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Thursday, June 1, 2006 02:32 pm

“No new evidence”

Grand jury investigation of Rhoads murders continues, but Randy Steidl no longer a target

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Paris newlyweds Dyke and Karen Rhoads were murdered in 1986.
Gordon“Randy” Steidl, one of two men accused of the 1986 double homicide of Paris newlyweds Dyke and Karen Rhoads, may be one step closer to clearing his name. Special prosecutors in the case have written letters to the state Prisoner Review Board indicating that no new evidence against Steidl has been uncovered. The move clears the way for the board to act on Steidl’s clemency petition. Steidl spent 17 years in prison for the murders. In their letters to board general counsel Ken Tupy, special prosecutors David Rands and Ed Parkinson indicate that an Edgar County grand jury’s investigation of the murders is continuing, but that the probe no longer is focused on Steidl. Prosecutors had previously asked the board to delay voting on Steidl’s clemency petition until the grand jury had finished its work. But in a two-paragraph letter, written May 19, Rands said that the grand jury had not uncovered any new information regarding Steidl. Parkinson, whose name was on Rands’ note, says he planned to write a separate “more comprehensive” letter. “I’m not going to say we agree [with Steidl] he’s innocent, but our investigation isn’t leading anywhere that would justify the reprosecution of Randy Steidl,” Parkinson says. “As a prosecutor, it would not be wise or prudent or even fair to reprosecute Randy Steidl based upon the state of the evidence, because the conviction was based largely on eyewitnesses who both claimed to be there yet never saw each other there.” Debra Rienbolt and Darrell Herrington both testified against Steidl, then later recanted their testimony. Each later recanted the recantation. “We don’t have anything else on Steidl,” Parkinson says. “There’s no new evidence pointing toward Randy Steidl, and I don’t think there will be.” Jorge Montes, chairman of the review board, says the panel was ready with its recommendation in January, and will forward it to the governor “during the next week.” However, Montes says it would be unwise to read too much into this action. “I would not encourage you to make any assumptions. It’s not in the eyes of the board as clearcut as people may think,” Montes says. “Just because we’re giving all these courtesies does not mean you can jump to the conclusion or another.” Steidl’s conviction was vacated in 2003 by U.S. District Judge Michael McCuskey, who ruled that Steidl probably would not have been convicted if the jury had heard all the evidence. Steidl was released from prison in May 2004, but freedom isn’t enough; he wants to clear his name. “He’ll be upset until he gets pardoned,” says Karen Daniel, Steidl’s lawyer and senior staff attorney with the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law. “I think he needs to see the pardon. Until then, he’s going to be afraid that somebody’s going to come knocking at the door and arrest him.” Herb Whitlock, convicted of the same murders, has a clemency petition pending before the Prisoner Review Board but remains in prison. There’s no mention of him in the letters sent to the board. “Whitlock is not the same case,” Parkinson says. The board’s next regularly scheduled meeting is in July, but the panel that heard Steidl’s case in April could vote at any time. Once the panel makes a recommendation, it will be sent to Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who will decide whether to pardon Whitlock. Parkinson says he has no opinion about Steidl’s guilt or innocence, only the certainty that there’s not enough evidence to prosecute him. “I’m troubled by the lack of other evidence that points to him,” Parkinson says. “He has always declared his innocence, and I’m not satisfied with any real link with Whitlock. “I’m not going to the extent to say that he’s innocent. I’ve read a lot,” Parkinson says, “and I wish somebody could solve the murders of Karen and Dyke Rhoads, because they didn’t deserve to die that way. Nobody does.”
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