SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) _ A 68-year-old blind woman, spared from a 20-year prison sentence for slaying her boyfriend, says she expected clemency from Gov. James Thompson ''because I have faith in God.''

Thompson granted clemency Wednesday to Rosemary Cox, a retired cook and waitress who refused a chance to plead guilty in return for probation, maintaining she was innocent of the 1980 killing.

''My heart's beating so fast,'' she said in a telephone interview from her home in Joliet. ''I'm so glad of it. I expected it because I have faith in God.''

In a letter to the state Prisoner Review Board, Thompson said he could not pardon Mrs. Cox.

But he noted her age and medical problems, including diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure, and said, ''It is widely believed that incarceration would ... further undermine this defendant's precarious health, while simultaneously creating an unnecessary burden on Illinois taxpayers.''

''I do not believe, given all the circumstances before me, that it will serve the ends of justice to incarcerate this woman in the penitentiary,'' Thompson said.

Thompson said his action was ''subject to her continued good behavior.''

Under the state's mandatory sentencing law, Mrs. Cox faced a minimum of 20 years in prison. Will County Circuit Judge Robert Buchar, who imposed the sentence, said such situations ''create injustices in the guise of justice.''

''It is indeed unfortunate,'' Buchar said, ''that after having lived to the age of this defendant ... that now, at the twilight of her lifetime, she must now stand convicted as a murderess and must be imprisoned pursuant to law.''

She was convicted of murder in the shooting death of Willie Hatten. Authorities said she shot him because she was jealous of his relationship with another woman, who was present when the shooting took place in Hatten's home.

Mrs. Cox turned down a plea bargain in which she would have been placed on probation in return for a guilty plea to a charge of voluntary manslaughter.

''Most of them (defense and prosecution attorneys) were trying to make me plead guilty,'' she said. ''But plead guilty to what? Why should I say those things that are untrue?''

Mrs. Cox had never before been in trouble with the law, she said.

Legally blind, she walks with a cane and leaves home only for trips to church and the doctor. She gets housekeeping help from friends and county nurses, and lives on $520 a month in Social Security and public aid.

''There's nothing I can do but sit around,'' Mrs. Cox said.

Asked what she would do if she could meet Thompson, Mrs. Cox said, ''I don't know, I think I'd hug and kiss him.''