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Gay Health Advocate Murdered

Walter Armstrong

No good deed goes unpunished. That's the epitaph a bitchy queen might inscribe on the tombstone of Dr. Emery Lane, a leading gay health advocate in Louisville, Kentucky, who was murdered last week. His housekeeper found his body a day after he had been beaten to death, the Courier-Journal, a local newspaper, reported. One of the two suspects charged in the murder is an ex-con whom Lane had helped for many years and even mentioned in his will.

The brutal killing of the affluent, genteel, quietly pioneering 75-year-old gay man was not a sex crime, to clear that up right off the bat. Only hours after learning of the crime, police spotted Lane's 2004 green Jaguar XJR in the parking lot of a Louisville apartment building occupied by Gene Raymond Miller, 39. Lane's wallet was found in the car, as were illegal drugs. Miller and another ex-con, Bennett Shaw Bilbrey, 42, were nabbed inside the building.

Lane was a retired pulmonary doc and University of Kentucky Medical School professor who left a legacy of good works extending well beyond the Kentucky capital's gay community. For many years he treated Appalachian coalminers suffering from black-lung disease, which sparked what became an enduring interest in health activism. He testified in many lawsuits on behalf of miners suing the coal industry. When AIDS hit in the early '80s, Lane helped found the Community Health Trust, a nonprofit service agency for the LGBT and HIV communities. He also served as its president.

It was, by all accounts, Lane's determined compassion and charity that led him to his death. Lane befriended the sketchy Miller in the late '90s through a prison pen-pal program while Miller was doing time for assault, domestic violence, and other crimes. Lane, who had no family and lived alone, gradually assumed greater and greater responsibility for Miller. When Miller got married, Lane bought him and his wife, Nicole Miller, a house and paid many of their bills. He gave toys and clothes to their children, one of whom was named after him. He even once sprang for a Florida vacation for the couple's anniversary.

"Emery spent seven years trying to help Gene turn his life around," Nicole Miller told Wave 3, a local TV news channel. "He was like family to us. When he hung up the phone, we said 'I love you' to each other."

According to Nicole Miller, it was some time after she divorced her husband—"because he had a cocaine habit"—that the arrangement started to unravel. Lane initially continued bankrolling the entire family but in recent months had apparently begun to lose patience with Gene Miller. "Emery was tired of it, you know?" she said, adding that her best guess is that the doctor had stopped giving Gene Miller money and that Miller—in a shakedown, in revenge, or for some other reason—killed him.

"It don't make no sense. Why would he do that to somebody that's so good to him?" Nicole Miller said. "Now my children have lost two people: their father—and a man they loved like a grandfather."

Gene Miller and Bennett Bilbrey have been charged with murder, robbery, and other crimes. They may face the death penalty.