Though Grover Thompson died in prison in 1996, SIU School of Law students and the Downstate Illinois Innocence Project hope to exonerate him posthumously.
Thompson was arrested and sentenced to 40 years in prison for the 1981 stabbing of Ida White, 72, in Mount Vernon. He died in 1996 after serving 15 years. Timothy Krajcir, who has pleaded guilty to murders in Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri and Pennsylvania, claimed responsibility for the stabbing, though some investigators question the validity of his admission. The project will present the case to the Illinois Prisoner Review Board on Wednesday in Springfield.
Nichole LaForte, a third-year SIU law student from Indianapolis, said she came across the case during her Public Interest Externship. She and a fellow student attended a book signing and mentioned her interest to Paul Echols, a retired lieutenant with Carbondale Police Department whose investigations into the local cold case of the 1982 murder of Deborah Sheppard had led to Krajcir's arrest.
Echols, who is now a full-time criminal justice instructor at Shawnee Community College and adjunct instructor at SIU, co-authored the book, "In Cold Pursuit: My Hunt for Timothy Krajcir - The Notorious Serial Killer." In the book he recounts the belief that Krajcir was responsible for the Mount Vernon attack. LaForte said once she made contact with Echols, she believed Thompson's innocence became clear.
"Once we met with Lt. Echols and saw the evidence, we knew he was wrongfully convicted," LaForte said.
She said three law students and two professors worked with the Downstate Illinois Innocence Project, Echols and Thompson's nephew to resurface the case.
Echols points out in the book that he found evidence and witness reports to be shaky at best. According to the book, Thompson was discovered sleeping in a post office after the stabbing occurred. A witness and the victim described the attacker as a black male who fled through a bathroom window after a brief struggle with the witness. Echols said in the book that Krajcir's skin was described as dark and that he sometimes wore a hat, leaving "his black hair visible on the back and sides of his head."
Echols said he believes the physical evidence was weak and the witness statement was faulty and had changed several times. He said the witness even admitted to him years later that he had doubts Thompson was the guilty party.
You have free articles remaining.
LaForte said the investigation has been challenging, especially without DNA evidence. She said they have had to rely a lot on materials from his family and from 30-year-old court records. She said Echols' cooperation has really sped up the process. Once the Illinois Prisoner Review Board hears the case, the members will forward a recommendation to Gov. Pat Quinn.
LaForte said she has great faith in the justice system but said overturning what she believes to be a wrongful conviction can only make it better.
"In order to make sure the system functions, we have to acknowledge when mistakes happen so we can learn from them," LaForte said.
Echols said the most important thing to do now is clear the name of a man he believes to be innocent.
"It's a long time coming," Echols said. "It's too bad it couldn't happen when Grover was alive, so he could feel freedom again."