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Gene Miller, 76; Reporter Won 2 Pulitzers in 48-Year Career at the Miami Herald

June 18, 2005|From Associated Press

Gene Miller, a longtime reporter and editor for the Miami Herald, who won two Pulitzer Prizes for stories that led to the release of four people wrongly convicted of murder, died Friday. He was 76.

Miller died at his home near South Miami after suffering from cancer, his family told the Herald for a story posted on its website.

"He was the soul and the conscience of our newsroom," Herald reporter Martin Merzer wrote. "He coached novice reporters. He turned butterfingered writers into prize winners. He challenged senior editors when he thought they were wrong, which was pretty often."

"Gene lived life out loud," said Herald Executive Editor Tom Fiedler. "He had a booming laugh and no tolerance for the intolerant and the pompous."

Miller worked at the Herald for 48 years, retiring in 2001. His first Pulitzer was in 1967 for two investigations that freed prisoners Joe Shea and Mary Katherin Hampton, who were convicted of separate murders they didn't commit.

He won his second Pulitzer in 1976, after eight years of reporting about the case of Freddie Pitts and Wilbert Lee. The two were sentenced to death in 1963 after being convicted of the murders of two gas station attendants in the Florida Panhandle town of Port St. Joe.

A third man ended up confessing, and a polygraph expert told Miller about the case. The Herald eventually published 130 articles about the case, most by Miller. He reported that police officers had found no evidence so they had beaten confessions out of Pitts and Lee.

The attention ultimately led state Atty. Gen. Robert Shevin and Gov. Reubin Askew to free Pitts and Lee in 1975. Years later, Pitts and Lee were awarded $500,000 from the state of Florida.

Miller was born in Evansville, Ind., on Sept. 16, 1928. He played the oboe as boy. He graduated from Indiana University with a degree in journalism in 1950. He served in Army counterintelligence during the Korean War years.

As a reporter, he worked for the Journal-Gazette in Fort Wayne, Ind.; the Wall Street Journal; and the News Leader in Richmond, Va., before joining the Miami Herald.

In a self-written obituary that he had left in the Herald's clip file, Miller said he was fired by the Wall Street Journal because he "lacked respect for the price of crude cottonseed oil."

In his obituary, Miller suggested that "in lieu of flowers, have a martini." His family suggested that contributions be made to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, 1101 Wilson Blvd., Suite 1100, Arlington, VA 22209.

Survivors include his wife, Caroline Heck Miller; four children from a previous marriage; a stepson; and eight grandchildren.

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