Herbert Whitlock was released from an Illinois county jail yesterday after serving nearly 21 years in prison for two murders he has always maintained he didn’t commit. Whitlock’s co-defendant, Randy Steidl, who was convicted of the muders based on the same evidence, was released more than three years ago but prosecutors refused at the time to drop charges against Whitlock. Prosecutors did finally agree to drop the charges, leading to Whitlock’s release yesterday. They said, however, that the case is still open and they have not ruled out a retrial.
Steidl and Whitlock were convicted of killing Karen Rhoads in 1987. Steidl was also convicted of killing Rhoads’ new husband, Dyke. A retired Illinois State Police officer was assigned in 2000 to reinvestigate the case. He concluded that the pair were innocent, based on contradictory witness statements at the trial. The officer, Michale Callahan, later won a lawsuit against his superiors, in which he alleged that he was reassigned in retaliation for accusing prosecutors of not pursuing alternate suspects in the case.
The Downstate Illinois Innocence Project, a member of the
, worked on the cases of both Whitlock and Steidl.
The men are not included in the Innocence Project’s database of DNA exonerations because DNA evidence was not involved in proving the men’s innocence. This case highlights the extreme difficulty faced by defendants claiming their innocence on post-conviction appeal in cases in which there is no possibility of DNA testing.
Bill Clutter, director of investigations for the Downstate Illinois Innocence Project at the University of Illinois at Springfield, said Whitlock and Steidl should have been freed years ago. The (Downstate Illinois) Innocence Project helped free both men.
Clutter said much of the evidence that refuted trial testimony and evidence was uncovered in the spring of 1992.
“What this really says is there needs to be further reform in the post-conviction process, because it shouldn’t take this long to exonerate someone,” Clutter said. “The justice system did fail.”
Read the full story here
. (Terre Haute Tribune-Star, 01/08/07)