By Stacy St. Clair and Monique Garcia and Ray Long
With just days left before he leaves office, Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn granted 232 clemency requests Friday -- including his first-ever pardon based on innocence.
In a move that stunned the petitioner, Quinn pardoned Alan Beaman, a 42-year-old Rockford man who had been wrongfully convicted of killing his ex-girlfriend in 1993. He spent more than 13 years in prison before the Illinois Supreme Court unanimously found that prosecutors withheld evidence that had "a reasonable probability" of securing an innocent verdict.
A McLean County judge granted Beaman a certificate of innocence in 2013 after DNA testing revealed the presence of two previously unknown men. Beaman thought that declaration -- which allowed him to collect $175,000 from the state -- would make his petition seem less urgent as Quinn worked through the thousands of others waiting on his desk.
"I really wasn't expecting it," Beaman said. "It's very exciting that the governor thought it was important to say that I'm innocent. It puts an exclamation mark on the whole process."
McLean County prosecutors had contested Beaman's clemency petition, though they eventually dropped their opposition for his innocence certificate in 2013.
Prosecutors had accused Beaman of strangling former girlfriend Jennifer Lockmiller with a clock radio cord and stabbing her in the chest with scissors. Calling the state's evidence "tenuous and not particularly strong," the state Supreme Court also found that prosecutors did not inform defense attorneys about another suspect in the murder.
The other suspect was a former boyfriend who had told police in downstate Normal that Lockmiller owed him money for drugs, who was "evasive" under police questioning and who had been charged with an unrelated domestic battery, according to court records.
Beaman currently has a civil lawsuit against three police officers involved in his case pending in McLean County court.
Since his release, Beaman has married and moved back to his hometown of Rockford, where he works as a design engineer. He also has spoken out against prosecutorial misconduct and the impact of wrongful convictions.
"That's why Gov. Quinn's decision today is so important to me," he said. "It's about doing the right thing and setting an example so that future governors will remember that it can be done. There are other exonerees out there who deserved pardons too."
In addition to the 232 clemencies Friday, Quinn also denied 262 petitions. Those names, however, will not be released until the petitioners are informed via a mailed letter.
After inheriting a backlog of more than 2,800 requests that now-imprisoned former Gov. Rod Blagojevich took no action on during his tenure, Quinn has acted on 4,766 clemency petitions, more than any other Illinois governor, according to his administration.
Quinn has granted 1,752 and denied 3,014 requests, according to his administration. That represents a nearly 37 percent approval rate for the petitions he has considered, which experts say ranks among the highest for any current governor. As word spread that Quinn was considering clemency requests, the number of petitions increased during his tenure. The governor may act on some of the 2,000 requests still on his desk before he leaves office Monday morning.
He recently told the Tribune he is trying to rectify Blagojevich's indifference toward clemency requests and has spent hours reviewing petitions during his final days.
"You have to balance mercy with justice. You need wisdom to do that," Quinn said, adding "there are a lot of cases where people made mistakes in their youth oftentimes or maybe one mistake and they shouldn't have to suffer the rest of their life with the repercussions for jobs, for scholarships, for just their peace of mind. I understand that."
The majority of Quinn's pardons have involved non-violent crimes such as drug possession and theft. He also made headlines last week when he granted clemency to three Illinois abolitionists convicted of assisting escaped slaves.
He granted another posthumous pardon on Friday when he granted clemency to a figure in a 1960s state printing contract scandal.
John Lang, a former state printing superintendent, pleaded guilty to a 1964 conflict-of-interest probe of state envelope contracts. Lang was fined $1,000 on a charge of official misconduct. At the time of his sentencing, prosecutors said that Lang had been cooperative and received no money from the envelope contracts, according to Tribune archives.
Lang died in 1995, and his family petitioned Quinn.
The governor's spokeswoman only would say that the governor approved the request based on the "merits of the case."
Tribune reporter Jessie Hellmann contributed.
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