PLATTE CITY, Mo. (AP) — A northwest Missouri man was sentenced Tuesday to two life terms for beating and suffocating two sisters while high on methamphetamine and then dumping the young mothers’ bodies in a field, setting off a frantic two-day search.
Clifford D. Miller, 32, of Trimble, pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of Britny Haarup, 19, and Ashley Key, 22, whose bodies were found days after they were reported missing last year. According to prosecutors, Miller told investigators he had smoked meth before going to Haarup’s home in Edgerton, about 30 miles north of Kansas City, planning to rape her.
The search for the women began July 13, when Haarup’s fiance, Matt Meyers, came home to find the couple’s 5-month-old daughter and the girl’s 18-month-old sister alone but unharmed in a bloodied house. Haarup’s pickup truck and several firearms also were missing.
“Britny and Ashley were beautiful young women with very bright futures,” their father, Paul Haarup, said before the sentence was imposed. “They deserved to see their children grow. They deserved to meet their grandchildren. They deserved to live.”
Platte County prosecutor Eric Zahnd said he could have sought the death penalty but decided not to after talking to the sisters’ family. Platte County Circuit Judge Owens Lee Hull Jr. sentenced Miller to two life terms without the possibility of parole as the sisters’ relatives cried and held hands.
“Death penalty litigation exerts a tremendous toll on victims’ families,” Zahnd said. “They would prefer to avoid the emotional turmoil.”
Key, the mother of a 4-year-old, had been staying with her sister and was sleeping on a couch early on the morning of July 13 when Miller entered the home through an unlocked front door, Zahnd said. He said Key awoke and confronted Miller, who hit her in the head before suffocating her.
Miller told authorities he then went into Haarup’s room, where he beat her with a stick and suffocated her as she slept with her 5-month-old daughter. Miller told investigators he put the baby in the crib in a different room with her 18-month-old sister.
Miller said he tried to have sex with Haarup but couldn’t. Zahnd said Miller’s semen was found on her body. The two knew each other because they used to live in the same area, Zahnd said.
Miller told investigators that before leaving, he smoked more meth, cleaned up some of the blood and moved the bodies to Haarup’s truck. He dumped the bodies on property belonging to his former employer, Zahnd said.
Zahnd said that at one point, Miller returned to the site where he had dumped the bodies, hid in a barn and considered stealing money to finance his escape. He said he was willing to kill but left when he saw a boy because he couldn’t hurt a child, Zahnd said.
Meanwhile, the women’s family, believing the sisters may have been abducted, publicly begged for their release.
Investigators turned to Miller after he was seen in the missing truck and tried to sell the stolen firearms, authorities said. They found him at his girlfriend’s home in the Kansas City suburb of Parkville on July 15. He then told them where they could find the women’s bodies, authorities said.
Defense attorney Tom Jacquinot said Miller’s remorse is “genuine.”
“I do believe that despite these evil actions he is not an evil person,” Jacquinot said.