Thursday, May 21, 2009

Former Illinois trooper writes book on Rhoads killings

A Terre Haute native took his mission with the Illinois State Police seriously when he was tasked with reinvestigating a 1986 homicide. Michale Callahan’s dedication uncovered what he believes is the wrongful conviction of two men, and a conspiracy to cover up the faulty investigation and government corruption.

His book, “Too Politically Sensitive,” details Callahan’s long journey to not only reveal the errors in the investigation of the slaying of newlyweds Dyke and Karen Rhoads, but also the political corruption in the state of Illinois. The title comes from a supervisor’s statement that the case was “too politically sensitive” to be reopened.

Callahan’s book was released Monday during a Defenders of the Innocence reception at the Illinois governor’s mansion. “We have had nothing but positive comments so far,” Callahan said in a telephone interview of the response to the book. “I think people in Illinois are really unhappy about this case and how it was handled.” Area residents are invited to two upcoming book signings — from 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday at the Vigo County Public Library, and 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday at Waldenbooks at Honey Creek Mall — to meet Callahan and talk to him about how homicides can be “too politically sensitive.”

The July 6, 1986, killings of the Rhoads newlyweds was highly covered in area media, as were the trials of Randy Steidl and Herb Whitlock, both of whom were convicted of murder in June 1987.

Fourteen years later, Callahan drew the assignment of reviewing the case. It was 2000 and he was the newly promoted investigations commander of District 10 in east-central Illinois. The homicide case was to be featured in an upcoming episode of CBS’ “48 Hours,” which examined whether Steidl and Whitlock had been wrongfully convicted. And the case also had drawn the attention of the Downstate Illinois Innocence Project and The Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University.

Callahan said he learned Steidl and Whitlock were railroaded into prison. But as he tried to uncover the truth behind the wrongful convictions, pressure from superiors in the Illinois State Police and then-Gov. George Ryan’s administration thwarted his investigation.

During his 20-year career in investigations, Callahan was promoted to sergeant, master sergeant and lieutenant. He retired from the Illinois State Police in March 2005, and a year later he received The Edmund Burke Award from the National Lawyers Association for his efforts to uncover the truth in the case. Callahan has spent much of the past three years working on the book.

“It was a lot of research — thousands of documents. It took a lot of rewrites and a good editor,” Callahan said Tuesday morning. The book has several layers, from corrupt public officials to drug-dealing motorcycle gangs to pizza joints associated with the Sicilian Mafia. “It’s a living document,” he said. “The book has multiple meanings, and one of those is about the First Amendment.”

Callahan has a case pending before the U.S. Supreme Court, asserting that his First Amendment rights were violated when he was retaliated against by ISP command for speaking out on a matter of public concern. That case now focuses on whether, as a public servant, Callahan is guaranteed First Amendment rights when it comes to his employers.

The book names names, Callahan said, but does not accuse anyone of any crime. “They are named as suspects in the initial investigation, so they are in the book,” Callahan said. “The big question is why these people get excluded from the later investigation.”

The case still draws interest from people in the Paris, Marshall and Chrisman, Ill., areas, he said, and he thinks people in his native Terre Haute also will find the details he has uncovered interesting.

Callahan attended Wiley High School and was in the first graduating class of Terre Haute South Vigo High School. He graduated from Indiana University with a bachelor’s degree in forensic studies, and left graduate school to begin a 25-year career in law enforcement.

A preview of Callahan’s book is available at

Original report here

(And don't forget your ration of Wicked Thoughts for today)

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