Elizabeth Tolbert, also known as Liz Tolbert, born in Los Angeles, California, was convicted in the shooting and death of her husband Wilson D. "Junior" Tolbert in Hardin County, Illinois in January 1998. She is currently serving her 60-year sentence at the Lincoln Correctional Facility in Lincoln, Illinois. The story surrounding her life in Elizabethtown, Illinois, the murder of her husband and her claims of innocence were the subject of several talk shows, including Sally Jessy Raphael and The Leeza Gibbons Show in 1997. Tolbert is known widely for her work training service dogs while at Dwight Correctional Center.
The crime, the trial and conviction
On May 24, 1995, after becoming concerned that her husband Wilson "Junior" Tolbert had not come home for supper after working at the family farm, Tolbert put her two young boys in her Blazer and went to look for him. She subsequently found him lying beside his pickup truck, claiming that her brother, James Sanford and his girlfriend Chris Olvedia Reed had "set me up" and had shot him.
On her way to get help, Tolbert saw James and Chris and confronted them about the shooting, which they both denied. Tolbert sped off in an attempt to get help and unbeknownst to her James and Chris returned and one of them shot Junior. Tolbert initially pleaded guilty and received a 45-year sentence for conspiracy in Junior's death. She had maintained that most of the small, rural population of Hardin County, Illinois, and specifically Elizabethtown, were prejudiced against her. Not successful in her change of venue request, Liz had no option but to take the 45-year sentence offered by the then State's Attorney Paul Lamar (now the Hardin County Circuit Judge); otherwise she was facing a life sentence.
About 18 months later, Tolbert's request to withdraw her guilty plea was granted as a result of her being given wrong information by her attorneys. She subsequently was tried on a change of venue to Mount Vernon, Illinois, and convicted of conspiracy and sentenced to 60 years in prison.
Claims of innocence and post-conviction proceedings
In 2008, Tolbert asked Pittsburgh-based freelance journalist, Steve Pope to help her look into her case. She had previously requested help from about 25 attorneys and had actually paid to have information sent to the lawyers from the money she earned while working in the prison industries program. All to no avail. After corresponding and speaking to Tolbert over an extended period of time, Steve Pope agreed to look into Tolbert's claims of innocence.
The results of Steve Pope's investigation led to the publication of a story about Tolbert's claims of innocence and his investigation.
- Turning Rough Lives Around; Prison Program Boosts Inmates' Self-Esteem While They Train Dogs to Help People With Disabilities." Chicago Tribune, November 22, 2000
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