The Long Road

Newlyweds Are Murdered. Now, 20 Years Later, Were The Convicted Men Guilty?

The students approached their assignment by immersing themselves in the little community of Paris. "My feeling was that the way an investigation like this begins is by becoming part of the culture of the town," says Protess.

Because understanding Paris, Ill. might be key to understanding who killed Dyke and Karen and whether the men convicted of this crime really are guilty.

Weekend after weekend, the students struggled with their investigation, knocking on doors and talking with the locals.

But Michael McFatridge, who prosecuted the Rhoads case, thinks the students were wasting their time. "I think when the dust settles they'll be very disappointed because, in fact, Whitlock and Steidl are guilty. I mean, they're the murderers."

But in 1986, the young prosecutor had had a tough time building a case against Whitlock and Steidl.

The students quickly learned that the investigation into the murders had gone absolutely nowhere for two months, until an eyewitness stepped forward with an amazing tale: Darrell Herrington claimed that he actually had seen Whitlock and Steidl at the scene of the crime.

And who was Darrell Herrington? He has been described to "48 Hours" as the town drunk.

"At the time that would be, you know, a fair assessment. He was a big drinker," says McFatridge.

In a taped statement to police, Herrington said he woke up in Steidl's car, outside the Rhoads' home. "Apparently somebody was damn scared about something," Herrington told police. "I could hear a woman screaming and a man saying please don't hurt me or kill me, or something like that."

After using his credit card to jimmy open the lock, Herrington told police he went inside and up the stairs, where Steidl confronted him. Herrington told police Steidl had blood on him and also had a knife. "Then I looked up and saw a body on the bed," Herrington said.

"He knew certain things, at least in our minds, that were not things that the town drunk would know," says McFatridge.

Town drunk or not, Herrington was key to the investigation. But without a confession, McFatridge was stuck. "We were not going to indict or charge somebody until we had a reasonable chance of conviction. We had one eyewitness with no corroborative evidence."

But five months later that changed when, incredibly, a second eyewitness came forward with that much-needed corroborating evidence. Debra Reinbolt, a self-described drug addict and alcoholic, had told police she had not only seen it all, she had provided a five-inch knife, and even helped with the killing.

By the time the students began their investigation, Reinbolt claimed she was clean and sober. But in 1986, she says, "I always drank, I was always drugged."

So what happened on the night of July 6, 1986?

"A big mess. Everything went wrong. I mean they were just going to go down there try and scare Dyke, and then things just got out of hand," says Reinbolt.

Reinbolt says she knew Whitlock and Steidl through her drug use and claims that she saw them both stabbing Dyke Rhoads.

Asked what was happening to Karen at that point, Reinbolt says, "She's trying to get off the bed, and I had went over there and was telling her that everything would be okay."

Reinbolt says she held down Karen while they stabbed her and also claims that her husband's knife was used in the killings.

Reinbolt's story impressed police, especially when she accurately described a broken lamp found in the Rhoads' bedroom.

Two separate juries believed both the eyewitness accounts. In 1987, despite their unwavering protests of innocence, the two men were convicted. Whitlock got life and Steidl received the death penalty.

Steidl says he had no involvement whatsoever in the crime and says he wished he knew who killed the young couple.

Whitlock also maintains his innocence. "I had a little belief that there was justice in the system. I was pretty naïve. I'm not naïve any more," he says.

Although prosecutor McFatridge had recommended no jail time for the two eyewitnesses, Reinbolt served two years in prison for concealing a homicide.

Herrington was never charged, but months into their investigation, the Northwestern students found new evidence that cast serious doubts on the testimony of the state's two star witnesses.