Wednesday, May 20, 2009

"Too Politically Sensitive," A Book By A True American Hero

True American heroes are easy to find if you just look for them. Terre Haute native and former Illinois State Police Special Agent Michale Callahan is one such man. Callahan has recently published a book, "Too Politically Sensitive," which recounts Callahan's years of fighting for two men wrongfully convicted of committing the brutal murder of a young, Paris, Illinois couple on July 6, 1986. Callahan knew that two down and out bar flies in Paris were framed for stabbing to death two newlyweds, Dyke and Karen Rhoads, and setting their home on fire. His fight for the truth ultimately cost him his career at the Illinois State Police, but he never gave up and he's still fighting for the free speech rights of public employees who dare to speak the truth about what they observe in their official jobs.

The case of Dyke and Karen Rhoads is one I remember vividly. I was in my second year as a staffer for the Illinois House Republicans in Springfield, Illinois when the couple were found dead in their home just 12 miles up the road in Paris from my hometown of Marshall, Illinois. The scuttlebutt in the local community immediately saw the killings as a way the town's most prominent businessman, long suspected of being engaged in illegal drug trafficking, took care of people who learned too much.

Paris, Illinois was no stranger to big-time drug connections. When I was finishing high school and beginning college at Eastern Illinois University, a federal prosecutor out in New York by the name of Rudi Giuliani was making a big name for himself prosecuting key figures in the Sicilian Mafia and the New York Bonanno crime family, one of whom operated a local pizza joint in Paris called, "Joe's Pizza." We knew Joe simply as Joe The Pizza Man. Our eyes were really opened in our small community when federal prosecutors descended on Joe's Pizza and took him into custody to stand trial in New York. I remember local police complaining that they had been left out of the loop. Federal investigators bluntly stated that local law enforcement couldn't be trusted with the sensitive investigation.

A local prosecutor in Edgar County quickly set his sights on laying the blame for the murders of Dyke and Karen Rhoads on local bar flies Randy Steidl and Herb Whitlock. I was convinced the two men were being framed at the time. One of the accused men's mother visited a local dental office in Terre Haute where my sister worked. The man's mother shared tearful stories with my sister about how she knew her son was innocent and that the corrupt State's Attorney, who I always thought was a real scumbag, was framing her son with the assistance of the Paris police department. Indeed, Callahan explores in his own book the evidence of prosecutorial and police misconduct he uncovered in his investigation of the murders, including intimidation, manipulation of the truth, exculpatory evidence that was never turned over by the prosecutors to the accused's attorneys, eyewitnesses who later admitted that their stories were fabricated and evidence pointing towards other suspects who supported the theory that the victims had been killed by persons involved in an illegal drug dealing ring. Callahan finds evidence that the real suspects are also possibly linked to other unsolved murders in the area.

Unfortunately, Steidl and Whitlock were convicted. A moratorium on the death penalty by Gov. George Ryan, who at the time was under investigation for racketeering and fraud and is now serving time in the Terre Haute federal prison after being convicted of those crimes by federal prosecutors in Chicago, saved Steidl from a death sentence. Steidl eventually won the right to a new trial but prosecutors refused to retry the case. He was freed after serving 17 years in prison, including 12 of those years on Death Row. Whitlock had to wait 21 years to be freed after the court determined that the state had committed irreversible error in withholding exculpatory evidence from the defense.

Callahan had been the two wrongfully accused men's toughest advocate for their innocence. The corrupt administration of Gov. Ryan blocked his efforts to reopen the investigation of the Rhoads' murder. His boss told him the case was "too politically sensitive." What made it politically sensitive was the fact that one of the suspects, the prominent businessman, had made big-time contributions to Ryan's campaign committee. When Callahan pressed the case, the talented investigator received a reassignment of his duties to mere patrol officer. Ironically, the election of Gov. Rod Blagojevich allowed him to re-open the investigation; however, his efforts were thwarted by people within law enforcement. Later, Callahan sued the Illinois State Police for retaliating against him for exercising his Free Speech rights. A federal jury found in his favor and the federal judge in the case concurred. The government subsequently appealed the case successfully to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, which reversed the trial court decision based on a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Garcetti v. Ceballos, which said "when public employees make statements pursuant to their official duties, they are not speaking as citizens for First Amendment purposes, and the Constitution does not insulate their communications from employer discipline." Callahan is currently appealing last year's 7th Circuit decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Terre Haute Tribune Star's Lisa Trigg features a story today on Callahan's recently released book. His book was released Monday at the Illinois Governor's residence in Springfield during a Defenders of the Innocent reception. He plans book signings in Terre Haute tomorrow and Sunday in Terre Haute. Trigg notes that Callahan's book "names names" but stops short of accusing those suspects of carrying out the murders. "The big question is why these people get excluded from the later investigation," he tells Trigg. Click here if you would like to buy a copy of the book from Land of Lincoln Press, Inc.


varangianguard said...

The more I read about this, the more I believe Indiana's versions of corruption to be weak-kneed and petty.

Advance Indiana said...

Don't underestimate what goes on here, varangianguard. I think you would find many law enforcement officers who would share similar complaints as Callahan right here in the Hoosier state.

varangianguard said...

I was just comparing my perception of Lake County and Terre Haute traditions with Chicago's, for instance. Boy stuff vs. man stuff. Little state vs. big state.

For the poor victims like the Rhoads, I'm sure any such distinction wouldn't make their survivors feel any better.

Lindsey said...

If you lived where this took place, knew the people involved and still had no one bhind bars you would think differently. For a small town in Illinois this is a big deal!!!! For the families of the victims and the wrongfully acused this is a big deal!!!

varangianguard said...

OMG. Much worse situation in Illinois than even I could have imagined.

Oddly enough (for an innocent man), my choice for the prime suspect has been hitting the old counter-media trail pretty seriously.

Richard said...

There's a big difference between these two getting a bad trial and them being innocent. Somebody stabbed those two 50 some times

Rebecca said...

So, two years after the publication of this book, has anything changed? Is the Paris "businessman" still running around Paris doing business? What is wrong with the police in Illinois? One more state I will never visit. The list grows.

Darrell Moore said...

What ever hapoened to the infamous note that daryl wrote