The online public petition seeks public support for Ronnie Rhodes, who has served 30 years in prison for a crime he says he didn’t commit.
Two years ago, Washburn law students studying with professor Rebecca Woodman began looking into Rhodes’ case. They reported finding serious flaws in the investigation and evidence, which resulted in Rhodes’ conviction and a life prison sentence. The clinic also has pointed to legal concerns in the way his appeal was handled and carelessness in the handling of evidence that might prove Rhodes’ claims of innocence.
“The Washburn law students’ investigation convincingly shows that Ronnie’s conviction was the result of a miscarriage of justice, and the fact that crucial evidence that could exonerate him has been lost or destroyed only adds to it,” Woodman said.
Executive clemency allows Brownback to either pardon Rhodes or commute his sentence to time served.
“Ronnie has paid for this with over 30 years of his life, and that’s more than enough,” Woodman said.
After receiving support from more than 20 people — mostly prison officials who deal with Rhodes daily at the Lansing Correction Facility — the state’s Prisoner Review Board last summer denied the 57-year-old inmate parole for the eighth time. The review board will examine the request for clemency, then send it onto Brownback’s office with a report. The Prisoner Review Board was appointed by Brownback to replace the Kansas Parole Board.
In denying parole, the board imposed conditions, including finding a job that conflicted with Department of Corrections policies.
Rhodes said he has been repeatedly told he won’t receive parole until he “takes responsibility” for the crime.
“I will not admit to something I have not done,” Rhodes said in an e-mail from prison. “I am not a murderer, I can not kill anyone for any reason and that is just the way it is.”
A letter to Brownback accompanying the online petition stated: “Despite his unjust incarceration, Mr. Rhodes has engaged in educational and occupational pursuits to aid his reintegration to society, and is well-equipped to lead a productive life outside of prison.”
Rhodes has studied, and received, a paralegal degree through a correspondence course. He has also become a mentor to other inmates through the “Reaching Out from Within” support group, which encourages non-violent behavior.
“I have watched this place turn men into killers and heartless people full of hate and bitterness,” Rhodes said. “I refuse to allow this place, its people or the conditions to dictate the conditions of my heart, no matter how long I am here.”
Janet Weiblen, a Kansas City area pastor who works with “Reaching Out From Within,” said she has been frustrated with a lack of response by state officials to Washburn’s findings.
She said she hopes the petition will show Brownback and prison officials that others support clemency for Rhodes.
“I am beginning to think we have a system that is immovable,” Weiblen said. “I hope that’s not so. There comes a point in time where justice is justice.”
The petition is available at Change.org