Exonerated Ex-Inmate Speaks Up for Heidelberg

Apr 19, 2017

Alstory Simon
Credit Seth Perlman / AP Photo

A former inmate who was wrongfully convicted of murder says he believes his friend, Cleve Heidelberg, is innocent.

66-year-old Alstory Simon was released in 2014, when then Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez vacated the charges against him.

Simon got to know Heidelberg while they were both inmates at the Hill Correctional Center in Galesburg, where Heidelberg remains today.

"He has always maintained his innocence since day one. Not once has he admitted or made any admissions of guilt," Simon said.

Heidelberg is convicted of murdering a Peoria County Sheriff’s Sergeant, 47 years ago. A Peoria County Judge is expected to make a final ruling Thurs. in Heidelberg’s post-conviction case. If Heidelberg walks free, he'll have a friend waiting on the other side for him. 

Cleve Heidelberg
Credit Cass Herrington / Peoria Public Radio

“I’m going to do everything I possibly can to help him with his transition, if the Lord's willing," Simon said. "I know what he’s going to go through, because I’ve been in that same spot, and I’m still in that same spot.”

Simon says they first met in the prison library, about ten years ago. Simon says Heidelberg used to spend hours poring over legal cases and news articles that could be used to support his claims of innocence.

“As he would research cases, he would keep me in mind. He would come back to the cell house with copies for me," Simon said. "So our relationship started growing from there.”

Simon was also convicted of murder, but he was exonerated in 2014 after an investigation turned up false evidence and a coerced confession. He's currently suing Northwestern University for $40 million. He alleges NU’s Innocence Project employed unethical reporting tactics that implicated him in a 1982 double homicide.

“There is no amount of money that can compensate for the wrong that was done against you," Simon said.

After Simon was released from prison, he asked his lawyer Andy Hale to look into Heidelberg’s case. 

“I said I would look into it," Hale said. "And the first thing I did, I pulled up a copy of the appellate opinion, and I saw Cleve Heidelberg had been convicted of shooting a Peoria County sheriff’s officer."

Hale had previously spent the bulk of his career defending law enforcement officers.

“There was a reluctance on my part, to get involved," Hale said. "But, when I started to look into the case and roll up my sleeves, I started to see things that didn’t make sense, things that were wrong, and things that were improper.”

Namely, he says, that someone confessed to the murder in an affidavit.

This is the first time that confession -- and other testimonies corroborating it -- will be considered in Heidelberg's case.

Peoria County Judge Al Purham is expected to reach a decision during Thursday's hearing, at 2:30pm. If Heidelberg is freed, his friend Alstory Simon says the first thing he wants to do is take Heidelberg out for dinner.