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Grover Thompson

Other Posthumous Exonerations
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On January 14, 2019, outgoing Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner granted a posthumous pardon to Grover Thompson. Thompson had been wrongly convicted of attempted murder in 1981 in Mount Vernon, Illinois, and died in prison in 1996 while serving a 40-year sentence.

Thompson had been convicted of a crime committed by a serial murderer and rapist who, in 2008, finally began confessing to nine murders and more than 30 sexual assaults in several states including Illinois and Missouri.

The pardon culminated a lengthy struggle by Thompson’s nephew, the Illinois Innocence Project, and Paul Echols, a Carbondale, Illinois police officer who got the confession from the real assailant, Timothy Krajcir, in 2008.

It all began shortly before 9:30 p.m. on September 7, 1981, when police in Mount Vernon, Illinois were summoned to the residence of 72-year-old Ida White. White had been stabbed repeatedly by a man who broke into her apartment.

A neighbor, Barney Bates, told police he heard screams and kicked open a door between his apartment and White’s residence. He said the attacker escaped by jumping through a window five feet from the floor of the basement apartment. His initial description, broadcast by police radio, said the attacker was a black man, 5 feet 9 to 5 feet 10 inches tall, of slender build, “sparing beard,” and wearing a white tee shirt and blue jeans.

With police cars parking in front of the apartment building where the attack occurred, a white woman came out of the post office across the street and asked if the officers were looking for a black man.

The officers said they were, and went to the post office. There they found 46-year-old Grover Thompson, a black man with a history of mental illness, lying down with his head propped on his bags. Thompson said he had been traveling from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to visit family in his native Mississippi, but had gotten off the bus in Mount Vernon because he wasn’t feeling well and the bus driver said he could catch a bus the next day. The bus station was too noisy, the post office was nearby, and he knew post office lobbies were always open because he had slept in them in the past.

Police searched his belongings and arrested him after finding a pocketknife with what appeared to be a speck of blood on the blade. Thompson was wearing socks, but no shoes. He explained that, years earlier, he had been hit by a car and the accident left him with one leg shorter than the other. Wearing shoes was too painful, he said, so he did not wear any.

Thompson was taken to the Mount Vernon police department where Bates viewed him through a one-way mirror as Thompson sat alone in a room. The police told Bates they had arrested Thompson as suspect in the attack. Later accounts would vary on how long Bates took before he identified Thompson as the attacker—ranging from less than two minutes to nearly 15 minutes. Although Thompson had a full beard, was 6 feet 2 inches tall, and was wearing a black shirt with buttons and a collar, Bates identified him as the attacker. Thompson was charged with attempted murder.

Prior to trial, police sent various items to the Illinois State Police crime laboratory for testing, including a screen that the attacker had removed to gain entry to White’s bathroom, the seat from the toilet, which had a fabric impression, as well as Thompson’s knife, socks, and a red and grey shirt found in his bag. Blood found on the knife was determined to be human, but the amount was too small to develop a blood type. Thompson’s socks did not match the fabric impression on the toilet seat. No blood was found on Thompson or the clothes he was wearing, including the long sleeve red and grey shirt or any clothes in his bags. No fingerprints were found on the screen.

Later, a police officer would report that at about 8:25 p.m. while investigating a disabled vehicle near the post office, he saw Thompson looking in garbage cans next to the post office. The officer left the call between 8:45 p.m. and 9 p.m. and did not see Thompson leave the post office. That timeline suggested that Thompson would have had to leave the post office, break into White’s apartment, attack her, escape, and get back to the post office lobby—without getting any blood on him—in less than 30 minutes.

Less than three months later, in December 1981, Thompson went on trial in Jefferson County Circuit Court. The trial lasted two days.

White testified that she undressed and went into the bathroom to take a shower when her attacker jumped out of the shower and grabbed her. She said that when she screamed, the man threatened to kill her and all the white people in the building. White said she tried to open a door leading to Bates’s apartment, and at the same time, Bates kicked it open.

Bates testified that when he ran in, “I saw someone in the window behind Ida and I ran past Ida to see just what was going on…The torso of his body was into the apartment and his legs and posterior were out of the window…I grabbed for the individual in the window and, at the same time, Ida was standing next to me and I saw her knees buckle and I released the individual to grab Ida, to administer first aid…I grabbed for him…and the shirt I had hold of was tearing and giving and Ida was collapsing, so I released the individual…”

Bates said he was “face to face” for “maybe a minute, maybe a minute and a half, I’m not exactly sure…”

Bates’s testimony about tearing off the shirt was an account that evolved after the day of the attack—despite the initial description of a man in a white tee shirt and blue jeans—and after police found a shirt with a sleeve torn off in Thompson’s bags. The torn sleeve had been found tied around Thompson’s waist, and he told police he used it to wipe his nose.

A crime lab analyst testified about the small amount of blood found on the knife that could not be typed, and about the lack of blood found on any of Thompson’s clothing, including the torn shirt. The analyst said he had taken Thompson’s knife apart and no blood was found inside.

Thompson shuffled to the witness stand, favoring his leg, providing jurors with an opportunity to judge whether Thompson seemed capable of leaping up to escape out of a window 5 feet above the floor. He denied attacking White. He explained why he got off the bus in Mount Vernon and why he went to sleep in the post office lobby. He said that the blood on the knife came from cutting his face while shaving. He said that the shirtsleeve around his waist was part of a very worn shirt that tore when he last took it off.

On December 9, 1981, the jury convicted Thompson. He was sentenced to 40 years in prison.

Nearly 15 years later, on June 28, 1996, Thompson died in the Menard Correctional Center in Menard, Illinois.

In August 2007, Timothy Krajcir was identified by DNA from evidence collected in the April 8, 1982 murder of Deborah Sheppard, a Southern Illinois University student at the campus in Carbondale, Illinois.

Ultimately, Krajcir—who is white—would confess to murdering Sheppard as well as the June 1982 murder of Mildred Wallace in Cape Girardeau, Missouri after DNA linked him to that murder.

When prosecutors in Missouri offered to not seek the death penalty if Krajcir confessed to all his crimes, he ultimately confessed to four other Cape Girardeau murders and three other murders outside the city. In addition to crimes in Illinois and Missouri, Krajcir confessed to crimes in Kentucky and Pennsylvania.

In December 2007, during an interview with Carbondale Police Lt. Paul Echols, Krajcir admitted that he had committed two sexual assaults and one attempted sexual assault in Mount Vernon, about 60 miles north of Carbondale.

Krajcir gave a detailed description of the attempted sexual assault. He said he crawled into the basement apartment of a woman living across the street from the post office and hid in the shower. When the woman, who he described as elderly and nude, came in, he attacked her. When she screamed, he stabbed her. Krajcir subsequently drew a diagram of the bathroom that matched the bathroom of Ida White. During a later interview, Krajcir said he remembered breaking into the apartment around 9 p.m.

After news broke of Krajcir’s confession, a reporter tracked down Barney Bates, the man who identified Thompson at trial. During the interview, which was later televised, Bates said that when he entered White’s apartment, “She was in there covered with blood. She had gotten undressed to get in the shower and the gentleman was standing behind her with a knife in his hand. He actually cut her once as I come through the door.”

Bates said he pulled White away from her attacker and that he grabbed the man’s shirt and it tore. Bates said the man was black, and told the reporter he did not have any doubt that it was Thompson.

Authorities then interviewed Bates, who said that there was racial tension in Mount Vernon at the time because black people were moving into all-white sections of the city. Bates said that White was afraid of black people. When he was asked about saying that he saw the attacker cut White, Bates said that was a false statement.

He then said, “Knowing what I know (now), it must be possible the wrong guy was charged and convicted.” He later added, “I feel sick about this thing, and knowing what I hear today, an innocent man may have gone to jail.”

Ultimately, two students at the Southern Illinois University School of Law who were working for the Illinois Innocence Project became interested in Thompson’s case. 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 a posthumous exoneration. Although there was no opposition, in 2015 Governor Rauner denied the petition without explanation.

The Illinois Innocence Project continued to press Governor Rauner. In January 2019, after he lost his re-election bid but before he left office, Rauner granted the posthumous pardon.

– Maurice Possley

Report an error or add more information about this case.

Posting Date: 2/15/2019
State:Illinois
County:Jefferson
Most Serious Crime:Attempted Murder
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:1981
Convicted:1981
Exonerated:2019
Sentence:40 years
Race:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of reported crime:46
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No