Former death row inmate to speak

Taylor Harrison

A man who spent 12 years on death row in Illinois for a crime he didn’t commit is coming to WKU to tell his story.

Randy Steidl, who was incarcerated for more than 17 years between his time on death row and his time in prison, now works with Witness to Innocence, an organization of and for exonerated death row survivors.

His talk, called Journey of Hope, will be Wednesday at 3 p.m. in Cherry Hall. He said he talks about his experience because he isn’t the only one to whom this has happened.

“For almost 18 years, I didn’t have a voice,” Steidl said.

The ACLU of Kentucky and the Kentucky Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty are hosting the event, along with various departments at WKU.

Steidl and his co-defendant were convicted of murder in 1987, although there was no physical evidence against them.

Steidl said the witnesses against them did not corroborate each other, his attorney was incompetent, and one witness was even paid off.

Steidl said the conditions on death row were “deplorable.” He described it as not living but barely existing.

“It’s like living in a dungeon for 12 years,” Steidl said. “It’s torture. You know, you spend 23 hours a day in a cage, you’re let out for an hour a day to get some exercise and a shower, and they put you right back in. Eat all three meals a day out of a cold Styrofoam tray if you can get to it before the mice and the cockroaches get it.”

Steidl said his attorneys contacted Northwestern University’s Center on Wrongful Convictions while he was on death row. Journalism students investigated his case and uncovered evidence that favored his innocence.

“They were just average college students that had a thirst for the truth,” Steidl said.

He said he hopes his lecture will let students realize that there is an alternative to the death penalty — life without parole.

Kate Miller, KCADP board member and ACLU of Kentucky program director, said Steidl has a unique perspective on this issue and is the perfect example of what she sees as a flawed system.

“When anyone becomes honestly familiar with our broken system, whether or not they agree with it or disagree with it in theory, sort of becomes moot because they realize that it’s broken as it stands now,” Miller said.

Miller said she hopes students understand their role in the system.

“As taxpayers, this is a system that we’re all a part of, whether we like it or not,” Miller said. “So hopefully they’ll come out and hear the story, and it’ll, you know, make them think a little more about the system that we have in place.”

Patti Minter, associate professor of history and Faculty Regent, is also a member of the board of directors for the ACLU of Kentucky. Minter said one problem with the death penalty is that it does not administer justice equally.

“We see that race and class have a disproportionate effect on the way that justice is administered,” Minter said.

She said students will learn a lot from Steidl.

“A group of journalism students, through careful investigative reporting, saved a man’s life,” she said. “What could be a more powerful message for a college campus than that one?”