A 74-year-old Peoria man returns to prison in Galesburg this evening, but he could be freed later this spring if a judge believes new evidence proves his innocence.
A packed Peoria County courtroom heard arguments from three attorneys representing Cleve Heidelberg. The hearing Fri. in the post-conviction trial stems from a 1970 murder case.
The court heard arguments about flaws in how the original case was handled and how witness testimony corroborating Heidelberg's innocence was never entered into the case.
Heidelberg’s son, sister and niece were seated in the courtroom. The daughter of slain Peoria County Sheriff’s Sgt. Raymond Espinoza was also present. He was shot and killed 47 years ago at Bellevue Drive-In Theater, while responding to an armed robbery call.
After three hours of emotional arguments from Heidelberg’s defense, the prosecutor from the state appellate office called their statements “hearsay” and “conspiracy.” Prosecutor Matt Jones also says the information presented by Heidelberg’s defense is not new.
"Mr. Heidelberg has had his chance. More than most. He did not meet his burden. His petition must be denied," Jones said.
The central piece of evidence considered is testimony from Matt Clark, the brother of James Clark, who admitted to the murder 47 years ago. The initial dispatch reports and police lineups reviewed in court Fri. also show discrepancies between descriptions of the suspect’s appearance.
"This is the egregious case I’ve ever seen. It was a little house of cards," Andy Hale, one of Heidelberg's attorneys, said. "There is nothing left to stack it up against. Matt clark clearly is enough to change the confidence in the verdict."
The final hearing in Heidelberg's post conviction relief case is Apr. 20 at 2:30 p.m. in front of Judge Al Purham. The judge says he will make a ruling on that date.