We are learning more details about one of Oswego County's most notorious crimes.
Federal public defender Lisa Peebles says she has â??what we feel to be compelling information that three other people were involvedâ?? in the 1994 disappearance of Heidi Allen from a convenience store near Oswego.
Lisa Peebles says she is preparing to file a motion next week to overturn Gary Thibodeau's 1995 conviction for kidnapping Heidi Allen.
In an article on Syracuse.com, two people say that James Steen told them he was involved with kidnapping Allen and hiding her body. James Steen is serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole for the 2010 murder of his estranged wife Victoria Steen and her boyfriend Charles Carr. One of the witnesses, Tonya Priest told investigators that Steen said he and two other men killed Heidi Allen because they believed she was going to report local drug dealers to the police.
The Syracuse.com article describes conversations with two people who said Steen told them about kidnapping Allen. Peebles says she also believes some investigation materials were withheld from Gary Thibodeauâ??s original trial lawyers.
"Based on what we know, we can't sit back and not do anything about it," said Peebles.
In an interview Thursday afternoon, Oswego County District Attorney Gregory Oakes said his office flew Tonya Priest in from out of state and worked with the sheriff's department to investigate the claims but "there was no credible information to believe the individuals named by Ms. Priest were involved with the abduction." Oakes says his office and sheriff's investigators took the claims seriously but he still "very much believes Gary Thibodeau is guilty."
Oakes said he gathered up all the statements, transcripts and recordings made during the new investigation and provided them to Gary Thibodeau so he would have them.
"If I had credible evidence showing Gary Thibodeau is innocent, I would personally move to vacate his conviction," said Oakes. "No such evidence exists."
Lisa Peebles says the sheriff's investigation into the claims made by new witnesses did not go far enough.
"Which is why we are moving forward in the fashion we are moving.perhaps if they had followed up on the information, the investigation would have ended up differently."
This new investigation is opening up wounds for the Allen family. Heidi's sister released this statement Friday.
"I would like to thank you all for reaching out to the family for a statement in light of Syracuse.comâ??s recent multitude of articles. Since the family only learned these articles were being published less than ten minutes from the time the first ran, we are still processing the information. With yet another article being released today, we understand the media wants to know and would like a statement yet, with the exception of the one my parents shared with Channel 9, we are waiting until next week so we can process all that is happening. Please respect my parents need and request of privacy during this difficult time of information being shared via Internet and print news, itâ??s a lot to process. We hurt for Heidiâ??s friends and our community as they are dragged through this yet again too. Our goal is the same today as it was on Easter Sunday, 1994, twenty years agoâ?|to find Heidi! Thank you for always remembering Heidi and your continued support. Please let your readers/viewers know the family appreciates it very much yet at this time, time and privacy is a necessary blessing. Thank you in advance for understanding. When we are ready to give a more in depth statement or interview, we will respond to your phone calls and messages," said Lisa Buske, Heidi Allen's sister. Lisa is an author who has written a book about her sister's disappearance titled "Where's Heidi? On Sister's Journey."
In 1995, Gary Thibodeau was convicted of kidnapping Heidi Allen but a separate jury acquitted his brother Richard of the same charge. Heidi Allenâ??s body has never been found and there was no physical evidence linking the Thibodeau brothers to the case. No witnesses ever testified that they saw Heidi Allen with either of the Thibodeau brothers but one witness said he saw Allen struggling with a man leading Allen towards a light blue van. Richard Thibodeau di down a van but it was black and white colored. Two jailhouse snitches testified against Gary Thibodeau, claiming he confessed to them.
Witnesses say that Steen told them her body was put under the floorboards of a cabin in the woods but so far the investigation has not found any remains.