As seen on CBS News' 48 Hours
Oct. 21, 2003 - Update:  Illinois AG's Investigation Shows "Shabby" Case

Impossible Mission 

A Newlywed Couple Is Brutally Stabbed 
Two Men Are Convicted Of Murder.  But Did They Really Do It? 

PARIS, Illinois
 

(CBS) In the summer of 1984, Dyke Rhoads, 27, met 24-year-old Karen Spesard.  The couple fell in love and were married on March 22, 1986. 

But less than three months later, on July 6, in their hometown of Paris, Ill., the couple were murdered in their house and stabbed more than 25 times each. After the crime, the killer or killers set a fire to destroy the evidence. 

The next year, two men, Randy Steidl and Herb Whitlock, were arrested. Whitlock, then 41, was a part-time construction worker and small-time drug dealer. Stiedl, then 35, also worked construction jobs and had several convictions for assault. 

The motive for the murders, according to prosecutors: a drug deal gone bad. After the trial in 1987, Whitlock was sentenced to life in prison; Steidl was sentenced to death. But are they really the murderers? 48 Hours Correspondent Susan Spencer reports on a case that may not yet be closed. 
 

Left:  
Randy Steidl after his arrest in 1986
 
 

Right:  
Herb Whitlock in prison today

Over the years, Steidl and Whitlock have continued to claim that they were innocent. They weren't the only ones who thought that justice had gone astray. Last year, David Protess, a Northwestern University journalism professor, and four of his students began to reinvestigate the crime trying to find out who killed the couple. 

"It struck me from the start that this was a likely miscarriage of justice," says Protess, whose investigations have shown that several other men convicted of murder were actually innocent. Protess notes that there was no physical evidence at all that specifically linked the two men to the crime. 

"This young couple was stabbed tragically over 50 times," he says. "These men would've been covered in blood; there would've been blood in their automobiles; there would have been blood on their clothes. Someone would have seen them in blood. There would have been hair, fiber, something that linked them to the crime scene. Nothing did." 

Even Tony Rhoads, Dyke's brother, was not totally sure that prosecutors had convicted the real murderers. His brother would not have been involved with serious drug dealers, Tony Rhoads says. 

For six months the students spent most weekends looking for clues in Paris. They plowed through police reports, court records and tracked down new leads and old witnesses. 

The key to the 1987 case was a man named Darryl Herrington. He came forward two months after the murders and said he had seen the crime. In a taped statement to police, Herrington said he woke up in Stiedl's car outside the Rhoads' house. He heard screaming, so he went inside, where he said Steidl - covered with blood and holding a knife - confronted him. Herrington saw a body on the bed, he said. 

But one witness, with no corroborating evidence, would probably not have been enough for a conviction. So prosectors did not indict anyone at that time. 
 

But three months after Herrington came forward, a second eyewitness came forward, with corroborating evidence: Debra Reinbolt, who describes herself at the time as a drug addict and alcoholic, told police she had not only seen Steidl and Whitlock commit the murders but had provided the weapon and even helped with the killing. 

Reinbolt's story impressed the police, especially because she accurately described a broken lamp found in the Rhoads' bedroom. 

Debra Reinbolt
Despite the prosecutor's recommendation for no jail time, Reinboldt, who says she is now sober, served two years in prison for concealing a homicide. Herrington was never charged. 

"I had no involvement whatsoever with that crime," Steidl said recently. Steidl's mother, Bobbie, also believed that her son was innocent. She convinced Northwestern's Protess to look into her son's case. 

Over several months of knocking on doors and following up leads, the students began to poke holes in the prosecution's version of the Rhoads' murder. 

They found Donnie Alexander, a childhood friend of Dyke Rhoads. Alexander, who had never been interviewed by police or defense lawyers, was probably the last person beside the killers to see the couple alive, in a bar. He had sat with them at the Friendly Tavern, probably until 12:20 a.m., he says. 

But Herrington had testified that the murders happened shortly after midnight. 

Protess points out that Alexander's story calls Herrington's account into question: "How, if they're at the tavern at 12:15, do they manage to stop drinking, pay the bar bill, get to their house, get unclothed, get into bed, fall asleep and get stabbed?" 

The students also tracked down Ben Light, now a surgeon in Pittsburgh. In the summer of 1986, Light was a teen-ager living across the street from the Rhoads in Paris, Ill. He says that on July 5, he was hanging out on the porch with a friend from 11:30 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. During this time, Herrington heard Karen Rhoads scream, he had said. But Light says he heard nothing. 

Protess argues that these new statements indicate that the crime occurred much later, at a time when the accused, Randy Steidl and Herb Whitlock, were nowhere near the scene. 

Both Herrington and Rienbolt told police that after the murders they were standing by the Rhoads' garage, with Steidl. Herrington and Riebolt said they never saw each other, though. 

Four years ago, under oath, Reinbolt told Steidl's lawyer, Michael Metnick, that she had lied on the stand. She said that Steidl and Whitlock were not there and that she had never been in the Rhoads' house. Reinbolt also said that police had fed her information about the lamp. 

But Reinbolt now says she lied to Metnick and that her original testimony was true. 

Yet Metnick claims the defense team has proof that Reinbolt never saw the murders. The key to his claim: a broken lamp at the crime scene. 

Reinbolt said the lamp had been broken before the fire that followed the murders. The prosecution had used the lamp as the centerpiece of its corroborating evidence. Reinbolt had testified the lamp was broken when she got to the Rhoads' bedroom. 

But after the fire, black soot covered the crime scene. In pictures taken afterward, the pieces of the broken lamp were white. If the lamp had been broken before the fire, the fragments would have had soot on them, Metnick says. Therefore, Reinbolt could not have seen the lamp when it was broken, he contends. 

Reinbolt also said that she had provided the knife for the murders. The blade on her knife was five inches long. 

But defense consultant Dr. Michael Baden, formerly the chief pathologist for New York City, says that many of the wounds were 6 1/2 inches deep. "A 5-inch knife could cause (a) 6-inch deep wound if it were pressed in very hard," says Baden. "But it would leave a hilt mark from the handle." There were no bruises of the sort a handle would cause, he says. 

"The Reinbolt knife couldn't have made many of the wounds, and it could not have made the severest wounds," he says. 

Last fall, Steidl's attorneys got an Illinois court to hear this new evidence. Although they failed to win their client a new trial, his death 
sentence was lifted. Steidl doesn't consider this a victory. "That was the state's way of trying to make the case fade away," he says. 

But the students wanted to make sure that the case didn't fade away. Several witnesses told the students that they had seen a mysterious car with Florida plates in Paris the night of the murders. One witness, who asked not to be identiified, said she had seen two men staking out The Rhoads house the night before the murders. She belives she saw the same two men the night of the 
murders, driving a white car with Florida tags. 

Another witness, gas station attendant J.C. Foley, told the students he remembers selling seven 3-gallon cans of gasoline to a man driving a light-colored car with Florida tags. 

After six months of work, the students developed an alternative version of events. They found that Karen Rhoads had told several family members and friends that she had seen something at work that had scared her. An office assistant in a food processing plant, she told them she had seen money and a gun being put into a car in the employee parking lot. 

Protess believes there's a link between what Karen Rhoads saw and the Florida connection his students uncovered. 
 

But Michael MacFatridge, who prosecuted the case, says police looked into this angle, but the investigation never panned out because eyewitnesses came forward and named Stiedl and Whitlock as the killers. 

On May 18, Steidl may move a step closer to freedom. His attorney will present new arguments in an Illinois court asking for a new trial. Herb Whitlock also hopes to get a chance at a new trial. Law students will begin working on Whitlock's and Steidl's case this summer. 

Says Steidl: "That's all I ask is to have a shot at a new trial, a fair trial." 

The students belives beyond a shadow of a doubt that both men if given a new trial today would be found not guilty. 

Dyke's brother and sister, Tony and Andrea Rhoads, say that as long as the reasons behind the crime are mysterious, their loss will be more painful. "What did they do to deserve this?" Tony Rhoads asks. "Why, why them?" 
 
 

Innocent Imprisoned
Truth in Justice