One of the most contentious debates happening in all of sports centers on a top college basketball player who is linked to an ongoing murder investigation.
Brandon Miller, a star for the University of Alabama men’s basketball team, provided the gun used in the murder of a young Black mother allegedly committed by his now-former teammate and another man, according to testimony from law enforcement officials. In spite of that damning allegation, Miller has been allowed to continue playing with the team uninterrupted as the Crimson Tide enjoy its best season in years.
The collision of the above truths has especially stoked the anger of the family of Jamea Jonae Harris, who was killed after Darius Miles allegedly shot her for refusing advances from himself and Michael Lynn Davis in the early morning hours of Jan. 15 in Tuscaloosa. Miles, whose name has been removed from the team roster on the university’s athletics website, and Davis have both been charged with capital murder and face life in prison if convicted.
Miller, who reportedly received a request via text from Miles to bring a gun, notably has avoided any criminal charges for his reported role.
The only apparent punishment Miller has received has come in the form of boos, which were rained down upon him from the opposing crowd during a game at the University of South Carolina this week when he still scored 41 points, including the game-winning shot.
The combination of the above has prompted one question in particular: Should Brandon Miller still be allowed to play?
The shooting took place close to the campus of the University of Alabama, where Darius Miles — one of the two suspects — played on the men’s basketball team. Harris’ mother said her daughter and her daughter’s boyfriend drove from Birmingham to Tuscaloosa to visit Harris’ cousin, who attends the University of Alabama. When they went out to eat, a man tried to flirt with Harris.
“He was advancing on her and she declined his attention. He refused to go away,” DeCarla Cotton told CNN at the time. “While they were attempting to leave, one gentleman walked up to the car and started shooting.”
Miller’s name was noticeably absent from early reports about the shooting.
Testimony implicates Miller
A preliminary hearing in the case this week revealed Miller played a larger role than initially reported, according to testimony.
Det. Branden Culpepper testified that Miles asked Miller to bring him a gun — a weapon which allegedly belonged to Miles but was in Miller’s Dodge Charger — prior to the shooting.
Culpepper also testified that Miller’s Charger was struck by two bullets. He also testified that another Alabama basketball player, Jaden Bradley, was also at the scene in his Dodge Challenger.
After the shooting, Miller and Bradley’s vehicles blocked in the one Harris was in, according to testimony, but it was not clear if that was intentional.
Harris’ family is outraged
In an interview with USA Today, Harris’ mother said seeing Miller play and be showered with accolades as she grieves for her daughter is “unimaginable.”
“It’s just unimaginable, and it’s like his life is just going on. He took a brief pause and it didn’t stop. It’s like, OK, slap on the wrist and go play ball,” DeCarla Cotton said this week. “They’re worried about his career, but what about this 5-year-old boy (Harris’ son, Kaine)? He’s the true victim in all this. He won’t have a mother anymore to influence his growing up and who he’s going to be.’’
Cotton added later: “When somebody says bring a gun to them, what do you think they’re going to do with it? And if there was no gun, she would not be dead.’’
What lawyers are saying
Miller never had anything to do with the gun, Miller’s lawyer said, suggesting the detective’s testimony was incorrect.
“Brandon never touched the gun, was not involved in its exchange to Mr. Davis in any way, and never knew that illegal activity involving the gun would occur,” Miller’s attorney Jim Standridge said in a statement.
Standridge later added: “Brandon does not own a firearm and has never even handled a firearm. Moreover, he had no knowledge of any intent to use any weapon.”
More from AL.com:
Miller then went to a restaurant while Miles went to a nightclub, the statement said. That was also stated in court testimony Tuesday, which stated Miller dropped Miles off at Twelve25 Sports Bar but did not stay because the line was too long.
Around midnight, Miles asked Miller for a ride to meet friends, Standridge’s statement said. While Miles was waiting for Miller, Miles and a companion of Harris “apparently exchanged words,” the attorney’s statement read.
That was also stated in court Tuesday. Harris and her boyfriend Cedric Johnson had left Twelve25 Sports Bar and encountered Davis dancing outside of their vehicle. Johnson told Davis that Harris was not interested in him, and Davis said, “You don’t know who I am and what I do.”
Stated Miller’s attorney: “Without Brandon knowing any of this context, and as Brandon was already on the way to pick up Mr. Miles, Mr. Miles texted Brandon and asked him to bring him his firearm. Brandon subsequently arrived at the scene to pick up Mr. Miles.”
The attorney stated that Miller “never got out of his vehicle or interacted with anyone in Ms. Harris’ party. He was never involved in a verbal altercation with Cedric Johnson or Mr. Davis.”
What the University of Alabama is saying
Alabama men’s basketball coach Nate Oats has tried to reassure people who have been critical of the university’s response.
“We’ve been taking it very seriously from Day 1. The first minute that I got the information, I called [AD] Greg [Byrne] and we talked about it and the severity of it,” Oats told reporters on Friday. “Greg, I thought, did a great job addressing those comments on Wednesday, and I really don’t have much to add to it.”
Oats added: “We feel like we’ve done the right thing in this case. So I’m going to leave it at that with Greg’s comments.”
Oats was referring to an official statement Byrne made Tuesday when he said Miller’s eligibility is based on existing information. As of this week, he said, there was no reason to sideline Miller.
“We have legal counsel involved from the university, (and) different offices within the university that are at least aware of it. Collectively, we decided that Brandon was able to play. … If we gather new information down the road, then we’ll deal with it at that time,” Byrne said this week.
So should Miller be allowed to play?
Technically, the answer to that question appears to be a resounding yes since Miller hasn’t been charged with a crime in a state that has notoriously loose gun laws.
On a moral and ethical level, though, the answer could easily change, depending on who you ask.
Analysis by Patrick Stevens of the Washington Post proposed “a mix of empathy and pragmatism” to demonstrate the University of Alabama cares about the loss of a young Black life while also still making sure the team continues on its successful trajectory.
It’s a slippery slope to navigate, Stevens wrote.
“It’s not hard to envision other programs sitting a player in Miller’s spot for a few games to conduct an internal investigation that would conveniently conclude before the start of the postseason,” Stevens posited. “Then again, there is a more audaciously cynical tack than that. Alabama could view this as something it simply has to weather no longer than roughly April 3. That’s the day of the national title game, and no one expects the 6-foot-9 Miller (a potential top-five NBA draft pick who is averaging 19.5 points) to remain at the college level for a second season.”
Tuscaloosa Chief Deputy District Attorney Paula Whitley said this week that “there’s nothing we could charge [Miller] with.”
Miller is due back on the court Saturday afternoon to lead the No. 2 ranked Crimson Tide against the University of Arkansas Razorbacks.
Miles and Davis, on the other hand, remain remanded by the court of law as their case gets referred to a grand jury.
The NBA Draft is scheduled to be held in June when Miller is projected to be selected third overall and be awarded a guaranteed contract worth more than $7 million in his first season.
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