From here: https://www.knoxnews.com/story/news/crime/2018/12/03/david-earl-miller-execution-lee-standifer-murder-knoxville-1981/2153239002/
‘A simmering rage’: David Earl Miller’s path to Tennessee’s electric chair
MATT LAKIN | KNOXVILLE NEWS SENTINEL
He started drinking in the womb, abused from his first moments by a mother who wished he’d never been born.
He grew up in a household of “unspeakable horror” and made his first suicide attempt at age 6.
When his mother died this year, her obituary didn’t even list his name.
David Earl Miller came to Knoxville in 1979 a 22-year-old drifter – homeless, jobless and friendless. He might never have stayed had he not been picked up on Interstate 75 by a preacher looking for sex – and Lee Standifer might be alive today.
Miller’s set to die Thursday in the electric chair in Nashville, more than 37 years after he beat and stabbed Standifer to death the night of May 20, 1981.
Tennessee execution: David Earl Miller chooses last meal
“It was just a series of random events that led him here and to her and to her innocent life,” said Jim Winston, a retired Knoxville Police Department lieutenant who worked the case from the first night. “She was just starting a life on her own, and he took all that away from her. What she could have been or what her future might have been if she could have lived … we’ll never know.”
A life of rage
Miller was born July 16, 1957, in Bowling Green, Ohio, a suburb of Toledo. His mother met his father during a one-night stand in a bar, drank throughout her pregnancy and was later diagnosed with brain damage from exposure to toxic fumes at her job in a plastics plant. He was 10 months old when she married his stepfather, an alcoholic who routinely beat him with boards, slammed him into walls and dragged him around the house by the hair, according to court records.
Miller tried to hang himself at age 6 and began drinking, smoking marijuana and huffing gasoline daily by age 10. By age 13, he’d landed in a state reform school where counselors regularly whipped boys with rubber hoses and turned a blind eye to sexual molestation.
He later said he couldn’t remember a single person from his early years ever telling him they loved him.
David Earl Miller, sentenced to death for killing Lee Standifer.
“Being beaten by his stepfather is the earliest memory that Mr. Miller can recall, and beatings are the rhythm of his childhood,” a clinical psychologist wrote after a court-ordered examination. “Mr. Miller, from a very early age, harbored a simmering rage. He hated his stepfather for the brutality and humiliation he was subjected to, and he loathed his mother for first failing to protect him from his stepfather and later for turning him into her sexual plaything. …. His rage has also been enacted on many other innocent ‘stand-ins’ for his mother.”
Miller joined the Marine Corps in 1974 at 17 and made it through boot camp but deserted when he learned he wouldn’t be sent overseas to fight in Vietnam. He came home to Ohio, got a girlfriend pregnant, and left again when she chose to marry another man and raise their child, a daughter, without him.
He bounced between Ohio and Texas, working odd jobs as a welder and bartender. He was hitchhiking through East Tennessee when a car driven by the Rev. Benjamin Calvin Thomas stopped on the shoulder of Interstate 75.
In the pastor’s house
Thomas, the principal of Sam E. Hill Elementary School and pastor of Thorngrove Baptist Church, took Miller into his South Knoxville home on Wise Hills Road in exchange for sex. He told neighbors Miller worked as a handyman around the house and later insisted he’d treated Miller like a son. Miller, he complained, proved cold.
“You know, I would have liked to redeem him,” the pastor told police. “I just wanted to help him by showing that there was somebody in this world that cared for him. I am sorry that I failed.”
David Earl Miller
The pair developed a daily routine: Thomas would drop Miller off each morning as he drove to school near the Broadway viaduct downtown. Miller would give blood or show up at a bus station cafeteria to bus tables and work in the kitchen for enough cash to blow at the pool halls and bars that then dotted downtown. He built a reputation fast as a violent drunk who once tried to fight an entire house band at once.
“Everybody that has ever seen him hates him yet,” a vice squad detective said at the time. “A psychopathic misfit if you ever saw one.”
Twice officers arrested Miller on charges of rape. Each time the women failed to prosecute, saying they were scared of Miller, and the charge was dismissed.
Defense lawyers argued Miller was venting the rage he still harbored at his mother. Prosecutors said he was working up the nerve for the crime that followed.
On a May day downtown in 1981, he met Lee Standifer.
‘An innocent child’
Standifer, born with mild brain damage, was learning to live on her own at age 23. She worked at a food-processing plant, stayed in a room at the YWCA on Clinch Avenue and called home every day to talk to her mother.
Just before her death, she told her mother she felt like she’d just started to live. She didn’t tell her she was going on a date.
Lee Standifer, Farragut Admiral yearbook, 1976.
“She was naive and trusting, like an innocent child,” said Winston, the retired investigator.
“He was a handsome guy. They were about the same age. She would have had no idea. A date to her was probably a walk around the mall (at Market Square), holding hands or him buying her a Coke – and probably buying it with her money.”
Standifer called her mother for the last time around 5:30 p.m. on May 20. She walked out the door at 7 p.m. with a friend. Miller stood waiting on the corner of Clinch and Gay.
Police later retraced their steps: from the YWCA to the Hideaway Lounge, a favorite hangout of Miller’s on Gay Street, now torn down; to the library on Church Avenue, where he checked out a book that included descriptions of murder during sex; to the bus station, where Miller finagled a taxi ride to the pastor’s home on Wise Hills Road.
Lee Standifer’s grave stone lays at Edgewood Cemetery in West Knoxville, Thursday, Nov. 29, 2018
The body in the woods
The taxi driver dropped them off just after 9:30 p.m. The pair had the house to themselves, with the pastor at a Wednesday night prayer meeting.
Miller, who’d been drinking and taking LSD, claims not to remember what happened next. An autopsy determined he struck Standifer across the face with a fire poker twice with enough force to fracture her skull, burst one of her eye sockets and leave imprints on the bone. He stabbed her over and over – in the neck, in the chest, in the stomach, in the mouth.
Lee Standifer’s body is moved into an ambulance after her murder in this News Sentinel archive photo.
Some of the wounds went so deep, piercing bone, they could only have been made by driving the knife with a hammer, the autopsy found.
Thomas came home from church around 10 p.m. to find his carpet soaked with blood and Miller hosing out the basement with a story that he’d bloodied his nose in a bar fight. Thomas ordered Miller out but gave him until the next day to leave; Thomas even drove him to a truck stop off I-75 and gave him $25 in traveling money.
The pastor told police he had no idea Standifer’s body lay just a few yards away in the woods beside his house, not until he drove home from dropping Miller off and his headlights caught the outline of Miller’s bloody T-shirt hanging from a tree. Standifer’s corpse lay underneath.
Winston still remembers the sight.
“It was like he just wanted to destroy her as a person,” he said. “In all honesty, I think she died after that first stroke.”
‘A caught rat’
Miller’s run didn’t last long. Police in Columbus, Ohio, arrested him a week later when he tried to pay a bar tab with a counterfeit $10 bill. He soon found himself sitting across the table from detectives in an interrogation room.
“He didn’t really want to talk about it at first,” Winston recalled. “He tried to deny it, but when he saw what kind of evidence we had, he knew he was just a caught rat. I think he realized he’d done wrong, but I don’t think he thought he’d face capital punishment for it.”
David Earl Miller covers his face with his shirt in this News Sentinel archive photo.
Miller told police Standifer, whom he’d given alcohol, grabbed him and sent him into a blind rage when he told her he was leaving town.
“I turned around and hit her,” he said in a taped confession. The blood “just sprayed all over when I hit her. … She quit breathing. … (I) drug her downstairs through the basement and out through the yard and pulled her over into the woods.”
Miller’s attorneys have argued he lashed out in a burst of psychotic fury, driven by years of pent-up anger from a lifetime of abuse. Winston’s not satisfied with that story, then or now.
“It’s hard to explain, but how do you ever explain something like that?” the retired detective said. “I think he saw an opportunity to exploit the power he had over her. Maybe he’d been abused, but that doesn’t change what he did.”
Miller tried to hide his face from the cameras on his return to Knoxville. Two juries ultimately sentenced him to die – the first in 1982, the last in 1987 after the Tennessee Supreme Court ordered Miller resentenced.
Decades of appeals followed. Miller turned 61 this summer and is the longest-serving inmate on Tennessee’s death row.
The U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals turned down Miller’s latest challenge to Tennessee’s death penalty law last week. He’s chosen to die in the electric chair.
Winston won’t be there. Neither will anyone from Standifer’s family.
“I don’t take any joy in it,” he said. “It’s just a shame that it’s taken this long and he’s gotten so much publicity while Lee has been forgotten. I hate he has to die, but those are the rules of our society. He broke the rules, and the rules say that he has to die.”