and charged him with aggravated DUI, aggravated driving with a revoked license, obstructing justice, and leaving the scene of an accident. Caleb Miller was also charged with obstruction of justice. There were still so many questions, however, and the emergency room physicians and police were skeptical that Ashleigh fell or jumped from a moving vehicle. By July of 2007, Saline County officials charged Arnold with first-degree murder, alleging he struck Ashleigh in the head which caused her death.
Police determined that Ashleigh and Arnold had been on a date on the night of May 28th, 2007. They had been seen leaving the Centerfield Bar & Grill in Harrisburg around 9:30 pm. At that time, Ashleigh was fully clothed. Earlier that day, the two attended a pool party and had been drinking most of the day. By 10:30 pm, Ashleigh was admitted to the emergency room with a massive head injury and wearing only a bikini. Police believed that the two had an argument in which Arnold struck Ashleigh, causing her head injury and ultimately her death. In an attempt to cover up the incident, authorities theorized that Arnold made up numerous lies to avoid being charged with domestic violence and eventually murder.
The murder trial against Arnold Fonseca began in April of 2008. The police presented the history of domestic violence between Arnold and Ashley. Additionally, they presented the evidence from the treating physician in the emergency department in Harrisburg, the ICU physician at Deaconess Hospital in Evansville, and the medical examiner who performed Ashleigh’s autopsy. The physicians believed that the story told by Fonseca was not consistent with the injuries that Ashleigh sustained. The prosecution also presented the jury with the multiple stories provided by Arnold to explain Ashleigh’s injuries. The prosecution was able to paint Arnold as a liar and domestic abuser.
The defense countered with their star witness, neuropathologist Dr. Mary Case. Dr. Mary Case has had a distinguished career as a pathologist in the St. Louis region and has been involved in several high-profile cases. Dr. Case testified that she had reviewed the autopsy and medical records of Ashleigh Miller. She testified that in her expert opinion, Ashleigh died from blunt force trauma to the head. She further explained that she believed that the trauma was caused by the head falling to the ground from a rather low height. Dr. Case said it was unlikely that Ashleigh’s head was in a stationary position when her injuries occurred.
Dr. Case went on to explain that Ashleigh’s head had several abrasions, contusions, and lacerations that were not consistent with being beaten with an object such as a fist or baseball bat. Dr. Case felt that the defendant’s story that Ashleigh fell or jumped from the vehicle was consistent with her injuries. Furthermore, she testified that Ashleigh’s blood alcohol level was 0.265, far above the legal limit.
Was it possible that an intoxicated Ashleigh and an intoxicated Arnold had a fight in the vehicle that night, causing Ashleigh to exit a moving vehicle? Or did an alcohol-fueled fight cause Arnold to batter his girlfriend, causing her death? Did he push her from the vehicle during a fight? What happened to Ashleigh Miller?
The day after Dr. Mary Case’s testimony, April 9th, 2008, a Saline County jury acquitted Arnold Fonseca of the first-degree murder charges filed against him. The state felt they had proven their case, although it was mostly circumstantial evidence. Ashleigh’s family was understandable disappointed in the verdict and fought back tears as they left the courtroom. The defense celebrated the verdict, however, claiming the jury came to the right verdict.
A few days after his acquittal, Arnold Fonseca was arrested again by Saline County police. This time, he was to face charges for obstruction of justice, aggravated DUI, and aggravated driving without a valid license. While these were his original charges before murder was added, the defense called it “sour grapes”, stating it was a power play after failing to get a conviction for murder. Fonseca’s defense attorney challenged the charges, stating they were subject to double jeopardy because they stemmed from the same incident in which he was already charged and acquitted of murder.
In 2010, the Fifth District Appellate Court affirmed the lower court’s ruling, allowing the charges against Fonseca to proceed. The courts ruled that the charges were distinctly different and were not subject to double jeopardy. In 2011, Fonseca was found guilty of the aggravated DUI charge and sentenced to six years in the Illinois Department of Corrections. As of 2023, he is a free man. Caleb Miller was also convicted of obstructing justice and given a suspended sentence.
Ashleigh Nicole Miller was buried in Harrisburg. She left behind her daughter, who was just a toddler at the time of her mother’s death. According to court records, Ashleigh’s mother has raised her daughter since her mother’s death.
This case is disturbing for many reasons. For one, we just don’t know what happened to Ashleigh. It’s very easy to blame the victim because she was intoxicated at the time of her death. However, intoxication does not necessarily mean Ashleigh was responsible for her own death. Is it a possibility she was drunk, got upset, and jumped from a moving vehicle? It’s just as possible that her boyfriend, whom she had asked for a restraining order against in the past, was drunk and harmed her in some way that caused her injuries and death. Unfortunately, there was enough reasonable doubt for the jury to acquit Arnold Fonseca. However, he was held accountable for his choice to drive intoxicated and on a revoked license, actions that contributed to Ashleigh’s death is not directly caused it.
What do you think happened to Ashleigh Miller?
Homan, J. (2008). Fonseca trial date pushed back again. Southern Illinoisan. 23 Jan 2008
Homan, J. (2008). Neuropathologist testifies for defense in Fonseca case. Southern Illinoisan. 08 Apr 2008
Homan, J. (2007). Trial date set for Fonseca murder case. Southern Illinoisan. 10 Jul 2007
Homan, J. (2008). Fonseca acquitted in murder case. Southern Illinoisan. 09 Apr 2008
Homan, J. (2008). Fonseca posts bail after most recent arrest. Southern Illinoisan. 18 Apr 2008
Homan, J. (2007). Saline County officials seeking help from public. Southern Illinoisan. 9 Jun 2007