Editor’s note: This story was originally published April 28, 2000
▪ June 19, 1988 — Belleville News-Democrat reporting intern Audrey Cardenas was last seen alive. Cardenas, a College Station, Texas, native, had moved into Belleville only 10 days earlier.
▪ June 26, 1988 — A custodian for Belleville Township High School East discovered Cardenas’ remains in a dry creek bed near the school’s parking lot. Decomposition kept the medical examiner from determining the cause of death. Findings indicated she did not die from a blow to the head.
The same day, police found Rodney Woidtke walking inside the cordoned-off crime scene area. He was unresponsive and carrying a knapsack containing personal items, including letters about his sexual fantasies.
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Woidtke first denied involvement in the crime, but said he spent time in Alton Mental Health Center and heard voices. A detective questioned his sexual preference and he got upset, saying he did not want to become a homosexual. Woidtke made three conflicting confessions: first saying he hit Cardenas in the head with a pipe; then recanting; then saying he didn’t hit her and that she was alive when he left her; then saying he hit her three or four times.
▪ July 1988 — Psychologist Daniel Cuneo diagnosed Woidtke as being a paranoid schizophrenic who claimed to have sex with Cardenas so police would not think he was a homosexual. Cuneo said when Woidtke gave the inconsistent statements to police, he was hallucinating, actively schizophrenic, delusional and unmedicated.
▪ Aug. 16, 1988 — Woidtke was charged with Cardenas’ murder. Because he was indigent, the court appointed assistant public defender Brian Trentman to represent him. However, on Cuneo’s recommendation, Woidtke was found unfit to stand trial.
▪ July 1989 — Cuneo determined Woidtke to be fit to stand trial following a year of medication and therapy at Chester Mental Health Center.
▪ Aug. 25, 1989 — After four days of testimony, St. Clair County Associate Judge Richard Aguirre convicted Woidtke of murdering Cardenas. Woidtke’s own incriminating statements were the strongest evidence. No physical evidence tied Woidtke to the killing.
▪ Sept. 27, 1989 — The day before Woidtke was scheduled to be sentenced, disgruntled former Illinois Department of Public Aid case worker Dale Anderson stabbed to death Belleville resident Jolaine Lanman, who was pregnant, and her 3-year-old son. Before he killed her, he forced her to write a note stating that she and Cardenas were killed by Anderson’s three Public Aid supervisors.
▪ Sept. 28, 1989 — Woidtke was sentenced to 45 years in prison.
▪ Oct. 2, 1989 — Woidtke filed his own petition asking that his conviction be overturned because the Lanman murders were similar to Cardenas’ murder. The court appointed Trentman to represent Woidtke in the petition, but Trentman never filed a supplemental petition detailing the similarities between the murders.
▪ July 1992 — Woidtke filed another petition stating errors were made in his trial and that Trentman’s defense was ineffective. He asked for a different attorney. The following month, the court appointed Trentman to represent him.
▪ Oct. 31, 1994 — Woidtke wrote a letter to the St. Clair County circuit clerk stating he believed Trentman had withdrawn from his case. He asked for a new attorney. There is no response to his request in the court record.
▪ Jan. 12, 1998 — Trentman was elected Washington County state’s attorney. He withdrew from representing Woidtke. No hearing was ever held on Woidtke’s petition about trial error and ineffective assistance.
▪ March 23, 1998 — Ron Jenkins became Woidtke’s attorney.
▪ May 5, 1998 — Jenkins added to Woidtke’s petition from 1992. Jenkins argued new evidence showed Anderson killed Cardenas, that Trentman was an ineffective defense attorney and had a conflict of interest because he was representing Anderson at the same time on a misdemeanor charge.
▪ April 14, 1999 — Aguirre rejected Woidtke’s bid for a new trial, saying his defense had been adequate and that Trentman did not have a conflict by representing Woidtke and Anderson at the same time.
▪ April 26, 2000 — The Fifth District Appellate Court in Mount Vernon overturned Aguirre’s ruling from 1999. The justices found that Trentman should not have represented both Woidtke and Anderson. They also found that Aguirre should have held a hearing on the new evidence Woidtke’s lawyers produced in the case. The Appellate Court threw out Woidtke’s conviction and ordered a new trial.