A Minnesota man’s murder conviction is overturned by the death of his wife

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A Minnesota man who served nearly 25 years in connection with his wife’s death walked out of jail Friday after authorities overturned his murder convictions and allowed him to plead guilty to manslaughter. are also under scrutiny.

Thomas Rhodes, now 63, was convicted of first-degree murder and second-degree murder in 1998 in the death of his 36-year-old wife, Jane Rhodes, who fell overboard and drowned while on a nighttime boat ride with her husband on Green Lake in Spicer in 1996.

The murder conviction depended on the testimony of Dr. Michael McGee, who said Rhodes grabbed his wife by the neck, threw her overboard and ran her over several times, the attorney general said in a statement Friday. Rhodes told investigators his wife fell out of the boat and disappeared as he frantically searched for her in the dark.

The Conviction Review Unit of the Attorney General’s Office investigated the case. As part of that investigation, a forensic pathologist found that Jane Rhodes’ death was not incompatible with an accidental fall, the agency said.

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“Having the benefit of a thorough review of all evidence and circumstances, the CRU found that the medical evidence used in convicting Mr. Rhodes was flawed,” the statement said.

“I look forward to hugging my sons Eric and Jason, being a good grandfather to my six wonderful grandchildren, and having time to create new memories with family and friends,” Rhodes told the Mankato Free Press on Friday.

Messages left on Saturday at phone numbers listed for Michael McGee were not immediately returned. Attempts to reach him through social media were not immediately successful.

The state’s report did not exonerate Rhodes: the Attorney General’s Office said there was enough evidence to support a second-degree manslaughter conviction, and said negligence led to his wife’s death. However, Rhodes has spent nearly 25 years in prison, which is more than double the maximum sentence allowed for manslaughter.

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Rhodes drove at top speed in a small, unstable boat late at night, knowing his wife could not swim, the statement said. She was not wearing a life jacket and no life jackets were available. Also, the boat had no flashlights or a quick way to call for help.

On Friday, a judge in Kandiyohi County overturned Rhodes’ murder convictions. The Minnesota Department of Corrections said the judge subsequently accepted a second-degree manslaughter plea. Rhodes was sentenced to four years in prison and given credit for time served, leading to his release, the corrections department said.

Rhodes is the first person released from custody in Minnesota since the Conviction Review Unit was formed in 2021. The unit reviews court cases for people who claim to be innocent.

“He was beaming all the time,” Hayley Drozdowski-Poxleitner, a spokesperson for the Great North Innocence Project, said of Rhodes. “This has taken a long, long time.”

The Great North Innocence Project, working with the Attorney General’s office, said in a press release that nine forensic pathologists reviewed the case and found that Jane Rhodes’ injuries were most likely caused by a blow to her head, possibly from a fall. out of prison. boat or from an accidental collision by the boat while Rhodes searched the water.

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None of the forensic pathologists would have called her death a homicide, the organization said.

McGee’s testimony has been questioned in several cases in recent years. In 2021, a federal judge threw out the death sentence of a man convicted of kidnapping in the 2003 murder of North Dakota student Dru Sjodin, in part because of McGee’s testimony. That judge said new evidence showed McGee, the former Ramsey County medical examiner, was “gambling” on the witness stand. Alfonso Rodriguez Jr. is expected to be re-sentenced, and prosecutors have said they will still seek the death penalty.

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Stafford reported from Liberty, Missouri. TBEN writer Amy Forliti contributed to this report from Minneapolis.