To the editors:
I am addressing this letter to the editors, but, in fact, it is directed to Abner Cunningham, whose most interesting letter appeared in the September 22, 1989 issue of the Reader.
Mr. Cunningham obviously put a great deal of thought into his correspondence when he stated the following: “Mr. Heirens has never admitted his crime and thus has not taken the very crucial first step of rehabilitation in any program for personal change.” Yes, I too believe that it is important for each of us, Bill Heirens included, to come to terms with those problems which prevent us from becoming the most productive and socially agreeable persons possible. However, it is necessary to understand that the Illinois Prisoner Review Board does not consider the admission of guilt essential to the rehabilitation of Illinois inmates and the issue of guilt or innocence is supposedly inconsequential to their determination. And the Board has, repeatedly, declared Bill Heirens to be rehabilitated, or, more pointedly, capable of making a successful reentry into society. In addition, state psychologists have found him free of any mental defects for the past 35 years and persons who know him, work with him, and have benefitted from the assistance he has given them, declare him to be normal, rational, productive and helpful beyond expectations. But, unfortunately, publicity abounds, the Board believes that people like Mr. Cunningham must be appeased, and, so, Bill Heirens remains in prison.
Also, although it is an unpopular theory, there is always the possibility that Bill Heirens is innocent of murder. If that is the case, I assume Mr. Cunningham would not expect him to admit his crimes. The evidence presented in 1946 (and don’t forget that this was a plea bargain situation and the evidence was never court tested) may have satisfied Mr. Cunningham, Sr., but it does not satisfy a number of people who are currently involved in a reevaluation of that evidence.
The most pathetic part of Mr. Cunningham’s letter expressed his fear that Bill Heirens, if released, would seek him out, as well as his young daughters. It is true that Bill has had little access to women and children over the past 43 years. For a short while there were women inmates at Vienna Correctional Center and from all reports Bill behaved admirably. He has, over the years, maintained enviable friendships with both men AND women of all ages and I wish Mr. Cunningham could read some of the letters those people have written to me about Bill Heirens. Also, I have spent virtually thousands of hours with Bill over the past three years, and while I don’t expect Mr. Cunningham to find me credible since I am obviously a close friend of Bill’s–how does he think I became that? Fear is a debilitating emotion and I often think that if Mr. Cunningham and others like him made the effort to meet Bill Heirens, that emotion could be abolished from their lives. But, apparently, nurturing their fear is a necessary ingredient for their rationalization that Bill Heirens should remain in prison despite the person he has obviously become.
Although we may question the extent of Mr. Heirens’ criminal activities, there are none of us who will argue that he was a disturbed youth who certainly needed, at the point of his arrest, to be removed from society for a time. And it is true that he resisted that arrest in 1946, but, somehow, the interpretation given by Mr. Cunningham suggests more ferocity on Bill’s part than the testimony of his father at the original hearing in Chicago in 1946. At that time, Mr. Cunningham testified:
“I went up the stairway and saw Officer Constant and William Heirens struggling. I hit the defendant Heirens and said, “You so and so, trying to shoot at us police officers.’ I let him have it with the flower pots which I carried in my right hand and I hit him with all my strength because I was certainly angry. The first blow brought him down to his knees or almost completely flat and on the second blow he rolled on his back and lay still. I hit him on the head after I asked the officer if this was the right man. He said “that is him’ so then I broke all the flower pots on his head.”
Tiffin Constant testified in the following manner:
“As I started up to the second floor from the first landing, I saw William Heirens aiming a gun at me and clicking the trigger, perhaps about five feet away. I ducked and threw three quick shots at him and as I reached the center landing, between the first and second floor, he jumped down on me. His gun fell out of his hand and he was trying to reach past my shoulder for it. I pushed him away and lay on top of him until another officer came up and hit him on the head with a flower pot.”
A long way, you will agree, from Mr. Cunningham’s contention that:
“Young Heirens had overpowered a detective, Tiffin Constance (incidentally, the name was Constant, not Constance) and was banging his head on the floor.”
Just another indication of the misrepresentations where the story of Bill Heirens is concerned.
Lastly, Mr. Cunningham bemoans that “I just don’t know what to do.” I respectfully suggest that if he represents that “offshore causes” (whales and oil slicks?) deserve more consideration than people, he should reevaluate his decision to remain employed as a “social worker.”