Suspected serial killer sentenced

January 18, 2008 1:37:55 PM PST
An Illinois inmate charged with killing women in several states was sentenced Friday to 40 years in prison after admitting in court that he choked and stabbed a woman in this southern Illinois community three decades ago. Timothy Krajcir, 63, pleaded guilty to a first-degree murder count in exchange for prosecutors dropping a similar count, each related to the 1978 slaying of 51-year-old Virginia Lee Witte.

A judge ordered the prison term to run consecutively to the 40-year one Krajcir got last month in neighboring Jackson County in the 1982 rape and strangling of Southern Illinois University student Deborah Sheppard, meaning he is virtually assured of dying behind bars.

"He's obviously a very dangerous man who should never be out of prison," Charles Garnati, the Williamson County prosecutor in the Witte case, told reporters after Friday's roughly 15-minute hearing. "That was my most important goal, and we achieved that today."

Kracjir next is to be prosecuted in neighboring Missouri on Cape Girardeau County murder counts in the slayings of five women in 1978 and 1982. He's also charged in one killing apiece in Kentucky and Pennsylvania.

Garnati told Williamson County Judge Phillip Palmer that Krajcir confessed on videotape last month that he followed Witte home, forced his way inside and sexually attacked her. He said he choked her for four to five minutes but, unconvinced she was dead, then stabbed her two or three times before slashing her torso.

Krajcir then put on his clothes and left, Garnati said.

Krajcir said he targeted Witte after seeing her while both were driving.

Krajcir was shackled and dressed in a green prison outfit Friday, looking ashen and answering meekly but politely when the judge asked him if he understood the plea deal and its consequences.

Authorities say Krajcir's confessions to killing Witte and eight other women elsewhere were given in exchange for assurances he would not face the death penalty.

Palmer, the judge, called the plea deal "fair and reasonable," crediting the charges' swift resolution with "sparing the victim's family the agony of a lengthy trial" and years of possible appeals.

"For all practical purposes, this is a life sentence," Palmer told Krajcir.

"I'm very satisfied that after all these years, we're finally able to bring justice to Mrs. Witte," Garnati told reporters. "It is justice she has deserved all these years."

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

In Paducah, Ky., he's accused of kidnapping and burglary 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.

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

Krajcir attended Southern Illinois University in Carbondale around the time of the killings. Cape Girardeau is about 35 miles from Carbondale. Paducah is 55 miles away. Marion is just 16 miles away.

Krajcir, serving time in the Tamms (Ill.) Correctional Center, 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.