'A life for a life,' says man who investigated 1981 murder of Knoxville woman

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT/AP) Death row inmate David Earl Miller is scheduled to die on Thursday for the 1981 murder of 23-year-old Lee Standifer in Knoxville.

Knoxville Police investigator James Winston investigated the case from day one, and WVLT's Justin McDuffie sat down with Winston to discuss the details of the case. You can hear from McDuffie Wednesday at 6, with the full package airing at 11.

Because of her difficulties, the investigator said, Lee Standifer didn’t attend college and she didn’t drive. In a phone call with the Associated Press, her mother, Helen Standifer said there weren’t many options for someone with her daughter’s special needs at the time, but they found a place for her to live at the Knoxville YWCA. From there, she would ride the bus to work at a food processing plant.

“It was repetitious work that would drive most of us out of our heads,” but Lee Standifer liked the work, her mother said. In turn, “They just loved her. She was never late and never missed a day.”

According to court records, Miller was a drifter who had been living in the home of a man who picked him up hitch-hiking.

Lee Standifer had been dating him, and the two were seen together around town the evening of May 20, 1981.

Miller took her to a home in South Knoxville where he was staying. He then raped, tortured and killed her.

"The horror that Miller bestowed on her, it's not humane what he did," former KPD Investigator James Winston said.

He remembers pulling up to the scene, those images are forever with him, too graphic even for the jury to see.

"She had just been stabbed brutally by a big knife," Winston said. "It was determined as 8 or 9 stab wounds. It really was horrific. He had knocked her eye out. She had that large poker wound in her head. There was a large trail of blood."

A trail that would eventually lead them to Miller nine days later in Ohio. Through interrogations, and two trials Miller never showed any sign of regret. After all the years, he hopes that's changed.

"I hope he will have something to say to the family of Lee Standifer and that he might express remorse, and ask them for forgiveness for what he's done to them."

Winston says this is the choice he made, and hopes this might bring closure to the to the Standifer family.

"He took a life, and he's got to give a life for that life he took," Winston said.

Miller later said he was on drugs at the time and didn’t remember the crime. He was sentenced to death in 1982, and again in 1987 after the first sentence was thrown out. The jury found the murder was “especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel.”

Miller has sat on Death Row since then. The Tennessee Department of Corrections moved Miller to Death Watch on Tuesday.

Miller was moved to a cell adjacent to the execution chamber where he will be under 24-hour observation.

He will be allowed a limited number of items, including religious materials issued by the chaplain, legal documents, and one requested meal on the day of the execution.

Visitors during Death Watch are limited to only those individuals who are on the offender's official visitation list.

Miller selected his final meal of fried chicken, mashed potatoes, biscuits, and coffee.

This meal will be provided to him Thursday afternoon.