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48 Hours segment to highlight role of UIS Innocence Project in Rhoads murder investigation

December 14, 2005

SPRINGFIELD – The segment of the CBS television program 48 Hours to be aired at 9 p.m. (CST) Saturday, December 17, will include a story about the 1986 murder of Dyke and Karen Rhoads that will feature an interview with private investigator Bill Clutter, who now directs investigations for the Downstate Illinois Innocence Project at the University of Illinois at Springfield. 

While the 48 Hours story focuses on a group of Northwestern University journalism students who studied the case, it was Clutter’s investigation, working with Springfield attorney Michael Metnick, that resulted in a federal judge’s decision to order the release of Randy Steidl, convicted of the crime in 1987 and sentenced to death.

The segment will include Clutter’s discussion of his investigation that developed forensic evidence that disproved a key prosecution witness’s description of the crime scene and helped win Steidl’s release. 

During the trial, Debra Rienbolt testified that she saw a broken lamp inside the Rhoads’ bedroom as Steidl and co-defendant Herbert Whitlock allegedly took turns stabbing the couple.  However, forensic evidence proved that the broken lamp discovered by firemen at the scene was intact at the time of the crime and was not broken until after a subsequent fire had been put out. 

On June 17, 2003, U.S. District Court Judge Michael P. McCuskey issued an opinion ordering the state to either release or retry Steidl as, in his opinion, Steidl’s trial attorney had failed to properly investigate his defense.  

Judge McCuskey wrote: “Had defense counsel presented expert testimony showing that Rienbolt’s account of seeing a broken piece of the lamp was flatly inconsistent with the physical evidence, it would have gone a long way toward convincing the jury that Rienbolt’s testimony was not actually an eyewitness account.”

Steidl was released from the Danville Correctional Center on May 27, 2004.  Whitlock remains in prison serving a life sentence.

The 48 Hours segment will also include an interview with Illinois State Police Lt. Michael Callahan, who in March 2000 was assigned to review additional evidence provided in a letter from Clutter.  Callahan’s review of the case file led him to conclude that Steidl and Whitlock had been framed. 

The UIS Innocence Project assisted Chicago Kent College of Law professor Richard Kling to present evidence last spring during a post-conviction hearing for Whitlock.  An Edgar County judge refused to order a new trial for Whitlock, even though he was convicted on the same evidence as Steidl.  His case is being appealed.

The Downstate Illinois Innocence Project, affiliated with the Institute for Legal and Policy Studies at UIS, has been involved in numerous cases -- such as those of Keith Harris and Julie Rea Harper -- where individuals have been wrongfully convicted.  The project uses students to assist Clutter to investigate cases that may involve actual innocence and is supported by private grants and contributions. 

More information about the Downstate Innocence Project is available at http://cspl.uis.edu/ILAPS/DownstateInnocenceProject/, or contact Clutter at (217) 206-7989.


    The University of Illinois at Springfield, one of three U of I campuses, is a small, public liberal arts university that offers 42 degree programs – 21 bachelor’s, 20 master’s, and the Doctorate of Public Administration. UIS has a special mission in public affairs and service and is known for extraordinary internships, a wireless campus, extensive online offerings, and a commitment to teaching.