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Gordon Steidl Releasedafter17 years

Gordon Steidl was freed from an Illinois prison May 28th, 2004, 17 years after he was wrongly convicted and sentenced to die for a 1986 dual murder.  Steidl was granted a new sentencing hearing in 1999, resulting in a sentence of life without parole.  Federal judge Michael McCuskey overturned Steidl’s conviction in 2003 and ordered a new trial. The state reinvestigated the case, testing DNA evidence, and found no link to Steidl.  The prosecution elected to drop all charges and Steidl became the 114th person exonerated from death row.


 Glaring Deficiencies in Death Penalty System Confirmed As Another Inmate Is Freed


Gordon Steidl Is the 114th Death Row Inmate to be Exonerated and the 18th in Illinois


WASHINGTON, DC – Gordon “Randy” Steidl walked out of the Danville Correctional Facility in Illinois today, 17 years after being sent to death row for crimes he never committed. Thorough investigations by the State Police, the Attorney General, the Edgar County prosecutor, federal judges and journalism students have found no evidence of Steidl’s involvement in the tragic murders of Dyke and Karen Rhoads.

Steidl became the nation’s 114th exonerated death row inmate today, according to an announcement made by the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC). Steidl’s conviction was thrown out last year because of the poor quality of representation he was given at trial. Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan decided not to appeal the federal court’s ruling for a new trial and Edgar County prosecutors announced today that they will not retry the case. Steidl spent 12 years on death row and another five years in prison on a life sentence before being freed. He is the 18th death row inmate from Illinois to be exonerated since 1987.

“The series of errors that led to this erroneous conviction and the time it took for Steidl to be freed are shocking,” said Richard Dieter, Executive Director of DPIC, “especially when combined with the continuous exposure of such cases around the country. The demonstrated risk of executing the innocent has far exceeded reasonable bounds.”

No physical evidence ever linked Steidl or his co-defendant, Herbert Whitlock, to the crime, but they were found guilty largely based on the testimony of two witnesses who came forward long after the crime. Both wtinesses later recanted their testimony.

During trial, Steidl was represented by an inexperienced attorney who failed to fully investigate the prosecution’s case. Steidl won a new sentencing hearing in 1999 based on his attorney’s ineffectiveness, and the jury re-sentenced Steidl to life. In 2003, a federal judge ordered a new trial, stating that if all the evidence that should have been investigated had been presented at trial, it was “reasonably probable” a jury would have found Steidl not guilty. Following the federal ruling, the state reinvestigated the case, including tests on DNA evidence, and found no link to Steidl.

Steidl’s case has long drawn criticism from defense attorneys, journalists, and investigators familiar with the facts of the crime. It was one of many capital crimes examined by journalism students at Northwestern University, and an Illinois State Police investigation in 2000 found that local police had botched their investigation so badly that innocent men, Steidl and Whitlock, had been convicted.

Steidl is the second death row inmate freed in 2004. Alan Gell of North Carolina was released in February. In 2003, 10 persons were freed from death row in the United States, equaling the most exonerations in a single year since the death penalty was reinstated.

Those seeking more information about this case may contact Steidl’s attorney, Michael Metnick at (217) 753-4242 or Rob Warden of Northwestern University’s Center for Wrongful Convictions at (312) 286-5899. Please contact DPIC for further information about innocence and the death penalty or for comment about this case.



A man who spent more than a decade on Illinois' Death Row on a double murder conviction walked out of prison Friday, freed after a judge ordered a new trial and prosecutors said they couldn't make their case in time.

''I'm laying this cross down today,'' Gordon Randall Steidl, 52, said after leaving Danville Correctional Center. ''I'm not carrying it any more.''

Upon his release, Steidl became the 18th person since Illinois reinstated the death penalty in 1977 to be freed because of a wrongful conviction after serving time on Illinois' Death Row. Prosecutors, however, say he is still a suspect and that he could be charged again.

Steidl left the prison escorted by a retinue that included his wife, mother and a brother, Rory Steidl, a decorated master sergeant with the Illinois State Police.

Steidl said he planned a quiet family dinner Friday and that he would accompany his brother to the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday. Most likely he would not return to the Downstate town of Paris, where newlyweds Dyke and Karen Rhoads were stabbed to death in 1986 before their home was set ablaze.

The state appellate prosecutors office decided Thursday it could not meet a late-July deadline for bringing Steidl to a new trial and asked Edgar County Judge Dean Andrews to dismiss the case.

A federal judge ordered a new trial last year, ruling it was ''reasonably probable'' that a jury would have acquitted Steidl had his defense attorney done more to challenge the state's case.

Since the June 1987 conviction, the witness who said she saw Steidl killing the couple has recanted, and state authorities determined police botched the investigation.

The mother of Karen Rhoads said she believes Steidl is being freed on a technicality.

''I'm just leaving it up to God,'' Marge Spesard said Thursday. ''He knows and he'll take care of it.''

Steidl's death sentence was reduced to life in prison without parole in 1999. After unsuccessfully appealing to a state appellate court and the state Supreme Court, Steidl's attorneys took the case to U.S. District Judge Michael McCuskey, who gave the state 120 days to retry Steidl or set him free.

The 120-day deadline kicked in after Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan decided in March not to appeal the order. Prosecutor David Rands said meeting the trial deadline proved to be an impossible task based on the volume of records and witnesses.

''The action taken today does not preclude charges against Steidl in the future,'' Rands said Thursday.

Another man, Herbert Whitlock, was also convicted of killing Karen Rhoads and is serving a life sentence. He too maintains his innocence and is working on an appeal.

Rory Steidl said he initially thought his brother did the crime.

''I thought he was guilty,'' he told the Champaign News-Gazette. ''But as things moved on, and I saw glaring deficiencies in the case, the problems, the contradictions, I did a 180.''