SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — 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 while serving a 40-year sentence for the attempted 1981 murder of Ida White, 72, in Mount Vernon. Thompson was 46 when he was arrested, and his health deteriorated behind bars, ending up in a wheelchair 12 years later. He died in 1996.
More than a decade later, in 2007, serial killer Timothy Krajcir confessed to former Carbondale, Illinois, police detective Paul Echols that he stabbed White.
"We cannot bring this beautiful man back, whom we love so much, but we can clear his name," Thompson's nephew S.T. Jamison of Minnesota said, reports CBS Chicago. "This is so momentous for me and for my family."
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.
Jamison said his uncle "suffered a tragedy that never should have happened," reports CBS Chicago. He said his uncle was a hard worker and a good man who taught him right from wrong.
"He was an innocent black man just trying to get home to his family and he never came home," Jamison said in a statement.
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 neighbor who later identified Thompson as the attacker said he was only shown one suspect in the police line-up.
"Let's be honest. This wrongful conviction was essentially a death sentence for him," said John Hanlon with the Illinois Innocence Project. "We found that, not surprisingly, that there were extremely unreliable identification procedures that were utilized that led to Grover Thompson's arrest."
Echols told CBS Chicago he uses Thompson's case to teach new officers and detectives about where things can go wrong.