I never met David Earl Miller. I didn’t even know he existed until the week he was set to die. Dec. 6 was his execution date at Riverbend Maximum Security Institution in Nashville, Tennessee.

The Nashville Tennessean newspaper explained the details of how Miller’s execution went down.

“When the warden signaled for the first charge of 1,750 volts of electricity, Miller’s upper body raised up in the chair and his elbows stuck out,” reporters from the newspaper wrote.

The story of Miller’s life is even more horrifying than his death, and it should make us all question the justice of state execution.

“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.”

Standifer is the woman Miller was convicted of murdering in 1981.

The details of Standifer’s death — beaten with a fireplace poker and stabbed — are excruciating to read. So are the details of Miller’s childhood. He was born in a suburb of Toledo, Ohio, in the summer of 1957. “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.”

He was sexually abused by a female cousin at 5, then by a friend of his grandfather at 12, and by his own intoxicated mother at 15. “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.”

In a court-ordered examination, Miller said that his earliest memory was being beaten by his stepfather. He said that he couldn’t remember anyone ever telling him they loved him as a child.

“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. “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 never had a chance. No one cared to give him a chance.

Miller had been on death row for 36 years. He was the third person to be executed in Tennessee this year. More are scheduled for next year.

Justice and mercy involve recognizing evil, but also acknowledging humanity, too. Could the state have acknowledged the evil done to Miller long before that deadly night of rage in which he took a young woman’s life?

I think we are called to be better than the death penalty. As we approach Christmas — the celebration of the birth of a man who was himself executed by the state — give thanks for the opportunities you’ve had and the blessings you’ve counted, and think about all the things that were denied Miller.

Kathryn Jean Lopez is senior fellow at the National Review Institute, editor-at-large of National Review Online and founding director of Catholic Voices USA.

(10) comments

Carlos Ponce

" Whoever strikes someone a mortal blow must be put to death." Exodus 21:12
Jesus put aside the Mosaic penalty of stoning for adultery but that woman never killed anyone.
Jesus was given the death penalty - something he did not argue against but accepted.
David Earl Miller's past has nothing to do with the heinous crimes he committed.
"The details of [Lee] Standifer’s death — beaten with a fireplace poker and stabbed — are excruciating to read."
So let's read them.
"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."
Is Miller's past an excuse for what he did? NO WAY!
"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."
"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."
"The 23-year-old was found naked in the backyard of a Knoxville, Tennessee home."
So Kathryn Jean Lopez if you're against the death penalty that's okay but any good prosecutor would remove you from a jury pool in a capital offense trial. You seem to be a fan girl for those on death roll. They ALL have a tale to tell - no excuse for murder. David Earl Miller is no poster boy for abolition of the death penalty. Life imprisonment is not justice.
Helen Standifer says the pain of her daughter's loss never leaves.
"You're always missing that person. It's not as every day, not as constant a pain as it was early on, but it doesn't go away."

Bailey Jones

I have two issues with the death penalty, one philosophical, one practical. As a practical matter, the state should never take a life because our justice system is fundamentally flawed. Politics, incompetence and outright fraud (remember the Houston forensics lab scandal?) guarantee that we continue to convict innocent people. It's one thing to free an innocent man after 20 years in prison because of a botched or fraudulent conviction, but there's no no way to bring the dead back to life. Executing an innocent is an act of despotism, not a government who derives its rights from the governed. My second objection is simply that I don't believe the state has the right or just power to take a life. Our founding documents tell us that we are each endowed by our creator with a certain humanity, by natural law, and the state can't override that natural law. True - some people, by their own actions and choices, show themselves to be a danger to society and must be locked up, perhaps forever, in order to protect the rest of us. Such protection does not require the state to rob any person of this basic humanity. Our nation is rife with violence, callousness and indifference, we should do better when dealing with the least, and worst, of us.

Carlos Ponce

"Executing an innocent...." Not the case here.
Use of the death penalty brings piece of mind to the friends and family of those wrongly killed. Have you no compassion for the victims of violent crime?

Carlos Ponce

make that "peace of mind"

Ray Taft

Lopez, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, wants us to feel sorry for criminals and to dismiss their crimes as excusable.

I had a boss who experienced an abusive home life. He did not murder anyone. Instead, he left home and made a life for himself. Earned two college degrees, had a nice family and was successful. He knew violence was wrong, as did the judge and jury that tried and sentenced Miller. Too bad for America that Lopez and the National Review so readily dismiss violent murder.

Miller had 36 years to live before justice was served. His victim did not get any time at all from Miller. Miller took it away. Feel sorry for the true victims and not for the criminals that the Lopez crowd want to make into victims.

And speed up justice, because justice delayed is justice denied.

George Croix

Thirty six years.

Too bad the victim didn't have 36 more years.....

Should have been executed long ago.....

Victor Krc

When someone willfully and brutally takes the life of someone else does justice demand that person forfeit his own life? Is human life of such a high value that to deliberately and brutally deprive someone of their life requires nothing less than the forfeiture of the perpetrator's life? Is that "cruel and unusual punishment"? I don't know, though I lean in favor of retaining capital punishment because I believe that justice demands it.

What I do know is that in Great Britain, where they abolished capital punishment many years ago, the average prison time for murders is 14 years. Only the most brutal and/or serial killers are never released. Is that justice? How much is your life worth to yourself and to your love ones and dependents/

Mike Zeller

"An eye for an eye" The 36 extra years he was able to breathe on this earth, was about 35 too many.

Jim Forsythe

Lt. Governor Randy McNally made the statement:
"In the state of Tennessee, we reserve the ultimate and irrevocable penalty of death only for the most heinous of crimes. Lee Standifer was a special needs woman living a full and productive life. That life was taken in a cruel, savage and torturous fashion by the individual put to death tonight. Justice, long delayed, has now been served. It is my solemn hope the family of Lee Standifer can now be at peace."

Miller's final meal consisted of fried chicken, mashed potatoes, biscuits and coffee. He received the meal just before 4:30 p.m.
Miller's final words were "beats being on death row."
The time of death was 7:25 p.m

George Croix

Miller who....??

That's what the legacy of trash like that should be.....gone, and forgotten...........

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