1998 murder conviction vacated after probe finds flaws in medical examiner’s testimony
A Minnesota man will walk free from prison after a state panel on Friday vacated his 1998 murder conviction because it found flaws in an expert’s “lynchpin” testimony at trial.
On July 29, 1998, a Kandiyohi County jury convicted Thomas Rhodes of first- and second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter for the death of his wife, Jane. She drowned the night of Aug. 8, 1996, after she fell overboard during a boat ride on Green Lake in Spicer, Minnesota.
Thomas Rhodes’ first-degree murder conviction came with a life prison term.
According to Attorney General Keith Ellison’s Office, the medical examiner who performed Jane Rhodes’ autopsy, Dr. Michael McGee, testified that her fall could not have been accidental. McGee has since come under fire for inaccuracies in his court testimony.
In a ruling last year, a federal judge in North Dakota said McGee “has a well-documented history of providing false or inaccurate testimony in court.” This prompted the Conviction Review Unit of the Attorney General’s Office to take another look at Thomas Rhodes’ case.
An outside expert who reviewed the case found that contrary to McGee’s testimony, an accidental fall could not be ruled out in Jane Rhodes’ death.
As a result, the Conviction Review Unit agreed to vacate the murder convictions against Thomas Rhodes because state prosecutors no longer had evidence that proved beyond a reasonable doubt that he murdered his wife.
The lesser conviction of second-degree manslaughter was upheld, however, because “evidence shows that Mr. Rhodes’ negligence led to Jane’s death,” the Attorney General’s Office said in a statement.
“Mr. Rhodes drove a small, unstable boat, late at night, at top speed. And Mr. Rhodes knew Jane could not swim,” the Attorney General’s Office said. “Jane was not wearing a life jacket, and there were no life jackets within reach. The boat contained no flashlights, and no way to quickly call for help. As Mr. Rhodes later admitted, he had become too comfortable around the lake.”
The news release notes that Thomas Rhodes had served nearly 25 years in prison for the offense, more than double the maximum sentence for manslaughter.
This marks the first conviction vacated by the Conviction Review Unit, which launched in 2021.