Indiana State University Newsroom

Steidl receives advocacy award named in his honor

April 30, 2015

Randy Steidl, a man who spent nearly 20 years in prison -- 12 of which on death row -- says telling his story has always been enough of an award.

Now after receiving the inaugural Randy Steidl Excellence in Justice Award from the Indiana State University criminology and criminal justice department Wednesday, Steidl now has one he can hang on his wall, too.

"That's beautiful," Steidl said after being presented a wooden plaque by Mark Hamm, professor of criminology, who is marking his 30th year with the university.

The annual award named in Steidl's honor recognizes his efforts to advance the cause of justice through education, activism and civil engagement, Hamm said. Nominations for future awards are welcome, Hamm said, and Steidl will have an instrumental role in deciding who to honor each spring.

"I feel really proud to be a part of that. Thank you," Steidl said.

Steidl has been a guest speaker in Hamm's classes the past three or four years, he said, and has traveled to 70-80 campuses around the country with Witness to Innocence, an organization made up exonerated people.

"These kids that are graduating now are the future of the criminal justice system," Steidl said. "My only request is to do it with integrity. It's not a game; it's not win or lose. It's about justice, because there are 150 Randy Steidls out here who have been exonerated."

Hamm said he meets students who come to Indiana State believing the criminal justice system can do no wrong.

"That's not right," Hamm said. "That's why Baltimore is burning this morning (from riots after a man died in police custody) and why Randy spent 17 years in prison for a crime he did not commit, was stabbed seven times, spent 12 years on death row. That's been the message he's been kind enough to share with our students."

Steidl said he went from the comforts of his home to death row in 97 days after he was accused of the "horrendous crime" of murdering a newlywed couple in 1986 in Paris, Ill.

"It shocks the whole town. Once they throw your name out there for a few months for being connected to somebody who sold drugs in that town on a small-time basis ... and then turn around and produce two eye-witnesses -- the town drunk and a mentally ill woman -- who claimed I was at the crime scene, how do you defend yourself?" he said to the small gathering of students and faculty.

Despite no physical evidence linking him to the crime and having an alibi, Steidl came within six weeks of being executed. His mother even bought him a cemetery plot, he said.

"No mother should have to do that," Steidl said. "It's not what they did to me - it's what they did to my kids and my mother, my father. That's just some of the pain that never leaves you."

In 1996, the Illinois Supreme Court granted Steidl a new sentencing hearing after determining his trial attorney had not provided an adequate representation, and in 1999, after a dozen years on Illinois' death row, Steidl was resentenced to life in prison without the chance of parole.

Five years later, U.S. District Judge Michael McCuskey determined Steidl's "acquittal was reasonably probable if the jury had heard all of the evidence" and ordered a new trial. In 2004, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan declined to appeal McCuskey's decision, and all charges against Steidl were dropped.

After nearly 20 years in prison, Steidl became the 18th person in Illinois' history freed after a wrongful conviction and was an outspoken advocate for Illinois' abolishment of capital punishment in 2011. He continues his advocacy to end the death penalty in other states around the country.


Photos: -- Randy Steidl, right, receives the inaugural Randy Steidl Excellence in Justice Award from Mark Hamm, professor of criminology at Indiana State University, on Wednesday, April 29, 2015. (Rachel Keyes/Indiana State University) -- Randy Steidl poses with his plaque for receiving the inaugural Randy Steidl Excellence in Justice Award on Wednesday, April 29, 2015. (Rachel Keyes/Indiana State University) -- Randy Steidl, center, talks with Mark Hamm, professor of criminology at Indiana State University and John Murray, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, on Wednesday, April 29, 2015. (Rachel Keyes/Indiana State University)

Writer and Media Contact: Libby Roerig, media relations assistant director, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-3790 or