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Cleve Heidelberg Gets a New Day In Court

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Cass Herrington
/
Peoria Public Radio

Attorneys for Cleve Heidelberg are celebrating the seven hours of testimony yesterday as “an accomplishment.” Four separate witnesses were called to testify Tues. in Judge Albert Purham’s courtroom in the Peoria County Building.

One of them, Emanuel Manias, was a detective for the Sheriff’s department who prepared the murder investigation in 1970 that led to Heidelberg’s conviction. One of the reports Manias wrote was based off a conversation he overheard while working at the jail.

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Credit Cass Herrington / Peoria Public Radio
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Peoria Public Radio
Emanuel Manias on the stand during Cleve Heidelberg's hearing Tuesday, February 28, 2017.

Manias says he was waiting for the elevator when he caught snippets of Heidelberg speaking with his attorney, just hours after the murder. It was a point Heidelberg’s attorney Andy Hale pressed, “And then did you continue throughout that night to come by that door where you could hear things?”

Manias responded, “as I testified, Mr. Hale, this is what I caught in the short time while I was waiting for the elevator, going up and coming down.” Manias went on to say he didn’t think it was improper at the time.

One of the people who testified on behalf of Heidelberg is also serving a life sentence. 73-year-old Lestor Mason says he has nothing to gain by declaring Cleve Heidelberg’s innocent. Mason took the fifth during the original trial. Mason says at the time, he didn’t want to snitch on his friend James Clark.

“To kill a police officer under those circumstances was ludicrous to me, and as the end result, someone else got convicted for it," Mason said. "I always felt guilty for it. I got the car, and I gave it to James.”

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Credit Cass Herrington / Peoria Public Radio
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Peoria Public Radio
Lestor Mason on the stand testifying for Cleve Heidelberg's defense Tuesday, February 28, 2017 in Judge Al Purham's Peoria County Courtroom.

The defense claims Heidelberg loaned his car to Mason the night Sgt. Raymond Espinoza was shot and killed at the  Bellevue Drive-In Theater, May 26, 1970, during a robbery.  Mason also claims the state's attorney at the time coerced him to support the case that Heidelberg was guilty by offering him a shorter prison sentence. When asked if he was willing to lie under oath for self gain, Mason said, “at that time, yes.”

The court will hear closing arguments on March 31. The judge must decide if the new evidence supports Heidelberg’s claims of innocence and whether the 6th Amendment violation uncovered in Manias’ testimony impacted Heidelberg’s conviction.