innocence blog

A Web log for the Innocence Institute of Point Park University

Friday, April 14, 2006

Damocles' Sword

This article by Hal Dardick originally ran in the Chicago Tribune on April 13,2006.

Despite a new grand jury probe into the double murder that sent him to prison, freed Death Row inmate Gordon "Randy" Steidl is unlikely to again be charged in the case, a prosecutor said Wednesday."

I am almost totally convinced that we have no case," said special prosecutor Ed Parkinson of the Illinois appellate prosecutor's office.

"There's not going to be any re-prosecution of Randy Steidl."The grand jury probe, set to conclude May 31, so far has turned up no new evidence against Steidl, Parkinson said.

He spoke before the Illinois Prisoner Review Board, which makes confidential recommendations to the governor on clemency petitions.

In Steidl's case, the Review Board is expected to make a recommendation after the grand jury completes its work. There's no limit on how long Gov. Rod Blagojevich can mull the matter.

Steidl, 54, seeks a pardon "based on his innocence." He spent 17 years behind bars, 12 on Death Row, before his release from prison in May 2004.Winning a pardon would clear Steidl's name and make him eligible for a Court of Claims award of about $160,000.

It also could help him in a federal lawsuit he filed last year, alleging police and prosecutors sought to frame him and one-time co-defendant Herb Whitlock.

Steidl was released after Atty. Gen. Lisa Madigan dropped an appeal of a federal court ruling granting him a new trial and prosecutors said they could not prepare for that trial within a 120-day deadline set by the court.

The two primary witnesses against him had repeatedly changed their stories about the July 1986 murders of Karen and Dyke Rhoads in Downstate Paris, and forensic experts called into question physical evidence presented at trial.

"All the pieces of the state's case that were used to convict Randy Steidl have been dismantled," said Karen Daniel, a lawyer at Northwestern University's Center on Wrongful Convictions and one of Steidl's attorneys.

Eleven months after his release, details of the Rhoads slayings were aired in a federal courtroom in Urbana.A civil court jury determined an effort by former Illinois State Police Lt. Michale Callahan to reopen the case was thwarted by his superiors in violation of his civil rights.

Callahan came to believe Steidl and Whitlock, onetime drinking buddies, were innocent.Though Whitlock, 60, was convicted on much the same evidence, he remains behind bars serving a life sentence.He recently appealed a trial court decision denying him a new trial. He also has a clemency petition pending before the Review Board.

"I hope to God that Herb gets some relief in the Appellate Court, because the same evidence that convicted me convicted him two weeks before my own trial," Steidl said after the Review Board hearing.

"For 17 years, there was no credible evidence against me," Steidl told the Review Board. "There is none today. There has never been any. You should make a recommendation now."

Jorge Montes, chairman of the Review Board, said he understood Steidl's plight."You can't have a Damocles' sword hanging over somebody forever," he said.

Steidl, now a die-cut operator at a container corporation in Missouri, noted that job applications he made during a two-week layoff eight months ago received no response. That, he said, was because of his record.

A pardon "would open doors for me that will otherwise remain closed forever," he said.Daniel noted that Steidl is faring well for someone who spent so much time in prison."He's doing, I think, better than most people would in his situation," she said.

"He's here before you today to ask for one thing, to have his name back."He's not getting any more innocent," Daniel added.

"He has spent 17 years in hell for crimes he didn't commit, and it's time to clear Randy Steidl's name."Steidl filed his clemency petition in July.

The Review Board heard arguments in October but continued the hearing after Parkinson said a probe of the Rhoads homicides was under way.

Parkinson said Wednesday that after the grand jury empanelled in Paris in January is finished, he would send the Review Board a letter saying whether charges against Steidl would be brought.

But he noted there is no statute of limitations on murder and said his office would not declare Steidl innocent. Juries, he noted, find people guilty or not guilty, not innocent.

"A jury returning a public verdict of not guilty is the strongest pronunciation of innocence you can have," Mike Metnick, one of Steidl's attorneys, said later.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Genocide

This article by Edmund Sanders, about a prosecutor standing up for the victims of the alleged government organized genocide in Rwanda was originally published in the L A Times on April 12, 2006:

ARUSHA, Tanzania — Attorney Barbara Mulvaney has spent three years prosecuting the accused mastermind of the Rwanda genocide.

But her most personal contact with him came only recently, when he casually testified about how he would go about assassinating someone in the courtroom, his cold stare swiveling in her direction.

Col. Theoneste Bagosora, a former military commander accused of overseeing the mass killings of Rwandan Tutsis in 1994, was asked to explain how he had issued orders.

To answer, he gave a detailed hypothetical illustration about dispatching a killer to infiltrate the tightly guarded war crimes tribunal here.

"If you give an order to someone, for example, to come and kill someone here in this courtroom," Bagosora began, turning his head toward the prosecution table at the far side of the room and locking eyes with Mulvaney.

"That was chilling," the former Playa del Rey resident remembered scribbling on a note to her co-counsel as Bagosora went on to explain how his assassination order would include specifics about the courtroom layout and position of guards.

For the whole story, click here.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

New Evidence May Bring Re-trial

David Gladden, a mentally retarded man convicted of the brutal murder of M. Geneva Long, may have hope for a new trial.

A witness, Joseph H. Baumgartner Sr., has come forward stating on the night of the murder, convicted serial killer Andrew Dillon tried to use him as an alibi. Dillon stopped into the coffee shop where Baumgartner was and tried to convince him to say they'd been together all evening.

Baumgartner refused to tell authorities they were together, but Dillon claimed in statements to police that they were.

Dillon later pled guilty to a string of four murders in the committed in the general area where Mrs. Long was killed.

For the whole story, click here.