After over a decade of fighting, Minnesota group celebrates overturned murder conviction

For the first time in almost 25 years, Thomas Rhodes enjoyed a weekend in Minnesota as a free man.

Rhodes left Moose Lake Jail on Friday after prosecutors agreed to overturn his 1998 murder conviction.

“When he walked out, I can’t describe his face other than just beaming,” said Hayley Drozdowski-Poxleitner of the Great North Innocence Project, the organization that helped overturn his conviction.

A jury convicted Rhodes in connection with the death of his wife, who drowned during a nighttime boat trip on Green Lake in Spicer, Minnesota, in 1996.

Rhodes said she accidentally went overboard, but the case relied heavily on the testimony and evidence provided by Dr. Michael McGee, who said Rhodes threw his wife overboard and then rammed her multiple times.

McGee is the former Ramsey County Coroner. The state’s new Conviction Review Unit, formed in 2020 under Attorney General Keith Ellison, began looking into Rhodes’ case, in part because McGee’s testimony had been challenged in other recent cases.

New external review of Rhodes’ case found medical evidence presented by McGee was “flawed”.

Drozdowski-Poxleitner said there are now 10 medical experts who have reviewed the case and disagree with McGee’s findings.

“None of them would have said that death was a murder,” she said.

Messages left at McGee and Ramsey County have not yet been returned.

The Great North Innocence Project picked up the Rhodes case more than a decade ago. Despite the new evidence, Rhodes was left with few legal options due to Minnesota’s strict post-sentencing law.

“Without the intervention of the Conviction Review Unit, he probably would not be released,” Drozdowski-Poxleitner said. “Otherwise he would probably still be in prison today.”

In exchange for having the murder convictions vacated, Kandiyohi County prosecutors agreed to allow Rhodes to plead guilty to manslaughter. His recommended sentence is four years – far less than the more than two decades Rhodes served.

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