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New details surface about cold case suspect’s troubled past

BECKLEY, W.Va. (WVVA) WVVA News has obtained new details about the suspect in a nearly 40-year-old cold case.

Earl James Robbins, 64, was indicted by a grand jury in October for the 1981 murder of Cynthia Miller -- a Beckley school teacher murdered the night before her wedding. Robbins was indicted by the same grand jury in October for a separate incident in Raleigh County involving the kidnapping and sexual assault of a 13-year-old girl, although law enforcement declined to say whether the two cases are connected.

At a press conference announcing the indictments on Tuesday, Raleigh County Prosecuting Attorney Kristen Keller said Robbins was currently doing time in a California State Prison.

Since that time, WVVA News has obtained appeals documents filed in 2011,
saying Robbins was charged in 2004 with two counts of Assault with a Deadly Weapon. The incident stemmed from a fight Robbins had with his brother-in-law in which he hit the man in the back with a claw hammer. Court records show Robbins also threatened to kill his brother-in-law as he was attempting to get away.

The 2011 appeal included additional charges for Robbins in 2005, in which Robbins was arrested for the rape of a woman acting as his real estate agent and personal assistant. The document said Robbins took the woman to a remote section of Beaumont, California, and raped her in the back of his truck.

See appeals document here:

"The sentence in the hammer case was ordered to run consecutively to the sentence in the rape case. Hence, defendant was sentenced to a total determinate term of eight years eight months, plus life with the possibility of parole," the document read.

Raleigh County is currently in the process of getting an extradition hearing set in hopes of bringing Robbins to West Virginia for trial on the grand jury indictments.


UPDATE: Beckley detectives feel confident they've cracked a nearly 40-year-old cold case.

An indictment for murder was returned by a Raleigh County Grand Jury in October, 2020, in the case of Cynthia Miller, a Beckley teacher brutally murdered on the eve of her wedding.

Sgt. Morgan Bragg with the Beckley Police Dept., Lt. Tim Bledsoe with the State Police, and Raleigh County Prosecuting Attorney Kristen Keller were able to secure an indictment for Earl James Robbins, 64. He is a former Beckley resident doing time in a California state prison. Learn more about his California charges here:

Robbins was indicted by the same grand jury in October for the Abduction, Kidnapping, and Sexual Assault of a 13-year-old girl in Beckley in 1980. However, police cannot release yet whether the two cases are connected.

Miller's sister, Diana Jones, reacted to the news on Tuesday and recalled the wonderful teacher her sister was to her students. "She was very talented. I always said God picked a rose for his garden."

Betty Harrah was a student of Miller in 7th grade. "She cared enough to spend lunch breaks, after school, whenever we needed her she would help. It didn't matter whether you had converse shoes or cross-cutters....all that stuff didn't matter to her."

On October 26, 1981, the evening before Miller's wedding, her fiance Gary O'Neal, a Lester Police officer, left for Princeton to see his father one last time before the wedding. But when multiple calls went unanswered, he grew concerned.

As O'Neal walked into the couple's house on Miller Street close to midnight, the life he left behind was over.

"She was discovered with gunshot wounds and deceased. It's fair to say O'Neal is no longer a suspect at this stage," said the lead investigator on the case, Sgt. Morgan Bragg.

O'Neal and both Miller's mother and father have since passed away. But neighbor Hattie Wickline said Miller's father never gave up hope that her killer would be caught.

"He grieved over that death. He was so anxious for them to find who did this to his baby," she said in a 2017 interview.

What led to the biggest police break in the region's history?

Sgt. Bragg said those details cannot be released just yet as they prepare for trial. He also credited the work of law enforcement officers who worked the case in the past and kept detailed records preserved.

"This took a lot of reaching out. Obviously, you know our suspect is in California and he's moved around a lot. And we had to follow that trail."

Prosecuting Attorney Kristen Keller said the state could still benefit from the public's help.

"Any detail, how insignificant it might seem, could become important. And now there is no reason to fear coming forward."

They are tips that could bring justice for a life stolen. But for friends and family, the memory of that beautiful soul can never be taken away.

"He needs to get his soul right and get forgiveness for what he has done because my family has," said Jones.

An extradition hearing will be held at a later date in hopes of bringing Robbins back to West Virginia for trial.

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Annie Moore

Multimedia Journalist

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