Steidl on Sunday recalled his 17-year saga of being found guilty of killing a newlywed husband and wife at home in their bed, having his death sentence reduced to life without parole because an Illinois judge found his trial attorney had not adequately prepared for his sentencing hearing, and being freed after a federal judge ruled it was "reasonably probable'' that a jury would have acquitted Steidl had his defense attorney done more to challenge the state's case.
But according to Steidl, there was more than poor representation by counsel that resulted in his plight. He pegged a local businessman involved in organized crime as a suspect, saying he was a big contributor to the Illinois governor's campaign and was the boss of the woman murdered.
Steidl, 58, described how he went from conviction in 1986 to exoneration in 2004 before about 60 people in the sanctuary of the Westport Unitarian Church on Lyons Plains Road as part of a "Death Row to Freedom Tour," organized by the Connecticut Network to Abolish the Death Penalty.
Steidl said his speaking engagements before legislators, faith groups and college audiences are "kind of my therapy, it keeps me sane," when he considers he is among almost 140 people who have been released from death row because of wrongful convictions.
Following Steidl's presentation, Andrew L. Schneider, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut, told the audience the death penalty is not only immoral in principle, but is unfair and discriminatory in practice, assures the execution of the innocent and is the ultimate denial of civil liberties.
In the upcoming elections for statewide office, Schneider said, "We have a great opportunity here in Connecticut of abolishing this unjust and inhumane institution."
Schneider said the death penalty is mistakenly thought to be a deterrent to committing crimes, while states that have the death penalty have a higher rate of violence than those that do not.
I don't think I've ever read my own sentiments summed up so well. "The death penalty is not only immoral in principle, but is unfair and discriminatory in practice."
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