Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Rodney Lincoln

This first story is the reason for my absolute passion for STOPPING THE MADNESS OF WRONGFUL CONVICTION!!!
In 1982 Rodney Lincoln was arrested for the gruesome murder of a woman he was acquainted with and the brutal attack of her two young daughters. There were many suspects to choose from. The surviving victims gave a name (Bill) for their attacker, said he lived in Illinois, and drove a taxi cab. None of this matched Rodney. The children were shown several photos of possible suspects, always in groups of 8 or more. They never identified anyone as being their attacker.

About a month after the murder the police sketch artist created a composite drawing of the suspect using very unconventional means. The little girl had mentioned several times that the attacker looked like a family friend but was not the man. The sketch artist started with a photograph of the man and made changes she suggested to make it look more like the attacker. This composite was released to the media and the brother and sister of the murdered woman contacted police and said that it resembled a man she knew named Rod. They found a listing for Rod in her phone book with a phone number and called him. This man readily admitted to knowing the victim and her children and that he had heard what happened to them. (It was all over the news.) Well, this conversation sealed his fate......

After they spoke with him and got his SSN and DOB they ran a record check on him and found he had a prior conviction for 2nd degree murder ten years before. The investigation all but stopped that day. They took a copy of Rodney's ten-year-old black and white mugshot and a color photo of a cousin of their older sister for the children to identify. The 7-year-old victim picked his picture and within two hours they had Rodney in a so-called line-up with three people all more than 15 years younger than him who looked nothing like him. The child was STRONGLY encouraged to pick someone and was told that if she did not pick the right man, the bad man would go free. Of course she picked him. She had just seen a picture of him 2 hours before, he was the only one who looked remotely like the sketch and she DID know him, but may not have remembered exactly from where. He and her mother had briefly dated the year before.

Rodney readily agreed to speak with them, go to the police station, answer all their questions, provide hair samples, submit to a body search and participate in a line-up because he had nothing to hide. Because of his willingness to help, he has not been a free man since May 23rd, 1982.

His first trial in August 1983 ended in a hung jury with a 7-5 split on the verdict. In a second trial in October, 1983 the state brought in more experts to testify that a critical hair at the scene was his. That trial ended in a conviction for manslaughter and two counts of 1st degree assault. He was sentenced to two life terms plus 15 years.


In June, 2003 the St. Louis Circuit attorney's office conducted a review of old cases to see if DNA could be used to prove innocence or guilt. Out of over 1400 cases reviewed, Rodney's was one of the six chosen. It was announced on the evening news, shocking and thrilling Rodney's family. A week later there was another news report. This time the now grown 7-year-old victim was protesting the review and making statements that certainly were based on her understanding of the truth but in reality were not accurate.
The circuit attorney's review that all interested parties were originally told would take a couple months stretched into ten months and then in April 2004 the circuit attorney's office closed the review without doing any testing. Their stance was that the only evidence that would provide conclusive proof of innocence or guilt was the fingernail scrapings that were taken from the victim and they said they could not find them. They did locate the hair that was so widely testified about at trial but they said it would not conclusively prove innocence or guilt so they refused to perform DNA testing on it.

During the ten months they were reviewing the case Rodney's family was able (after many obstacles) to obtain the line-up photo and police reports and purchase a copy of the trial transcripts from the second trial. (The first one was never transcribed by the court reporter even though  the fee was paid.)  By the time the circuit attorney's office concluded their case Rodney had a fierce advocate armed with a massive amount of information that had not been available to the family before the review. It was now clear that he was not only innocent but had been railroaded from the beginning.

The circuit attorney's office closed their case without doing any testing but Rodney's supporters promised them it was not over........

Searching for help Rodney's family contacted Steve Weinberg, a journalism professor at University of Missouri, Columbia and a very active warrior in the battle against wrongful conviction. He is also a free-lance journalist and a published author of several books and has served as director of IRE, Investigative Researchers and Editors. In 2003 Steve collaborated with another writer, a lawyer and a team of researchers from the Center for Public Integrity to publish Harmful Error, a book-length report on prosecutorial misconduct around the country.

After reviewing all the information sent to him Steve agreed that it looked like a case of an innocent man in prison and vowed that he would do what he could to help, with careful reminders that he doesn't know what the outcome will be and warning that it would be a long process. In January of 2005 Steve was teaching an investigative reporting class that focused on criminal justice and he chose  Rodney's case to be the one the class would investigate as their class project. The students were amazing and did an excellent job of uncovering even more information. Their investigation resulted in a feature article in the St. Louis Post Dispatch in October 2005.

Not too long after Steve Weinberg entered the investigation the family contacted Phil Gibson, an attorney who at the time, was affiliated with the Public Interest Litigation Clinic and serving as the Legal Director of the Midwest Innocence Project (MIP). After a short meeting during which Phil looked over some of the police reports and other documentation he decided that he thought the case was an excellent one for Steve's students to investigate and that he planned to ask the board of directors of MIP to accept the case.
That request was accepted and the lawyers and investigators have been working hard on his behalf ever since. There has been a number of changes in personnel there over the years. Some of the attorneys who have worked on his case have been Phil Gibson, assisted by law student Alisha Ohara, Byron Beck, Cheryl Pilate, Ken Blucker and Tiffany Murphy. The current cast of MIP includes Rafe Foreman and Laura O'Sullivan assisted by Robyn Goldberg and a staff of investigators. They have worked tirelessly for Rodney over the years and each person who has worked on the case has helped it to progress towards exoneration.
Most importantly, in January 2010 they finally got the circuit attorney's office to agree to DNA testing and in June, 2010 preliminary results were received followed by the final report in November 2010. While the fingernail scrapings (yes, they were eventually found in the evidence) did not yield testable DNA the hairs from the crime scene did. The pubic hair that was portrayed as his at trial IS NOT HIS! Not only that but another hair found on one of the victims also yielded a DNA profile that IS NOT HIS! Not only are these hairs not Rodney's, they also do not belong to any of the victims and in fact these two hairs yielded two different DNA profiles, mutually exclusive of each other.
Based on these exculpatory DNA results, MIP filed a motion to have him released in November, 2010. The circuit attorney's office, of course, opposed that motion. There have been a couple status hearings since then and an evidentiary hearing was scheduled for Mid-May but was postponed due to personnel changes at MIP and some other circumstances. In the meantime, MIP has continued to actively investigate every lead and piece of information they have related to this case. They continually discover new things that point to his innocence. This will hopefully be put into use very soon. The new hearing date has not been set but I will be waiting anxiously for that announcement.

Rodney's family has created a Facebook group to spread awareness about his story and to garner support. You can find their group here:


The other Facebook group you need to take a look at is this one that lists many different cases of wrongful conviction. It shares a name with this blog!


You might be wondering why I am so passionate about this case and about all the other families suffering this same daily struggle. I was only 13 years old in 1982 and probably would have never given this case a second thought even though it was all over the news, had there not been the extra piece of information not included in the article above. Rodney Lincoln is MY FATHER!!!!! He is innocent, yet has spent the last almost THIRTY YEARS behind bars while my brothers, sister and I have grown up and had lives of our own. We ranged in age from 10-16 when he was arrested. We are now all grandparents!!!!! Please take the time to visit his Facebook group and the other Facebook group I referenced above. That one has articles and links to not only my Dad's case but literally DOZENS of others facing the same daily struggle to free themselves from wrongful incarceration for crimes they DID NOT commit.
Please take the time to read about these cases and if they touch you the way I think they will, take a stand. Join the groups, offer your support, but most of all, spread the stories of what these people are going through. The more people that are aware of the problems in our broken judicial system, the more likely we are to find a solution to the problems.

                                   STOP THE MADNESS!!!!!

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