It starts with a hint of what might come, and a trail of documents and interviews. But reporters never truly know where an investigation will take them.
We invite you to follow us on our journey, as we look into how a 2001 law meant to protect people from being wrongly imprisoned is working. That law allows Kansas inmates convicted of rape and murder, especially in older cases, to have biological evidence tested for DNA, which may prove their innocence.
The project started last fall, when I was approached by students at the Washburn Law School, who had been looking into these requests for a class studying wrongful convictions. Adjunct professor Rebecca Woodman, who also argues appeals as part of the public defenders office in Topeka, teaches the class.
One case particularly interested the students. It involved Ronald L. Rhodes, who had been convicted of murder in Wichita in 1981. He’s been in prison ever since.
Rhodes has maintained his innocence for three decades.
In April 2008, Rhodes filed a motion for DNA testing in his case. The law students thought they found some interesting inconsistencies in docket reports of his case. They wanted to look further.
I took the idea to my editors and we agreed to help. We thought there might be a good story at the end.
We will document our journey here, towards whatever story we may find.
This week, I’ll share the background of the last six months that has caused us to believe this is a story worth following. Then I’ll post updates as they happen, as we gather information and build our investigation.
Is Ronald Rhodes innocent? We don’t know.
But we hope to answer that and other questions about people imprisoned for crimes, and how state laws work for them, or maybe against them.