2018-09-15 / Front Page

Murderer pursuing appeal


Jonothan Prather claims he was “coerced” into agreeing to plea bargain that sent him to prison for the rest of his life because he believed the only other potential outcome was the death penalty. He is asking for the plea to be rescinded so he can stand trial for the 2011 murder of Sam Miller of Coudersport. Two accomplices pleaded guilty to lesser charges and are serving their shorter sentences. Jonothan Prather claims he was “coerced” into agreeing to plea bargain that sent him to prison for the rest of his life because he believed the only other potential outcome was the death penalty. He is asking for the plea to be rescinded so he can stand trial for the 2011 murder of Sam Miller of Coudersport. Two accomplices pleaded guilty to lesser charges and are serving their shorter sentences. An appeal by the triggerman in the 2011 three-person conspiracy to murder Coudersport teenager Sam Miller is back before the Pa. Superior Court.

Jonothan Prather, now 27, regrets agreeing to a plea arrangement that landed him behind bars for the rest of his life.

He’s claiming that he had ineffective legal counsel, in violation of his constitutional rights. Furthermore, Prather continues to press his claim of “psychosocial immaturity” – arguing, in essence, that he should be tried as a juvenile and be given hope of leaving prison sometime before he dies.

Prather was 19 when he committed the homicide. He is representing himself in advancing his legal arguments from the State Correctional Institute at Waynesburg.

His 2016 appeal was rejected by the Potter County President Judge Stephen Minor. Pa.

Superior Court affirmed the ruling in April 2017.

This past June, Prather filed another appeal.

He argued that his psychological evaluations conducted prior to signing the plea bargain were inadequate and conflicting.

Judge Minor denied the petition.

Prather has since appealed to the Superior Court.

The defendant cites the U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down life sentences in cases where the defendant was under age 18 at the time of the offense.

He’s claiming that he has “a less culpable mindset, due to psychosocial immaturity development issues,” since the typical male brain does not reach full maturity until age 25.

Prather also claims his attorney was “ineffective for coercing a guilty plea based on threats of the death penalty.”

Court records show that Prather and defendants Avery Buckingham, now 34, and Kaylynn Benson, 23, lured the 18-year-old Miller to a wooded area near the former Prouty Place State Park in June 2011 by inviting him to join them in spotlighting deer.

After the quartet exited a vehicle, Prather shot Miller multiple times in the head and torso, reloaded his .22-caliber rifle, and shot him twice more.

Buckingham encouraged Prather to continue the assault after observing that the first volley was not fatal.

Buckingham then helped Prather deposit Miller’s body in a small creek. Benson held a flashlight for the duo and hid the murder weapon in the attic of her father’s Coudersport area house.

Buckingham, of Costello, is serving a term of at least 40 years in prison for his role. Benson must serve a minimum of 10 years. Both were unsuccessful in their appeals after entering guilty pleas and beginning their sentences.

Prather lived in Salt Lake City, Utah, before moving to Coudersport.

Miller had just graduated from Coudersport Area High School and had been planning to travel out west and find work.

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