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George Wilcox

Other Exonerations with Child Victims and Mistaken Witness ID
On the night of June 16, 1997, 10-year-old Kenneth Thompson was slightly wounded by two shotgun pellets as he fled from a farmer’s field in Pulaski County, Arkansas, where he and three friends had been riding their bikes.

Six months later, George Wilcox, the owner of the field, was charged with first-degree battery.

Wilcox went to trial in Pulaski County Circuit Court in May 1998. He chose to have the case heard by a judge without a jury.

Thompson testified that he and his 15-year-old brother, Eddie Withers, and two friends, Donald Ray Adams, 15, and Keith Jackson, 10, were riding their bikes after dark in a sod field that was owned by Wilcox.

Thompson said that they lost one of the bicycles and decided to start up a tractor and turn on its lights to try to locate it. Thompson testified that a white truck pulled up, a man emerged and began yelling, and he and Adams fled. He said he heard two shots and was struck by shotgun pellets in his neck and in his foot. Thompson identified the man in the truck as Wilcox.

Withers testified that he and Jackson hid behind another tractor as the white truck drove up, but Thompson and Adams ran away. Withers said he saw the man—whom he identified as Wilcox—get out of the truck and fire a shot at the ground and yell for the boys to come back. Adams came back, but Thompson kept running, Withers said.

Wilcox then aimed the gun toward Thompson and fired again, Withers said, and Thompson fell to the ground, but got up and kept running.

Withers testified that Wilcox yelled at the boys to leave or he would kill them.

Adams also testified and identified Wilcox as the man who fired the shotgun. He said that after the second shot, Thompson fell down, but then got up and kept running. He said that after Wilcox ordered them to leave, he retrieved his bike and found Thompson. Adams said he put Thompson on the handlebars and took him home. Thompson was later taken to a hospital where he underwent surgery to remove a shotgun pellet from his neck.

Both Withers and Adams testified that the gunman was not wearing glasses.

The defense called John Patton, who lived across the road from the field. Patton testified at about 9:30 p.m. that night, he heard children’s voices in the field and the noise of a tractor’s engine running. He said he telephoned Wilcox, who lived down the road, and shortly thereafter saw a white truck enter the field. Patton said he drove into the field as well and saw the boys as they left.

Patton said he went further into the field where he spoke to a man who was standing by the truck. After a discussion about the possible damage to the farm equipment, Patton left. He testified that the man was not Wilcox.

Police testified that they went to Wilcox’s home that night and found a white truck. The engine was warm as if it had been driven recently. Golf tees found in the truck were similar to golf tees found at the scene of the shooting. Police found a shotgun under Wilcox’s bed, but it was dusty, had mold on the stock and did not appear to have been fired in years.

Wilcox and his wife testified that he was at home at the time of the shooting. They both testified that Wilcox never went anywhere without wearing his glasses.

On May 26, 1998, the judge convicted Wilcox of first-degree battery. Prior to sentencing, Wilcox filed a motion for a new trial, claiming the gunman was Boyce Cope, the foreman on Wilcox’s farm.

At a hearing on the motion, an investigator for Wilcox said that in July 1998 he interviewed Cope and that Cope admitted that he had driven the truck into the field and fired the shots. He said he later threw the shotgun into the river. The investigator said he had taped the confession.

Cope was called as a witness, but he declined to testify and asserted his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. The judge then allowed the confession into evidence.

In addition, Patton testified that he recognized Cope as the man he spoke with in the field on the night of the shooting.

Wilcox’s optometrist testified that Wilcox could only see at a level of 20/100 without his glasses (no witness at trial recalled seeing glasses on the gunman).

In September 1998, the judge vacated Wilcox’s conviction and ordered a new trial. In June 1999, Wilcox filed a motion to dismiss the charges based on double jeopardy, but the motion was denied. His defense attorney appealed and in October 2000, the Arkansas Supreme Court upheld the ruling.

Wilcox went to trial a second time in August 2001. A mistrial was declared when the jury was unable to reach a unanimous verdict. Jurors later reported nine jurors voted for acquittal while three voted for a conviction.

On September 10, 2001, the prosecution dismissed the charge. Cope was never charged with the shooting.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 6/22/2016
Most Serious Crime:Assault
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:1997
Sentence:Not sentenced
Age at the date of reported crime:55
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No