Gordon "Randy" Steidl is a survivor and a hero.
He survived 17 years in the Illinois prison system, 12 on death row, for a crime he did not commit. That is something few of us can fathom. Now he is fighting against the death penalty as the board chairman of Witness to Innocence, the national organization of exonerated death row survivors and their loved ones. Randy helped bring about the repeal of the death penalty in his home state of Illinois, when Gov. Pat Quinn signed an abolition bill into law.
Now all Randy is looking for is a pardon from the Governor. And he's been waiting for an answer for 11 years, since he first filed his petition. Is it so much for an innocent man to ask?
Steidl and co-defendant Herbert Whitlock were convicted and sentenced to death for the 1986 double murder of Dyke and Karen Rhoads, a newlywed couple in Paris, Illinois, in the rural Southern part of the state. The couple had been brutally stabbed to death in their bedroom.
Meanwhile, the miscarriages of justice plaguing Randy's case provide us with clear reasons as to why the death penalty is a problem. In essence, Randy Steidl was framed by the police and the prosecutors. His wrongful conviction was secured through the "creation" of two sketchy witnesses, who came forward years after the fact to claim they witnessed the murders, and later recanted. There was fabrication and suppression of evidence. In fact, no physical evidence linked the men to the crime. Further, Randy suffered from an inexperienced lawyer who couldn't get the job done, didn't ask the right questions, and failed to look into the prosecution's manufactured case against his client.
Randy was resentenced to life in 1999 based on an ineffective defense counsel claim. And in 2003, a federal judge overturned his conviction and ordered a new trial, stating it was "reasonably probable" that a jury would have found him not guilty if provided with all the evidence. In 2004, he was a free man, the 114th innocent person released from America's death row since 1973. Whitlock was release four years later. Randy's story was featured in the British film project One For Ten, a series of documentaries on innocence and the death penalty.
In 2002, Steidl filed a petition for a pardon when George Ryan was governor. His petition has been pending through successive administrations, and is now the longest pending pardon awaiting a decision from the current governor, Pat Quinn. Recently, lawyers from the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University Law School and the People's Law Office wrote a letter to the governor requesting a pardon for Mr. Steidl.
"Certainly, there is enormous public support for Randy's pardon based on innocence. 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," the letter said.
"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 October 16 letter continued.
Randy Steidl is an innocent man, this is certain, and Governor Quinn has the power to grant him a pardon today. Nothing can erase what Randy has experienced, and nothing can return to him all he has lost. But let the man officially clear his name and his record, something which is curiously difficult for many among the wrongfully convicted. What else is there to discuss?