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A Web log for the Innocence Institute of Point Park University

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Police question ex-cellmates of freed death row inmate about 1986 Paris killings

Associated Press
CHICAGO - Authorities have been questioning former cellmates of a 54-year-old freed death row inmate as part of their reinvestigation into the 1986 killings of two people in east-central Illinois, prosecutors said.
Illinois State Police have been asking the inmates whether Gordon "Randy" Steidl or his one-time co-defendant Herb Whitlock ever admitted to any involvement in the deaths of newlyweds Dyke and Karen Rhoads of Paris.
Steidl was 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. A federal judge ruled in June 2003 that the jury that convicted him of the murders did not hear all the evidence.
Steidl - who spent 17 years in prison, including a dozen on death row - has requested a pardon based on innocence, but prosecutors have said he is still a suspect in the couple's deaths.
During a hearing before the Illinois Prisoner Review Board on Oct. 21, Steidl referred to a letter dated Sept. 10 from an inmate who wrote that detectives had questioned him and other former cellmates about Steidl and Whitlock.
Whitlock - who is serving a life prison sentence for the murder of Karen Rhoads - is awaiting an Edgar County judge's decision on whether he will reconsider his ruling to deny Whitlock's request for a new trial.
Karen Daniel, one of Steidl's attorneys and a lawyer with Northwestern University's Center on Wrongful Convictions, said the attempt to find a jailhouse informant is a "very desperate investigative tactic."
But David Rands, a special prosecutor with the Illinois Appellate Prosecutor's Office, said the questioning of former cellmates is a reasonable investigative method and is part of a "very detailed and painstaking" investigation.
"I'm well aware of the shortcomings of (jailhouse snitch) testimony," Rands said. "We are leaving no stone unturned."
State Police spokesman Lt. Lincoln Hampton said his agency does not comment on ongoing investigations.
The Appellate Prosecutor's Office has said it needs two to three months more months to determine whether it wants to retry Steidl.

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