On January 14, 2019 — 23 years after his death in prison — Grover Thompson was granted executive clemency based on actual innocence by outgoing Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner. Grover was wrongfully convicted in 1981 and died in prison 15 years later. His is the first posthumous exoneration in Illinois and, as of January 2019, only the 21st such exoneration nationwide, as documented by the National Registry of Exonerations.
On September 7, 1981, 46-year-old Grover was traveling by bus from his sister’s house in Milwaukee to visit family in Mississippi and stopped to rest in a Mount Vernon, Illinois, post office lobby. He had learned from experience that post office lobbies made good places to rest — they were always open and climate-controlled.
That evening, Ida White, a 72-year-old widow living in an apartment building across the street from the post office, was attacked by a man who had entered her apartment earlier through the bathroom window. As White entered the bathroom and pulled back the shower curtain she was stabbed repeatedly in the abdomen. A neighbor, Barney Bates, heard her screams and pushed open the door connecting his apartment with hers. Bates said the perpetrator escaped through the bathroom window, which would have involved leaping onto the toilet and out a window 5 feet above.
Bates described the perpetrator as being a black male with a rough face and facial hair. Mount Vernon police quickly set their sights on Grover, who they found sleeping in the post office shortly after the attack. Police told Bates they had a suspect and took him to the police station for a line-up. Grover was the only person in the line-up yet it took Bates 15 minutes to positively identify him. Despite that no physical evidence ever linked Grover to the crime, he was not wearing clothing that fit the description of the attacker and he could not physically have committed the crime due to a disabled leg, Grover was wrongfully convicted of attempted murder and sentenced to 40 years in prison. His appeal was denied and he died in prison in 1996.
Years later, Lt. Paul Echols (retired), of the Carbondale, Illinois, Police Department, was instrumental in uncovering Grover’s innocence. While investigating several cold case murders in Carbondale, Lt. Echols and Detective Jimmy Smith, of Cape Girardeau, Missouri, obtained a confession from serial rapist and murderer Tim Krajcir for the crime Grover had been wrongfully convicted of. Krajcir, who was sometimes mistaken for a dark-complexioned man, provided a detailed and accurate account of what happened that night, including a sketch of the bathroom.
Thompson’s case caught the attention of two Southern Illinois University (SIU) School of Law students working for the Illinois Innocence Project. In 2011, Thompson’s nephew, S.T. Jamison, and the Illinois Innocence Project filed an Executive Clemency Petition with the Illinois Prisoner Review Board asking for Thompson’s posthumous exoneration. No one opposed the petition. Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner, denied Thompson’s exoneration without explanation in December 2015.
Lt. Echols details Grover’s story in chapter 21 (titled “Another Victim”) of his book “In Cold Pursuit: My Hunt for Timothy Krajcir – The Notorious Serial Killer.” All proceeds from the book support the Nine Angels Memorial Scholarship at Southern Illinois University, named for the victims of serial killer Krajcir.