Update: First day of Robert Heitbrink murder trial is in the books

By Gary Scott on October 15, 2015 at 12:42pm

We learned more about the case this morning than we had in the last two years and three months since 70-year-old William McElhaney was found lying in a pool of his own blood at the Heitbrink residence at 37 Ivywood Drive in the early morning hours of July 27th, 2013.

In an opening statement, Charles Colburn, the former Morgan County State’s Attorney who is handling the prosecution as a member of the Appellate Prosecutor’s Office, explained how the previous day, William and Connie McElhaney, the parents of Shelley Heitbrink, returned from a West Coast vacation with their grandchildren, the children of Shelley and Robert Heitbrink.

Shelley and Robert divorced in 2005, but Robert, a former Jacksonville real estate agent, had been living with his ex-wife and children in their west-side Jacksonville residence.

Colburn said the return was earlier than expected, and that the McElhaneys and Heitbrinks celebrated with alcoholic beverages in the kitchen. Colburn said Shelley last saw Robert and William in the garage, still talking, drinking and having a good time, later that evening.

At around 4 a.m. on Saturday the 27th, Colburn said Shelley was awoken by Robert, who wanted to talk to his son.

He apparently left saying something like, “someone’s gonna get hurt”. When she checked on Robert and William in the garage and found them ok, Shelley reportedly questioned Robert about what he said, and Colburn explained Robert shrugged it off.

A half-hour later, Colburn told the twelve-juror panel that Robert Heitbrink went back upstairs, and told Connie McElhaney, “get your child-molesting husband.”

During witness testimony, Jacksonville Police Lieutenant Sean Walker added he heard Connie McElhaney say that Robert Heitbrink told her several times that William McElhaney “had touched the kids”.

Colburn said the Jacksonville Police Department interviewed the children who had gone on vacation, and that all said there was “no inappropriate touching by anyone in the family.”

William McElhaney had been severely beaten in the face stabbed multiple times, including a cut to the femoral artery in the leg. He apparently lost three liters of blood, which is more than half the blood the average male body contains.

A 911 call was played this morning, in which those in attendance in the courtroom could hear Shelley Heitbrink saying “Oh my God, he’s been stabbed,” referring to William McElhaney. When asked by the police dispatcher who stabbed him, Shelley responded, “My husband.”

The tape continued with Shelley and Connie McElhaney repeatedly saying “Bill, come on Bill,” as emergency crews arrived on scene. Testimony provided indicated William was pulse-less and not breathing when emergency crews arrived. Shelley Heitbrink and Connie McElhaney were reportedly applying CPR and pressure to William’s leg. He was pronounced dead at Passavant Area Hospital.

According to police testimony this morning, Robert Heitbrink was standing outside, pointing to the garage, and saying “he’s in there” several times.

JPD Lieutenant Doug Thompson said there was a strong odor of alcohol on Heitbrink, and he observed dried blood on him. But Heitbrink reportedly said he didn’t know what happened. Thompson testified Heitbrink appeared “nonchalant.”

Toxicology results from William McElhaney’s autopsy indicated he had a high blood-alcohol content, as well. Colburn also noted the lacerations on McElhaney were consistent with defensive wounds, according to the autopsy.

Colburn called the act “brutal and senseless” and said he would prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Robert Heitbrink had committed murder.

Heitbrink’s attorney Craig Reiser told jury members this was an act of self defense, and said this wasn’t a “who-dunnit” case, admitting Heitbrink committed the stabbing, but noting that killing is not the same as murdering. Heitbrink’s defense team stressed a presumption of innocence for Heitbrink.

Interestingly, Colburn said the prosecution didn’t have to prove why the murder happened, but instead, to prove how it happened.

In addition to the 911 call, evidence was also entered in the form of a police dashboard camera video showing the scene of the incident. Multiple police officers and first responders were interviewed.

During the afternoon half of today’s trial, two investigators from the Illinois State Police testified. Pictures of the garage where the alleged murder took place were shown, including the jarring image of a large pool of blood.

The knife believed to have been used in the stabbing was also shown, as were several other knives in the garage and several dozen more in other parts of the house.

Other pictures showing what was described by the ISP investigator as a “blood-like substance” on and in a minivan parked in the garage, on a pair of boxers found in a dresser, and on a paper towel in a trash can were entered as evidence.

The final images shown were initial autopsy photos conducted in McLean County for William McElhaney. They included a bloody polo shirt, shorts and boxers.

Many members of the McElhaney family were in court this morning, as well as members of the Heitbrink family. Emotions ran high, as several people were seen in and outside of the courthouse crying, including first responders.

It was stated on Wednesday that this trial could go until mid-next week, but prosecutor Charles Colburn said things moved quickly today. The trial is scheduled to resume at 9 a.m. on Friday.

Editor’s note: We have removed the name of a child referenced in this story. We will use editorial discretion regarding the use of children’s names if they are referenced in any future part of this trial.