Dead Man Walking: Judge Tells Man He Must Stay Legally Dead
Legally, Donald Miller is dead and he's staying that way in the eyes of the law. An Ohio judge told him so in court this week.
Miller, 61, testified on Monday in Ohio's Hancock County Probate Court that he disappeared in 1986, leaving behind his wife, two children and unpaid child support after losing his job.
Years later, his wife, Robin Miller, sought to have him legally declared dead.
"She had no support," Robin Miller's attorney James Hammer told ABCNews.com. "By having a declaration of death, she would then potentially have access to collect Social Security benefits for her two minor children."
Donald Miller was declared dead in 1994 and his family received his Social Security money.
A few months ago, Robin Miller discovered that not only was her "dead" husband not dead, he was back in Ohio and trying to re-establish his Social Security number.
"To realize that he was back and then to realize that he was going to be taking legal action, from her standpoint, was pretty unsettling and emotional," Hammer said.
He said his client was "very startled" when her husband testified that he had actually been back in Ohio since around 2005, but she "didn't wish him any ill-will."
"He had experienced alcoholism for a number of years and made choices based upon being in that condition," Hammer said.
Despite his being alive and being in court, Judge Allan Davis ruled that Miller would be staying legally dead. Davis told ABCNews.com that while the decision doesn't appear to make much sense, it was actually very by the book.
"There really wasn't much opportunity to use any equity in this case because we have a statute right on point," he said.
A legal statute in Ohio prevents changes to death rulings after three years have passed.
Those involved in the case are uncertain about what happens next in the case and to Donald Miller.
When asked if Donald Miller would be appealing or taking his case to a higher court, his attorney Francis Marley told ABCNews.com, "Probably not."
"We may go another avenue as far as federal something, but we haven't decided yet," he said. "He's obviously disappointed. Who wouldn't be?"
"It's one of those once-in-a-lifetime cases," Judge Davis said. "I've never known anything like that to occur."