Group seeks to clear man's name following serial killer's confession

Grover Thompson in Menard Prison in 1993, three years before his death.
Grover Thompson in Menard Prison in 1993, three years before his death.

CARBONDALE, IL (KFVS) - An effort is underway to clear the name of a transient man who was arrested, tried and convicted for the stabbing of an elderly Mt. Vernon woman nearly 30 years ago.

SIU law students and the Downstate Illinois Innocence Project picked up on Grover Thompson's case last year. The group conducted an investigation and put together a formal petition for clemency filled with sworn affidavits and case histories that they hope will prove to the Illinois Prison Review Board and Illinois Governor Pat Quinn that an innocent man was wrongly convicted decades ago.

"I've thought since 1982 this was an innocent man," said Franklin County Assistant State's Attorney Stephen Swofford, who signed an affidavit of support for Grover Thompson's clemency.

Swofford was a young public defender 30 years ago when he represented Thompson in a Jefferson County courtroom when he was on trial for the brutal stabbing of Ida White, 72, of Mt. Vernon.

"It was a terrible crime," Swofford said. "And you had a very sympathetic victim and I think because of the identification procedures used early in the investigation there got to be a steam roller going. The jury wanted to convict someone. In my opinion, they just convicted the wrong someone."

A Mt. Vernon Register-News report from December 10, 1981 says it took just three and a half hours for the jury to find Thompson guilty. Thompson lost his appeal, was sent to Menard Prison, and died there in 1996.

Twelve years later, serial killer Timothy Krajcir confessed to nine murders, numerous rapes, and a stabbing in Mt. Vernon. He tells police he thinks someone else may have taken the fall for the stabbing that happened in a basement-level apartment across the street from the Mt. Vernon Post Office.

"If someone is truly innocent, that means the guilty person got away with it," said Retired Carbondale Police Lt. Paul Echols. "The crime of stabbing Ida White should be transferred to Krajcir."

In January 2008 Heartland News went to the Mt. Vernon Library and started digging through old microfiche. We found an old newspaper article that eerily matched Krajcir's account of the crime.

"It was four years ago I first heard Grover Thompson's name," said Echols. "Here we are four years later and hopefully we'll get the chance to convince the governor to grant clemency."

The Downstate Innocence Project, police officers and members of Thompson's family will travel to Springfield to make the case to clear Grover's name.

"For me personally, it's about correcting an injustice," said third year SIU law student Nicole LaForte. "When Grover was arrested, they found a pocket knife with blood on it. But the amount of blood was so small they couldn't even determine what blood type it was.

When they tested it again in 2008, there was no blood to be found on that knife and no physical evidence tying him to the crime.

For Lt. Echols, it's about finding justice for the man he considers Krajcir's tenth victim.

"He spent 15 years of his life in prison and died in prison for a crime he did not commit," said Echols. "It's just the right thing to do to clear his name."

The Illinois Prison Review Board will hear the clemency request Wednesday, January 11. The board will then make a recommendation to Governor Quinn to either grant or deny the request.

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