Cleve Heidelberg has been in prison for 45 years, always maintaining his innocence in the murder of Peoria County Sheriff’s Sgt. Raymond Espinoza. His case will now be reviewed by an associate judge in the Tenth Judicial Circuit Court.
A petition seeking a special prosecutor for Heidelberg has been assigned to Judge Kirk Schoenbein.
Six days after receiving the petition on April 21 from attorneys Andy Hale and Don Jackson asking for a special prosecutor to review the Heidelberg murder conviction, Chief Judge Stephen Kouri assigned the case to Schoenbein.
Hale and Jackson are the first attorneys to study this case and become convinced of Heidelberg’s innocence.
Now 73 and in declining health, Heidelberg has been in prison since his conviction in 1970 for the Espinoza murder. Heidelberg has steadfastly maintained his innocence but has failed to convince a legal ally until Hale agreed to look at the case a year ago.
Hale said he began his review with skepticism but was shocked by problems with the investigation and prosecution. He reconstructed the crime with the assistance of private investigator Marcella Teplitz, and the two have concluded police arrested the wrong man.
Reached Monday evening, Hale indicated by email that Judge Kouri decided to assign the case to another judge rather than hear the case himself. It does not mean Kouri made any initial assessment of the merits of the petition.
Hale had sent a letter to Peoria County State’s Attorney Jerry Brady in December asking him to reopen the case. Brady declined, saying he did not find any compelling new evidence to convince him Heidelberg was innocent.