Homer Alaska - News

Story last updated at 11:51 AM on Thursday, March 17, 2011

Former Illinois death row inmate to speak in Homer

By Lindsay Johnson

Although the murder case against him was classified as too? politically sensitive to be further investigated, Randy Steidl's plea extends to all political parties.

Steidl spent 12 years on death row and another five in Illinois prisons after being framed in 1986 for a murder he did not commit-- he was sentenced 97 days after the case was opened against him.

Since being exonerated seven years ago, Steidl has spent his new-found free time speaking to legislatures and colleges around the country about the problems with capital punishment.

Steidl will speak at 7 p.m. on March 22 at St. Augustine's Episcopal Church.

His case is the subject of a recently published book, "Since When Is Murder Too Politically Sensitive?," by retired Illinois State Police Lt. Michale Callahan.

Callahan was one of the investigators who discovered that local law enforcement and prosecutors had framed Steidl and co-defendant Herbert Whitlock for murdering newlyweds Dyke and Karen Rhoads.

When Callahan found evidence linking the murders to one of then Gov. George Ryan's major campaign contributors, his State Police lieutenant colonel at the time ordered the case closed because he said it was "too politically sensitive" to be investigated further. Nearly two decades later, the state re- investigated the case. DNA evidence showed no link to Steidl.

Steidl told an Illinois news station that he had a conservative Catholic upbringing, in favor of giving people the punishment they deserved , but his mind changed about when he spent the peak years of his life behind bars.

"He's a good spokesperson and a really nice gentleman," said Sue Johnson, executive director of Alaskans Against the Death Penalty, the organization sponsoring Steidl's visit.

"His main point is saying that it doesn't work," Johnson said.

Although the death penalty is no longer Alaskan law, there are efforts in the legislature from time to time to reinstate it. Most recently, the house passed a joint resolution March 7 encouraging the Judge Advocate General of the U.S. Army to sentence Major Nidal Malik Hasad to death for killing 13 people at a Fort Hood Army Post in Texas in November 2009. A bill to reinstate the death penalty in the last legislative session died in finance committee.

"I think generally Alaskans are against it. We did a poll when the bill first was introduced and found that 59 percent of Alaskans were opposed," Johnson said.

She and local organizer Art Koeninger expressed hope that people on both sides of the debate would come to the presentation.

"Most of us have mixed feeling because it's a very emotional subject," Koeninger said.

Johnson said she likes that the fight to abolish the death penalty is not a partisan issue.

"It's not a liberal issue. We have a lot of religious people and a lot of republicans have helped us and still do," she said.

Steidl will also speak to high school students at Homer High on Tuesday and Homer Flex on Wednesday.

For more information on Alaskans Against the Death Penalty, visit www.aadp.info.

For more information on Witness to innocence and Randy Steidl, visit http://witnesstoinnocence.org/view_stories.php?Randy-Steidl-22.