Before leaving office, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner granted a pardon to a man wrongly convicted of attempted murder. What makes this clemency unique is that man, Grover Thompson, is now deceased.
Thompson, who was convicted in 1982, died in prison in 1996. Years passed before another man, convicted serial killer, Timothy Krajcir, confessed to the crime. Krajcir, a white man who had been in and out of prison since the 1960s for rape and theft, confessed in 2008. He’d pled guilty to a string of murders in multiple states to avoid the death penalty. Though blood evidence from a pocket knife was initially used to convict Thompson, it was thrown out after DNA testing found no trace of blood at all.
Thompson’s family has been seeking a pardon since 2012 with help from the Illinois Innocence Project. They finally got their wish when now-former Gov. Rauner signed off on the first posthumous exoneration in Illinois history.
S.T. Jamison, Thompson’s nephew, remembers when he first heard the news that his uncle had been arrested for attempted murder.
“It was so depressing, so chilling, that a man like him had been accused of such a heinous crime," he said at a press conference on Tuesday.
On September 7, 1981, Thompson was sleeping in a Mount Vernon post office, in Southern Illinois. He was passing through Mount Vernon on a Greyhound bus from Milwaukee, but had gotten off the bus and said he decided to stay to avoid traveling at night. Thompson carried a criminal record with him; he’d been arrested before for sleeping in public places and trespassing.
According to reports from that night, 71 year-old Ida White, who lived just across the street from the Mount Vernon post office, was stabbed by an attacker who had climbed in through her bathroom window. The assailant escaped before she or her neighbor who intervened, Barney Bates, could get a good look at his face.
Bates told police shortly afterward that he thought the man had a dark complexion. Thompson was the only dark-skinned man near the scene, police claimed they had a match and arrested him. Bates later identified Thompson in a one-person lineup, though police accounts say it took him more than 15 minutes to do so. An all-white jury convicted Thompson, who was handed a 40 year sentence.
Jamison says even though justice was a long time coming, his family finally has some closure.
“We cannot bring this beautiful man back, whom we loved so much, but we can clear his name," he said. "That’s been what the family has wanted to do all these years."
Rauner had denied Thompson clemency in 2015, but offered no reason at the time. Illinois’ constitution states the governor is able to grant pardons “on such terms as he thinks proper” at any time. A spokesman at the Illinois Prisoner Review Board couldn’t comment on Rauner’s reasoning in the case.
Governors nationwide have handed out less than two dozen posthumous pardons in the last thirty years.