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Randy Steidl, spent 17 years on Illinois’s death row before being exonerated, to speak in Kentucky

Randy Steidl

Randy Steidl

Randy Steidl—who spent 17 years on Illinois’s death row for a crime he did not commit—will be speaking in Kentucky this November (dates to be announced). Steidl is part of the Witness to Innocence program and KCADP and the ACLU of Kentucky are cosponsoring his appearances here.

Here are the facts of how the people of Illinois came so close to killing an innocent man and how his case helped lead the state to abolishing its broken death penalty:

Randy Steidl was an average, hard-working guy from a small farming community in southern Illinois. When questioned about the 1986 murders of newlyweds Dyke and Karen Rhoads, Randy assumed the police were questioning many people in the area. He did not know either of the victims but cooperated with the police and gave a corroborated alibi for the night of the murders. It was a shock when he and a friend were arrested, tried, convicted, and sentenced to death within 90 days.

Randy had poor representation, no DNA evidence against him, and witnesses who fabricated testimony against him due to police misconduct. He spent 12 years on death row trying to prove his innocence. Through the involvement of Center for Wrongful Convictions, a new sentencing hearing resulted in a sentence of life without parole in 1999. The center continued the fight for Randy’s freedom for almost 5 more years.

An investigation by Illinois State police proved that local law enforcement and prosecutors had framed Randy and co-defendant Herbert Whitlock. The real person responsible was Karen Rhoads’ employer, a man whose major campaign contributions to the governor’s office made this case “too politically sensitive.” The governor ordered the investigation against him to cease. In 2003, federal judge Michael McCuskey overturned Randy’s conviction and ordered a new trial, stating that if the proper evidence had been originally investigated and presented it was “reasonably probable” that Randy would have been acquitted by the jury. The state re- investigated the case, tested DNA evidence, and found no link to Randy. State Attorney General Lisa Madigan did not appeal the ruling and Edgar County prosecutors did not retry the case.

On May 28, 2004 – after 17 years, 3 months and 3 weeks of wrongful imprisonment – Randy was released, escorted by his wife Patty, his mother Bobbie, and his brother, Rory – an Illinois policeman of 25 years. “I’m laying this cross down today,” Randy said after leaving Danville Correction Center. “I’m not carrying it any more.” His faith in God and the constant support of his family gave him strength and enabled him to “not let the system turn me into what they think I am, or what they wanted me to be while I was in prison.”

Randy became the 18th person to be freed because of a wrongful conviction after serving time on the state’s death row since Illinois reinstated the death penalty in 1977. He has been adjusting to his new life and working in the manufacturing business. Randy Steidl’s strong witness helped to abolish capital punishment in Illinois in March, 2011.

Photo: Courtesy Witness to Innocence

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