Cleared Man Regains Freedom after 24 Years
Byline: Associated Press
A man who argued he was wrongfully convicted of setting a Chicago fire that killed a mother and her five children walked free from an Illinois prison Thursday after nearly a quarter-century behind bars, taking with him just $14.17 and a cloudy picture about how to begin anew.
James Kluppelberg, who had faced the death penalty but got life without parole instead, was released from the Menard Correctional Center in downstate Chester, a day after Cook County prosecutors dropped their case against the 46-year-old man who unflinchingly professed his innocence all along.
"I have no idea what I'm going to do," he told The Associated Press in a phone interview as he headed to St. Louis to catch a flight to Chicago. "I've got nothing."
He said he was still in shock that he was released.
"I'm a very blessed man today," he said.
Kluppelberg said his wife divorced him while he was behind bars and that he lost contact with his siblings and hasn't met his three grandchildren. Kluppelberg, who while serving time became an ordained minister, lost his mom to cancer eight years ago and emerged from prison with the less than $15 that remained from his inmate account.
Kluppelberg served 22 years of the sentence on murder and arson convictions in the 1984 blaze that killed Elva Lupercio, 28, and her five children, ages 3 to 10.
Kluppelberg's attorneys said his exoneration came after a key witness against him admitted lying. They said other evidence has come under question, too.
Prosecutors abandoned the charges Wednesday after what they called a comprehensive re-investigation left them convinced they didn't have enough to prove he did the crime. The re-investigation involved an expert's evaluation of evidence and scientific analysis.
Santos Lupercio -- the dead mother's husband and the children's father -- was the fire's lone survivor, fracturing his skull in his jump from a second-floor window. He has an unlisted home telephone number and could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Kluppelberg, who has been behind bars since his 1988 arrest, was working for a company that boarded up burned-out and abandoned buildings when the deadly fire broke out. …