Doctor's Iffy Testimony Put Him in Prison for 25 Years

Thomas Rhodes was convicted of killing his wife, but a review has tossed that verdict
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jan 15, 2023 8:54 AM CST
Murder Conviction Tossed After He Serves 25 Years
Thomas Rhodes, center, walks out of the Minnesota Correction Facility in Moose Lake, Minn., on Friday, Jan. 13, 2023, after authorities vacated his murder conviction in the 1996 death of his wife.   (Fong Lee via AP)

A Minnesota man who served nearly 25 years in connection with his wife's death walked out of prison on Friday after authorities vacated his murder convictions, citing a problem with expert testimony from a controversial doctor, per the AP. Thomas Rhodes, who is now 63, was convicted in 1998 of first- and second-degree murder in the death of his 36-year-old wife, Jane Rhodes, who fell overboard and drowned on a night-time boat ride with her husband on Green Lake in Spicer in 1996. The murder conviction hinged 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. Rhodes told investigators his wife fell out of the boat and disappeared while he frantically searched for her in the dark.

The Conviction Review Unit in the Attorney General's Office examined the case, and a forensic pathologist found that Jane Rhodes' death was not inconsistent with an accidental fall. “With the benefit of a thorough review of all the evidence and circumstances, the CRU found that the medical evidence used in Mr. Rhodes’ conviction was flawed,” said a statement from the state attorney general's office. The state's report did not fully exonerate Rhodes: The Attorney General’s Office said there was sufficient evidence to support a conviction of second-degree manslaughter, saying negligence led to his wife’s death. However, Rhodes has spent nearly 25 years in prison, which is more than twice the maximum sentence allowed for the manslaughter conviction.

Testimony from McGee has been questioned in several cases in recent years. In 2021, a federal judge threw out the death sentence of a man who was convicted of kidnapping in the 2003 slaying of North Dakota college student Dru Sjodin, in part because of testimony from McGee. That judge said new evidence showed McGee, the former Ramsey County Medical Examiner, was “guessing” on the witness stand. Alfonso Rodriguez Jr. is expected to be re-sentenced, and prosecutors have said they will still seek the death penalty. Said Rhodes to the Mankato Free Press: “I look forward to hugging my sons Eric and Jason, being a good grandfather to my six wonderful grandkids."

(More exoneration stories.)

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