Thomas McMillen

Thomas McMillen

The Crime:

On June 24, 1989, at 10:06 p.m., 19-year-old Melisa Koontz left work at Cub Foods where she worked as a cashier on the Southwest edge of Springfield, Illinois. Her decomposed body was found a week later July 1, 1989, laying face-up in a cornfield approximately 1.5 miles away. She had been stabbed multiple times.

Multiple witnesses observed a suspicious young white male lurking in the employee parking lot around the time Melisa exited the store.

Less than an hour later, at 10:50 p.m., her vehicle, a black Ford Escort hatchback, was discovered abandoned on the Waverly Blacktop Road, a rural country road that led to her parent’s home in Waverly, IL, approximately 15.2 miles from Cub Foods.

There was circumstantial evidence of a sexual assault. The buttons of the victim’s shirt were torn off and the clasp of her bra was broken. Her skirt had been rolled up. DNA testing on the bra and shirt have identified a partial male DNA profile eliminating Tom McMillen and his co-defendants Gary Edgington and Donald Johnston as the source.

Thomas McMillen
Thomas McMillen
Menard Correctional Center

Tom McMillen was charged with capital murder on May 15, 1990, accused of the murder of 19-year-old Melissa Koontz. He was convicted in July 1991 and sentenced to life in prison. His conviction hinged on the testimony of Donald "Goose" Johnston, an alcoholic and intellectually disabled person who falsely confessed to the crime and later identified McMillen as the killer in a plea deal that resulted in Johnson serving less than 7 years in prison. McMillen was convicted by a jury based on the false testimony of Donald Johnston and was given a life sentence.

Gary Edgington
Gary Edgington
Pontiac Correctional Center

Gary Edginton was tried separately. He was also convicted and received a life sentence based on the testimony of Donald "Goose" Johnston. He is being represented by the Innocence Project in New York.

Donald "Goose" Johnston

Four days after Melissa Koontz disappeared, Donald Johnston sees a missing person poster and tells a police officer he had seen the missing woman in Carlinville, Illinois, 46 miles from where she disappeared. This was the first of many false statements Johnston would make about the case. McMillen was denied access to Donald Johnston’s mental health records by the court when his defense attorney requested the records. Johnston recanted his testimony in a video-recorded statement in 2008, and signed a medical authorization allowing for the release of his mental health records. These records show he has an IQ of 54. According to the U.S. Supreme Court, "These persons are a special risk of wrongful conviction." (Hall v. Florida).

Tom McMillen’s defense attorney Michael Costello provided an affidavit as to the significance of Donald Johnston’s mental health records. "Had the mental health records of Donald Johnston been disclosed prior to trial I would have challenged Donald Johnston’s mental competency to testify."

Richard Leo
Richard Leo

Richard Leo is one of the nation’s leading experts on the psychology of false confessions. He conducted a video-taped forensic interview of Donald Johnston in 2008. "In evaluating whether a witness is providing police with reliable information, a person who claims to have witnessed a murder should be able to accurately relate details to police that match up with the crime scene evidence. They should be able to provide facts of the crime that would not be generally known to the public. Based on my review of all available statements, Donald Johnston was never able to provide accurate details to police."

Danny Pocklington

Danny was 15-years-old when his cousin Donald Johnston told police that Danny was with him when Melissa Koontz was abducted and killed. Danny receives social security disability for intellectual disability since he was a teenager. He too, falsely confessed to the murder of Melisa Koontz. He served 6 years in a juvenile correctional facility until he turned 21. He brought a silver necklace to school and claimed it had been taken from Melisa Koontz. Police reports indicate the Koontz family was shown this silver necklace, but it didn’t belong to their daughter. There was no evidence at the time of the investigation that a silver necklace was missing. At autopsy the medical examiner removed a gold necklace that victim was wearing when her body was found. Pocklington provided another silver necklace to police claiming that he got it from Donald Johnston. Police failed to document whether this necklace had been shown to the family. Danny was mentally unfit to testify and was not called as a witness at the trials of McMillen or Edgington.

Mary Pocklington

The mother of Danny, she was charged with providing false statements to police. She is the one who gave police the silver necklace that she got from her son. This silver chain was offered as a key piece of evidence at trial corroborating the testimony of Donald Johnson. The mother of the victim testified that the silver chain was similar to one that her daughter had. However, she made this statement for the first time in court and never told police about her daughter having silver necklace.


Melissa Koontz

The biggest forensic lead in the case was an unknown thumb print on the rear-view mirror of the victim’s car. In 2008, the Sangamon County Sheriff agreed to run the print in AFIS, which identified an identified an individual who had never been investigated in the original investigation. The investigation by police at the time of the crime interviewed the victim’s family to identify people who may have driven the car. The individual whose thumb print was identified the Sangamon County Sheriff in 2008 was never mentioned as a person who had been inside the vehicle. His name never surfaced in the original investigation. He has refused to voluntarily provide a sample of his DNA so it can be compared to the unknown male profile from the bra that recent DNA testing has identified. This DNA is significant because who ever killed Melissa Koontz grabbed the front of her bra and ripped it open. The DNA profile excludes Tom McMillen, Gary Edgington and Donald Johnston.


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