Heidelberg Hearing Takes a Turn

Sep 22, 2016

Cleve Heidelberg, 73, requests to represent himself pro se during a hearing in Peoria County Court Thurs. Heidelberg is seeking post-conviction relief, after spending 46 years in prison.
Credit Cass Herrington / Peoria Public Radio

A startling turn of events stirred an emotional scene in what was expected to be a pretty mundane hearing in Peoria County Court Thurs. Peoria Public Radio’s Cass Herrington reports on 73-year-old Cleve Heidelberg’s efforts to be exonerated after nearly half a century in prison.

Cleve Heidelberg was visibly frustrated early on in Thursday’s hearing. The police officers forgot to remove his shackles after he entered the courtroom. On several occasions, Heidelberg interrupted the judge, and his own attorneys. But the focus of the hearing changed gears when Heidelberg told the court, he wanted to take matters into his own hands, and represent himself.

“I’m being totally ignored here, the issues that’s involved are spinning out of control. I desire to have some input into that," Heidelberg said.

"Your honor, could we have a five minute break, so I can talk to Mr. Heidelberg?," his Attorney, Andy Hale, said. 

"I don’t need a break,” Heidelberg said. 

After a brief recess to speak with his attorneys, Heidelberg reentered the courtroom, insisting on representing himself. Attorney Andy Hale got choked up and requested the judge give the matter two weeks.

“I love Mr. Heidelberg too much to let this train crash. I need to talk to him one more time and try to explain to him where things are at, I think the stakes here are too high," Hale said. 

Hale went on to say that his client was expressing frustration over how long the process has played out, particularly given Heidelberg's declining health.

Peoria County Judge Al Purham
Credit Cass Herrington / Peoria Public Radio

“He doesn’t understand how close he is to proving his freedom. He is so close," Hale said.  

Judge Al Purham ruled in favor of the request, but warned Heidelberg to be prepared to argue on his behalf at the next hearing should he choose to represent himself. Heidelberg met with his older sister and two nieces after the adjournment. They were seated in the courtroom. Bertha Mize-Jackson says they told her uncle they love him, he’s not alone, and that he should stick with his attorneys.

“He feels the battle has only been his, but the battle has been the family’s. It’s a family battle," Mize-Jackson said. "And being in the situation he’s in and the life he’s had to live in behind bars. I can understand he feels that way.”

Heidelberg’s attorneys plan to visit him at the Galesburg Correctional Center before the next hearing on October 5th.