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Minnesota man freed after 25 years in prison files suit over wrongful conviction

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A Minnesota man who was freed last year after nearly 25 years in prison for the death of his wife is suing a former medical examiner and other authorities, accusing them of fabricating and withholding evidence, leading to a wrongful conviction.

Thomas Rhodes, 64, filed suit in federal court, naming former Ramsey County Medical Examiner Michael McGee and others, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported Wednesday. McGee's conduct has previously caused several convictions and sentences to be tossed out in the past two decades.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages.

Rhodes was convicted of first- and second-degree murder in his wife’s death, which occurred during a boat ride on Green Lake in Spicer, Minnesota, in 1996. He was sentenced to life in prison. Last year, he became the first person freed from prison through Minnesota's new conviction review unit.

The lawsuit alleges that McGee, along with now-deceased Kandiyohi County Attorney Boyd Beccue and a Hennepin County investigator, fabricated unsupported conclusions and provided false testimony to describe Jane Rhodes' death as a premeditated homicide.

“I have gained my freedom,” Rhodes said in a statement Tuesday. “I now look forward to justice.”

Jane Rhodes fell overboard in July 1996 while on a late-evening boat ride with her husband. The lawsuit said neither person was wearing a life jacket, and Jane Rhodes fell after losing her balance while leaning forward. Rhodes couldn't locate his wife in the dark waters. Two fishermen found the body along the shore the next day.

Kandiyohi County’s coroner had limited experience assessing drowning victims, so McGee examined Jane Rhodes’ body. McGee and Beccue held what Rhodes’ attorneys called an improper private meeting used by the prosecution to “attempt to influence the determination as to the cause and manner of death.”

McGee eventually ruled that the death was a homicide. McGee and prosecutors said Rhodes struck his wife on the neck, pushed her overboard and ran over her body with the boat.

The Minnesota Conviction Review Unit was launched by Attorney General Keith Ellison in 2021. As part of its investigation, a forensic pathologist found that Jane Rhodes’ death was not inconsistent with an accidental fall, the office said.

A judge vacated Rhodes’ murder convictions in January 2023. The judge then accepted a plea to second-degree manslaughter. Rhodes was sentenced to four years in prison, and he got credit for time served, which led to his release.

Last year, the Ramsey County Attorney's Office said it would review more than 70 criminal convictions linked to McGee, who served as the county medical examiner from 1985 to 2019. He did return phone calls seeking comment.