BY CLARE HOWARD
The Third District Appellate Court of Illinois issued a ruling Thursday affirming Cleve Heidelberg’s right to a special independent prosecutor to review his trial and conviction for the 1970 murder of a Peoria County sheriff’s deputy.
Heidelberg, who is African American, has consistently claimed he is innocent and was denied a fair trial in Peoria for the May 26, 1970, murder of Peoria County Sheriff’s Sgt. Ray Espinoza.
After 47 years in prison, Heidelberg’s case was brought back to a Peoria County courtroom by Chicago Attorney Andy Hale and Peoria attorney Don Jackson.
In a series of dramatic hearings looking at evidence that is now nearly half a century old, Hale and Jackson convinced Peoria County Circuit Judge Albert Purham that Heidelberg’s original trial failed to consider all the evidence. The two attorneys introduced new testimony and new evidence. There were dramatic confrontations in the courtroom when police and attorneys from the original trial were presented with new evidence and allegations of bias.
Purham agreed, ordered Heidelberg freed on bond and ordered a special prosecutor with no ties to the Peoria County State’s Attorneys office examine the case.
Jerry Brady, the current Peoria County State’s Attorney, appealed that decision, but Thursday’s ruling found no merit in the appeal and sent the case back to Peoria County Circuit Court.
Heidelberg, now 74, remains free. No new court date is scheduled.
Hale and Jackson contend that the original trial did not consider lack of fingerprint evidence; that police lineups were orchestrated; that witnesses were intimidated; and that evidence was manufactured or destroyed by the state’s attorney at that time. In addition, they showed a confession to the murder by another man was not considered. Heidelberg’s Constitutional right to confidential consultation with his attorney was violated by police eavesdropping. But even the eavesdropped conversations with a public defender revealed Heidelberg adamantly and consistently denying guilt.
They also claimed, Judge Purham agreed and the appellate court concurred there is a conflict of interest between the current state’s attorney and his predecessor who prosecuted the case.
Heidelberg’s sister, Mae Winston, who is now 77 and in declining health, attended every court hearing and cried when Judge Purham vacated Heidelberg’s conviction.