Wrongly convicted man wins settlement 26 years later
Randy Steidl won his lawsuit, but he remains unpardoned for murders he didn’t commit
After more than 26 years of fighting, Randy Steidl is ready to put the past behind him.
The Paris, Ill., man spent 17 years on Illinois’ death row for a double murder he didn’t commit, but last week Steidl finally got some closure. His lawsuit against those who allegedly conspired to frame him and another man was settled on March 27 to the tune of $3.5 million. Herb Whitlock, the other man wrongly convicted of the murders, was exonerated and freed in 2008 after nearly 21 years behind bars. Whitlock previously settled a similar lawsuit for an undisclosed amount.
“After 26-and-a-half years, I’m pleased that this is concluded,” Steidl said. “I want to move on and have some kind of life.”
Steidl was exonerated and freed from prison in May 2004 after forensic evidence discredited two supposed eyewitnesses whose testimony led to his conviction. In 2005, Steidl sued the Illinois State Police, the City of Paris, Ill., Edgar County and several government officials for their roles in his wrongful conviction. Steidl alleged in his lawsuit that he and Whitlock were framed for the July 5, 1986, murders of newlyweds Dyke and Karen Rhoads of Paris.
Shortly before the murders, Steidl had given the local FBI office information alleging that then Edgar County State’s Attorney Michael McFatridge was involved in illegal gambling and narcotics trafficking. In his lawsuit, Steidl alleged that a Paris businessman, who has not been publicly identified, was actually responsible for the murders. The investigation into the murders ignored certain pieces of evidence and instead manufactured false evidence against Steidl and Whitlock, Steidl said.
After about eight years of legal wrangling, the defendants agreed to settle the case on March 27, just before the case was scheduled to finally go to trial. Steidl will receive $3.5 million from the City of Paris, Edgar County, various insurance companies, and the State of Illinois. That’s in addition to the $2.5 million Steidl already won in a settlement from the Illinois State Police.
Springfield attorney Michael Metnick, who started working on Steidl’s case when Steidl was still on death row, said the defendants lost numerous attempts to kill the case, including an attempt to have the U.S. Supreme Court take up the case.
“I think the defendants finally realized that they were going to lose,” Metnick said.
While the defendants continue to deny any responsibility for Steidl’s wrongful conviction, Steidl says the settlements are clear evidence that he was framed.
“If they want to claim that they did nothing wrong, then why did they give me an assignment of six million dollars?,” Steidl said. “Do they do that for everybody who is a suspect? It’s just another way that these people will take the truth to their grave. They’ve spent 26-and-a-half years now trying to hide the truth. That’s just how these people are.”
Despite his years fighting a death sentence and trying to clear his name, Steidl sees a few bright spots in his ordeal. After his exoneration, he became involved in the effort to repeal Illinois’ death penalty. Steidl was present when Gov. Pat Quinn signed the law on March 9, 2011. Since then, he has continued his work against the death penalty elsewhere.
“I’ve found a new career, and I’m happy being an abolitionist,” Steidl said. “I’ve worked in five states to abolish the death penalty. If I can contribute in some small measure, I’m happy.”
Still, one thing keeps Steidl from being completely satisfied. His petition for pardon based on his innocence has sat unsigned on the governor’s desk for 13 years.
“If any of these governors were going to do the right thing, they would have done it by now,” Steidl said. “What exactly is the problem? There are approximately 2,500 petitions on top of mine, so are they working from the top down or the bottom-up?”
Contact Patrick Yeagle at firstname.lastname@example.org.