Convicted Killer Gets Second Chance at Freedom

Cleve Heidelberg has spent 47 years in prison for the murder of a Deputy

PEORIA - After nearly 50 years in prison, convicted killer Cleve Heidelberg is getting a new trial.

Heidelberg has maintained his innocence since the day Peoria County Sheriff's Deputy Raymond Espinoza was killed in May 1970. Heidelberg claims he was wrongly accused of the murder because his car was found in the same drive-in movie theater where Deputy Espinoza was killed after a robbery. Heidelberg says he loaned his car to a friend that night and wasn’t in the area when the robbery or shooting took place.

A Peoria County judge vacated that decades old murder conviction Thursday giving Heidelberg another chance to testify in that case, but it may not come easy for either side since most of the testimony would be based on memory because several of the key witnesses to the crime have died.

New details have emerged, however, like one man in the quad cities claiming his brother was actually Espinoza’s killer, but wouldn’t admit it until after his brother had died. If that is true, that evidence could help in Heidelberg’s re-trial.

Andy Hale, Heidelberg’s Chicago-based attorney, says it wouldn't be fair for the state to try him again for the same crime, but there was no clear answer given on the state's side as to how it would follow and pointed to other crimes Heidelberg has committed as a reason to keep him in jail.

Heidelberg's lawyers said an immediate bond hearing would have been the right answer.

"I don't think Mr. Heidelberg should have to spend another second in prison. I'm respectfully asking that we have a bond hearing right now, and Mr. Jackson addressed this, this man should walk out of here today from court,” Hale said.

Heidelberg does remain in prison; his bond hearing is set for April 28, when he could walk free for the first time in 47 years.

The judge says he feels as though new evidence and new testimony could tip scales.


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