News Local/State

Cleve Heidelberg Released After 47 Years

Cleve Heidelberg grinned as he spoke to reporters Mon., just minutes after he learned of his release from Peoria County Jail.

Cleve Heidelberg (right), 74, grinned as he spoke to reporters Mon., just minutes after he learned of his release from Peoria County Jail. Cass Herrington/Peoria Public Radio

When Cleve Heidelberg woke up in his jail cell Monday morning, he didn’t know he’d be stepping outside hours later in civilian clothing. In fact, Heidelberg was notified just minutes before that he’d be released, for the first time in 47 years.

Heidelberg stepped outside of Peoria County Jail under grey skies and cold rain. But he looked at the sky with a smile, and raised a victorious fist. Heidelberg’s attorney Andy Hale walked alongside him.

Heidelberg walks out of prison, joined by his friend Alstory Simon (left). The two became friends while they were both being held at Hill Correctional Center in Galesburg.

Photo Credit: Cass Herrington/Peoria Public Radio

“What’s that feel like? Do you want to just run around the block?,” Hale asked him.

“No, no, no. I don’t want to run nowhere right now. It feels beautiful,” Heidelberg said.

When asked what he wants for dinner, Heidelberg responded saying “a little bit of everything.”

He’s slated to appear in court -- as a free man -- for a status hearing Thurs.

74-year-old Heidelberg was convicted of murdering Peoria County Sheriff Sgt. Raymond Espinoza in 1970. A memorial honoring slain sheriff’s officers, etched with Espinoza’s name, lies steps away from where Heidelberg walked out of jail.

A Peoria County Judge vacated Heidelberg's conviction last month. That’s why Heidelberg says the Peoria County State’s Attorney should drop the case.

“The decision the judgment that Judge Purham Jr. made was a monumental decision. He didn’t take that lightly, he wasn’t making a ruling because he likes me,” Heidelberg said. “He dealt with the facts, he dealt with the evidence.”

Judge Purham ordered a new trial.

The Peoria County State’s Attorney is weighing the decision to try Heidelberg again or toss out the case. Meantime, Heidelberg is staying near family in Jacksonville, Ill. and is required to wear a GPS tracking device.