August 23, 2013
Lebanon, Mo. – Attorney General Chris Koster announced today that a jury has returned multiple guilty verdicts and recommended the death penalty for Jesse Dean Driskill for the July 2010 killing of Johnnie and Coleen Wilson in their secluded Lebanon, MO home. The Attorney General’s Office, including Koster and Assistant Attorney General Kevin Zoellner, assisted Laclede County Prosecutor Jon Morris throughout the capital murder trial.
The evidence showed that sometime in the pre-dawn hours of July 26, the Wilsons encountered Driskill as he attempted to burglarize their remote home on Marigold Drive, just north of Bennett Spring State Park. He forced the couple back inside their house at gunpoint where he shot and suffocated 82-year-old Johnnie Wilson, and forcibly raped and shot to death 76-year-old Coleen Wilson. Evidence suggested that Driskill attempted to burn their bodies in an unsuccessful effort to conceal the evidence of his crimes.
The Wilsons had returned to the isolated property, which they had recently sold, for the weekend to celebrate their 59th wedding anniversary in the home Johnnie Wilson had built for the couple when he retired from his job as a hardware store clerk in Springfield. Their bodies were discovered the following evening by family members, who went to the property looking for the elderly couple after they didn’t return at noon Monday, as expected, to their granddaughter’s Highlandville home where they had begun staying after selling their Laclede County property.
Koster examined witnesses, introduced evidence, and provided closing statements to jurors, including arguments that Driskill should receive the death penalty.
After the verdicts, Koster said, “Johnnie and Coleen Wilson never got a chance to properly say goodbye to one another, and they didn’t deserve for their lives to end the way that they did. It is my hope that today’s recommendation from the jury that their murderer be put to death can begin the process of closure for the Wilson family as well as the Springfield and Lebanon communities, where Johnnie and Coleen touched so many lives in a positive way.”
On Wednesday, August 21, jurors returned guilty verdicts on two counts of first degree murder, one count each of burglary, forcible rape and sodomy, and five counts of armed criminal action.
In his closing remarks to jurors in the guilt phase of the trial, Koster said of Johnnie and Coleen Wilson: “They were there for each other, through thick and thin, for 59 years, until they reached a moment where they couldn’t be there for each other.”
While the elderly Wilsons were utterly defenseless that June 2010 night, Koster argued that they were not defenseless in the courtroom. “They have every prosecutorial resource of the state of Missouri. They have the twelve of you. And most importantly, they have…the law,” he said.
“One thing I’m sure of,” Koster continued, “is Jesse Driskill never gave them a chance to say ‘goodbye,’ or to tell each other, ‘I love you,’ or just to say, ‘my God, I didn’t think it would end this way.’ They died not ten feet from each other, but after 59 years of relying on one another, through the challenges of life, there was nothing they could do.”
Koster closed his presentation by displaying a photo of Johnnie and Coleen on their wedding day, and remarked, “She married him when she was 17. And he married her when he was 23.”
In his closing remarks to jurors in the penalty phase of the trial, Koster said, “If the death penalty is not reserved for a 33-year-old, 18-time convicted criminal, raping and sodomizing, torturing and killing a 76-year-old woman and her 82-year-old husband over five dollars, then we should all ask ourselves why in the world we have this law at all.”
He closed his presentation by saying that, “If Johnnie and Coleen were here, they would tell you that they weren’t done with their living. Johnnie would tell you he still had flowers to bring Coleen. And Coleen would tell you there would soon be a new great grandson that she so very much looked forward to meeting.”
Following the completion of the penalty phase of the trial on Friday, August 23, jurors deliberated for approximately four hours before recommending the death penalty on the two murder in the first degree convictions. Formal sentencing on all of the verdicts by Laclede County Circuit Presiding Judge Kenneth Hayden is scheduled for November 5 at 2:00 p.m.
Afterwards, Koster highlighted the efforts of Laclede County Prosecutor Jon Morris and the law enforcement investigators who worked diligently to build the case immediately upon the discovery of the Wilsons’ bodies in 2010, and thanked the members of the jury, brought in from Franklin County and sequestered in Lebanon, for their service on behalf of the victims and the state of Missouri.