A Chicago police detective may have framed 51 people – and possibly more – for murder.
Reynaldo Guevara, who retired from the force in 2005, ruined the lives of these individuals and their families over the span of a quarter-century, from the 1980s until he started receiving his pension.
In a 2013 deposition by attorneys suing him for civil rights violations, Guevara consistently pleaded the Fifth.
Of the 51 people allegedly framed by Guevara, just three were acquitted. Another five received life – and three others received the death penalty. Fortunately, none of them were executed after then-Governor George Ryan commuted all death sentences to life imprisonment or less in 2003. Two other inmates died in prison.
Guevara’s case is just another example of the NATIONAL epidemic of law enforcement misconduct ensnaring the innocent and leaving lives and families in ruins.
And now the U.S. Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, wants the Department of Justice to review all consent agreements put forward under the Obama administration, virtually guaranteeing that this sort of egregious conduct by law enforcement will continue without serious consequences.
The Families Fought Back Relentlessly to Prove False Convictions
In Guevara’s case, it was the unrelenting determination of the families of those falsely convicted of murder that led to his eventual undoing – but it took decades.
Many family members knew their relatives were innocent of the murder charges not merely out of faith that their loved ones were incapable of such actions, but because the young men had actually been with them at the time the killings occurred. Many of Guevara’s victims had good, solid alibis, but the fix was in.
The aunts of one inmate, Roberto Almodovar, joined a support group for families of convicted killers. As the members of the group shared stories, the aunts realized Guevara’s name kept coming up as the officer involved in the case.
The stories were similar to that of Almodovar’s – often just one, unreliable witness, such as a drug addict or fellow convict, on the witness stand help put these young men away for life or condemned them to death. Almodovar’s aunts didn’t think Guevara’s role was coincidental.
They, and the other relatives started collecting their own evidence and coming to convincing conclusions.
Over time, patterns emerged. Many of the eyewitnesses were kids. Illiterate witnesses provided a written description, rich in details. An inordinate number of anonymous phone calls breaking a cold case. That’s beside the long list of defendants claiming they were beaten into confessing.
The families presented their information to the Chicago Police Department, but the infamously corrupt department ignored the families’ findings.
The Warnings – Institutionalized Corruption as Prosecutor Aware of Misconduct
Chicago’s federal prosecutor was well aware of the allegations against Guevara, but did nothing to stop him. In 2001, a gang member told a federal prosecutor about Guevara, stating the cop was receiving bribes to either frame or release suspects.
If Guevara caught someone with drugs or guns, they had the opportunity to buy their way out. Lineups for murder cases – either positive or negative identifications – were also changeable for cash. There’s no evidence the feds ever followed up on the accusation.
Other top law enforcement officials also knew of Guevara’s conduct.
Allegations against him first surfaced as far back as 1985, when the parents of two female teenage honor students sued the city. They claimed he burst into their home and physically assaulted the girls, breaking a bone in one student’s arm.
Other, similar complaints were filed around this time, but the police department ignored them and the lawsuit was thrown out on a technicality. Over the year, the allegations escalated.
Guevara didn’t act alone – these officials were all complicit.
That includes the prosecutors who knew the “eyewitness” statements didn’t add up. Judges heard tales of Guevara’s beatings and threats in court by those claiming he coerced their confessions. City, county and federal law enforcement all turned a blind eye to the rising tide of allegations against Guevara, until they finally couldn’t ignore it anymore.
It wasn’t until 2013, when civil lawsuits threatened after numerous Guevara-related exonerations occurred, that Chicago ordered an independent review of cases relating to the rogue cop.
False Witness – Officer Threatened, Bribed and Beat Witness
In July 2016, charges were dropped against two men convicted of murder back in 1993 based on the testimony of Guevara’s witness, Francisco Vicente.
The witness, a heroin addict, was facing various felony charges at the time. Vicente claimed the two men, Jose Montanez and Armando Serrano, confessed to killing Rodrigo Vargas, and he informed Guevara.
Years later, Vicente recanted his testimony and admitted he lied to receive a lighter sentence. He told students at the Medill Justice Project that Guevara gave him money and cigarettes, but also threatened and physically abused him.
$20 Million and Counting Payouts to Wrongfully Convicted – Iceberg’s Tip
So far, the taxpayers of Chicago have shelled out more than $20 million in legal and settlement fees relating to Guevara’s cases.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg because the majority of defendants who may have been wrongly convicted by Guevara’s actions are still imprisoned. In a city in the midst of a debt crisis, this is money they don’t want to spend.
If law enforcement, prosecutors and judges had paid the slightest heed to all the warnings received about Guevara, families wouldn’t have been ruined, innocent men would not still be in prison, and a cash-strapped city wouldn’t be shelling out tens of millions for the police misconduct of those taxpayers pay to serve, protect and respect.