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Center on Wrongful Convictions Calls for Pardon

Former Illinois death row inmate’s conviction overturned, but still waiting for pardon

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October 16, 2013 | by Hilary Hurd Anyaso

CHICAGO --- Attorneys for Northwestern University School of Law’s Center on Wrongful Convictions (CWC) have sent an open letter to Gov. Patrick Quinn calling on him to act on Gordon “Randy” Steidl’s pardon petition.

Steidl, a client of the CWC, is a former Illinois death row inmate whose conviction was overturned and who has settled his civil lawsuits against various law enforcement agencies, but is still waiting for the governor to act on his 2002 innocence pardon petition.

Attorneys for the CWC said Steidl’s clemency petition is the longest pending pardon case awaiting the governor’s decision. 

In 2005 and 2006, Steidl’s attorneys presented significant evidence and a plethora of reasons for the Prisoner Review Board (PRB) to recommend the granting of an innocence pardon. The only opposition raised by the Office of the State’s Attorney Appellate Prosecutor (SAAP), which represented the People of the State of Illinois in the clemency proceedings, was that a pardon decision was premature because there was still a possibility that Steidl would be re-prosecuted for the underlying crimes.

Steidl spent more than 17 years in prison (12 on death row) for a crime he did not commit.  Police had no leads following the murder of newlyweds Karen and Dyke Rhoads in Paris, Ill., in 1986. Seven months after the crime, Deborah Rienbolt stepped forward to say she had witnessed Steidl committing the murder. Rienbolt lied. Her false testimony, combined with other false testimony introduced against Steidl at trial and the failure of the investigation team and the prosecution to preserve and disclose evidence that pointed to his innocence, led to Steidl’s wrongful imprisonment. 

U.S. District Court Judge Michael McCuskey ruled in 2003 that Steidl had received ineffective assistance of counsel. Had Steidl’s attorney done his job properly, Judge McCuskey concluded, he could have easily exposed Rienbolt’s lies. Following Judge McCuskey’s ruling, the prosecution dropped the charges against Steidl and he was released from prison. 

In the Oct. 16 letter to Gov. Quinn, Steidl’s attorneys write: “Governor Quinn, this matter has lingered for far too long. Please do the right thing now, and allow this innocent man to clear his good name. At a bare minimum, please do Randy the honor of sitting down with him, face to face, and explain to him why you have decided so many other pardon petitions during your tenure in office -- including 65 grants of clemency this past Friday -- but have repeatedly passed over his.”

The letter was signed by Steidl’s attorneys: Karen L. Daniel, co-legal director, Center on Wrongful Convictions, Chicago; Flint Taylor, Jan Susler, and Ben Elson, People’s Law Office, Chicago; and Michael B. Metnick, Partner, Metnick Cherry Frazier & Sabin, Springfield.

More information about Steidl’s case is online