Suspected serial killer uses confessions as bargaining chips

Monday, January 14, 2008

Larry Broeking knows the chances are slim that Timothy Krajcir will ever emerge from prison on anything other than a gurney in a coroner's van.

At age 63, Krajcir's public defender said, the Illinois inmate is in frail health and is newly saddled with a 40-year prison sentence for strangling a college student decades ago. Krajcir also has been adjudged a sexually dangerous person, making it even more unlikely he will ever go free.

Still, Krajcir may have managed to save his life by cashing in what few bargaining chips he has left.

In agreeing to admit last month to the decades-old killings of nine women in Illinois, Missouri and two other states, the man with a long history of sex crimes got assurances that prosecutors would not seek to have him put to death, authorities have said.

And at least in Illinois, Broeking said, Krajcir may be able to avoid harsher prison sentences for murder convictions under existing law and choose to be prosecuted under statutes on the books at the time of the decades-old killings to which he has confessed.

"Odds are that he will die in prison anyway, regardless of what happens now," Broeking said as murder charges continue to mount against Krajcir from Missouri to Pennsylvania.

Krajcir last month pleaded guilty in Jackson County, Ill., to the 1982 rape and murder of Southern Illinois University student Deborah Sheppard and was sentenced to 40 years in prison. Just hours later, prosecutors in Cape Girardeau, charged him with killing five women there in 1977 and 1982.

Since those charges, a prosecutor in Williamson County, Ill., has charged Krajcir in the 1978 stabbing death of 51-year-old Virginia Lee Witte.

A grand jury in Paducah, Ky., has indicted Krajcir of kidnapping and burglary counts in the case of 29-year-old Joyce Tharp, who authorities say was abducted from her home in 1979 and killed in Southern Illinois before her body was brought back to Paducah. A Kentucky prosecutor says he won't charge Krajcir in that killing because it appeared to have taken place in Illinois.

And Friday, prosecutors in Reading, Pa. -- Krajcir's home state -- charged him with the 1979 rape and slaying of 51-year-old Myrtle Rupp.

Authorities say DNA evidence implicates Krajcir in many of the killings to which he has now confessed.

Krajcir attended Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Ill., around the time of the killings.

Krajcir, serving time in the Tamms, Ill., Correctional Center as he awaits being prosecuted first on the new Illinois murder counts, has not replied to written requests in recent weeks to be interviewed by The Associated Press.

Krajcir has spent most of his adult life behind bars for sex crimes. After a stint with the Navy, he first entered the Illinois prison system in 1963 on rape charges. Except for a brief period of freedom in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Krajcir has been in prison ever since.

Krajcir was jailed in Illinois in 1979 for having sex with his landlord's 13-year-old daughter. A judge conditionally released him in 1981 and he reportedly returned to Pennsylvania to be with family.

In 1982, Krajcir was arrested on sexual assault charges and served time in a Pennsylvania prison. The crime violated his parole, so after his Pennsylvania term was finished in 1988, he was brought back to Illinois to resume serving the sentence and has been in that state's custody ever since.

Authorities have said Krajcir agreed to admit recently to the killings in Missouri and Illinois only if prosecutors pledged not to seek the death penalty.

In the Illinois case involving Witte's death, Broeking said Krajcir -- not prosecutors -- will have the choice of whether he wants to be sentenced under 1978 statutes, which carried a possible 20 to 40-year prison sentence for a murder conviction, or the current law that's punishable by up to 60 years.

Illinois statutes then and now carry a possible death sentence. But Charles Garnati, Krajcir's prosecutor in the Witte slaying, has told the court he would not seek to have Krajcir executed, citing the inmate's help in apparently solving the crime.

Messages left with Garnati for this story were not immediately returned.

Cape Girardeau County Prosecuting Attorney Morley Swingle has said Krajcir agreed to admit to the killings there in exchange for a sentence of life in prison without parole.

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