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Thursday, May 18, 2006 02:32 pm

One of the good guys

ISP investigator Rodney Miller set the mark for honesty and tenacity

When I met Rodney Miller, I was shocked to find him wearing blue jeans and a turtleneck. From all I’d heard, I expected him to be dressed in spandex tights and a cape, because people who knew Miller promised me he was a superhero. I was doing some preliminary research on our local Goodwill Industries, whose two top officials had just signed plea deals to avoid prosecution for Medicaid fraud. Miller had spearheaded that investigation, and other state officials had high praise for his work. Maryam Mostoufi, a former bureau chief with the state Department of Human Services’ Division of Developmental Disabilities, credits Miller with picking up the case after it had languished more than a year, piecing together the details and packaging them perfectly for prosecutors to present to the grand jury. “He was like a translator,” she gushes, “an evidence translator.”
Mostoufi was particularly impressed with how Miller understood the impact of what could have been dismissed as a petty financial scam. “He was a humanist,” she insists. “He was really trying to ensure that people with disabilities — the most vulnerable people in our society — were going to have a better life by the time he was done with this case.”
I desperately wanted a copy of his final report on Goodwill, but Miller refused to talk to me. Goodwill was in his rearview mirror; he had moved on to another case, and it was a doozy. Miller had been appointed “case agent in charge” of the apparently unofficial reinvestigation of the 1986 Paris double homicide of newlyweds Dyke and Karen Rhoads. Not only was this one of the most notorious crimes in Illinois history, it’s also one of the biggest scandals to hit the Illinois State Police. Randy Steidl, one of the two men convicted of the crime, was released from prison in May 2004 after a judge ruled that he would probably not have been convicted if the jury had heard all the evidence. A year later, retired ISP Lt. Michale Callahan won a lawsuit against his former bosses, whom he accused of impeding his reinvestigation of the case. Despite the fact that these two cases were completely unrelated, Miller suspected that I was using Goodwill as a Trojan horse in an attempt to get info about the Paris investigation. It took many messages sent by way of a third party before he would even return my phone call. The delay was frustrating, but I soon realized that that was just how Miller was: fanatical about preserving the integrity of his cases. He eventually coughed up his Goodwill report — bringing it to my office and leading me through it page by page, reviewing his witness list, telling me what each person would or could say. I was struck by his intelligence and his passion for his work, and we chatted off the record about some other cases. We didn’t discuss the Paris investigation, but I felt certain that here was the man who would finally unearth the truth. I later learned that he had even earned the endorsement of the toughest critic — Callahan himself. “Sometimes politics is bigger than the truth, but I knew Rodney would always do the right thing,” Callahan told me. “He was a very honest cop, beyond reproach.”
The last time I talked to Miller was when I called to tell him I had turned my Goodwill file over to another staff writer, Bruce Rushton (his compelling investigative feature “Ill will” was published April 27). We had a long, funny conversation in which Miller tried to get me to admit that reporters treat sources in the same way narcotics agents treat informants. “You’re just loaning me to this Rushton guy, right?” he joked. It doesn’t matter. Last Friday, we all lost Miller. He was killed in a car wreck as he drove home from work. He was only 40. His kids are just 11 and 9. And his work here wasn’t nearly done. ISP Special Agent Jeff Marlow says the news hit him “like a horse just kicked you in the stomach,” and he hasn’t felt right since. “You can’t say nothing. There’s nothing that fits,” he says. Ten years Miller’s senior, Marlow was outranked by Miller and outpaced by his energy. “He walked, talked, and thought way too fast,” Marlow wrote in a poignant tribute to Miller posted on an ISP blog. Their bond developed as they worked together on the case that, Marlow suspects, Miller is still investigating. “He has now talked to Dyke and Karen,” Marlow wrote on the blog. “He ain’t going to rest, he just shifted to another gear.”
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