Protess team disappointed by ‘another stumbling block’

SPRINGFIELD — After speeding off to the state capital for what could have been a break in their yearlong investigation of a 1986 double-murder case, two Medill graduate students left unsure of the defendant’s future.

A three-judge State Appellate Court ruled Wednesday to appoint a new prosecutor to Randy Steidl’s appeal because of a conflict of interest.

The court allowed for an outside prosecutor to be chosen within 21 days.

The Illinois attorney general’s office filed an emergency motion Tuesday to withdraw from the appeal because of a conflict of interest.

Led by Prof. David Protess, four Medill students have been investigating the case since Fall Quarter. Their efforts were profiled Monday on CBS’ “48 Hours.”

Before the hearing, the students said they hoped the unexpected motion would provide a break in the case, including a possible alternative suspect.

“We’ve been waiting for a break and we were hoping that this would be it,” said Kirsten Searer, a former managing editor of The Daily. “It was really odd that something we thought would actually speed up this whole process actually turned out to be something that slowed it down. But it’s a good step.”

Before the short five-minute hearing, Steidl’s mother, Bobbie, crouched in a bench and rested her head in her arms. She said she was nervous to hear the results of the hearing.

“I’m not sure what’s going on,” she said. “When I heard last night, I was disappointed that oral arguments have been canceled.”

Margaret Lynn Magers, a member of the jury that convicted Steidl of the murder but who has supported Steidl’s defense since inconsistencies began to surface, joined Steidl’s mother in the courtroom. She said she also was confused about what the next step would be.

“It’s been going on so long now,” Magers said. “It’s frustrating, the fact that they’re putting new attorneys on. It’s probably going to be another six months down the road, or eight months.”

Although the students said they were disappointed that the hearing didn’t reveal why the state withdrew from the appeal, they said it was more disappointing for the family because it draws out the 14-year-old case further.

“We were disappointed that it turned out to be another stumbling block,” Searer said. “But to Bobbie, this is every day. There’s only so many times you can get your hopes up and have them dashed.”