Blog Post Detail
How Northwestern, CBS misled America, part 1
We have established that the national CBS 48 Hours broadcast, “Impossible Mission” on June 21, 2001, helped break an appeals logjam for Randy Steidl and Herb Whitlock, leading to their eventual release from prison.
But civil court and other records show conclusively that major portions of the broadcast were dramatically false and misleading.
Let’s start with perhaps the biggest whopper of all — The Donnie Alexander interview.
Alexander, a friend of the slain couple, Dyke and Karen Rhoads, was portrayed by Northwestern and CBS as being an important new witness who could establish that the state’s timeline for the killing was several hours off. The entire premise of the broadcast was the re-investigation of the case by Northwestern professor David Protess and his students. That same team was fresh off its apparent stunning exoneration of Anthony Porter two years earlier, an exoneration that now is being called into question.
Here is how CBS’ narrator Susan Spencer sets up the Donnie Alexander interview. (Note: Kirsten Searer is one of the students).
SPENCER: (Voiceover) …and find a new witness. Ms. SEARER: Hi. This is Kirsten.
Prof. PROTESS: A witness who was never interviewed, who was a childhood friend of Dyke Rhoads, known him for almost his entire life.
Ms. SEARER: (Voiceover) We’re here with Donnie Alexander. It’s February 13th. He’s pretty sure about what he saw.
(Footage of Alexander and Spencer in the Friendly Tavern)
SPENCER: (Voiceover) Donnie Alexander was one of the last people to see the Rhoads alive, in the Friendly bar.
Now show me the booth you were talking about.
Mr. DONNIE ALEXANDER: It’s this one right here.
SPENCER: So who was sitting where?
Mr. ALEXANDER: Dyke and Karen were sitting there. I was sitting right here.
We were just talking and laughing and…
SPENCER: Which would have been when?
Mr. ALEXANDER: Oh, I guess probably about a quarter after 12, 20 after 12 probably.
(Footage of Herrington; photo of the Rhoads’ house)
SPENCER: (Voiceover) That’s the time eyewitness Darryl Herrington told police he was at the Rhoads’ house.
(Footage of the sign outside the Friendly Tavern; music heard in background; footage of inside the bar)
So, the students supposedly found this startling new witness who claimed to blow the lid off the state’s version of events. Except, the entire story is false. Alexander was questioned by Paris Police on July 17, 1986, — less than two weeks after the murders — and he definitively stated his barroom encounter with Dyke and Karen was several days prior to the murder, not the same night.
At approximately 6:30 p.m., July 17, 1986, R.O. conducted an interview with Donald W. Alexander, black male, 310 E. Monroe, Paris, IL, d.o.b. 7-31-55, telephone No. XXXXXX. R.O. conducted this interview in reference from a rumor that the Police Department was told that Donnie Alexander had drank with Dyke and Karen Rhoads at the Friendly Tavern on July 6, 1986. Donnie Alexander advised R.O. that had had been at the Friendly Tavern on July 3, 1986, and had spoken to Dyke and Karen Rhoads. Donnie went on to say that everything seemed alright and neither Dyke nor Karen was out of line or said anything out of line to Donnie to make him suspect that anything was going on at this time.
Bill Clutter, the investigator who was helping Randy Steidl, confirmed on page 250 in his civil deposition that the Donnie Alexander story was mischaracterized by CBS and Northwestern and had zero value in the investigation.
Q. And as an investigator who was familiar with all of the interviews that had taken place over a number of years, were you familiar with the fact that Donnie Alexander had long ago said that he saw Dyke and Karen Rhoads, but it was actually the day before?
CLUTTER: Or the 4th, yeah, that’s right.
Q. Did you find any significance to their interview of Donnie Alexander in your investigation?
Therefore, the Donnie Alexander interview — billed in the show as a significant new find — was a complete misrepresentation as CBS and Northwestern portrayed it.
NEXT: Did CBS and Northwestern know the Donnie Alexander story was bogus?