SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) - Just days before he left office, former Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner granted posthumous clemency to a man imprisoned for a stabbing that a serial killer later confessed to committing.
The Illinois Innocence Project at the University of Illinois in Springfield said Tuesday that Grover Thompson received the first posthumous exoneration in state history and the 21st nationwide, according to the National Registry of Exonerations. Rauner granted Thompson executive clemency Friday, Illinois Prisoner Review Board spokesman Jason Sweat said. Rauner had denied Thompson clemency in 2015.
Thompson died in prison in 1996 while serving a 40-year sentence for the attempted 1981 murder of Ida White, 72, in Mount Vernon. More than a decade later, in 2007, serial killer Timothy Krajcir confessed to former Carbondale, Illinois, police detective Paul Echols that he stabbed White.
"Uncle Grover suffered a tragedy that never should have happened," Thompson's nephew, S.T. Jamison of Minnesota, said in a statement. "He was an innocent black man just trying to get home to his family and he never came home."
Krajcir is imprisoned for two southern Illinois killings, has received life sentences for five southeast Missouri killings and has pleaded guilty to killings in Kentucky and Pennsylvania. He admitted stabbing White in return for assurance that he would not be prosecuted for the death penalty in Missouri.
Thompson could not have committed the crime, according to the Illinois Innocence Project, due to a disability and because he wasn't wearing clothing matching the attacker's description. At the time, Thompson had stopped to rest in the Mount Vernon post office lobby while traveling by bus to visit family in Mississippi, the innocence project said.
Echols, who wrote a book about the Krajcir killings, said Krajcir described peeping through White's windows when he came across an unlocked bathroom window, climbed in and hid in a shower stall before ambushing the woman when she entered the room.
White, now deceased, had said the intruder attacked her in her bathroom, slashing her with a pocketknife when she wouldn't stop screaming. She described him as black, as did a neighbor who interrupted the attack and tried to keep the suspect from escaping through the window.
Krajcir is white. Thompson, who is black, was arrested near White's house within a half hour of the attack.
Echols said that Krajcir's dark hair and dark complexion led to a flawed identification by White of her attacker's race. A White neighbor who later identified Thompson as the attacker said he was only shown one suspect in the police line-up.