At least nine staff members at the Lansing Correctional Facility are writing letters of support for Ronnie Rhodes as he comes up for parole next month.
For 30 years, Rhodes has contended he’s innocent of the murder conviction that sent him to prison in 1981.
When we first started reporting about Rhodes’ case last year, some voiced concern about his disciplinary record in prison. We looked at those and found that most were for minor infractions, such as smoking and helping other inmates with legal questions. Rhodes had received an online paralegal degree while he was in prison.
Now, Rhodes is receiving support because of some of the same issues.
Micahel Bellar, a corrections officer who has known Rhodes in 1986 wrote:
“He volunteers his spare time to help fellow inmates with their court cases, helping them understand rules and regulations of the facility, and most importantly he guides new inmates on how to better themselves and stay on the right path while incarcerated. He also helps various types of staff here when called upon to do so. I have been told by several staff members that he does a fine job and has remained polite and courteous at all times with them.”
Rhodes also stopped smoking, said Christina Wagner, mentor coordinator at Lansing.
“He was very persistent in coming up with a plan that would work for his addictions,” Wagner said. “My experience with Mr. Rhodes has been positive and respectful. I believe he has good qualities that can assist both while he is incarcerated and if he has the opportunity to be in the community.”
Parole seems to be Rhodes latest hope for freedom. Possible DNA evidence that may have exonerated him, or confirmed his guilt, can’t be located.
Wichita police had no written policy for maintaining evidence and are working to initiate a plan to maintain evidence in homicide cases.
Without that evidence, it would be tough for Rhodes to get his case reopened in court.
Rhodes said via email from prison he expects to receive more letters of support.
Rebecca Woodman of the Washburn School of Law, whose students first called attention to weaknesses in Rhodes’ conviction, is preparing a report on Rhodes behalf to submit to the new Prisoner Review Board.
That panel replaced the Kansas Parole Board abolished by Gov. Sam Brownback.
The parole board turned down Rhodes seven times previously.
Rhodes said he hopes this time is different.
Read the letters: