It’s more than a quarter-century in prison for the former president of the Jacksonville Realtor’s Association on first-degree murder charges.
Fifty-one-year-old Robert Heitbrink received a sentence of 27 years in the Illinois Department of Corrections this morning after he was convicted in October for stabbing 70-year-old William McElhaney to death in July 2013.
The sentence was issued by Circuit Judge Chris Reif in Morgan County Court after a sentencing hearing that lasted almost an hour.
Reif denied defense attorney James Elmore’s motion for a new trial, and denied his request for credit to be given to Heitbrink for nearly two-and-a-half years of served home confinement.
Elmore asked for a 25-year sentence, while Appellate Prosecutor Charles Colburn recommended a 30-to-40-year sentence. The mandated range for first-degree murder in Illinois is 20 to 60 years in the IDOC.
Colburn spoke to us after the sentencing.
“I’ll never quarrel with what a judge decides as far as a number of years. It’s a tough decision for a court to make. We can ask for a range; certainly, when you’ve got a defendant who is at this time 51, we’re talking about now he’s going to get out when he’s 77, 78. Prison doesn’t age people very well, so it’s probably not a terribly important factor,” says Colburn.
“If the defendant had been 20 to 30 years old, maybe it makes a difference. But, in light of everything that we had to hear, I think the judge’s decision as fair.”
Heitbrink was accused of stabbing McElhaney, his former father-in-law, almost a dozen times, after a night of drinking following the return of Heitbrink’s children from a cross-country trip with the McElhaneys, their grandparents.
He testified that McElhaney started a scuffle after becoming defensive, believing that Heitbrink had accused of him of being a child molester after bringing up that his one son was hesitant about going on the trip.
The court heard victim’s impact statements from Connie McElhaney, the wife of William, who said Heitbrink took her life when he killed William, and that she continues to have nightmares about the incident. She also looked directly at Heitbrink and said, “You will always and only be remembered as a murderer.”
Elmore noted both men were “falling-down drunk” and that this was a spur-of-the-moment incident. He asked Reif to not base his judgement on a “drunken rage” and maintained that Heitbrink acted under “strong provocation”.
He also noted Heitbrink did everything asked of him while under home confinement. He says Heitbrink studied the Bible. It was also noted Heitbrink has no violent background.
Heitbrink, in a statement of allocution, said he wished this hadn’t happened, and that he was “deeply sorry for everyone’s loss”. He also said he loved his children, and that he misses them more than words can describe.
Judge Reif noted “many people lost, no one won” in this case. He said he received 40 letters of testimony from Heitbrink’s friends and family, many of who were in the courthouse.
Colburn says the McElhaneys were very strong in this case, and that he wishes the matter could have been concluded sooner.
“I’ve explained to them there will be appeals; defendants that get sentenced to prison always appeal, and that’s just part of the process. They don’t have to worry about every day, they don’t need to check whether something’s been filed, I’ll keep them informed about what’s going on,” says Colburn.
“But, hopefully now they can put this behind them, the surviving members of William McElhaney’s family can get on with their lives, the children of the defendant can get on with their lives, and people can hopefully put this behind them, and as the judge said, time’s going to go by, people are going to forget about the defendant, and their lives rare going to go on, and we hope they can do that,” he continues.
The McElhaney family declined to speak to media on tape after the sentencing, but a spokesperson said the family believes this was a fair sentence.
Heitbrink was fined $610 and given credit for 58 days served in the Morgan County Jail. He must serve three years of Mandatory Supervised Release after he is finished with his sentence.