Freed death row inmate shares story with WKU

Taylor Harrison

Not everyone who has been on death row actually committed a crime.

From the time Randy Steidl, former death row inmate, and Herb Whitlock, his co-defendant, were first questioned about the murders of a couple, people in their town treated them poorly, he said.

“It didn’t matter where I would go, where Herb would go, somebody would always be making a snide remark,” Steidl said.

Steidl gave a lecture at WKU on Wednesday afternoon to a crowded room that quickly became standing room only. The talk is part of a tour Steidl is doing around Kentucky at various colleges. Steidl gave the audience many details about his trial, his wrongful conviction and all of the corruption that occurred.

Steidl said people would say things like “here comes the killers” or “here comes the slicers.”

This treatment went on until the two were actually arrested for the crimes. Steidl said he was in shock when police officers came and arrested him.

At the time, Steidl said he was naïve enough to think that all he had to do was go in the witness stand and tell the truth.

Despite there being no physical evidence against Steidl, there were two witnesses that claimed to be at the crime scene.

However, Steidl said these were not credible witnesses. They were “the town drunk” and a “viciously, violently mentally ill woman” who did not even corroborate each others’ stories.

St. Charles, Mo., freshman Brittany Broder said she thought Steidl’s talk was enlightening and compelling.

She said one thing in particular that shocked her about his trial was the two witnesses’ story about both of them being at the crime scene.

“He pointed out that both witnesses were supposedly in the same room at the same time, but they didn’t see each other,” Broder said.

Northwestern University journalism students who examined Steidl’s case further after he had been sentenced uncovered additional witnesses that would have been available to the state police and Steidl’s attorney if they had done the legwork to find these witnesses, Steidl said.

Kate Miller, Kentucky Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty board member and ACLU of Kentucky program director, said she thought Steidl’s talk went very well, especially in terms of the turnout.

Miller heard Steidl speak for the first time on Monday during his first talk of the tour.

“As long as you hear his story, then it illustrates the problems with our death penalty,” Miller said.

She said it’s been particularly interesting getting to know Steidl as they travel together for the tour and she hears the details of being on death row.

“It’s so surreal to think about the fact that he was so close to being killed; that he could just as easily be six feet underground right now,” Miller said.

After his talk, Steidl said it was “a strange awakening” when he was finally free after all those years in prison. He said he didn’t know about cell phones or laptops, or how to pump gas. He also said one of the first things he did when he was released was have a big steak and a fresh salad.

Steidl said his main form of income is going out and lobbying legislators and going on speaking tours about this issue. He hopes to abolish the death penalty in as many states as possible.

“That’s my mission in life,” Steidl said.