Exonerated death row inmate speaks on 17-year battle for innocence

Taylor Harrison

A man freed after 12 years on death row came to WKU to talk about his innocence and give his perspective on the death penalty earlier this week.

Randy Steidl told a packed audience his story, from his wrongful conviction of murder to his death sentence and 17 years of prison time. For 12 of those years, he was on death row.

“How many of you here have ever been accused of something you didn’t do?” he asked with most of the audience raising their hands.

Steidl explained how much it hurts to be accused of something you didn’t do.

Talking about his trial, Steidl explained about how his family reacted to his situation. Steidl’s brother — a state police officer — told Steidl that if he confessed, the prosecutor wouldn’t seek the death penalty.

Steidl’s brother told him, “They don’t arrest people who aren’t guilty.”

He said hearing those words from his own brother was like a “dagger through the heart.”

Steidl also talked about the moment he heard the jury’s guilty verdict and how badly he wanted to hear the words “not guilty.” He said when the verdict was read, he heard his mother wailing behind him.

“I never will forget that sound as long as I live,” Steidl said.

He said with that verdict, he lost faith in the justice system completely.

“My faith in authority was gone at that very moment,” he said.

Steidl’s son went to go live with family members while Steidl was in prison.

The day after his verdict was read, the sentencing was given. He received the death penalty.

“I went from the comforts of my home to death row in 97 days,”

he said.

Despite many appeals and new evidence found throughout his stay in prison and on death row, it took years of work before Steidl was taken off death row and then out of prison completely.

Steidl said he believes if you really want to punish someone, lock them up to spend the rest of their lives in prison to think about the crimes they committed. He said life in prison doesn’t carry the same risk as killing an innocent person.

“You can release an innocent man from prison, but you can’t release him from his grave,” Steidl said.

Paducah freshman Rebecca Fountain said she thought the event was really interesting, adding that she was able to shape an opinion on the death penalty.

“Now that I hear his story, I really do think that it needs to be looked into,” Fountain said.

Louisville junior Kyle Williams thought Steidl’s talk really said a lot about his character.

“It’s breathtaking what he had to go through,” Williams said.