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Federal judge dismisses Heidelberg family civil rights lawsuit

Cleve Heidelberg, right, and his friend Alstory Simon speak to press after Heidelberg is
Cass Herrington
Cleve Heidelberg, right, and his friend Alstory Simon speak to the news media after Heidelberg was freed from prison in May 2017.

A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by the family of a man who spent decades in prison before his murder conviction was vacated in 2017.

Cleve Heidelberg was convicted of the murder of Peoria County Sheriff’s Sgt. Raymond Espinoza in 1970. Espinoza was killed during an attempted robbery of the former Bellevue Drive-In.

In 2017, Peoria County Judge Al Purham vacated Heidelberg’s conviction after an effort led by Chicago attorney Andy Hale provided a new sworn deposition that questioned evidence in the original investigation.

The vacated conviction called for a new trial that was still pending when Heidelberg died in March 2018 at the age of 75.

On March 27, U.S. District Court Chief Judge Sara Darrow dismissed a lawsuit filed by Heidelberg’s family, seeking more than $100 million in damages from the City of Peoria, Peoria County and former police officers and prosecutors involved in the case.

In her decision, Darrow was skeptical of claims of fabricated evidence and said the claims were invalid anyway, because a similar lawsuit Heidelberg filed himself in the 1970’s also was dismissed.

“The county has always had full confidence that the right person was convicted of Sgt. Espinoza’s tragic murder,” said Peoria County State’s Attorney Jodi Hoos in a statement. “This will hopefully provide Sgt. Espinoza’s family some much deserved and long-awaited closure.”

WCBU has not received a response for comment from attorney Hale.

Heidelberg’s family can appeal the decision.

Collin Schopp is a reporter at WCBU. He joined the station in 2022.