Rhodes seeks new murder trial again: Said expert testimony was inaccurate
WILLMAR -- Thomas Daniel Rhodes, the 55-year-old Mankato man convicted of murdering his wife while his family vacationed in August 1996 on Green Lake in Spicer, said the testimony of two key witnesses at trial was inaccurate, and he is seeking a ...
WILLMAR - Thomas Daniel Rhodes, the 55-year-old Mankato man convicted of murdering his wife while his family vacationed in August 1996 on Green Lake in Spicer, said the testimony of two key witnesses at trial was inaccurate, and he is seeking a new trial.
Rhodes and his attorney, David Schultz, appeared Thursday in Kandiyohi County District Court to argue for access to evidence from the case.
Jane Rhodes’ body was retrieved from Green Lake several hours after her husband reported that she had fallen out of their boat. The cause of death was ruled to be drowning. There were also head injuries that the medical examiner said were caused by multiple blows while she was still alive, consistent with being struck by the hull of a boat, according to news accounts from the trial in the West Central Tribune archive.
During the hearing Thursday, Schultz argued that he believes this testimony is inaccurate because opinions he has gathered from forensic pathologists suggest Jane Rhodes’ injuries were sustained after she drowned.
“I’m accusing (the medical examiner) of not being right on the science,” Schultz said in an interview later with the West Central Tribune. “What he said is out of step with the current state of knowledge.”
According to court documents, defense attorneys filed a motion in March requesting a new trial on the charges of first- and second-degree murder.
Rhodes was charged more than a year after his wife’s death. The investigation focused on life insurance benefits and problems in their marriage. Rhodes was convicted by a jury in 1998 and sentenced to life. State records show that Rhodes is currently in the Minnesota Correctional Facility-Oak Park Heights in Stillwater.
This is not the first time that Rhodes has sought what is termed “post-conviction relief,” but he has been denied a new trial in past appeals.
The defense filed a motion in August requesting access to additional information that could be used as evidence in support of their current request for a retrial. The response from the state Attorney General’s office, who prosecuted the case, is that the defense has no legal merit to demand additional evidence and that all available evidence has already been released.
The motion was argued Thursday before Judge Donald Spilseth. Spilseth has not yet ruled.
William Klumpp, an assistant state attorney general, argued Thursday against the defense motion for access to more information. He said that Michael McGee, medical examiner for Ramsey County and Washington County, is a qualified scientist and the defense already had its opportunity to cross-examine McGee.
Rhodes is also challenging the accuracy of testimony from another expert witness.
According to Tribune archives, William Chandler, a Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office deputy who is an expert on water accidents, testified during the trial that it would be impossible for Jane Rhodes’ body to have floated to where it was found - near where Lake Avenue turns to Skyline Drive north of Spicer - if she had fallen in the water east of downtown Spicer, as Thomas Rhodes had told authorities.
Schultz said during an interview with the Tribune that Chandler reported the water temperature in the area east of downtown Spicer was about 39 degrees during August 1996, the month that Jane Rhodes died.
Schultz said data from a Department of Natural Resources study shows that water in that area was about 68 degrees. He said the warmer temperature could have caused her body to decompose faster.
The defense also has raised questions about who physically retrieved Jane Rhodes’ body from the water after it was found and details surrounding the retrieval.
“When you remove a body and place it on the dock, that can cause some of the hemorrhages we saw on the autopsy,” Schultz said. “We need details on how the body was handled.”
McGee had testified at trial that there was hemorrhaging at the base of her neck muscles that could not have been caused by the hull of a boat but may have been caused by someone choking her, according to the Tribune archive.