In October 1905, a young farmer named Clyde Showalter traveled to Mt. Carmel, Illinois, to collect his payment for the sale of his hogs. He deposited the money from the sale at a bank in Mt. Carmel and was seen at a nearby bar that same day, reportedly intoxicated, but he never returned home afterward. His wife reported to police that Showalter was missing, but police were unable to determine his whereabouts. Seven months later, two boys were fishing when they found Showalter’s badly decomposed body in a river. The coroner was unable to determine the cause of death.
For several years, there was uncertainty as to whether foul play had been involved in Showalter’s death. However, in 1908, Richard Conrad – who had then recently been convicted of raping a 13-year-old girl – approached police to report that he had witnessed the murder of Clyde Showalter at the hands of Jesse Lucas. Conrad claimed that he had been sitting on a woodpile, about 100 yards from the Lucas home, when he saw Lucas bludgeon Showalter and then drag his body over to the creek where it had been located months later. Conrad was released from prison after providing this testimony implicating Jesse Lucas in Showalter’s death. Conrad stated that Jesse Lucas had paid him to keep quiet about the murder. He also claimed that a prostitute, Oma Johnson, had witnessed the murder from the woodpile as well.
Oma Johnson was arrested and agreed to testify against Jesse Lucas. While Conrad had claimed Jesse Lucas alone had killed Showalter and disposed of his body, Johnson claimed that Jesse’s mother, Margaret Lucas, had been present during the crime and assisted in dragging Showalter’s body to the creek. Based on this testimony, both Jesse and Margaret Lucas were charged with Showalter’s murder in September 1908.
The case against Margaret and Jesse Lucas went to trial in April 1909, with Conrad, Johnson, and two other prostitutes, who had allegedly overheard the Lucases discussing the crime, testifying for the prosecution. The Lucases both denied any involvement in Showalter’s death. In their defense, they presented evidence that a person’s identity cannot be accurately determined from 100 yards away, as well as testimony from the watchman at a nearby lumberyard who had passed the Lucas home many times on the evening at issue and had not seen anyone outside the house nor on the neighboring woodpile.
Both Jesse and Margaret Lucas were convicted and sentenced to life in prison. On appeal, Margaret was quickly granted a new trial and the prosecutor dropped the charges against her later in 1909. Jesse’s conviction, on the other hand, was affirmed by the Illinois Supreme Court. Margaret Lucas died in 1928 while Jesse remained in prison.
In 1931, George R. Pond, a farmer who had previously resided in Mt. Carmel, was on his deathbed when he confessed that he had robbed and murdered Clyde Showalter. The woman to whom he confessed, Anna Smith, transcribed the words of Pond’s detailed confession. Smith took the statement to the police. Though most of the purported witnesses from the Lucas trial were dead or unreachable, Oma Johnson was located. Johnson testified before the Parole Board that she had committed perjury back in 1909 and had not actually witnessed Showalter’s murder. She claimed she had been offered the option to testify for the prosecution or remain in jail, so she had chosen the former. The Illinois Parole and Pardon Board paroled Lucas in September 1931, releasing him from prison after 23 years.
Nearly a decade after his release, at the age of 60, Jesse Lucas received a full pardon from Illinois Governor John H. Stelle. In 1949, Jesse Lucas sought compensation for his wrongful incarceration but he was unsuccessful in obtaining the necessary support for the appropriations bill.
Though she was not living when George Pond confessed to Clyde Showalter’s murder, Margaret Lucas was posthumously exonerated by his confession and the subsequent admission of perjury by Oma Johnson.
– Meghan Barrett Cousino
The National Registry of Exonerations is a project of the Newkirk Center for Science & Society at University of California Irvine, the University of Michigan Law School and Michigan State University College of Law. It was founded in 2012 in conjunction with the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law. The Registry provides detailed information about every known exoneration in the United States since 1989—cases in which a person was wrongly convicted of a crime and later cleared of all the charges based on new evidence of innocence. The Registry also maintains a more limited database of known exonerations prior to 1989.
We welcome new information from any source about exonerations already on our list and about cases not in the Registry that might be exonerations.