LARGO — After 21 years and one mistrial, a jury has convicted Jeffrey M. Lobik in the murder of Susan Heyliger, a bartender who was killed while closing up shop.
"It's huge," said Bill Heyliger, who had been married to Susan for 12 years at the time of her death, and has waited another two decades for this verdict. He said Susan was the mother of five children and her death "just ripped the family apart."
Lobik, 42, was immediately sentenced to life in prison after the jury issued its verdict Friday.
Susan Heyliger had been closing up shop at the Country Club Lounge in Largo in 1987 when someone descended from the drop ceiling, hit her in the head with a trophy, strangled her and slit her throat with a knife. The killer also stole money from a cash register.
Largo police had identified Lobik as a suspect, but he denied the crime and denied ever being in the crawl space above the ceiling. Prosecutor Jim Hellickson, who was involved in the case early on, said it was "really disheartening" to realize at the time there was not enough evidence to proceed.
Largo police, however, never dropped the matter. Detective Jim Coyle picked it up in 2004 as a "cold case," and managed to get Lobik to talk to him as he tape-recorded the conversation. Lobik admitted he had sneaked into the crawl space of the lounge to smoke crack, but continued to deny killing Heyliger.
That's when Coyle knew he had a case. Lobik had just been caught in a lie, because he had previously denied being in the crawl space.
Hellickson, the prosecutor, said that was a key part of the evidence he and fellow prosecutor Glenn Martin used in the case that was presented to the jury last week.
Lobik's attorney, Kandice Friesen, from the public defender's office, told jurors that the case was circumstantial. Not only that, but some circumstantial evidence pointed toward guilt and other evidence pointed toward innocence, and under the law that means a jury should find a defendant innocent, Friesen said.
Bill Heyliger says that for years after the killing, "I was the biggest critic of the Largo Police Department."
He pushed for more aggressive investigation, and wanted prosecutors to at least attempt the case.
But now, he says, he is deeply impressed with the work of prosecutors and Largo police over all these years.
"Frankly, they've astounded me in their persistence on the case," Heyliger said Monday.