682 F.3d 567 (7th Cir. 2012), 11-1059, Whitlock v. Brueggemann

Docket Nº:11-1059, 11-1060, 11-1061, 11-1068, 11-1069, 11-1070.
Citation:682 F.3d 567
Opinion Judge:WOOD, Circuit Judge.
Party Name:Herbert WHITLOCK and Gordon
Attorney:Ronald H. Balson (argued), Attorney, Stone, Pogrund & Korey, G. Flint Taylor (argued), Ben H. Elson, Attorneys, People's Law Office, Chicago, IL, for Plaintiffs-Appellees. Iain D. Johnston (argued), Attorney, Johnston Greene LLC, Chicago, IL, David Charles Thies, Attorney, Webber & Thies, P.C., U...
Judge Panel:Before FLAUM, KANNE, and WOOD, Circuit Judges.
Case Date:May 30, 2012
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

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682 F.3d 567 (7th Cir. 2012)

Herbert WHITLOCK and Gordon " Randy" Steidl, Plaintiffs-Appellees,


Charles BRUEGGEMANN, et al., Defendants-Appellants.

Nos. 11-1059, 11-1060, 11-1061, 11-1068, 11-1069, 11-1070.

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit.

May 30, 2012

Argued Oct. 27, 2011.

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Ronald H. Balson (argued), Attorney, Stone, Pogrund & Korey, G. Flint Taylor (argued), Ben H. Elson, Attorneys, People's Law Office, Chicago, IL, for Plaintiffs-Appellees.

Iain D. Johnston (argued), Attorney, Johnston Greene LLC, Chicago, IL, David Charles Thies, Attorney, Webber & Thies, P.C., Urbana, IL, for Defendants-Appellants in No. 11-1059, 11-1070.

Elizabeth K. Barton, Attorney, Sotos & Associates, Itasca, IL, for Defendants-Appellants in No. 11-1060.

Vincent C. Mancini (argued), Attorney, Ekl, Williams & Provenzale LLC, Lisle, IL, for Defendant-Appellant in Nos. 11-1061, 11-1069.

James G. Sotos, Attorney, Sotos & Associates, Itasca, IL, for Defendants-Appellants in No. 11-1068.

Before FLAUM, KANNE, and WOOD, Circuit Judges.

WOOD, Circuit Judge.

On July 6, 1986, Karen and Dyke Rhodes were found murdered in their home in Paris, Illinois. They had been stabbed numerous times and their home had been set afire. From the ashes of these gruesome murders rises another, deeply disturbing, allegation: that police and a prosecutor conspired to frame two innocent men of these crimes, and over the course of the next two decades, state officials continued to cover up those misdeeds.

Herbert Whitlock and Gordon " Randy" Steidl were convicted of the murders in 1987 (Steidl for both deaths and Whitlock for Karen's). They spent the next 21 and 17 years in prison, respectively, before each was finally able to convince a post-conviction court to reverse his conviction on the basis of numerous Brady violations. Whitlock and Steidl then brought suit against a variety of state officials for violations of their constitutional rights.

We are familiar with this case from our earlier decision in Steidl v. Fermon, 494 F.3d 623 (7th Cir.2007), in which we affirmed the denial of a motion to dismiss filed on behalf of some of the defendants. The case then progressed to discovery and most of the defendants moved for summary judgment. With minor exceptions, the district court denied those motions and

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set a date for trial. We are again asked to evaluate the district court's interlocutory judgment because the defendants raise a variety of immunity defenses.

It has been nearly 25 years since Steidl and Whitlock were convicted of the Rhodes homicides. If their claims are true, a grave and nearly unbelievable miscarriage of justice occurred in Paris, Illinois. Two innocent men will have to deal with its consequences for the rest of their lives. We find no reason to delay their day in court for these matters any further. For the reasons we discuss below, we affirm the district court's denial of each defendant's motion for summary judgment.


Our earlier opinion summarizes the facts in this case. See Fermon, 494 F.3d at 626-27. For convenience and because this appeal involves defendants and a plaintiff (Whitlock) who were not parties to our earlier decision, we briefly review the material facts again here. Wherever we encounter disputed facts we will recount them, as we must, " in the light most favorable [to the plaintiffs]." Borello v. Allison, 446 F.3d 742, 747 (7th Cir.2006).

Faced with a sensational and high-profile double homicide, law enforcement officials in Paris, Illinois, quickly responded. That night, Paris police officers Gene Ray and James Parrish, Illinois State Police investigator Jack Eckerty, and State's Attorney Michael McFatridge came together to form an investigative team. In the months and years that followed, they worked closely together on the case.

A local businessman, Robert Morgan, and his associate, Smoke Burba, were early suspects. Morgan owned several local businesses, including a dog food processing company, but Morgan and Burba were also allegedly involved in transporting illegal drugs between Paris and Chicago. Karen Rhodes worked for Morgan at one of his legitimate businesses. Some of her family members and friends told the police that Karen was concerned because she had seen Morgan and Burba loading a machine gun and money into Morgan's truck, and that she was also concerned about large amounts of unexplained cash that were coming through Morgan's business. This could have provided a motive for Morgan and Burba, or someone associated with them, to kill the Rhodeses. The team interviewed Morgan and several of his employees, but they did not question Burba. For reasons that are unclear, they stopped pursuing this lead.

Their sights instead turned to Steidl and Whitlock. Shortly before the murders, Steidl and Whitlock had met with an FBI agent to complain about illegal gambling in Paris. At that meeting, they named local attorneys who were involved in the gambling ring. Although it is not clear whether they mentioned Michael McFatridge, the State's Attorney, he was allegedly among those involved in the illegal activity. As it happened, the FBI agent in whom Steidl and Whitlock confided knew McFatridge; the two had a close working relationship.

On July 9, 1986, the Paris police purportedly received an anonymous call that Steidl and Whitlock had been making snide comments about the murders. The police brought Steidl and Whitlock into the station and interrogated them. Both denied involvement in the murders and gave alibis, which the police later corroborated. They were released.

Two months later, the case remained unsolved. On September 19, 1986, Ray and Parrish were on patrol when they came across Darrell Herrington, a man widely known in town for his alcohol problems. Herrington also worked for Morgan.

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Herrington allegedly told the police, " Whatever you do, don't ask me about the murders." Unsurprisingly, the police took him to the stationhouse and interrogated him. Initially, Herrington told police officers that he was present during the murders and that they had been committed by " Jim and Ed." Ray and Parrish informed Eckerty and McFatridge about this interview the next morning.

The entire investigative team met with Herrington again on September 21. At that meeting, Herrington changed his story entirely and named Whitlock and Steidl as the murderers. The police then put Herrington in seclusion for several days in a hotel. They supplied him with money and alcohol and allegedly fed him additional details about the crimes. Herrington changed his story again, however. During a polygraph, he said that he did not see the murders and did not see Whitlock and Steidl committing them. Police then had Herrington hypnotized. During the hypnosis, Herrington stated that he thought his memory was a drunken nightmare. Once again, the police did not arrest Whitlock or Steidl.

Several months later, in February 1987, Debra Reinbolt contacted her probation officer, who happened to be James Parrish's wife. Reinbolt wanted to get in touch with Parrish because he had previously asked her to serve as an informant in other cases. Reinbolt's story is that over the course of the next several months, Parrish and Eckerty coerced her to implicate Whitlock and Steidl. Led by the police, who knew she had a history of mental illness and drug abuse, she eventually concocted a tale that she was at the murder scene, saw Steidl's car there, and was given the murder weapon by Whitlock when Whitlock left the Rhodeses' house. In response to Parrish's urging, she even turned over a knife to him, asserting that it was the murder weapon (though it was not). In addition, the police pressured Reinbolt to say that there was a broken lamp in the Rhodeses' bedroom and that Steidl or Whitlock had a piece of the lamp in his hand. This fact is notable because although a broken lamp was found at the scene, and the police knew about its existence, they did not know that later scientific evidence would show that the lamp had been broken after, not before, the fire. After the police secured this account from Reinbolt, they applied for a warrant to arrest Steidl and Whitlock.

Herrington and Reinbolt testified at Steidl's and Whitlock's trials. Their testimony and credibility was the " sine qua non of the State's case." People v. Whitlock, No. 4-05-0958, 374 Ill.App.3d 1144, 348 Ill.Dec. 692, 944 N.E.2d 933 (Ill.App.Ct. Sept. 6, 2007). Both were convicted (although as we said, Whitlock was convicted of only Karen's death). Steidl was sentenced to death and Whitlock to life in prison. Years later, both Herrington and Reinbolt gave sworn statements recanting their trial testimony and alleging that the police had told them what to say. McFatridge then drafted affidavits retracting these recantations, and each signed the new statements. In 1996, Reinbolt gave a second, sworn and videotaped recantation. This again was followed by the state's attorney's taping a retraction of her recantation.

In April 2000, additional Illinois State Police (ISP) officers entered the case. ISP Lieutenant Michale Callahan began reviewing the case and concluded that Herrington and Reinbolt's trial testimony was false and that Steidl and Whitlock were innocent. Callahan detailed this information in several memoranda. As we recounted in our earlier opinion, the ISP defendants began suppressing Callahan's findings. Fermon, 494 F.3d at 626-27.

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During this time, the governor's office was considering pardoning Whitlock and Steidl, and both Whitlock and Steidl had pending post-conviction petitions in state...

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