Sex felon is freed, a teen-ager dies & parole board is sued

The mother of a Tacoma, Wash., teen-ager who was murdered by a paroled sexual psychopath in 1994 has filed a $3.5-million wrongful-death lawsuit against state corrections officials for failing to supervise the man and warn the community about his history.

Meeka Willingham, a 17-year-old cheerleader, was stabbed 56 times by a man who was living in her home, Johnny Robert Eggers, 45, who had a long history of sexual violence against women and had been in and out of prison since his teens.

A parole officer wrote in a 1976 report on Eggers: “Johnny plus alcohol plus women equals trouble.”

Eggers, who was on his fifth release from prison, confessed to killing the girl and was sentenced under the state’s “three strikes” law to life in prison without parole.

“Someone has to answer to my daughter’s death,” said the mother, Sylvia McFarland, a school custodian who is still struggling to pay for Willingham’s funeral. “We didn’t have the privilege of knowing what this guy was about. The state did.”

Throughout his various terms in prison, psychiatrists and counselors warned that Eggers’s compulsion for sexual violence guaranteed a near certainty of repeat offenses, and over the years Eggers molested, assaulted, and raped numerous women. In 1977, he used a belt to choke a woman into unconsciousness, screaming “Die, bitch, die!” before raping her.

He was sentenced to a maximum of life in prison, but was paroled in 1990. An evaluation by a psychiatric team at Western State Hospital confirmed an earlier diagnosis that Eggers was a sexual psychopath. The team refused to provide treatment for Eggers because they considered him too dangerous to be treated at the hospital, which did not have sufficient security. As a result, Eggers never received sexual-offender therapy while incarcerated.

The state has denied McFarland’s charges, and has declined to discuss the specifics of the case. Glenn Anderson, a lawyer from the state Attorney General’s office, said that in order to win the suit, a plaintiff must prove that the parole board failed to follow proper guidelines. Parole board members, he said, are covered by the same judicial immunity that protects judges.

McFarland’s attorney, Darrell Cochran, said the parole board chose to ignore a mountain of evidence indicating that Eggers would reoffend in a serious way when released.

A 1984 Sentencing Reform Act has set the stage for the parole board to be phased out no later than 1998. The state currently operates with two sentencing systems. After phasing out the board, a grid system will be fully in place, determining minimum and maximum sentences for every crime.

Shortly after his latest parole, Eggers met McFarland at a math class while working toward a high school equivalency diploma.

McFarland, who had a history of helping needy people, gave Eggers odd jobs to do around her house. Nobody at the Tacoma Community House, where the classes were held, or the Lincoln Park Work Release Center, where Eggers was staying during his parole, told McFarland about Eggers’s history. Both facilities have been named in the suit.

As time went on, Eggers became more and more a part of McFarland’s family, with her two daughters, Meeka and Shonta, calling him “Uncle Johnny.”

In 1994, while McFarland was visiting relatives in Indiana, Eggers invited Willingham, who had been away at cheerleading camp, over to McFarland’s house to watch television. The two watched movies and drank some wine. Later that night, Eggers stabbed the girl to death.

Her body was found drenched in blood, wearing only a T-shirt and underwear. Investigators said she had numerous defensive stab wounds on her arms from trying to ward off the attack.

After the murder, Eggers fled the house, but subsequently called police to direct them to the house and confess to the slaying.

He later told the judge that Willingham had put him under a demonic trance, and that he was just “following orders.”


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Published in Law Enforcement News
Nov. 15, 1996.
© 1996, LEN Inc.