UPDATE: Man accused in 1981 murder of Beckley school teacher pleads not guilty, writes letter to court

BECKLEY, WV (WOAY) – Earl James Robbins, the man indicted in the Raleigh County cold case murder of Beckley school teacher Cynthia Miller, appeared in court virtually for the first time for arraignment.

“I am not guilty to any of these charges,” Robbins said in court.

He pled not guilty to all five counts including first degree murder and use of a firearm in Miller’s case from 1981 and also the three other charges of abduction, kidnapping and first degree sexual assault of a minor which occurred in 1980.

Robbins was indicted in October and details are still limited as to what lead to the cracking of this cold case, but Robbins sent a letter to the circuit court stating that Detective Bragg with the Beckley Police Department and Lt. Bledsoe with the West Virginia State Police interviewed him several years ago in California in prison about the cold case.

He says in the letter that he clearly told them of who he believed possibly killed Miller but had no other information.

“The defendant on his own submitted a document to the court and to the state which is public record where he made various demands and claims,” Raleigh County Prosecuting Attorney Kristen Keller said.

He said in the letter he will be suing Beckley Police for slander and defamation of character and requested a speedy trial and that he not be extradited form the State of California where he says he is serving a life sentence in Valley State Prison.

“The only issue in an extradition is whether or not that is the person named in the indictment and whether or not he was present in the State of West Virginia in the relevant time frame. There’s no issue of guilt or innocence in the extradition proceeding,” Keller said.

The prosecution will file a detainer to California requesting that the prison holds Robbins to begin the extradition proceedings. Robbins, who still has to apply for a public defender or find his own, said in court and in his letter that he plans on fighting the extradition process.

“I will fight extradition and demand a jury trial in either another state or definitely another county other than Raleigh County,” he said in court.

Here is a copy of the full letter and below is a transcription:

It reads the following and is dated October 28, 2020:

“NOTICE OF RECEIT FOR GRAND JURY INDICTMENT

Petitioner Defendant Earl James Robbins states as follows:

Several years ago Sgt. Morgan Bragg, Detective for Beckley, W.Va. City Police and Lieutenant C. Bledsoe travelled from Beckley, West Virginia to Sierra Conservation Center, Jamestown, California where they interviewed my person during a cold case murder investigation of Cynthia Jane Miller.

Record clearly reflects I informed the Beckley City Police of my beliefs of who possibly killed Cynthia Jane Miller. I’ve no further information in essence to the murder and certainly no information of Counts 3, 4, and 5 of this indictment.

Petitioner at this time elects to ‘agree to a video hearing before Honorable Darl W. Poling, Judge from this Valley State Prison, Chowchilla, California, to the Court at Raleigh County, West Virginia at Beckley.’

Petitioner as record reflects is currently serving a life term within this State of California with documentation prepared for the court to show actual innocense in the conviction here

and will not be extradited to West Virginia.

Petitioner further states: In the event this Circuit Court chooses to pursue this case 20-F-446-P after Petitioner’s initial interview ‘Petitioner will retain counsel and proceed accordingly.’ In view of this ordeal Petitioner believes this court will infact dismiss all allegations as moot. Clearly the Detective Sgt. who stated to Petitioner he’s originally from Glen Jean, W.V. has confirmed Petitioner is as well from Glen Jean, W.V. and had absolutely no ties to Raleigh County West Virginia during October 1980 for criminal acts of the nature alleged.

Petitioner moves this court to forward via certified mail any and all material, documentation, DNA analysis, finger print analysis, witness names who are redacted on Prosecuting Attorney Indictment and testimony transcript of Sgt. Morgan Bragg to the Grand Jury to enable Petitioner for civil damages due to slander and defamation of character by the Beckley City Police. These are serious allegations inwhich this court ‘must resolve in a timely manner with a speedy trial if necessary because Petitioner will not by any means wave time.’

For the herein foregoing Petitioner Earl James Robbins shall forever pray

Earl James Robbins

Pro-se/Pro-per

October 28,2020”

Original Story from 10/13/2020:

BECKLEY, WV (WOAY) –  A Raleigh County school teacher was shot to death in her home in August of 1981 on what was supposed to be her wedding day, and since then, Cynthia Miller’s family, friends and loved ones have been waiting for answers. 

Now, a 64-year-old man, who is already doing time in California, has been indicted for Miller’s murder. 

Earl James Robbins is facing five counts of violent crimes in Raleigh County. Aside from the murder indictment and the use of a firearm in the killing, Raleigh County Prosecuting Attorney Kristen Keller also announced that in the investigation, West Virginia State Police and the Beckley Police Department were able to also charge him with another Raleigh County case. This one happened before the murder as Robbins was indicted for the 1980 kidnapping, abduction and first degree sexual assault of a minor.

Robbins lived in Southern West Virginia for a period of time but now is in California in prison for other violent crimes. 

“He is in custody in the State of California and is expected to remain there for the foreseeable future,” Keller said. “The process now if for us to file what’s called a detainer and essentially go through an extradition process to get him here.” 

Details are limited as to what led to Robbins as well as his motive or relationship to the victim, but all of these details are expected to come forward in future hearing. 

A task force was formed in 2017 by Beckley Police and State Police to take another look at the case.

Back in 1981, Miller was set to be married to Gary O’Neal, a police officer in Lester, on the following August day when O’Neal came home late that night to find her dead with multiple gunshot wounds at their house on Miller Street in Beckley. 

Because she was a well-liked 27-year-old school teacher, the act of violence seemed random and posed a challenge to solve, but the detectives who have taken over the case in present day give props to the original investigators. 

“It was a huge investigation, and I really have to credit the individuals who worked on this case initially,” Detective Morgan Bragg, with the Beckley Police Department, said. “I have to say we’ve looked at a lot of cold cases, and this was one where they really did their work. They really compiled a massive amount of data and caused us a lot of work, but it was good because had we not had that data we wouldn’t be where we are right now.” 

Although Miller’s parents and then fiancé  are now deceased, her remaining family and those who knew her are celebrating the indictment and will now have some of the answers they have been waiting for. 

Betty Harrah was in Miller’s classroom in seventh grade at Park Junior High and describes Miller as kind-hearted and says she cared about everyone. Harrah still remembers the day when her mother came in to tell her that her beloved teacher had been killed. 

“It was sad. And forty years later, look at me. I mean, the whole news conference I had tears rolling down my cheeks. She was just – she was wonderful,” Harrah said.  

Keller says the extradition process will take time, but Robbins will eventually have to face hearings here in Raleigh County.

If you know any details regarding this case, you are encouraged to contact the Beckley Police Department and Detective Bragg at (304) 256-1720 or the West Virginia State Police and Lt. Bledsoe at (304) 256-6700.

Anna Saunders
Anna Saunders is a weekend reporter for WOAY. With a diploma from Princeton Senior High School and a mother from Fayette County, she is no stranger to the area. She received a degree in Media Arts and Design from James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia and wanted to return home to start her career as a reporter.