By David R. Kazak
Daily Herald – October 4, 2000

A private investigator on Tuesday tried to put a human face on Ronald Kliner, who is on death row for murdering a Palatine Township woman and laughing as he did it.

Kliner is making his second bid for a pardon in the 1988 contract murder that left Dana Rinaldi dead with several gunshots to the head. This time, Kliner has the help of Paul Ciolino, an investigator who helped prove the innocence of another man on death row.

Ciolino appeared before Gov. George Ryan’s executive clemency board for 20 minutes Tuesday in Chicago, armed with a photo showing Kliner clean-cut, blue-eyed and smiling – in sharp contrast to a police mug shot of Kliner with long hair and goatee.

Ciolino, best known for helping Anthony Porter of Chicago get off of death row, tried to convince the clemency board that Kliner was wrongfully convicted and show that Kliner and his family are victims as well. He pointed to Kliner’s parents, Des Plaines residents Jackie and Budd Goldstein, sitting in the audience.

“They’re victims,” Ciolino said. “Their child has been taken away from them. Is he an angel? No, he isn’t. But is he a contract killer? Absolutely not.”

A jury in 1996 found Kliner, then 35, guilty of being the trigger man in a murder-for-hire scheme masterminded by Dana Rinaldi’s husband, Joseph, who said he wanted out of a bad marriage.

Joseph Rinaldi pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in a deal with prosecutors and agreed to testify against Kliner and another man, Michael Permanian.

Permanian was sentenced to 75 years and Rinaldi to 60. Kliner was sentenced to death.

Since the beginning, both Kliner and Permanian have professed their innocence, claiming Joseph Rinaldi offered them up to authorities to get a more lenient sentence.

Ciolino on Tuesday attacked the Cook County state’s attorney’s office for using three witnesses he says all had reason to lie.

One, Ciolino said, was an uncle to whom Kliner supposedly owed thousands of dollars. Another was an ex-girlfriend whose relationship with Kliner ended badly. The third was Joseph Rinaldi himself.

All three testified Kliner told them that he killed Dana Rinaldi, something Ciolino claims just isn’t true.

“When (prosecutors) get into bed with Rinaldi, and they cut him a sweetheart of a deal, there’s nothing they wouldn’t do to get a conviction,” Ciolino said after the hearing.

In the audience at Monday’s hearing, Dana Rinaldi’s parents – Don and Betty Schwartz – sat and listened. Then, as she did when Kliner asked for a pardon in 1998, Betty Schwartz countered Ciolino’s impassioned plea with her own.

“We waited for five years before there was enough evidence, then another three for the trial,” she said. “It’s been 12-and-a-half years, and we are still waiting for him to get the justice he deserves.

“I’m not seeking vengeance, but I am seeking justice,” she said.

The board’s recommendation to the governor will be secret. Ryan must make the ultimate decision.

In January, Kliner will appear before Cook County Judge Karen Thompson Tobin to present new evidence in his case, in a bid to overturn his conviction. Kliner’s conviction already has been upheld by the Illinois Supreme Court.

The pardon request aside, all executions in Illinois are on hold as a state panel looks into problems with the death penalty system.

After Tuesday’s hearing, Dana Rinaldi’s parents said they are frustrated with what they see as delayed justice that very well may be delayed well past their own deaths.

“You should be smart enough to know that it’s not over, that a jury conviction doesn’t mean it’s over,” Betty Schwartz said. “And it won’t be over because he’ll still be at these (hearings), but at each one, I’ll be here too.

“I’ll fight this until my dying breath.”