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Posted on Tue, May 14, 2013 : 5:12 p.m.

Man sentenced to 30-60 years in prison for 'egregious, horrible abuse of an innocent child'

By Kyle Feldscher

Jill Miller dropped her 14-month-old son Chase off at Michael Curtiss’ home on Oct. 21. She’d never see her son alive again.


Michael Curtiss

Curtiss pleaded no contest to killing Chase after a night of heroin-fueled abuse just before his trial was set to begin last month. He was sentenced Tuesday to 30 to 60 years in prison for the child’s death.

At sentencing, Miller stood a few feet away from Curtiss and, through the grief only a parent who has lost a child can understand, told him exactly how Chase’s death has changed her family’s lives.

She detailed how doctors told her Chase couldn’t be revived. She spelled out how her two daughters still have nightmares about Chase and his death, how they can’t stand to be away from their mother. Through sobs, she told the court how her 6-year-old daughter stood next to her dying brother, begging for him to “come back to her.”

“No words can fully describe the Hell my daughters and I have to face every day,” she said.

Washtenaw County Trial Court Judge Donald Shelton sentenced Curtiss to 30 to 60 years in prison on charges of second-degree murder and first-degree child abuse. Shelton said he intended on sending Curtiss, 34, to prison long enough so he couldn’t physically harm anyone else during his lifetime.

“This is the most egregious, horrible abuse of an innocent child I’ve seen in those two decades,” Shelton told Curtiss, referring to the judge’s 23 years on the bench.

Curtiss’ prison sentence is the conclusion of a heartbreaking case that nearly went to trial before Curtiss accepted a plea deal on April 15.

It started when Miller dropped Chase off at Curtiss’ home in the 1100 block of Fall River Road. Miller and Curtiss were dating at the time. At 12:30 a.m. Oct. 21, Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Office deputies were called to the residence for a report of a child possibly choking. What they found when they arrived was much worse.

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Chase Miller

Curtiss was holding Chase, who had no signs of life. The child was rushed to St. Joseph Mercy Hospital, where he died despite several attempts by doctors to resuscitate him.

Washtenaw County Assistant Prosecutor Blake Hatlem laid out the details of the crime in court Tuesday to make sure they would be read at any parole hearings Curtiss has in the future. Hatlem said Chase was thrown against a wall, held on a toilet — which he later fell into — and then forcefully shoved into a TV stand. Chase fell into the TV stand head-first, causing the blunt force trauma that killed him.

Hatlem’s description of the offense caused members of the gallery in Shelton’s courtroom to gasp and weep. At times, Hatlem could hardly be heard over the sobs of Miller and Benjamin Miller, Chase’s father.

Hatlem, who often deals with heinous sexual assaults and other violent crimes, called the incident “easily the most horrific crime I’ve dealt with in my 15 years as a prosecutor.”

Hatlem said Curtiss repeatedly lied about his involvement in Chase’s death and, for several hours at one point, told police his own 6-year-old son was responsible for the 14-month-old boy’s death.

In a damning final remark, Hatlem said Curtiss will have to spend the rest of his life thinking about what he did to the child.

“He knows what he did,” Hatlem said. “... When those lights go off and the years tick away, he will know his only purpose in life is that he is a baby killer.”

Curtiss spoke in an unwavering voice before Shelton sentenced him, apologizing to Chase’s family and his own for what happened. He said he is not a heartless person.

“All this is a terrible accident that should have never happened,” he said, adding, “I should have been more careful with Chase.”

Washtenaw County First Assistant Public Defender Lorne Brown said Chase’s death was an accident and direct result of “drugs and anger.” Curtiss told police he snorted heroin 20 minutes before the rampage that resulted in Chase’s death. He said the drug makes him angry.

“It’s not an attempt to deprive anyone of their son,” Brown said.

Curtiss’ words, and Shelton’s sentence, will come as little comfort to Chase’s family.

Jessica Dotson, Miller’s best friend who considered herself to be Chase’s aunt, said the images of Chase’s body — lifeless and bruised in a hospital bed and then a casket — will never leave her. It’s a bitter pill to swallow that Curtiss will go to prison and live, while Chase is never coming home.

“What makes his life more important than Chase’s?” she said in a statement provided to “Michael gets to live. He will get three meals a day. He will have a roof over his head. Chase doesn’t have that chance.”

Miller ran down the formative events in a boy’s life — fishing with his father, going on his first date, going to school — and choked up, hardly able to get the words out.

“I will never see the man my son would’ve become.”

Kyle Feldscher covers cops and courts for He can be reached at or you can follow him on Twitter.



Wed, May 15, 2013 : 12:42 p.m.

We need to change the law to make parents more responsible for who they leave their kids with.


Wed, May 15, 2013 : 12:10 p.m.

My words are, "Beware of the people you date and people you leave your children with." This is so sad...


Wed, May 15, 2013 : 3:56 a.m.

Michael was an unstable person. and did not need drugs to make him violent or full of rage, every woman hes ever dated or close friend can tell you that. The heroin is a poor excuse for a horrific crime he commited! I wish time could rewind, and i could find Jill. miller and warn her of who she was dealing with. Im so sorry for this famly.


Wed, May 15, 2013 : 5:17 a.m.

yes, i myself started seeing the odd mannerisms very quickly and the obsessive behavior, sounds like this poor woman didnt have enough time to see the signs before tragedy struck. I understand some women make bad decisions, but i believe he had her fooled, he was a smooth talker..i know this mother wouldnt have left her child if she had any inclination of danger, but its a hard lesson for everyone to learn about "how well" you truly know someone, and about who you leave your children wirh. my heart breaks for this mother and family.


Wed, May 15, 2013 : 3:24 a.m.

To the Millers, I am so sorry to hear of your son's terrible death.


Wed, May 15, 2013 : 2:52 a.m.

We really need the death penalty in Michigan. An eye for an eye.


Wed, May 15, 2013 : 3:14 a.m.

Makes the whole world blind.

music to my ear

Wed, May 15, 2013 : 1:16 a.m.

I choose not to comment on the curtiss thing, instead I hope the parents can find the strength to be the best parents to their surviving children, I say that because I could understand how hard it must be, every day to try and get through life. sorrow is forever, but the little ones must try to have as normal life as they can, and know their little brother, is a angel always by their side, god bless the family.


Wed, May 15, 2013 : 12:15 a.m.

A guy convicted of a crime like this likely survives in prison only so long as the state maintains perfect vigilance over him on those weekly occasions when he's turned loose from a solitary cell for a mandatory recreation hour. He may spend that locked alone in a gym with deflated basketballs and weightlifting equipment padlocked to the benches. On a good day there's margarine on the grits. It's a truly awful sentence, and perfectly fits the crime.

Linda Peck

Tue, May 14, 2013 : 10:16 p.m.

This is a just sentence. This man will never hurt another child.

Craig Lounsbury

Tue, May 14, 2013 : 9:52 p.m.

"Judge Donald Shelton sentenced Curtiss to 30 to 60 years in prison..... Shelton said he intended on sending Curtiss, 34, to prison long enough so he couldn't physically harm anyone else during his lifetime." so with good behavior he gets out at age 64. Seems like 50 to 80 years would have been safer to meet that "couldn't physically harm anyone else during his lifetime." clause.


Wed, May 15, 2013 : 1:59 a.m.

I don't see him making it very long. Things tend to "work" themselves out in our prison systems.


Tue, May 14, 2013 : 10:32 p.m.

I guess I'm cynical of our criminal justice system but I expect curtiss to celebrate his 55th on Main Street.

Linda Peck

Tue, May 14, 2013 : 10:17 p.m.

I think the longer sentence can apply, also, as he might not get out in 30 years.