June 27, 2005 by

Gene Miller

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Categories: Writers/Editors

Gene Edward Miller, a former Miami Herald reporter and editor who won two Pulitzer Prizes, died on June 17 of cancer. He was 76.
Born in Evansville, Ind., Miller graduated from Indiana University and landed his first reporting job in 1950 at The Journal-Gazette in Fort Wayne, Ind. After serving two years in the Army Counter Intelligence Corps, he returned to journalism to write for The Wall Street Journal and The News Leader in Richmond, Va.
Miller joined the Miami Herald in 1957 and spent the next 48 years covering riots, airline crashes, presidents and hurricanes. He traveled to Birmingham and wrote about Martin Luther King Jr.’s civil rights work, to Ohio for the Kent State shooting and to San Francisco for the Patty Hearst kidnapping. In 1978, he was the first print journalist to enter Jonestown, Guyana, and cover the Jim Jones-led mass murder-suicide of 913 men, women and children. But Miller was best known for his crime reporting; his investigations led to the release of no less than four people wrongly convicted of murder.
Miller won his first Pulitzer Prize in 1967 for writing about Mary Katherin Hampton and Joseph F. Shea — two people who were convicted of separate slayings they didn’t commit. Hampton was a teenager when she was sentenced to life in prison for two murders; however, during his research, Miller learned that she was actually hundreds of miles away when the killings took place. He obtained legal counsel for Hampton, and in 1966 the state of Louisiana released her. Shea was convicted of killing an airline reservation clerk in 1959. When Miller discovered new evidence in the case, a second trial was ordered. During that court proceeding, Shea was acquitted.
Miller received his second Pulitzer in 1976 for writing more than 130 articles about Freddie Pitts and Wilbert Lee. The black men were sentenced to die in the electric chair in 1963 for allegedly killing two gas station attendants in Port St. Joe, Fla. Both men proclaimed their innocence, but no one listened until Miller showed how the police beat confessions out of them. A third man eventually confessed to the slayings, and Gov. Reubin Askew freed Pitts and Lee in 1975.
Miller was an old-fashioned newspaperman, one who lamented the way publishers now cater to “customers” rather than readers. As an editor, he coached new reporters and honed the words of senior journalists. Miller taught his staff to be dogged investigators and to fill their stories with enlightening details. His editing skills helped Edna Buchanan and Sydney Freedberg win Pulitzers of their own in 1986 and 1991, respectively.
Miller retired from the Herald in 2001. The author of two books (“83 Hours Till Dawn” and “Invitation to a Lynching”), he also won the Heywood Broun Award, the National Headliners Award and the George Polk Award. In 2002, Miller was inducted into the Indiana Journalism Hall of Fame.
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One Response to Gene Miller

  1. Mary Miller

    Gene Miller or “Uncle Gene” was my husband’s uncle. He was a very unique man with a heart of gold and a very keen wit. He will be sorely missed by all who knew him. The world has lost one of it’s favorite sons.

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