Rodney Lincoln

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Missouri Governor Frees Rodney Lincoln based on Work of Investigating Innocence

On June 3, 2018, Rodney Lincoln walked out of prison a free man after spending 36 years behind bars. On his last day in office Missouri Governor Eric Greitens commuted Mr. Lincoln’s sentence after the courts failed to administer justice for Mr. Lincoln and his family.

Greitens was persuaded by the recantation of Melissa DeBoer, who witnessed her mother being murdered when she was seven-years-old. She survived the attack and was left for dead by her mother’s killer. DeBoer had been manipulated to provide an eye-witness misidentification of Rodney Lincoln that resulted in his conviction after a re-trial after a first jury failed to reach a verdict.

Melissa watched a November 2015 episode of Crime Watch Daily that featured private investigator Bill Clutter explaining that Investigating Innocence through the work of his son, Keagan Clutter, a criminal defense investigator with the Madison County Illinois Public Defender’s Office, was able to prove that serial killer Tommy Lynn Sells, then 17, had moved with his family to St. Louis a few months before the April 1982 murder of Joanne Tate. Clutter presented on the show the similarities of the Tate murder with other crimes Sells had committed.

In 2014, Mr. Lincoln’s daughter Kay Lincoln contacted Investigating Innocence requesting the assistance of the organization after reading the affidavit of Bill Clutter which detailed his investigation linking serial killer Tommy Lynn Sells to the 1986 murder of newlyweds Dyke and Karen Rhoads who were stabbed to death as they lay sleeping in their bed in Paris, Illinois. Clutter’s investigation working for Springfield attorney Michael Metnick helped free Randy Steidl from Death Row in 2004, and as Director of Investigations for what is now the Illinois Innocence Project freed Steidl’s co-defendant Herb Whitlock from prison, working with Chicago Kent Law School Professor Richard Kling and his co-counsel Susana Ortiz.

Kay Lincoln was drawn to the details of the 1987 murders of the Dardeen family from Ina, Illinois that Sells confessed to after his arrest in Del Rio, Texas, for the New Year’s Eve 1999 murder of Kaylene Harris. The Texas Rangers corroborated Sells’ confession by details he gave that only the killer would know, like the fact that the Dardeen family had dishes inside the home that had a watermelon pattern.

The similarities of the murder of Ruby Dardeen were so unique to the murder of Joanne Tate, the murder for which her father Rodney Lincoln had been wrongfully convicted, his daughter reached out to Clutter.

In November 1987, police discovered the bodies of Ruby Dardeen laid next to her three-year-old son Peter and her newborn baby. All three died of blunt force trauma. Remnants of duct tape were found around the wrists of Ruby and her son Peter that had been removed by the killer. Tommy Lynn Sells waited for Ruby’s husband Keith to come home. During this time, Ruby gave birth to her baby.

In an interview by Clutter Sells admitted that the same people who contracted him to kill Dyke and Karen Rhoads also hired him to kill Keith Dardeen and his family. Sells was drug mule who shuttled drugs between Florida and St. Louis during the 1980s and described meeting his contractors in a social club in Terre Haute, Indiana.

Keith Dardeen’s body was found in a field a mile away from the trailer where he and his family called home. Keith was shot execution style in the back of the head and his penis was severed and stuffed into his mouth. The family car was then driven and parked on the courthouse square in Benton, Illinois, the place where federal prosecutors recently concluded a massive drug conspiracy trial.

It is quite likely that Keith Dardeen was forced at gunpoint to witness his family being bludgeoned to death with the killer using a baseball bat that was found protruding from the birth canal of his wife when police discovered the gruesome crime scene.

After Joanne Tate was murdered in the St. Louis home she shared with her two daughters ages 7 and 4 whose throats were also sliced but they survived, the killer sexually assaulted the mother with a broom handle. When police arrived at that crime scene in St. Louis, they found corn bristles of the broom protruding from the anus of the victim.

In 1999, the ex-wife of a Son’s of Silence motorcycle gang enforcer from Paris, IL claimed her ex-husband had been involved in the murder of Dyke and Karen Rhoads, but her tip was initially disregarded by the Illinois State Police when she claimed her ex-husband claimed that Dyke’s penis had been severed and placed in his mouth.

A year later, after Clutter sent a letter to the Director of State Police, Lt. Michale Callahan was assigned to re-investigate the Rhoads homicide. His book, Since When is Murder Too Politically Sensitive, details how his investigation of the Sons of Silence was obstructed by his own department because the target of his investigation was major political donor of then Illinois Governor George Ryan, who was subsequently convicted by federal prosecutors of political corruption.

Clutter had also investigated Sells for the 1997 murder of 10-year-old Joel Kirkpatrick in Lawrenceville, Illinois, which resulted in the wrongful conviction of Joe’s mother Julie Rea. The same bloodstain expert who was involved in the wrongful conviction of David Camm, a former Indiana State Police trooper, the first exoneration of Investigating Innocence, was also instrumental in helping prosecutors to convict Julie Rea.

Many of the crimes Sells committed, like the murder of Joel Kirkpatrick, Dyke and Karen Rhoads and Kaylene Harris happened at 4 a.m. using knives from the kitchen to kill his victims, just as Sells had done in the case for which Rodney Lincoln was wrongfully convicted.

Clutter referred private investigator Michael West from Little Rock, Arkansas to work with Crime Watch Daily. West assisted Ron Zimmerman, the producer of the program, in investigating Tommy Lynn Sells. West provided an affidavit to the Midwest Innocence Project and utilized his investigation during an evidentiary hearing in 2016. The court, however, failed to grant Mr. Lincoln his freedom. It was through executive clemency that Lincoln won his freedom.

Melissa DeBoer reached out to Kay Lincoln via Facebook after watching the Crime Watch Daily program, the Midwest Innocence Project shifted toward Tommy Lynn Sells.

On November 28, 2015, DeBoer posted, "Rodney Lincoln did NOT kill my mom. He did not attempt to kill my sister and I. It was Tommy Lynn Sells. When the veil fell from my eyes I was horrified, I have kept an innocent man in prison for 34 years . . . When I saw a picture of Tommy Lynn Sells, I had a horrible, horrible feeling . . ."

It was because of the Crime Watch Daily program and the advocacy of Melissa DeBoer that persuaded the Missouri Governor to undo an injustice that had been perpetrated by police, prosecutors and the court.