Thibodeau's death offers no closure for either side
The death of Gary Thibodeau, the man convicted of kidnapping Heidi Allen from a New Haven convenience store in 1994, means the end of his attempts to get a new trial in the case, but his passing is not providing closure to either side.
Thibodeau's attorney, Federal Public Defender Lisa Peebles, says while she loves most of the clients she represents, she had a special relationship with Gary.
"He had a way about him that I really appreciated - how he handled his plight being in prison all these years for something he didn’t do and the attitude he had," Peebles said. "I mean he was honest about how he was angry in the beginning and the various emotions that he struggled with over the years, and he finally came to be at peace with his situation."
Thibodeau had maintained his innocence in Allen's disappearance and the two of them started pursuing a new trial in 2014 after a woman came forward saying three other men had confessed to the crime. Ultimately judges at the trial court, Appellate Division and Court of Appeals found that evidence would be inadmissible and therefore denied his request for a new trial. Peebles says the results have left her disappointed both professionally and personally.
"The one regrettable piece to this is while we did give him hope, I feel like we failed him. The system failed him," Peebles said. "I wasn’t - I really couldn’t deliver."
After the Court of Appeals decision in June, Peebles had filed a motion to reargue the case before the court and eventually planned on taking the matter to federal court. But she says she felt conflicted knowing that Thibodeau was suffering from a chronic lung disease.
"The minute I walked in with the decision [from the Court of Appeals] and told him – I really had a hard time telling him – but the minute I told him he looked at me and said, he thanked me, and he said, 'I’m ready to die,'" She said. "I didn’t want him to keep hanging on because I knew he was suffering, but we thought we would do the reargument motion just as a last ditch effort just to see if we could get something -not that he would have had, you know, a fabulous life had he been able to get out because he was so ill, but just knowing that the system just eventually worked for him would have been extremely helpful."
That request ended with his death.
Oswego County District aAttorney Greg Oakes, who has led the fight to uphold Thibodeau's conviction, released a statement offering his condolences to Thibodeau's family, and to Allen's family as well. Allen's body has never been found.
Her sister Lisa Buske says while she's relieved that Thibodeau's passing will minimize the media attention and hearings and trials, the case is still open.
"Heidi is the ultimate victim here," Buske said. "Heidi is still missing. We don’t know where Heidi is. So for us, with the exception of less phone calls, it hasn’t changed our hopes and goals of finding Heidi," Buske said.
Buske said one of her greatest regrets in the case is that her mother passed away without knowing where Allen was. She says she doesn't want the same for her father.
"Our hope was the same today as it was on April 3, 1994 - to answer my mom’s question," Buske said. "Where’s Heidi?"