20-plus-year-old murder case is unofficially over
State Attorney General Lisa Madigan announced Thursday that her office will not seek Illinois Supreme Court review of last month's appellate court decision overturning the murder conviction of Herbert Whitlock.
Whitlock was one of two defendants convicted of murder in connection with the June 1986 stabbing deaths of Dyke and Karen Rhoads, newlyweds who resided in the Edgar County community of Paris.
Given the nature of the evidence, it's a virtual impossibility that authorities will seek a retrial for Whitlock. They previously declined to retry Randy Steidl, Whitlock's co-defendant in the case.
Steidl, who was freed from prison, has filed a federal lawsuit against police and prosecutors alleging they framed him for murders he did not commit. Whitlock is expected to file his own civil rights lawsuit.
For now, however, he remains in state prison, where he was serving a life sentence. That conviction has now been officially set aside, and his case will be returned to Edgar County where prosecutors face the theoretical options of dismissing it or setting it for retrial. The case, however, is untriable because original prosecution witnesses have been discredited by subsequent investigations and the physical evidence undermined by expert witness testimony not presented at trial.
The investigations undermining the prosecution's case against both men persuaded reviewing court judges to set aside Whitlock's and Steidl's convictions on the grounds that they were not adequately represented at trial.
The defense is expected to request that Whitlock be released on bond while the state appellate defender's office decides what to do.
Absent dramatic new evidence, it's hard to imagine that either Whitlock, Steidl or anyone else will ever be charged with the couple's death.
In making the announcement, Madigan adopted a decidedly low-key approach. When reviewing whether to pursue an appeal in the Steidl case after a federal judge overturned his conviction, Madigan met with the victims' families and conducted a highly publicized review of the evidence. In this case, her office produced only a bare-bones press release. A press spokesman indicated that no official in the office would have anything further to say.
Here's a copy of the AG's release.
ATTORNEY GENERAL MADIGAN RETURNS
WHITLOCK CASE TO CIRCUIT COURT
Chicago - Attorney General Lisa Madigan announced today that after a careful review of the case record, the Attorney General's office will not appeal an Appellate Court decision to overturn the 1987 conviction of Herbert Whitlock for the murder of Karen Rhoads.
The case now returns to the Edgar County Circuit Court, where the Office of the State Appellate Prosecutor must decide whether to retry Whitlock for the murder of Karen Rhoads, who was killed with her husband, Dyke Rhoads, in their Paris, Ill., home on July 6, 1986.
In May 1987, a jury found Whitlock guilty of the murder of Karen Rhoads. He was sentenced to natural life in prison.
On September 6, 2007, the Fourth District Illinois Appellate Court reversed a Circuit Court decision to deny a motion to reconsider Whitlock's case, vacated the conviction and remanded the case for a new trial on the charge of first degree murder of Karen Rhoads. The Appellate Court found that Whitlock received ineffective assistance of counsel at his trial and that the state committed Brady violations by suppressing evidence favorable to the defense.
I'll have more to report on this turn of events in Saturday's column.