Conviction Vacated, New Trial Granted for Cleve Heidelberg

Apr 20, 2017

Cleve Heidelberg and his attorneys embrace, immediately after Judge Al Purham's ruling, which granted for a new trial.
Credit Cass Herrington / Peoria Public Radio

Twenty minutes was all it took for a Peoria County Judge to vacate a man’s 47-year-old murder conviction.

Family and attorneys representing Cleve Heidelberg called court ruling Thurs. “historic,” for a man who’s spent nearly half a century in prison.

“I just want the final piece of the puzzle. I want Cleve Heidelberg to walk out those doors a free man. That day’s comin’ because the hard part happened today. The conviction got vacated,” attorney Andy Hale said, standing alongside Heidelberg's family and friends, outside the courthouse.

Heidelberg's sister Mae Winston (center) laughed and cheered, minutes after Judge Purham's decision that vacated the murder conviction.
Credit Cass Herrington / Peoria Public Radio

Judge Al Purham granted Heidelberg a new trial in the 1970 murder case that resulted in the killing of a sheriff’s sergeant.

“While we appreciate the court’s approach to this, we think he got it right in part, and got it wrong in part," Matt Jones, of the State Appellate Prosecutor’s Office, said.

Jones says Judge Purham deserves credit for sorting through the "conspiracies." But he disagrees with the Judge's assertion that the new evidence, a sworn deposition from Matthew Clark, is new at all.

Matt Jones of the State Appellate Prosecutor’s Office says he's "disappointed" by the outcome but respected the judge's treatment of "aggressive advocacy" by Heidelberg's defense. Jones won't set a time table for a trial or allow Heidelberg to remain free on bond. A bond hearing is set for Apr. 28.
Credit Cass Herrington / Peoria Public Radio

"We believe it's res judicata. It's not the same person, but the testimony is the same," Jones said.

Matthew Clark is the brother of James Clark, who confessed to the murder after Heidelberg was convicted. Both men plead the fifth during the original trial. James Clark died three years ago. Judge Purham says Matthew Clark's testimony is credible, new evidence because his brother's confession wasn't admitted into the original trial. 

“How in good faith can you say there was no chance to cross-examine James Clark, when he was available for 45 years?," Purham said. 

The Appellate Prosecutor's Office filed an appeal to Thursday's decision. A bond hearing is set for Apr. 28.

That means more waiting for Heidelberg, who's spent most of his life in custody, since the killing of Sgt. Raymond Espinoza on May 26, 1970. He has maintained his innocence ever since.