Appeals Court Sends Heidelberg's Case Back to Peoria

Dec 1, 2017

The half a century old murder case that convicted a black man of killing a sheriff’s deputy has been sent back to Peoria County.

The appellate court in Ottawa ruled Thurs. that it’s the responsibility of a Peoria County judge to review the conviction of 74-year-old Cleve Heidelberg. He was released on bond in May.

Cleve Heidelberg
Credit Cass Herrington / Peoria Public Radio

The appellate court judges’ decision means Judge Purham must decide if he wants to appoint a special prosecutor to review the case, and if so, whom. The Peoria County State’s Attorney has yet to announce whether or not he’ll retry Heidelberg’s case.

Many of the witnesses from the trial in 1970 have since died or have flickering memories of the details.

Following that trial, Heidelberg spent 47 years in prison for the murder of Sgt. Raymond Espinoza.

Heidelberg's lawyers have argued the police investigation that led to his guilty conviction was a rush to judgment and racially-motivated. Judge Purham says race had nothing to do with it, but ruled in May that new testimony warranted a new trial.

Prosecutors argue the jury’s decision was legitimate and the new testimony was already entered into the court record.