Man convicted in 1971 murder case

4:36 PM, Jan 13, 2012   |    comments
  • Richard Frank Thomas
  • Elijah Todd Butler - from 1971
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GRAND RAPIDS (WZZM) -- A man already serving life in prison for one murder in the 1970s is now facing a second life sentence for a 1971 cold case murder.

A Kent County jury Friday found Richard Frank Thomas, 61, guilty of first-degree murder in the shooting of Elijah Todd Butler.

On October 1971, Butler had just completed boot camp in California and was home to marry his girlfriend.  On Oct. 24 -- four days after the wedding -- Butler was shot three times through the doorway of his mother's house on Franklin St. 

Geraldine Butler, the Marine's widow, told officers the only person who could have committed the murder was her ex-boyfriend, Richard Thomas.  But Thomas gave officers an alibi that was backed up by his family and friends.

The Kent County Cold Case Team recently reopened the Butler murder case.  Members of the team began re-interviewing Thomas' family and friends and used new laws that promise life in prison for people to lie under oath.  The former alibi witnesses recanted and refused to back up Thomas' story.

Thomas was charged with murder last February.  He was already serving a life term in prison for a separate 1974 murder, but was eligible for parole in that case.

With Friday's first-degree murder conviction, Thomas is now facing a mandatory life sentence without the possibility of parole.  He will be sentenced on February 9.

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