Nightmares of Larry Joe Adams

Two years ago, while undergoing therapy to recover from a motorcycle accident that kept me in a coma for much of November 2012, my occupational therapist asked me about dreams.

My response: “What dreams?”  I told her that I was not dreaming.

“No dreams? Are you sure?  You should be having some dreams,” she answered.

No.  From the time the crash occurred on U.S. 221 in Roanoke County, I had not dreamed or, if I had, I had no memory of any since that time.

Dreams stopped on November 9, 2012.  I slept without them for more than two years after that crash.

Until Monday night, December 8th and 9th, 2014.

My dreams returned while sleeping and recovering from an apparent concussion in a minor accident this past Saturday.

The concussion meant I slept most of Sunday, missing the annual Toys for Tots motorcycle ride.  I slept more on Monday and went to bed at 9:30 p.m.

Then a nightmare hit:  A recurring nightmare from more than 30 years ago about Larry Joe Adams.


Larry Joe Adams: A felon under a life sentence in prison in Illinois for the execution-style murder of pharmacist Eugene Ponder in Alton, Illinois in May, 1982.

The nightmare stems from my actions that helped get Larry Joe Adams out of jail a few years earlier and in a position to kill an elderly pharmacist during a robbery.

Adams walked the streets that night because a newspaper columnist used him as a poster child for a double standard on justice in the Madison County Courts.

I was that columnist and the author of a half-page piece published on Nov. 8, 1975, detailing a case I called “an atrocity of justice,” I wrote about Adams serving more than year in jail without being convicted of any crime because he was the victim of a questionable eyewitness identification in an armed robbery.  He was tried twice — once ending in a hung jury and the other in a mistrial — but remained in jail while the Madison County State’s Attorney delayed and pondered on what to do next.

In my grandstanding “comfort the afflicted” style of reporting in those days, I portrayed Adams as a 20-year-old young black man devoid of even a minimal amount of cash for bail.  I contrasted his case with a similar one involving two young white men from prominent Alton families.  They were charged with identical crimes served only one day in jail before their hearing and were freed as the county attorney fast-tracked hearings featuring prominent character witnesses.  They got probation and a couple of short holiday stints in the pokey.

My column sparked public debate of a system of justice in the court system that reeked of racism, profiling and more.  Broadcast news picked up on the story and the county prosecutor offered Adams the same deal as the two white guys and was freed.

In a radio interview on KMOX in St. Louis, I was called a “shining example of the power of the press.”

Readers congratulated on the streets of Alton.  Some bought me drinks in local bars.

A few years later, Adams walked into Gene Ponder’s pharmacy and coldly gunned down the popular, kindly businessman for drugs and a few dollars in the cash register.

I had many nightmares about that case in the early 80s and 90s and on into a new century.  I doubted my chosen profession for a while and hid into the dark world of political work for a decade.  I drank more.  Twelve years after Adams killed Ponder, I took the first step in Alcoholics Anonymouse.

A return to reporting with words, photos and videos left me with an approach to many stories with a high level of skepticism.  I became harder to convince of a need to take on the establishment.

After that near-fatal motorcycle accident in generated a two-year break from dreams or nightmares, my subconscious kicked into gear Monday night with a still vivid horror story about Larry Joe Adams and Gene Ponder.

Adams sat on death row for a while but his sentence was changed to life in prison when Illinois discontinued executions of convicted murderers.

He did the crime.  He still does the time he deserves.

The return of my nightmares, however, tell me that I’m still also doing the time.

The column as it appeared in The Alton Telegraph
The column as it appeared in The Alton Telegraph. Click twice to bring up this page for reading.

(Edited to add additional information and to remove a reference to a non-relevant case.)


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4 thoughts on “Nightmares of Larry Joe Adams”

  1. not quite sure I get your point…so there is no racial profiling? Recent events are proof of nothing? You just happen to write a story about a poor black man who turned out to be a cold-blooded killer after Michael Brown is shot dead by an officer of the law and Eric Garner is dead in Staten Island? And these but a few of the unarmed black men killed in America? I for one am sure there is still a double-standard. That it didn’t hold up in the case of Larry Adams doesn’t prove much of anything.

  2. “Then Adams walked into Gene Ponder’s pharmacy and, coldly, gunned down the popular, kindly businessman for a few dollars in the cash register.”

    In a trial transcript online, it is noted that Adams removed drugs from the pharmacy. Though he may have well taken money, there is no mention of it. Your depiction, quoted above, has the crime taking place explicitly for “a few dollars.”

    Seems like “editorializing” to me or, at the very least, bending facts.

    “… because of Larry Joe Adams, I am now more skeptical about cases like the one in Ferguson.”

    Seems we both mention Ferguson.

  3. Seems to me this is just a man(MR.Thompson )who has a conscious that has carried feelings of guilt around.For that what he thought back then he was doing to help give some one a second chance. Turned out to prove that given Adams that chance took the life of another innocent victim. Why does Ferguson have to come in to this? This is not about Ferguson! This is about Mr.Thompson trying to heal an quit holding himself responsible for another’s actions.Why has society gone to jumping on the band wagon or the new word shall we call it “trending now”? What’s right is right an wrong is still wrong! When they say pictures are worthva thousand words, what does that make a video worth? People need to think ” what if it was me in that clerk’s, police officer, victims’, families place? Would you still feel the same about the perpetrator? Does the evidence really show innocence? Do you as a citizen know all the details? Or do you know what the media has told only? In either situation this is still about Mr.Thompson healing from the inside now after healing from the physical wounds of his wreck. It’s not about starting a debate on the already “trending now”. Continue to heal Mr.Thompson, forgive yourself. Forgive others for their actions an let them be responsible for their own actions.

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