Randy Steidl was a poster child for the death penalty, the kind of man supporters of state executions could point to as a criminal – convicted in 1987 of murdering a newlywed couple in Illinois and burning down their home with their bodies in it – who clearly deserved the ultimate punishment.
In the years following his conviction, Steidl’s guilt was repeatedly reaffirmed by Illinois judges, with even the state Supreme Court upholding his death sentence. No one could say he didn’t receive a fair chance at justice, that he had not been given amble opportunity to make his case in court.
There was just one problem with pointing to Steidl as a case study in why we need capital punishment: he was innocent. In 2004, nearly two decades after being tried and found guilty of a double homicide, Illinois prosecutors dropped all charges against Steidl, a move that came after the key witnesses during his trial repeatedly recanted their testimony against him.
And he’s not the only former death row inmate – the worst of the worst – to be released after suffering years of injustice. As the Northwestern University School of Law’s the Center on Wrongful Convictions points out, Steidl’s “exoneration pushed the wrongful conviction rate among [death row] defendants to more than 6 percent.”
“I’m living proof of the problems with our death penalty system,” says Steidl, one of 20 innocent men who spent years on Illinois’ death row. Now free, Steidl is urging Gov. Pat Quinn to sign a bill passed by the state legislature that would abolish the state’s use of the death penalty once and for all.
“We cannot afford to allow another innocent person to be sentenced to death,” Steidl tells Change.org. “We need to end the death penalty because you can release an innocent man from prison, but you can’t release him from the grave.”
“This system is broken and we need to end it now.”
Gov. Quinn is expected to make his decision on whether to abolish Illinois’ death penalty sometime next week. The state hasn’t executed anyone in more than a decade thanks to a moratorium on the death penalty imposed by former Gov. George Ryan, a staunch conservative who was shaken by the knowledge that more men had been exonerated from the state’s death row than put to death.
Thousands of activists have bombarded Quinn’s office with calls and emails urging him to make Illinois the 15th state to do away with capital punishment. Even his lieutenant governor, fellow Democrat Sheila Simon, has urged him to abolish the death penalty, saying her experience as a prosecutor leads her to believe executions should have no place in the criminal justice system.
If you haven’t already, consider calling the governor’s office in Springfield at (217) 782-0244. And sign this petition from anti-death penalty campaigners at Equal Justice USA urging him abolish an unjust and inhumane form of punishment.
Randy Steidl Exonerated and set free.