Students defend psychology professor who killed his family


In another life, Dr. James St. James was a 15-year-old boy from Georgetown, Texas who confessed to killing his family in 1967. Then named James Gordon Wolcott, the boy walked investigators through the grisly details of the killings, telling them that he used a .22-caliber rifle to shoot and kill his father and then his mother and 17-year-old sister.

After being found not guilty by reason of mental illness, Wolcott was sentenced to a state hospital for an undetermined amount of time. Just six years later, though, a hospital administrator wrote a letter to the local District Attorney and, after a competency hearing, a jury took less than 10 minutes to declare Wolcott sane. He was a free man.

Fast forward a GED, a name change, a bachelor's degree, a master's degree, a Ph.D. in psychology, and 40 years later, and James Gordon Wolcott is Dr. James St. James, an associate professor of psychology at Millikin University in Illinois.

When a recent article published by the Georgetown Advocate connected Dr. St. James and James Gordon Wolcott, Millikin University stood behind Dr. St. James.

On Thursday, as politicians clamor for Millikin to fire Dr. St. James, The Daily Beast published a lengthy plea from Joelle Charbonneau, a writer who took two of his classes as an undergraduate at Millikin. She hopes that Dr. St. James can keep his job and that the situation demonstrates for people what happens when the system actually rehabilitates someone.

Dr. St. James has not willingly spoken to the media about his past, and I can’t blame him. But days before I wrote this piece, I sent a message to him offering him my support of the new life he has created. I didn’t expect a reply considering the amount of mail this news storm must have created.  But whatever you may believe of Dr. St. James and his past, in his present, he is a teacher first and foremost.  Despite the current news cycle, he remains responsive and available to students both past and present. He answered my e-mail with the same intelligence and willingness for discourse that I remember from his classroom years ago.  As one who has had the privilege of teaching both high school and college students, I find great good in his commitment to his students as well as his dedication to the profession he has spent his adult life serving.

Does that negate the horror of what happened in 1967? No. Nothing can. But knowing that he has devoted his life to a purpose that might save other families the same terrible fate he visited upon his own? To me that is far more justice than most victims ever receive.

So maybe I’m naïve. Perhaps it is my fervent wish that people can be redeemed that makes me write these words. But I stand by Dr. James St. James and I am hopeful that since he demonstrated that there is a way out of the darkness that others can find it, too. [The Daily Beast]