Indiana State University Newsroom

Murder victim's sister, exonerated death row inmate bring 'Journey of Hope' to Indiana State

October 22, 2013

Therese Bartholomew became an advocate for change after her brother's killer received what she considered to be a light sentence.

Randy Steidl began speaking out for change after spending more than a decade on death row for a double murder he did not commit.

Although their circumstances are different, both speak for Journey of Hope, which promotes alternatives to the death penalty. The two recently brought their stories to Indiana State University.

Bartholomew became a speaker for the Journey of Hope after her younger brother, Steve, was shot and killed by a man after a brief argument. Her brother was like a father figure to her children. When his murderer was only sentenced to 10 years in prison, she did not let the situation sit well.

"The man before him [on trial] was sentenced to life in prison for drugs," Bartholomew said.

Bartholomew went through a long and difficult struggle to overcome what happened to her brother. Her coping process led her to quit her high school English teaching job because she couldn't handle daily tasks anymore due to depression.

"I dropped to my knees and didn't get up for a month," Bartholomew said. "[I thought] this pain is going to kill me."

Eventually she decided to put her energy into something productive. She went back to graduate school to get her master's degree in criminal justice. She recognized how flawed the justice system was and wanted to do something about it. As a part of her healing process, she decided to make a documentary journeying her progress and eventually meeting her brother's murderer behind bars.

"I had forgiven him. Forgiveness had nothing to do with him, it had to do with me," Bartholomew said.

Bartholomew was able to recognize that even if her brother's murderer did get the death penalty, it still wouldn't teach him his lesson. She wanted to allow him some space in order to "repent." Bartholomew is a member of the Journey of Hope because she believes that people who commit crimes need to be rehabilitated instead of punished.

"We're so focused on how much we can punish," She said. "The death penalty is the most extreme brokenness in our system."

Randy Steidl of Paris, Ill. is an advocate for Journey of Hope because he was falsely accused of a double murder of newlyweds Dyke and Karen Rhoads. He was arrested and accused by two supposed eye witnesses. Due to lack of proper representation from his attorney, Steidl was sentenced to death row for a crime he had nothing to do with.

After over a decade spent in prison, Steidl's supposed eye witnesses approached the court claiming that police officers had intimidated them into framing Steidl. His case was still not retried by the court.

"[The court said] no retrial because recantations are inherently unreliable," Steidl said.

With Steidl nearly giving up hope and facing execution, his younger brother, a police officer, suggested he be represented by a different attorney. After 17 years of imprisonment, a federal judge threw out his conviction, the state of Illinois declined to appeal and Steidl was finally freed.

"You really want to punish a victim's killer, you keep them in the cage. Give them time to repent," he said.

Jordan Isaacs, a graduate student studying criminology at Indiana State, helped arrange the Journey of Hope presentation which took place Oct. 16.

Isaacs works as a graduate assistant to criminology and criminal justice professor Mark Hamm. The two collaborated to allow the Journey of Hope the opportunity to present at ISU. In arranging the presentation, Isaacs was able to gain some experience for his future field.

"By helping coordinate and organize presentations like The Journey of Hope, it gives me a crash-course in the time and planning it takes to coordinate this type of event. I also find it very rewarding because these individuals have very unique and powerful stories," Isaacs said.

Isaacs believes that ISU students should have the opportunity to hear opinionated speakers such as this.

"In order for students to make an informed decision on an issue they must be exposed to all sides of that issue. I hope students had the opportunity to think critically and were exposed to new issues," Isaacs said.

Steidl summed up his presentation - and Journey of Hope's message - with his closing statement.

"You can release an innocent man from prison, I know because I was one of them, but you can't from the grave," he said.

Photo: - Therese Bartholomew, who forgave her brother's killer and speaks out against the death penalty, took part in an Oct. 16 "Journey of Hope" presentation at Indiana State University. (ISU/Rachel Keyes)

Writer: Sadie All, media relations assistant, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-3773 or