Monday, January 9, 2012

SIU School of Law Students Work to Exonerate Man

Southern Illinois University School of Law students and the Downstate Illinois Innocence Project are working to exonerate Grover Thompson.  Thompson died in prison in 1996 while serving a 40 year sentence for the 1981 stabbing death of Ida White in Mount Vernon, Illinois.  Below is an article from The Southern about the case. 
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.   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.
Another example of the great work being done by Southern Illinois University School of Law students.

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