When Cleve Heidelberg let a friend use his vehicle on May 26, 1970, he couldn’t imagine it would lead to him being arrested for murder and sent to prison for life.
Andrew Hale is used to defending cops, not cop-killers.
The Chicago attorney made his name defending police officers in high profile misconduct cases, but now he’s fighting to free Cleve Heidelberg who is serving a 100-year prison sentence for the murder of an Illinois sheriff in 1970.
Hale came to Heidelberg’s defense after his former client, Alstory Simon, was freed from prison for a wrongful double murder conviction after he was coerced into a confessing to the crime by Northwestern University journalism project (as documented in 2015’s film, A Murder in the Park.)
Before he was released from prison in October 2014, he made a promise to his fellow prisoner, Heidelberg, that he would find him a lawyer to look into his case. Heidelberg has maintained his innocence ever since the day he was arrested, but his claims mostly fell on deaf ears until Hale came along.
They shouldn’t have.
At 1:00 a.m. on May 26, 1970 a man ran into a drive-in movie theater in Belleville, Illinois, just outside of Peoria. The man said it was a robbery and tied up the projectionist, then made the manager take him to the money at gunpoint.
“Little did he know the guy, the projectionist, untied himself and called the police,” Hale said.
When a Peoria County Sheriff car pulled up, the suspect fired three shots and fatally struck Deputy Ray Espinoza in the head. The suspect got back in a blue 1964 Chevy Nova II and took off for Peoria, with officers in hot pursuit. There was a crash and the suspect took off on foot into the night.
Officers didn’t have their suspect but they had his car—it was Heidelberg’s.
“Cleve Heidelberg got a call about 1:30 in the morning saying, ‘Your car got left at the intersection of Blaine and Butler in Peoria,’” Hale said.
Heidelberg matched the suspect’s description: young, male, and black.
When he came to retrieve his car, officers came rushing out, guns drawn.
“When I was arrested, I was down there inquiring about my vehicle, and as I was talking with one of the officers he asked me to step to the side of this house and next thing I know somebody hit me in the back of my head,” he said.
Several officers “beat the crap out of him,” Hale said. It only stopped when a husband and wife came out of their house and told them to stop. When Heidelberg became conscious again, he was on the ground in handcuffs.
Source: The Daily Beast | SETH FERRANTI