CHICAGO (CBS) — Illinois made history Tuesday by making things “right” for a wrongfully convicted man who died in prison. Just days before leaving office Gov. Bruce Rauner granted clemency to a man who was wrongfully convicted of a 1981 murder.

Grover Thompson went from taking a nap on a bench to sleeping behind bars for the rest of his life when he was arrested in 1981, and shocking allegations came out against him.

“My Uncle Grover was a very good man,” Thompson’s nephew S.T. Jamison said. “It was so depressing, so chilling. He taught us right from wrong. He was a hard worker. He was extremely funny.”

But police zeroed in on other qualities, and Thompson landed in Menard Correctional Center after reports that a black man stabbed and attempted to rape a white woman. The 46-year-old wasn’t wearing the same clothes as the suspect and had been taking a nap at the time of the attack. Prison wore on Thompson, who ended up in a wheelchair only 12 years after his arrest.

“You can’t help but look at these images and feel sorry for what happened. It truly was injustice,” said retired Carbondale Police Lt. Paul Echols.

Echols cracked Thompson’s case while investigating serial killer Tim Krajcir.

“He was offered a deal to avoid the death penalty to tell all, and that’s what he did,” Echols said. “That’s how we got to where we are today.”

But the confession by the real criminal came too late. Thompson died behind bars in 1996.

“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.”

Their eight-year investigation ended with Grover’s conviction tossed.

“We cannot bring this beautiful man back, whom we love so much, but we can clear his name,” Jamison said. “This is so momentous for me and for my family.”

Rauner initially denied the request in 2015 but changed course as one of his last moves as Illinois’ leader.

Echols, who helped right this wrongful conviction, says he uses Thompson’s case to teach new officers and detectives about where things can go wrong.

The serial killer who confessed to Thompson’s crime never faced time for that one but he’s behind bars for other murders.

 

Lauren Victory