Friday, April 29, 2011

Is Justice Ever Possible for Dyke and Karen Rhoads?

by Diane Fanning

"I'm told I'm naive to expect prosecutors in an adversarial system of justice to seek truth rather than victory and go wherever the evidence leads them. Until now, this story seemed to underscore that naivete and serve as yet another frightening example of how the engine of the State, once in motion, can roll right over the innocent as well as the guilty."  –Eric Zorn, Chicago Tribune

I knew the basic outline of facts in the 1986 double murder of Dyke and Karen Rhoads. I knew that two innocent men, Herb Whitlock and Randy Steidl, were convicted of that crime. Herb received a life sentence, Randy the death penalty.

I knew there were problems with the investigation. I had no idea of the extent of the problems. If it weren't for Bill Clutter, investigator with the Downstate Illinois Innocence Project, maybe none of us would have ever known.

Clutter traced the unethical behavior of law enforcement back to the original investigators in Paris, Illinois. They rounded up two witnesses: the town drunk and a known drug addict. They plied the two with booze and fed them the story of Herb and Randy's responsibility. It didn't matter that they contradicted each other in places. It didn't matter that other, more reliable witnesses possessed information that made their stories lies–the investigators simply ignored that information.

The unethical–in fact, criminal–behavior of these officers was complicated by the less than honest prosecution team. Ed Parkinson and David Rands hid exculpatory evidence from the defense. The two state's attorneys were familiar to me; they also played a major role in the perversion of justice that resulted in the wrongful conviction of Julie Rea.

After years behind bars, the injustice perpetrated on Herb Whitlock and Randy Steidl was finally receiving the attention it deserved, thanks to Clutter's relentless investigation. The Center for Wrongful Convictions rallied to their cause, and 48 Hours began producing a show about the case.

That's when Michale Callahan entered the picture. Callahan, a lieutenant with the Illinois State Police, was newly promoted to investigations commander over a nine-county area in Eastern Illinois. His first assignment: Take a fresh look at the murder of Dyke and Karen Rhoads.

When he started on the case in 2000, Callahan assumed that he was expected to uncover the truth.  He believed that if he found merit in anything uncovered in his investigation, it would lead to a re-opening of the case.  Soon, he learned that the truth was the last thing the state wanted to find.

At first, he thought he must be mistaken about his suspicions.  He had always believed the Illinois State Police where he'd served for decades was an honorable institution–above politics and dedicated to justice.  That idealism was soon dashed when he stood in the office of his superior officer.  She told him that he could not re-open the case.  It was "too politically sensitive."

Callahan was not a political puppet.  He was a man of principle.  He could not accept the fact that any murder was "too politically sensitive."  Although he'd been ordered to stop investigation of the case, he continued to work with federal law enforcement in any way he could.  He'd discovered a fetid stream of corruption running through the state government and its agencies, iincluding the Illinois State Police. He could not ignore that.

Callahan's reward for pursing truth and justice?  His payment for uncovering institutional corruption?  He was removed from the investigations and stuck in a desk job in the patrol  division.  They insisted it was a lateral move for the betterment of the department, but Callahan knew better.

Michale Callahan's book, Too Politically Sensitive, is the story of the corrupt culture in the highest reaches of Illinois government, the pursuit for justice for the Rhoads and the cover-up order by the highest ranks in the administration of the Illinois State Police.

It is a warning to all of us.  Illinois is only the canary in the coal mine.  There is corruption in every state that needs to be ferreted out before it takes complete control of our system of justice as it has in the Land of Lincoln.

Yes, Herb Whitlock and Randy Steidl have been vindicated and released from prison after approximately two decades behind bars.  What about the two victims, Dyke and Karen Rhoads?  Will they ever find justice?   Even if new dedicated, ethical detectives took over the case at this point, the original investigation has been so compromised, it would probably be impossible to identify and convict the real killers.

Instead, those who committed the cold-blooded, vicious murders of Dyke and Karen Rhoads still walk among us–smug in knowing they got away with murder, confident in the protection they continue to receive from a corrupt state agency and the excessively unethical prosecutors who orchestrated this travesty of justice.  And no one has been punished for perpetrating this deliberate miscarriage–no one but the one man who blew the whistle.

When the Casey Anthony trial begins, currently scheduled for May, you'll find daily updates of the case on Diane Fanning's blog, Writing is a Crime.

1 comment:

A Voice of Sanity said...

This ought to be a rare exception. Sadly, it's all too often the rule. Only when prosecutors are punished, NOT rewarded,for such criminal acts will actual justice be closer.