East Texas deacon arrested for '81 killing had prior murder conviction

East Texas deacon arrested for '81 killing had prior murder conviction
Joseph Lewis Miller in an April 21, 2014 mugshot after being arrested in connection to a 1981 murder. (Source: Wood County Jail)
Joseph Lewis Miller (Source: Wood County Jail)
Joseph Lewis Miller (Source: Wood County Jail)

MINEOLA, TX (KLTV) - U.S. marshals say an ex-convict wanted in connection with a 1981 Pennsylvania homicide was arrested Monday morning after he was found to be living under an alias in Mineola and serving as a church deacon in Quitman.

Joseph Lewis Miller is charged with fatally shooting Thomas Waller in a parking lot next to a Harrisburg, PA hotel in January 1981. Miller was charged with four felonies: murder, committing a crime with a firearm, possession of a firearm by a felon and carrying a firearm without a license. A murder warrant was issued, as well as a parole violation warrant, since Miller was on lifetime parole for a previous murder conviction.

A U.S. Marshal's Service fugitive task force took Miller's arrest warrants and gave the 33-year-old case the highest priority. Evidence led authorities to Mineola where they used decades-old photographs to identify Miller, who was living as Roy Eugene Eubanks. On Monday, authorities placed Miller's home in the 600 block of S. Pacific St. in Mineola under surveillance. They arrested Miller outside his residence without incident. Miller then admitted his true identity to U.S. marshals.

Authorities say Miller was married and a deacon in his church, New Life Baptist Fellowship in Quitman. Using his alias, he had been receiving Social Security disability benefits for more than 20 years.

A spokesman with the U.S Marshal's Office in Pennsylvania said Miller's wife was unaware of her husband's background. The wife told KLTV the couple had been married for four years and is in shock over the arrest.

She said he told her about the 1981 killing, telling her that he was defending his brother. She added that her husband is a well-liked member of the community. A thought echoed by many church deacons.

"He was a good deacon," Brusker Fannin, head of the deacon board at New Life Baptist Fellowship, said. "[He] loved his church, loved his pastor, loved all the members. It's serious business and hurtful. Certainly our church will be praying for him."

Authorities say investigators found notes in a case file suggesting Miller had moved to Texas and was living under an Hispanic name. Investigators translated the name to its English counterpart, then did research using that name. Using photos from the Department of Public Safety and other sources, they quickly found Miller living in Mineola as Roy Eugene Eubanks.

“The murder occurred more than three decades ago, and while this case presented us with a significant challenge it also exemplifies the dedication, thoroughness and diligence the fugitive task force has toward cold cases. I am proud of the hard work they displayed,” U.S. Marshal Martin J. Pane said. “While not an easy case, justice has prevailed.”

Miller has a violent past, dating back to before the 1981 slaying. Police say in June 1959, Miller was arrested by Harrisburg, PA police for the killing of John H. Lumpkins. U.S. marshals say Miller used a 12-gauge shotgun to shoot John and Donna Lumpkins. John Lumpkins died from his injuries. Miller pleaded guilty to murder and was sentenced to life in prison in 1960.

In 1971, Miller's sentence was commuted from life to the minimum sentence of just over 11 years - which was essentially time served. He was released on Feb. 9, 1971. Within 10 years of his release, he was charged with Waller's murder.

The marshals say he's being held in Wood County pending court proceedings that would lead to his return to Pennsylvania.

Tyler police and the Texas Department of Criminal Justice assisted in the arrest.

Copyright 2014 KLTV. All rights reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.