Mt. Vernon Register-News

April 4, 2013

Last lawsuit in wrongful Paris convictions settled


Associated Press

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URBANA (AP) — A federal judge has signed off on a $3.5 million settlement in a lawsuit filed by one of two men wrongfully convicted of killing newlyweds in eastern Illinois in the 1980s.

The settlement ended the last of the lawsuits filed by Randy Steidl and Herb Whitlock over their convictions.

The most recent settlement with the city of Paris, two police officers, Edgar County and a prosecutor awards Steidl a total of $3.5 million. A portion of the money, $1.65 million, may be subject to further legal action because the state, which indemnifies prosecutors, has so far resisted paying legal costs for the prosecutor who handled the trials for the 1986 murders of Dyke and Karen Rhoads.

U.S. District Judge Harold Baker approved the settlement on March 27.

"I am both pleased and relieved that, after 25 years of fighting for justice, I have finally resolved my civil case," Steidl said in a statement provided by his attorney. "While no amount of money can fully compensate me for what I have suffered, this judgment and the prior settlement establish, once and for all, that I was wrongfully convicted for crimes I did not commit."

Both Steidl and Whitlock continue to seek pardons from Gov. Pat Quinn, said Flint Taylor, Steidl's attorney.

The officers who were sued by Steidl in Paris, a small town about 60 miles southeast of Champaign, are former police Chief Gene Ray and Det. James Parrish. The prosecutor was former State's Attorney Michael McFatridge.

Terry Ekl, an attorney for McFatridge, denied that his client or the officers had done anything wrong.

"The settlement of this case does not in any way reflect any wrong doing by any police officer or the prosecution team," Ekl said in a printed statement. "The settlement is a reflection of the uncertainly of proceeding to trial. Neither Mr. Steidl nor any of the defendants were assured of winning at trial."

The attorney who represented the city of Paris called the settlement a good way to avoid years of costly litigation.

"It was a very good settlement for the city, considering the cost of the defense," Jim Sotos said. "At some point, when the numbers made sense, it became time to settle rather than facing the uncertainty of taking it to trial."

Stiedl, who is now 61 and lives in Charleston, was friends with Whitlock when the two were convicted by separate juries in the deaths of Karen and Dyke Rhoads. The couple was found dead in their burning two-story home in Paris. Each had been stabbed more than 20 times.

Steidl, 35 at the time, was sentenced to death while the 41-year-old Whitlock was sent to prison for life.

Questions about their guilt were raised almost immediately by, among others, Dyke Rhoads' brother and sister.

One witness claimed a knife was the murder weapon, but it didn't match the Rhoads' wounds. Another witness, a self-described town drunk, changed his story and at one point claimed men named "Jim and Ed" killed the couple.

And a former State Police investigator has said his superiors kept him from asking key questions. The investigator, Michale Callahan, concluded Steidl and Whitlock were innocent.

A judge eventually ordered Steidl be freed or retried, and he was released from prison in 2004 after serving 17 years. Whitlock was similarly released in 2008.

Steidl eventually married and has children and grandchildren. He never finished high school or earned his GED and has worked only irregularly. He travels regularly, though, to speak against the death penalty and was part of a group of former death row inmates who urged Quinn to do away with the death penalty before the governor abolished it in 2011.

The Illinois State Police settled a lawsuit by Steidl in 2011 for $2.5 million, though the agency said the deal wasn't an admission that it had done anything wrong.

Whitlock settled his lawsuit earlier for an undisclosed amount.

Whitlock now lives in Paris.