TERRE HAUTE —
The death penalty is a barbaric system of justice that needs to end.
So says Randy Steidl, a man convicted of a 1986 double homicide in Paris, Ill., who was released from Illinois’ Death Row after years of appeals.
Steidl spoke to Indiana State University students on Monday as a voice for Witness to Innocence, a national organization intent on ending the death penalty in America.
He saw a fairly equal response in raised hands when the audience in Tirey Hall was asked how many believed in the death penalty, how many were opposed to it and how many were on the fence.
“For those of you who believe in the death penalty,” Steidl asked, “have you devised a plan on how you would raise an innocent man from the grave?”
Steidl has maintained his innocence since the first day he was accused in the murders of Dyke and Karen Rhoads. He blames the justice system in Edgar County — including a former state’s attorney and the Paris Police Department — for its handling of the cases against him and his friend, Herb Whitlock, who was also convicted of the Rhoads murders and sent to death row.
“I love speaking to college students and legislators and the public,” Steidl said. “That’s what Witness to Innocence is all about.”
Since 1976, 141 inmates on death row have been exonerated, he said. He credits the work of student journalists with keeping his case in the public eye, and he credits former Illinois State Police investigator Michael Callahan with doggedly pursuing the facts of the case and bringing out evidence showing that Steidl and Whitlock were wrongly accused.
Steidl spent more than 17 years in Illinois prisons — 12 on death row.
“I want students to realize when they choose a career in criminal justice, they’re not just dealing with a name on a brief,” he said of the ISU students — mostly criminology majors — who attended Monday’s session. “It’s a barbaric system that we need to end. Just 1 percent of those convicted get the death penalty.”
In June, Steidl received his share of a $2.5 million settlement against the Illinois State Police for that agency’s part in his legal battles. A civil trial filed by Steidl against the Paris Police and the state’s attorney in Edgar County is scheduled for Feb. 4.
Reporter Lisa Trigg can be reached at (812) 231-4254 or lisa.trigg@
tribstar.com. Follow her on Twitter @TribStarLisa.