Freedom is in the offing for a man wrongfully convicted of a deadly arson fire.
As WBBM Newsradio’s Bob Conway reports, it has been a long wait for James Kluppelberg, 46, who has been in prison for 24 years for a crime he did not commit.
Kluppelberg was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for setting fire to a building at 4448 S. Hermitage Ave. in the Back of the Yards neighborhood March 1984, leaving Elva Lupercio and her five children – Santos Jr. 10; Sonia, 8; Cristobel, 6; Yadira 4; and Anabel, 3 – dead, the Chicago Tribune recalled.
The initial investigation determined the fire to be accidental, but four years later, a supposed witness testified that he saw Kluppelberg at the scene, while a Fire Department investigator said the fire was arson.
A Tribune article from July 15, 1989, said Criminal Court Judge Loretta Hall Morgan found Kluppelberg guilty after a bench trial, largely on the testimony of supposed witness Duane Glassco – a convicted burglar who was Kluppelberg’s roommate.
The article said Glassco admitted to him that he had started the fire, and told him: “You know how I am when I feel I’m losing someone. I do stupid things,” the Tribune reported. But the meaning of that statement was never explained during the trial, the newspaper reported.
But defense attorneys said Glassco had an axe to grind with Kluppelberg, because his ex-girlfriend had left him for Kluppelberg a short time earlier, the Tribune reported.
Kluppelberg was mistakenly released from the Cook County Jail after being sentenced and fled to Georgia, where he was captured and returned to Illinois, the Tribune reported. A jail guard was later charged with letting Kluppelberg out in exchange for help getting cocaine, the newspaper reported.
On appeal, Kluppelberg’s defense attorneys said the fire was not an arson at all, and that advances in science since the incident had made that clear, the Tribune reported.
On Wednesday, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office decided to dismiss the charges, on the grounds that prosecutors cannot prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, the Tribune reported.
Kluppelberg is expected to be released from the Menard Correctional Center later Thursday.