- County of Conviction: St. Louis City, MO
- Convicted of: Manslaughter and two counts of 1st degree Assault
- Sentence: Life in prison without parole
- Years Served: 36+
You could catch Rodney Lincoln just about anywhere these days: in his vegetable garden at home in Missouri, bass fishing on a vacation in Kentucky, or even skydiving “out of a perfectly good airplane.”
He likes to tell people he’s “living life, not just doing life.” But most importantly, he’s living that life freely now.
Rodney came home in June of 2018 after 36 years of wrongful incarceration for a 1982 murder he did not commit.
And he’s done his best to fill each day since then with as much as possible.
He was 72 years old when he walked out of prison for the last time in 2018 — and that hasn’t stopped him from taking life by the horns and chasing whatever adventures he could find. He and his son went skydiving just three months after his release. On a vacation to Alabama, he went parasailing and got to visit an old pirate ship.
“It gives you a chance to be a kid again,” he laughed.
After so much of his adulthood was stripped from him, it’s no wonder Rodney simply wants to enjoy life to the fullest now.
He was convicted in 1982 based largely on a mistaken eyewitness account. JoAnn Tate was stabbed to death, and both of her children, Melissa and Renee, were also attacked. When police showed then-7-year-old Melissa a photo of Rodney, who had dated her mother briefly, she identified him as the killer — even though she had originally said the attacker was a man named “Bill.”
DNA testing on a hair found at the crime scene was not performed at the time of Rodney’s trial — and wasn’t until 2010, when MIP took on Rodney’s case and fought for testing. Rodney couldn’t be tied to the scene with the evidence tested, but a judge declared it didn’t actually rule him out as the murderer.
Even after Melissa, now an adult, recanted her accusation in 2015, Rodney still waited for justice in prison.
At long last, in 2018 former Missouri Governor Eric Grietens commuted Rodney’s sentence, but stopped short of pardoning him outright. Rodney was free — but still lives with the same federal conviction on his record he’s had for more than three decades.
Before the Covid-19 pandemic shut down most in-person events, Rodney was making his way around the country as a speaker, detailing his experience and advocating against the top causes of wrongful conviction. And he hopes to get back to that soon – “just the fact that I could possibly help someone that was in the same position I was in,” he said. “If I can do something today that makes me a better person or helps someone else, it’s been a good day.”
Until then, he’s squeezing as much as possible into his days of living freely. With 18 grandkids, more than 30 great-grandkids — and the occasional adventure like skydiving — Rodney’s got plenty to keep him busy.
“I know I can’t make up for lost time,” he said. “But I can sure take care of today.”