Steidl speaks of lost life

The death penalty in Illinois is a politically loaded topic. That did not stop students in SIUE’s College of Arts and Sciences Political Science Department from avoiding the issue.

Students from POLS 472 – Students of International Organization, put together the event on November 9, 2010. The program was in conjunction with Illinois Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.

Denise DeGarmo, chair of the political science department, said the students did all of the work to out together the program. The students brought the idea up and pursued it through to the end. DeGarmo was glad to see the turnout because she knew how much hard work the students had put into the project.

The program’s intent was to bring the issue home to the audience.

“One of the primary focuses our class had — we really wanted to get involved with it because we thought it would be good idea to see the human aspect of it. It’s something you never really hear about,” said Dan Barcus. “You hear about the financial cost, you hear about justice and the families, but you don’t hear about what happens to someone who gets wrongfully put there.”

Barcus, a junior political science major with an aerospace studies minor, is a member of the SIUE Air Force ROTC.

The students brought a speaker to SIUE’s Abbott Auditorium to give his story. The speaker was Randy Steidl. Steidl gave his presentation to a standing room only crowd. Colleen Cunningham, of Equal Justice U.S.A. and an organizer with Illinois to Abolish the Death Penalty, introduced the speaker and topic.

Colleen Cunningham speaks about the death penalty in Illinois and introduces Randy Steidl.

Cunningham stated there is a lot of energy around death penalty because it is the  ten year anniversary of the moratorium. Even though Illinois has deep debt issues and the moratorium, the state continues to pay for death penalty by maintaining a capital litigation trust fund. The fund, set up to pay to have death penalty, has collected over $10 million over last 10 years.

“We have law enforcement officials saying please do not cut our state troopers right now. Get rid of the death penalty and let us keep our law enforcement on the street,” said Cunningham.  “We have murder victims family members who are saying the death penalty isn’t what we need to move forward with our lives. What we need are the services and counseling that are being cut.”

The event at SIUE was the 14th stop of the state wide tour.

Steidl began his story by asking the audience to think about a time when they were accused of something they had not done.

“Do you remember that pain and that feeling you had in your heart — the humiliation, a little bit of anger — when you were pleading your case? … Well that’s good so I don’t feel so alone up here,” Steidl began.

“I want to give the perspective that you can release an innocent man from prison. You cannot release him from his grave,” said Steidl.

The debate to rid the state of the death penalty is ongoing in the class. Barcus said that even with the power of Steidl’s personalized story of innocence still hasn’t put him fully in either camp.

“It wasn’t all unanimous — we were all for it or against it. In fact, me, I’m still not 100% sure,” remarked Barcus.

An audience member asked Steidl about whether or not the state had ever pursued the case after he was released.

“There is no meaningful investigation ongoing and there never will be,” said Steidl. “They are not interested in solving it because they know who committed the crime — who contracted the crime — its organized crime and dirty politicians helped to cover it up.”

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