Victims of the State

Exclusive of the Chicago Area
21 Cases

Adams County, IL 

Everett Howell

Aug 20, 1928

Everett Howell was convicted of the robbery of the Exchange State Bank in Golden, IL. He was identified and convicted based on the testimony of eyewitnesses to the crime despite having numerous alibi witnesses who placed him seventy miles away at the time of the robbery. Within a year the real perpetrators were caught and convicted. In Jan. 1930 Howell's conviction was overturned and the state dropped charges against him.  (CTI)  [6/08]

Edgar County, IL 

Steidl & Whitlock

July 6, 1986 (Paris)

Gordon Randall “Randy” Steidl and Herbert Whitlock were convicted of stabbing to death newlyweds Dyke and Karen Rhoads. The defendants' convictions were based on the testimony of two substance-abusing witnesses who repeatedly changed their stories. Their wrongful convictions were brought to light after a journalism professor and four of his students reinvestigated the crime and uncovered new evidence. A state police lieutenant assigned to reinvestigate the case was demoted for concluding earlier investigations had blown the case and put the wrong men in jail. Steidl was released in 2004 and Whitlock was released in 2008.  (CBS News) (CWC)  [7/05]

Fulton County, IL 

Lloyd Eldon Miller, Jr.

Nov 26, 1955 (Canton)

Lloyd Eldon Miller, Jr. was convicted of the murder of 8-year-old Janice Elizabeth May. May had been raped and severely beaten. She died in a hospital less than two hours after she was found. Hours after the murder, Miller, a Canton cab driver, illegally took his cab and abandoned it outside of town. He then continued to travel by bus. Putting two and two together, police concluded that Miller was fleeing after assaulting the girl. Miller, however, said he left town because his ex-wife was threatening to put him in jail for failure to pay child support.

After being held incommunicado for 52 hours and grilled relentlessly by relays of policemen, Miller signed a police written confession. He had been threatened with the death penalty if he refused to sign it, but received the death penalty anyway. The confession was inconsistent with known facts of the crime. In the confession, Miller admitted that a pair of blood stained jockey shorts was his. They were found a mile from the scene of the crime and were alleged to be stained with the victim's blood.

After Miller's trial, his landlady, who had not testified, told his appellate lawyers that Miller had been asleep at home when the crime occurred. In addition, it turned out that the jockey shorts were too small for Miller, who regularly wore boxer shorts. The prosecutor, Blaine Ramsey, had led the jury to believe that the stain on the jockey shorts was blood, but the stain turned out to be paint, which the prosecutor knew because the state crime laboratory had so reported. After Miller won a federal writ of habeas corpus, the prosecution dropped all charges in 1971. A book was written about the case entitled Scapegoat Justice by Willard J. Lassers.  (CWC) (Until You Are Dead...) (Time)  [1/09]

Henry County, IL 

Tabitha Pollock

Oct 10, 1995 (Kewanee)

Tabitha Pollock was convicted of murder and sentenced to 36 years imprisonment. Pollock's live-in boyfriend killed her 3-year-old daughter, Jami Sue, and prosecution contended that Pollock “should have known” he posed a danger to her child. Pollock's conviction was upheld on appeal even though the trial judge had acknowledged that Pollock “did not commit the act of killing, nor did she intend to kill the child, nor was she present in the room when her boyfriend killed the child.”

Even though the deadline for filing a further appeal had passed, the Illinois Supreme Court agreed in 2001 to hear the case and in Oct. 2002, unanimously reversed Pollock's conviction, holding that a defendant cannot be convicted on an accountability theory based on what he or she “should have known.” The court barred a retrial, by a vote of four to two, and Pollock was released in Dec. 2002.  (CWC)  [7/05]

Iroquois County, IL 

Burrows & Frye

Nov 6, 1988

Along with Gayle Potter, Joseph Burrows and Ralph Frye were accused of the armed robbery and murder of 88-year-old William Dulan. After Potter implicated Burrows and Frye, Frye who had a 76 IQ, confessed to the crime. Burrows was convicted and sentenced to death while prosecution witnesses Potter and Frye were sentenced to 23 and 30 years. Frye later recanted his testimony. Potter later confessed that she alone had committed the crime. She explained that she had told the truth to the lead prosecutor before trial, but he had threatened her and ordered her to stick with her story. In addition, new evidence emerged confirming Burrows's alibi. In 1994, Burrows and Frye were cleared of all charges.  (PC) (CWC1) (CWC2)  [8/05]

Lawrence County, IL 

Julie Rea

Oct 13, 1997

Julie Rea was convicted of stabbing to death her 10-year-old son, Joel Kirkpatrick. Julie maintained that a masked intruder stabbed her son. The intruder also left a bruise over her eye and an inch deep gash on her arm. A physician noted that Julie's injuries, such as the horizontal scrapes on her knees, did not appear to be self-inflicted. In escaping, the intruder ran through two sets of glass doors.

Despite the bloodbath found in her son's room, Julie was found with no blood on her except for a small transfer pattern presumably caused by her contact with the intruder. Her toilets, sinks, washer, and dryer were found free of blood. A search of her septic tank and the lines leading to it failed to reveal the presence of any blood. Her ex-husband, Len Kirkpatrick, with whom Julie had a bitter divorce, had recently gotten residential custody of Joel, because he remarried, allowing Joel to have a two-parent home. The prosecution alleged that Julie's thinking regarding custody was, “If I can't have him, nobody will.” Julie was not charged until three years after the murder. No new evidence had surfaced after the initial investigation, but her ex-husband and chief accuser had become a sheriff's deputy in a neighboring county. He had vowed in writing to “destroy her.”

After the case was featured on 20/20, serial killer Tommy Lynn Sells confessed to the murder. Sells was a cautious killer who liked to kill but learned to avoid danger to himself. He would often kill sleeping victims, as awake victims were more dangerous. After a would-be adult victim sent him to the hospital for a week and to prison for five years, he stuck exclusively to killing children. Sells is also a suspect in the Texas intruder murders of Devon and Damon Routier. Their mother, Darlie Routier, has been sentenced to death for the murders. The state denied Sells confession, but the confession is reportedly too accurate to be dismissed as coincidence. In 2004, Julie's conviction was overturned because her prosecutor did not have the legal authority to try her. She was acquitted on retrial in 2006.  (ABC News) (CWC)  [11/05]

Madison County, IL 

David Gray

Mar 28, 1978 (Alton)

David A. Gray was convicted of the rape, attempted murder, and armed robbery of 58-year-old Ann Brewer. Brewer was stabbed 33 times but survived. Gray had come to her home 3 days before the crime to see a motorcycle her son was selling. There was little evidence against Gray apart from the victim's ID. Gray's first trial resulted in a hung jury. His second trial was supplemented by a jailhouse informant who claimed Gray confessed. Gray served 20 years of a 60-year sentence before DNA tests exonerated him.  (IP)  [5/05]

McLean County, IL 

David Hendricks

Nov 5, 1983 (Bloomington)

David Hendricks was convicted of murdering his wife, Susan, 30, and their three children, Becky, 9, Grace, 7, and Benjy, 5. The murders occurred at 313 Carl Drive in Bloomington. While traveling in Wisconsin, Hendricks called police to check on his family. No one had answered the phone all weekend and he was worried. When police and neighbors searched his home the next day, they found that Hendricks' entire family had been hacked to death with an ax and butcher knife. When Hendricks returned later that day, police questioned him and checked his clothes and car for bloodstains. But the search was inconclusive, and Hendricks' alibi of having left for Wisconsin around 11:30 p.m. on November 4, appeared solid.

While his wife was at a baby shower, Hendricks said he taken his children out for a pizza at about 7:30 p.m. on November 4. According to him, they then played in an amusement area and returned home at 9:30 p.m. He said his wife returned at 10:45 p.m. and he left for his business trip shortly thereafter. But after studying the children's bodies, medical examiners discovered an apparent hole in Hendricks' story. Ordinarily, food leaves the stomach and moves into the small intestine within two hours. However, in all three children, vegetarian pizza toppings were still in their stomachs, which led investigators to estimate their time of death sometime around 9:30 p.m., while Hendricks was still at home. Hendricks' defense attorney hammered away at the only physical evidence against him, pointing out that physical activity or trauma can affect the rate of digestion. However, Hendricks was convicted of four counts of murder and sentenced to life in prison.

Hendricks' conviction was later overturned because an appeals court found the prosecution's argument of an alleged motive irrelevant and prejudicial. The prosecution introduced evidence that Hendricks was a member of a conservative religious group which shunned divorce and that he made passes at female models he had hired for advertising purposes. At Hendricks' 1991 retrial the prosecution presented the testimony of Danny Wayne Stark, a jailhouse informant, who said that Hendricks confessed to the slayings. However, the defense presented three inmates who testified that Stark was known as a liar. The retrial jury acquitted Hendricks. Jurors said the prosecution had not proven its case. A book was written about the case entitled Reasonable Doubt by Steve Vogel.  (Archives)  [6/08]

McLean County, IL 

Alan Beaman

Aug 25, 1993 (Normal)

Alan Beaman was convicted of murdering his ex-girlfriend, Jennifer Lockmiller, an ISU student. On Aug. 28, 1993, Lockmiller was found in her Normal apartment strangled by a clock radio cord and stabbed in the chest with a pair of scissors. The state established sexual jealousy as a possible motive for Beaman committing the murder, but given the number of Lockmiller's boyfriends, the motive appeared hardly unique to him. Beyond this possible motive, the state's evidence was essentially non-existent. Even if the evidence, by itself, were sufficient to convict, Beaman's alibi raises some measure of doubt, as does the evidence against an alternative suspect.

An appellate court affirmed Beaman's conviction with one justice dissenting. The dissenting justice found the evidence insufficient to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. In May 2008, the Illinois Supreme Court overturned Beaman's conviction, ruling that he should have been allowed to introduce evidence of another viable suspect. The state had withheld much of this evidence prior to trial. This suspect, identified as John Doe, was a steroid using, physically abusive boyfriend of Lockmiller to whom she owed money. The suspect had agreed to take a polygraph test but then failed to take it because he would not follow the instructions of the polygraphist. The Court also agreed that Beaman's lawyers never properly investigated and presented evidence about his alibi.  (Appeal) (CWC)  [6/08]

McLean County, IL 

Corey Eason

Convicted 2005

Corey Eason was listed in the Illinois sex offender registry and had his picture posted on the Internet as a sex offender. In March 2005, he was convicted of three counts of failing to notify the McLean County police that he had changed his address. However, he had never been convicted of a sex-related offense and was not required notify the police. In Oct. 2005, a judge vacated the convictions and a prosecutor dismissed the charges.  (JD)  [2/07]

Pulaski County, IL 

Will Evans

Dec 23, 1911

Will Evans was arrested and tried for an attempted rape that occurred near Grand Chain, IL. However, he had an alibi. At the time of the alleged rape attempt, he had been committing a crime, albeit a less serious one, 25 miles away. Specifically, he had been burglarizing a rail car with his brother in Cairo, a burglary that was interrupted by the Cairo Chief of Police. Thinking he would not be convicted of attempted rape, he did not reveal his alibi at trial. However, he was convicted anyway and sentenced to 99 years in prison.

Following sentencing, Evans revealed his alibi to his court-appointed attorney. Within days the Cairo Chief of Police corroborated Evans' alibi with a sworn statement.  The trial judge held that the exculpatory evidence came too late and let the verdict stand. The judge later summed up his view stating that Evans was “probably in prison rightfully, but upon the wrong charge.” Evans remained in prison until 1932, when Gov. Emmerson granted a pardon, acknowledging that Evans “had been the victim of mistaken identity.”  (CWC)

Randolph County, IL 

Jerome Miller

May 11, 1967

Joseph Gagnepain, 55, a keeper of the Mississippi River tollbooth at Chester, Illinois, was murdered. $11 in bills and $40 in change was taken from him. Two days later, Jerome Miller was arrested for the crime after police found a box of change and a revolver in his car, which he parked near the toll both while working in St. Louis, Missouri. Miller told his lawyer, Robert H. Rice, that he was innocent of the crime. Nevertheless Rice informed him that he has no chance of being found not guilty and that the best outcome he can hope for is to avoid receiving the death penalty. Rice added that the state's attorney will agree to that outcome if Miller agreed to plead guilty to the crime. Miller then pleaded guilty to the crime after Rice repeated in open court what he told Miller. In 1970, Miller's conviction was overturned because an appeals court felt that Miller did not fully comprehend the consequences of his guilty plea. Miller was then tried with a change of venue in Washington County. The Washington County jury acquitted him.  (CWC)

St. Clair County, IL 

Floyd Flood

Aug 23, 1924 (Freeburg)

Floyd Flood was convicted of robbing the First National Bank in Freeburg, IL. Two female bank employees identified him as one of the six men who robbed the bank. Along with Flood, two of the actual robbers were convicted. Following their conviction, the two confessed their part in the robbery, but stated that Flood was not involved and that they did not even know him. Two more of the actual robbers were then caught. They confessed and named the remaining two men involved, neither of whom were Flood. The bank employees who identified Flood admitted they could be mistaken, and a pardon application was made for him. However, the Bankers Association opposed the pardon until every one of the six robbers were caught and convicted. Eventually this demand was met. Illinois Governor Small pardoned Flood in Jan. 1926.  (CTI)  [4/08]

St. Clair County, IL 

Valentine Harpstrite

Sept 9, 1928

Valentine Harpstrite (misspelled in official records as Harpstreith) was convicted of the murder of Justus Nungesser, 65. Nungesser was shot to death in a cornfield on his farm near the town of Muscoutah. Harpstrite was implicated in the crime several weeks later, based on alleged confessions by two co-defendants, Raymond Rensing and Elmer Lindner. Before their joint trial in April 1929, Rensing and Lindner recanted, claiming their confessions had been beaten out of them. The confessions were admitted against them, but not against Harpstrite. To convict him, Assistant State's Attorney Curt C. Lindauer relied on statements from two jailhouse informants, Charles Pillow and George Shelton.

Several years later, Pillow and Shelton recanted, saying Lindauer and Sheriff Charles Aherns had promised to arrange for their release from jail in return for their testimony implicating Harpstrite. After the trial, the court record of the case disappeared, and there was no appeal. Harpstrite was paroled in 1949, and pardoned by Governor Samuel H. Shapiro in 1968.  (CWC)

St. Clair County, IL 

Girvies Davis

Dec 22, 1978 (Belleville)

Girvies L. Davis, a black man, was convicted by an all white jury of the murder of Charles Biebel, 89. Davis allegedly confessed to the crime and was sentenced to death. There was no physical evidence or eyewitness testimony linking him to the murder. Davis, a 4th grade dropout, has been described as retarded and quite slow intellectually. After several days of questioning while in police custody, officers allege that Davis sent them a note from his cell stating that he wished to confess to a number of crimes. Subsequently, in the middle of the night, police took him out of his cell, and took him for an automobile ride. Two officers drove him around for hours before stopping and pulling out a briefcase from the trunk of the car. Davis said the officers placed some papers on the hood of the car, took off their gun belts, and told him he could either sign the papers or run.

“I signed everything they had,” Davis said. “I was fearful for my life. If they would have had more there, I would have signed more. I found out later I had signed statements for 10 murders and 10 attempted murders and my Miranda rights.” When asked if he had read the papers before signing, Davis said, “Naw, I couldn't even read back then. I could barely sign my name.”

The St. Clair County State's Attorney, Robert Haida, conceded that some of the confessions were false as other people were convicted of those crimes. Davis denied ever sending a note from his cell or seeing it before trial. Haida conceded that someone else wrote the note, but suggested Davis dictated it to a cellmate. While on death row, Davis learned to read and write. He earned a high school equivalency certificate and became an ordained minister. He spent much of his time reading the Bible. A former police chief, a former prosecutor, and a retired judge worked to stop Davis's execution, but Davis was executed by lethal injection on May 17, 1995.  (NY Times)  [1/07]

St. Clair County, IL 

Rodney Woidtke

June 19, 1988 (Belleville)

Rodney Woidtke was convicted of the rape and murder of Audrey Cardenas. He suffered from mental illness and confessed to crime in part because he did not want police or anyone else to think he might be homosexual. Woidtke was acquitted at a 2001 retrial. The victim's mother, Billie Fowler, suspected from the start that the confession was false. She said the retrial “had nothing to do with finding out the truth, finding out what happened to my daughter,” but rather was “all about making sure that they convinced the public that they didn't make a mistake. But, guess what? They did make a mistake—and they got caught.”  (CWC) (JD)  [1/06]

St. Clair County, IL 

Terry Nelson

July 9, 1988 (Centreville)

Terry Lee Nelson was convicted of the execution style murder of reputed drug dealer Marvin Butler. Butler was shot outside of Bill's Continental Club, a tavern in the 6800 block of Old Missouri Avenue in Centreville. Nelson's conviction rested on the testimony of three informants who claimed that Nelson confessed to them while they were imprisoned with him. An appeals court overturned the conviction after it ruled that the testimony of one of the informants had been inconsistent and that another had recanted. The State's Attorney office dropped all charges in 1998. One of Nelson's key supporters was Sheriff Mearl J. Justus, who had steadfastly maintained that Nelson was innocent.  (CWC)  [1/06]

St. Clair County, IL 

Carl Lawson

July 27, 1989

Carl Lawson was convicted of murdering 8-year-old Terrence Jones whose body was found in an abandoned church. Lawson was sentenced to death. The prosecution claimed that a shoeprint found in the blood near the body matched the brand of shoes worn by Lawson. A mob of curious onlookers including Lawson had walked near the body once it was found, but the prosecution contended that the dryness of blood around the shoeprint proved that the print was made some time ago – by the murderer. The defense repeatedly asked the trial judge for funds to retain its own forensic expert to rebut the state's expert, but these requests were denied.

 On appeal, the Illinois Supreme Court overturned the conviction because the defense was denied these funds. Upon retrial, the defense presented evidence that the police put the temperature in the church at 98 degrees. The defense expert explained that with this intense heat, a shoeprint left by one of the onlookers would have dried very quickly. The prosecution's expert could not dispute this fact, yet one of the twelve jurors still voted to convict Lawson and the trial ended in a hung jury. At a third trial (which was moved to a different venue), the jury acquitted Lawson of all charges.  (CWC)  [7/05]

Wabash County, IL 

John Cochran

Oct 16, 1888

On Oct. 16, 1888 John Buchenberger, a businessman from Evansville, Indiana, was found unconscious with a gunshot to the head. His revolver, with one empty shell chamber, was found by his side. Buchenberger had bought the revolver the day before his shooting. He died three days after the shooting without regaining consciousness.

In November, John Cochran, a local man, whom Buchenberger had met, was tried for Buchenberger's murder. At trial, Charles Reese, a horse thief, testified that Cochran admitted to the murder. The jury found Cochran guilty and he was sentenced to life in prison. However, unknown to the defense, Buchenberger's wife in Evansville received a letter from her husband four days after the shooting. In it Buchenberger stated, “he was about to part from the world of mortals to dwell with his heavenly father.” The wife eventually made the contents of this suicide letter known. Because of the letter, Illinois Governor Fifer pardoned Cochran in August 1890.  (CWC)  [9/07]

Wabash County, IL 

Margaret & Jesse Lucas

Nov 19, 1905

Margaret and Jesse Lucas – mother and son – were convicted in 1909 of murdering Clyde Showater, who was intoxicated when last seen alive in 1905. A badly decomposed body was found seven months later near Mt. Carmel, IL that was presumed to be Showater. A coroner's inquest failed to determine the cause of death.

In 1908, a young felon named Richard Conrad came forward a said that he had seen Jesse Lucas kill Showater. Conrad had recently been sentenced for raping a 13-year-old girl, and in exchange for his testimony, he was released from prison. At Conrad's behest, a prostitute, Oma Johnson, was arrested and held as a material witness until she agreed to testify. Johnson claimed that Margaret Lucas had been present when her son committed the murder and then helped him dispose of the body. Two other prostitutes also presented testimony claiming to have heard the Lucases confess. The four witnesses contradicted each other on the degree to which Margaret played in the murder. Both mother and son were convicted, but the mother got a new trial, and charges against her were dismissed.

In 1932, George Pond, a former resident of the area, confessed on his deathbed to robbing and murdering Showater 27 years before. Anna Smith, a woman with whom Pond attended church, transcribed his confession. Smith got a volunteer attorney to petition the parole board for Lucas's release. Two of the prostitute witnesses had since died, but Oma Johnson apologized saying that she knew nothing of Showater's murder and had testified under coercion. The parole board released Lucas.  (CWC)  [12/05]

Winnebago County, IL 

Henry Olson

Sept 6, 1927 (Rockford)

Henry Olson was convicted of the murder of gas station attendant Floyd Stotler. The murder occurred during an attempted robbery of the Hart Oil Station at the corner of Broadway and Kishwaukee Streets in Rockford, Illinois. Floyd's father, Orville, was the only eyewitness. Despite the fact that the two perpetrators wore masks, Orville positively identified Olson as the bandit who shot his son. This identification was the only evidence connecting Olson to the murder.

At trial, Olson presented twelve alibi witnesses. While most of these were family members and not every witness claimed to have seen Olson at the exact time of the crime, still the alibi was quite credible. Nevertheless, six of twelve jurors favored convicting Olson, resulting in a mistrial. On retrial, with much the same evidence, Olson was convicted.

Despite the verdict, the judge, evidencing his doubt of Olson's guilt, allowed him to remain free on $10,000 bond, pending appeal. Soon afterwards, Olson and his wife disappeared from the community. They had driven to Chicago and telegraphed family members to come for their car. A nationwide search for the pair proved unsuccessful. According to many, Olson's flight was considered an admission of guilt, and there were rumors that Olson's wife was the second bandit in the gas station holdup.

Meanwhile, Olson's attorney continued his efforts to clear his client. He got a lead from a physician, who reported that a family maidservant had stated that Olson was not guilty.  When police questioned her, she denied making the statement. Later, after she was taken in for further questioning, she admitted making the statement and said her boyfriend, Maurice Mahan, had boasted to her that he and his chum, George Bliss, had held up the gas station, and that Bliss had done the shooting. When Mahan and Bliss were picked up, they were questioned separately and each eventually confessed, giving identical details. They both pleaded guilty to the crime.

Efforts were made to locate Olson and his wife through press and radio to give them the good news, with a message to return home. After some weeks Olson, then in New Orleans, saw a notice in a newspaper. After contacting his attorney to confirm the news was true, Olson and his wife returned to Rockford. Olson faced a third trial, but was acquitted in Mar. 1928.  (CTI)  [11/07]