Freedom looms for Heidelberg

Left, attorney Don Jackson with attorney Andy Hale partially hidden, stand in front of Cleve Heidelberg who is speaking with the Rev. Jesse Jackson of the Rainbow PUSH  Coalition.

Right, Cleve Heidelberg’s sister Mae Winston speaks at a press conference after learning her brother will be released on bail.

BY CLARE HOWARD

After nearly half a century in prison on a murder conviction, Cleve Heidelberg will walk out of jail within the next few days on $500,000 bond with a GPS monitoring system.

Judge Albert Purham set bond significantly below the $5 million requested by the state but refused to allow Heidelberg to live in Cleveland with a friend while awaiting a decision from the appellate court.

Prosecutor Matt Jones appealed Purham’s ruling last month vacating Heidelberg’s conviction.

During a nearly two-hour hearing Friday, Jones questioned Ken Tupy, an attorney on the prisoner review board that has ruled 25 times over the past 47 years not to grant Heidelberg parole.

Jones meticulously went through Heidelberg’s conduct while in prison and cited a number of minor infractions and five incidents involving fighting with other inmates, one involving stabbing an inmate with a pencil, one involved using a sock filled with batteries as a weapon and one report referred to a modified razor blade. Tupy said based on this record, Heidelberg was considered a “moderate” prisoner, but the prisoner review board also relied on a report from the Peoria County State’s Attorney’s office that had originally prosecuted Heidelberg and has consistently refused to consider new evidence.

In a stunning exchange, Heidelberg’s attorney Andy Hale asked Tupy if he were aware of any of the developments in the case over the past year.

Tupy was not. The prison review board most recently denied parole in December 2016, almost a year after Hale began systematically discrediting and dismantling the evidence that had been used by the Peoria County State’s Attorney’s office in the original conviction.

Tupy admitted he did not know Matt Clark who testified under oath that his brother James Clark had confessed to shooting Espinoza. He did not know Lester Mason who testified under oath he had borrowed Heidelberg’s car on the night of the shooting and loaned it to James Clark. He did not know two eyewitnesses were actually unable to identify Heidelberg.

Hale said five fights over nearly half a century amounts to one fight a decade. He said prison is a violent place and prisoners must be constantly prepared to defend themselves. Tupy admitted he did not know any details about who initiated the five fights.

Heidelberg consistently has maintained his innocence since his arrest in May 1970 following the shooting death of Peoria County Sheriff’s Deputy Ray Espinoza at the Bellevue Drive-In movie theater.

Prosecutor Jones read the court a victim statement by Phyllis Espinoza, daughter of the slain officer. Espinoza objected to allowing Heidelberg to live in Cleveland because she visits family in Cleveland and would feel unsafe knowing Heidelberg was living in that city.

In the statement, Espinoza said her mother had received death threats during the trial and went to every single parole hearing to object to Heidelberg’s release until the day she died.

Hale said Heidelberg is 74 years old, has congestive heart failure, a bad back and limited vision. He does not pose a threat to anyone.

“He has been trying to prove his innocence for nearly 50 years. He is no danger,” Hale said.

Jones countered that even “minor violations paint a mosaic of infraction by infraction by infraction” showing a refusal to obey authority.

The judge ordered Heidelberg to remain at the Peoria County Jail until housing has been arranged in the Chicago area and a GPS program is set up.

Hale called the judge’s decision a victory and said before he walked out of the courtroom Friday afternoon, he already had received a commitment for half the $50,000 bail needed because Illinois requires 10 percent of the bond.

 

Senator fuels movement demanding change

Sen. Dave Koehler, left, and Sen. Daniel Biss talk briefly Tuesday morning at the Labor Temple in Peoria before Biss spoke about his reasons for running for governor and fielding questions from a labor-friendly crowd. 

BY CLARE HOWARD

Illinois senator and gubernatorial candidate Daniel Biss stopped at the Peoria Labor Temple Tuesday to discuss labor issues, his vision for Illinois and why he chose this time to run for governor.

“We’ve had 30 years of broken machine politics. We need a movement of the people,” Biss said, noting that he is being far outspent by the billionaires and millionaires in the race, but is convinced he can lead change that will work for the people of the state, not just the super rich.

Among his issues, Biss said:

 

  • Illinois has the most unfair system of public school funding of any state in the country, and Peoria public schools suffer. The system is based on property taxes, and that must change.
  • Prevailing wage and project labor agreements are fair and help create a strong middle class.
  • Illinois needs term limits on lifetime politicians.
  • Illinois taxes are too onerous for the working poor and the middle class.
  • Going 22 months without a budget means schools not only wonder if they’ll open in September but must be concerned with having the funds to finish the school year.

 

With the vote in Missouri to become a right-to-work state, Illinois has literally become an island surrounded by states like Wisconsin, Iowa and Indiana that have right-to-work laws that seek to undercut unions.

He said Republicans are “obsessed with the idea that people in construction should be paid less.”

“Rauner’s way to grow the economy is to create a smaller middle class,” he said.

The pension problem developed in Illinois “not for years, not for decades but for generations,” he said. “Whatever else we do, we need a binding mechanism to make sure payments to the system are made to the system. We need actuarially required payments that are legal and fair.”

Sen. Dave Koehler, appearing with Biss, said Gov. Rauner wants to privatize Medicaid.

“Rauner always wants to privatize things, and that’s a big mistake,” Koehler said.

Both Biss and Koehler noted in the case of Medicaid, that would amount to a $9 billion contract awarded to a private company.

Biss supports universal single-payer health insurance that would cover everyone. He called universal health insurance “a moral responsibility.”

Biss graduated from Harvard University, earned a Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and was a mathematics professor at the University of Chicago.

“It was my dream job,” he said. Then the war in Iraq began based on dishonesty, and Biss began going door-to-door doing political organizing.

During that process, he concluded that people could rise up with a common goal and change the world. He ran for public office, lost and ran again. He served in the Illinois House from 2011 to 2013 and was elected to the Senate in 2013.

We now have a president who is “reckless, dishonest and makes dangerous decisions,” Biss said. “Across Illinois we are seeing the start of a movement of people. The Capitol Building in Springfield is now the site of demonstrations.”

People are demanding a massive improvement over the way government is operating, he said.

 

Freedom eludes Heidelberg

 Cleve Heidelberg’s niece Wanda Figgers listens as attorney Andy Hale, center, talks about the decision by Judge Albert Purham to return Heidelberg to the Peoria County jail and await a bail decision by the appellate court. There had been a widespread sense in the courtroom that Heidelberg might be released Friday after serving 47 years in prison. 

BY CLARE HOWARD

Cleve Heidelberg returned to the Peoria County jail Friday afternoon following a court hearing regarding what jurisdiction has the right to set or deny bail. Many in the courtroom Friday had expected his immediate release.

Filming the proceedings were news crews  from throughout central Illinois, Chicago and New York City. This is a high profile case with Heidelberg, 74, serving a 99-to-175 year sentence for shooting a white Peoria County sheriff’s deputy in 1970. During hours of detailed testimony over many months, Heidelberg’s attorneys used the police radio log from the night of the shooting to cast doubt on police reports that had been relied upon to convict Heidelberg 47 years ago.

In a stunning decision April 20, Peoria County Circuit Judge Albert Purham vacated Heidelberg’s conviction.

Jesse Jackson was in Peoria for several days recently inquiring into the case.

But the issue of Heidelberg’s release was delayed again, and Heidelberg’s frustration was clear.

Prosecutor Matt Jones labeled the effort for immediate bail “inappropriate” and said that decision is not within the power of the Peoria court.

Attorneys Andy Hale, Don Jackson and Amy Hijjawi argued for bail and the immediate release of Heidelberg after Purham vacated his conviction last week.

Hijjawi, arguing on speaker phone Friday, said she was “stunned at the mischaracterization of the state and its misunderstanding” of legal precedent.

Purham, at one point, said he had reviewed all relevant cases and was not going to entertain back and forth arguments between Hijjawi and Jones, and the decision regarding bail would be made by the appellate court.

Following the hearing, Jones said a decision from the appellate court would likely be issued within a week.

Hundreds rally for science

Clockwise from top left: About 30 students from Spoon River College attended the rally for science  at the Gateway Building in Peoria. 

Marlene Brockman holds a sign in support of Earth.

A crowd that grew to about 500 attended the Peoria science rally Saturday.

BY CLARE HOWARD

Science is not a partisan issue but is at the core of our national interest, Dr. Karen Bartelt said to about 500 people at the Peoria Rally for Science Saturday at the Gateway Building.

It was a theme repeated throughout the country and around the world as people protested by the thousands against climate change deniers and politicians who cut funding for science at the same time they cut taxes for corporations.

Saturday was the 47th Earth Day, and Bartelt said she remembers attending the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970, a celebration founded by Sen. Gaylord Nelson, D-Wis.

Science saves lives, Bartelt said, noting that in 1952, there were 52,000 cases of polio but after the discovery of the polio vaccine, there were 161 cases and that eventually fell to none by 1994.

“There are no polio deniers in Congress,” she said.

Respect for science started to change in 1980 when presidential candidate Ronald Reagan declared that evolution was only a theory.

She urged the crowd to never back down in support for science.

“Work to remove politicians ignorant of the laws of physics and chemistry,” she said.

Dr. Jeff Walk, director of conservation programs with The Nature Conservancy in Illinois, told the crowd his nephew recently asked him if he believed in climate change.

“Science is based on facts. I don’t believe in climate change. I know facts, and I know climate change is real,” he said, adding that the most devastating harm from climate change falls upon the most vulnerable.

“Stepping away from science is an enormous mistake for us, for nature and for our future,” he said.

One of the organizers of the rally in Peoria was Megan Pulley. She said, “Science is our reality. We don’t get to opt out of reality. It is light in the dark. I want my daughter to be passionate about science.”

Pulley is urging people to donate to the science scholarship fund at the Peoria Public Schools Foundation.

About 30 students from Spoon River College attended the rally.

“We preach the importance of the scientific method and following the facts,” said Spoon River chemistry teacher Bridget Loftus. “I feel facts are under attack and an alternative narrative is being pushed.”

The policies of President Donald Trump spurred rallies around the world. Trump has disparaged climate change as a hoax, doubted the safety of vaccines and budgeted cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Institutes of Health and weakened protections for public lands and environmental protections. He talks about “clean coal” and bringing back the coal industry while loosening restrictions on carbon emissions.

Speaker Tracy Fox said at the Peoria rally that “clean coal” is the equivalent of “clean cigarettes.”

 

 

 

State prison kicks out Cleve Heidelberg

During his Feb. 28 hearing, Cleve Heidelberg walks slowly to the witness stand and for the first time in 47 years is able to testify under oath about his innocence.

BY CLARE HOWARD

Hill Correctional Center, the state prison in Galesburg where Cleve Heidelberg was incarcerated, determined it could no longer hold him following a hearing in Peoria Thursday where Judge Albert Purham vacated Heidelberg’s murder conviction.

Heidelberg was serving 99 to 175 years in prison for the May 26, 1970 shooting death of Peoria County Sheriff’s deputy Ray Espinoza at the Bellevue Drive-In movie theater.

In months of often emotional testimony, Heidelberg’s attorney Andy Hale dismantled the case against Heidelberg and asserted there was no ballistic evidence, no fingerprints and no credible eyewitnesses proving Heidelberg was the shooter.

Special prosecutor Matt Jones immediately appealed Purham’s ruling vacating Heidelberg’s conviction. The judge declined to set bail, and a bond hearing was set for Friday April 28.

However, when Heidelberg was transported back to the state prison in Galesburg, prison officials determined they had no jurisdiction to hold him and the Peoria County Sheriff could pick him up or the prison would release him.

The Peoria County Sheriff’s Department had Heidelberg picked up and transported to the Peoria County jail on Friday where he is being held most likely until the bond hearing April 28.

Hale expects his client will be released following the April 28 hearing.

“We showed that all the evidence presented at the trial was not credible,” Hale said. “We have dismantled the evidence that was used to convict in the first place.”

Hale believes Peoria needs an independent conviction integrity unit, a relatively new mechanism designed to provide a post-conviction procedure to determine wrongful convictions. Hale believes Heidelberg’s wrongful conviction resulted in an innocent man spending 47 years in prison.

“This should be an independent search for the truth, and the state’s attorney should welcome this with open arms,” Hale said.

Heidelberg “has to be the longest-serving prisoner to have his conviction vacated,” Hale said.

Matt Jones held a press conference following the hearing on Thursday and explained there is little legal precedent to determine the difference between new evidence and cumulative evidence. Judge Purham had to base his decision on new evidence, and Jones contends there was no new evidence presented only “cumulative” evidence.

At that press conference, Jones introduced Ray Espinoza’s daughter Phyllis Espinoza who said she was disappointed in the judge’s decision and “worries if Mr. Heidelberg is freed, who his next victim will be based on his violence.”

Heidelberg, now 74, has congestive heart failure, walks with difficulty and has steadfastly maintained his innocence for the past 47 years.

Hale said because his client’s conviction was vacated that will allow him to pursue civil remedies.

Heidelberg’s murder conviction tossed

clockwise from top left: Marcella Teplitz, private investigator on the Cleve Heidelberg case, joins an emotional huddle following the judge’s ruling to vacate Heidelberg’s conviction.

Cleve Heidelberg turns to smile at his sister, Mae Winston, after the judge’s ruling.

Attorney Amy Hijjawi wipes her eyes after Heidelberg’s conviction was vacated.

Attorney Andy Hale, left, introduces Heidelberg’s sister Mae Winston during a press conference after the court hearing. He said Winston has been a steadfast supporter of her brother for the past 47 years. 

 

BY CLARE HOWARD

Cleve Heidelberg’s 47-year-old murder conviction was vacated Thursday following months of often emotional arguments before Peoria County Judge Albert Purham.

Attorneys Andy Hale and Amy Hijjawi embraced Heidelberg in a long, tearful huddle, but the joy was brief and gave way to indignation when Matt Jones, special prosecutor in the case, immediately filed an appeal.

Hale and attorney Don Jackson, on speaker phone, argued that bond should be set so Heidelberg could be free pending the appeal.

In frustration over the state’s appeal, Hale argued, “I don’t see how the state could retry this case.”

He said during two years of work, he was able to totally dismantle the case against Heidelberg. During numerous court hearings, Hale asserted there was no ballistic evidence, no fingerprints and no eyewitnesses proving Heidelberg was the shooter. In fact, Hale relied on the police radio transcript from the night of May 26, 1970, to point out discrepancy after discrepancy between events as they were unfolding and the official police reports. He has charged that when the police were left with no evidence, they manufactured their reports.

Purham declined to set bond, and Heidelberg is back at Hill Correctional Center in Galesburg waiting the appeal process.

“His conviction was vacated. He is no longer a convicted criminal. He has to be the longest serving prisoner to have his conviction vacated,” Hale said. “I hope to see Cleve walk out a free man. I was hoping that would be today, but we are close.”

He characterized the appeal by the state as “frivolous.”

“The Peoria County State’s Attorney’s office fought us every step of the way, putting up roadblock after roadblock . . . . Today, the conviction was vacated. That was the hard part. The final step is coming,” Hale said.

Heidelberg was arrested 47 years ago in the early morning of May 26, 1970, following the shooting death of Peoria Country Sheriff’s Deputy Ray Espinoza at the Bellevue Drive-In movie theater.

He had loaned his Blue Dodge Rambler to another man who loaned it to James Clark who latter confessed to using the car in a robbery at the Bellevue Drive-In movie theater that resulted in gun fire and the death of Espinoza.

Following the court ruling, Jones held a press conference. Phyllis Espinoza, daughter of Ray Espinoza, said she was disappointed in the judge’s decision and “worries if Mr. Heidelberg is freed, who his next victim will be based on his violence.”

Heidelberg, now 74, has congestive heart failure, walks with difficulty and has steadfastly maintained his innocence over the past 47 years.

Jones said he has relied on facts to argue this case and has not resorted to emotion and the “beyond hyperbolic statements” made by Heidelberg’s attorneys.

During a press conference outside the courthouse, Hale said, “The state knows damn well it is not going to retry Cleve Heidelberg. He should have been let out today . . . our case is on very solid ground.”

In another legal argument in this case, the judge set May 25 for a status report on the independent review of the case by the Illinois State’s Attorney’s office.

 

Speaker: No human being is illegal

Top left: Theresa Brockman holds a sign at the “Build Bridges” rally in Peoria. Top right: Becca Taylor, organizer of the “Build Bridges” rally addresses more than 200 people at the event at the Gateway Building in Peoria. Bottom left: Chicago Alderman Ameya Pawar, a Democratic candidate for Illinois governor in 2018, said nothing good results when public policy is based on fear.

More than 200 people attended a rally for immigrant and refugee rights Sunday at the Gateway Building in Peoria. There were some shouts of support and applause during the forum, and nearly everyone acknowledged we are living during a fearful period when united action is urgently needed and tearing families apart is not an American value.

Charlotte Alvarez, an attorney with The Immigration Project, said many of her clients are facing  wrenching deportation actions.

Her organization provides pro bono legal help for immigrants in central and southern Illinois.

Chicago Alderman Ameya Pawar, a Democratic candidate for governor in 2018, said, “When public policy is built on fear, bad things happen.”

He said bigotry and racism are being conflated with political campaigning and we find ourselves in a position of having to protect our friends from our federal government.

Retired judge Richard Grawey, pro bono immigration attorney, recommended these steps for fighting back:

Ask your church to become part of the sanctuary movement

Ask local police and prosecutors to be immigrant friendly

Contribute financially to organizations that help immigrants

Contact politicians and express your support for immigration rights

Other speakers included Dr. Jawad Javed, neonatologist; Serene Musaitif, Muslim poet, activist and student; Dr. Rahmat Na’Allah, physician and board member for Peoria City/County Health Department; Janet Bantz Glavin, volunteer with www.one.org and Congressional district leader; Aozora Brockman, Japanese-American poet; Sonny Garcia, board member of Illinois Peoria’s Action; Alvaro Cruz, second year doctoral student at University of Illinois and participant in the DACA Program for immigrant children; moderator Dr. Farhana Khan, physician in internal medicine.

A nationwide “Day Without Immigrants” protest is planned for May 1.

 

Attorney: Police aware of his innocence that very first night

Cleve Heidelberg leans back and watches Matt Jones during his closing arguments telling the judge Heidelberg had his day in court, a jury found him guilty and there is no new evidence to exonerate him. Heidelberg has been in prison for 47 years for the shooting death of a white sheriff’s deputy, a case his attorney alleges was fabricated.

BY CLARE HOWARD

In stunning closing arguments, attorney Andy Hale said a man in prison for the past 47 years was convicted on evidence that was fabricated, suppressed, false, manufactured and shameful.

“Police knew that first night, and police did not give a damn,” Hale said. “There is no case. There never was a case. This is an unimaginable injustice. It is so outrageous, I could scream from the mountaintops.”

Judge Albert Purham heard Hale and co-counsels Don Jackson and Amy Hijjawi work through almost three hours of closing statements.

At one point, retired police officer Paul Hibser, who had been involved in the 1970 police investigation and was in court listening to closing arguments, shouted objections to Hale’s assertions. The judge immediately instructed bailiffs to escort out of the courtroom anyone disrupting the proceedings.

Appellate prosecutor Matt Jones said Heidelberg had his day in court, was found guilty by a jury and no new evidence has been introduced.

He characterized the case as a “giant cyclone filled with fearful, menacing forms” including a lot of passion, feelings, allegations, conspiracies, resurrections and stress.

“But when the whirlwind dies down, we are left with evidence,” Jones said, and the evidence remains of Heidelberg’s guilt.

The Heidelberg defense team recapped the night of May 26, 1970, starting when Heidelberg loaned his car to Lester Mason who wanted to pick up his girlfriend. Mason then loaned the car to James Clark and Junius Whitt who were planning a “stickup” at the Bellevue Drive-In Movie Theater. Mason testified that he later got a phone call from Clark who said, “Things didn’t go right on the robbery. It was kill or be killed,” referring to the shooting death of Peoria County Sheriff’s Deputy Ray Espinoza.

Hale kept referring to the police log of that night, recounting the high-speed chase by police of the get-away car. The log showed police reported chasing the suspect who was wearing a yellow shirt and brown jacket. But when Heidelberg was arrested he was wearing a blue shirt and gray jacket.

Hale showed a map of the neighborhood around Blaine and Butler where the get-away car crashed and the driver jumped out and started running north. That was at 1:35 a.m. as police chased the suspect, losing him about four blocks north of the crash site. At 2:02 a.m. the radio log included a report of a black male about five blocks south from where police lost their suspect. The black man was walking toward the crash site. That was Heidelberg, responding to a call that his car had crashed and was left at Blaine and Butler.

“The police radio log pretty much disproves the entire case against Cleve,” Hale said, adding that within two days, police knew the shooting couldn’t be linked to the revolver found in the car.

So there was no ballistic evidence, no FBI fingerprint reports and no credible eye witnesses, Hale said, charging that’s when police began fabricating reports to link Heidelberg to the crime.

“I have never seen a case like this. This is the most egregious case I’ve ever seen,” Hale concluded.

In addition to local media, a television crew from NBC was in court Friday taping for a new program “Reasonable Doubt” set to air in late autumn.

Purham set a date of April 20 at 2:30 p.m. for his ruling on the case.