‘I look forward to hugging my sons’: Joy as father of two jailed for killing his wife is FREED after almost 25 years when review investigators discover an inaccurate testimony and withheld evidence
- Thomas Rhodes, 63, was convicted in 1998 of murdering his wife Jane
- She fell off a boat and drowned but doctor testified Rhodes threw her overboard
- Rhodes maintained she fell off and disappeared while he searched for her
- His murder conviction has now been vacated and he walked free on Friday
A Minnesota man who served nearly 25 years in prison over his wife’s death has walked free after his murder convictions were vacated.
Thomas Rhodes, 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.
His conviction hinged on a doctor’s testimony who said he deliberately killed his wife and ran over her body several times, but Rhodes maintained his innocence and a forensic pathologist has now found the death was not inconsistent with an accicent.
He told the Mankato Free Press after his release on Friday: ‘I look forward to hugging my sons Eric and Jason, being a good grandfather to my six wonderful grandkids, and having time to create new memories with family and friends.’
Thomas Rhodes smiles as he walked out of a Minnesota state prison on Friday after serving 25 years inside
How Thomas Rhodes was arrested, convicted then freed over his wife’s death
Jane Rhodes died in 1996 during a late-night boat trip and her body was found the next day by authorities.
Two years later, Thomas Rhodes was formally indicted with his murder.
Prosecutors cited medical analysis that claimed she suffered facial injuries inconsistent with drowning.
They also ascribed a motive to Thomas that he was seeking a divorce, which he denied.
A Kandiyohi County jury convicted him of first- and second-degree murder on July 29, 1998, which came with a life prison term.
By 2013, the Innocence Project started working to free Rhodes and held hearings in front of the Minnesota Supreme Court.
Last year, Dr McGee’s testimony was questioned in this and a number of other cases, and the newly formed Conviction Review Unit analyzed Rhodes’ sentencing.
His murder conviction was quashed but his manslaughter charge was upheld. Having already served 25 years, more than double the manslaughter sentence, he was immediately freed to leave.
On the fateful night in the summer of 1996, the couples and their two sons went on vacation to Green Lake.
One night, Thomas and Jane went for a ride on their jet boat after dark at high speed.
Thomas said his wife stood up to reach for something and then fell, and he desperately searched for her in the water but found nothing in the darkness.
He appealed for help from police but her body was not found until the following day.
Giving evidence at trial two years later, Dr. Michael McGee said Rhodes grabbed his wife by the neck, threw her overboard and ran her over several times.
He cited injuries to her head and neck that he said were inconsistent with drowning and could have killed her even if she was not drowned.
Prosecutors had claimed Rhodes wanted to divorce his wife but changed his mind due to financial concerns and killed her instead.
He had previously had an affair but reconciled with Jane.
The Conviction Review Unit in the Attorney General’s Office examined the case. As part of that investigation, a forensic pathologist found that Jane’s death was not inconsistent with an accidental fall, the office said.
‘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,’ the statement said.
In 2010, interviewed by Fox 9, Rhodes said: ‘I know there was never any violence in our marriage, there was no violence that night.’
Messages left Saturday at phone numbers listed for Michael McGee were not immediately returned. Efforts 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 sufficient evidence to support a conviction of second-degree manslaughter, saying negligence led to his wife’s death.
Thomas Rhodes, 63, was convicted in 1998 of first- and second-degree murder in the death of his 36-year-old wife Jane Rhodes (pictured)
Rhodes is the first person released in Minnesota since the Conviction Review Unit was created in 2021 (pictured hugging his sons after his release)
A clay model shows the injuries suffered by Jane which were used by Dr McGee to allege her death was deliberate
Dr. Michael McGee (pictured) said Rhodes grabbed his wife by the neck, threw her overboard and ran her over several times
However, Rhodes has spent nearly 25 years in prison, which is more than twice the maximum sentence allowed for the manslaughter conviction.
Rhodes drove a small, unstable boat late at night at top speed, knowing that his wife could not swim, the statement said. She was neither wearing a life jacket nor were life jackets available. Also, the boat had no flashlights or a quick way to call for help.
On Friday, a Kandiyohi County judge vacated Rhodes’ murder convictions. The Minnesota Department of Corrections said the judge then accepted a plea to second-degree manslaughter. Rhodes was sentenced to four years in prison, and got credit for time served, which led to his release, the corrections department said.
Rhodes is the first person released in Minnesota since the Conviction Review Unit was created in 2021. The unit reviews legal cases for people who claim to be innocent.
The father-of-two (pictured with his sons Eric and Jason) leaves prison as a grandfather
The released prisoner, pictured with two of his grandchildren, said he wants to ‘create new memories with family and friends’
‘He was beaming the whole time,’ Hayley Drozdowski-Poxleitner, a spokesperson for the Great North Innocence Project, said of Rhodes. ‘This has been a long, long time coming.’
The Great North Innocence Project, which worked with the Attorney General’s Office, said in a news 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 falling out of the boat or from an unintentional hit by the boat as Rhodes searched the water.
None of the forensic pathologists would have called her death a murder, the organization said.
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.