Cook County judge, prosecutors at odds over disgraced cop’s credibility

Photo by Yingxu Jane Hao

Supporters display a banner showing men allegedly framed by former Chicago police detective Reynaldo Guevara at a rally before an evidentiary hearing at Cook County Criminal Courthouse on April 10, 2017.

Cook County Judge Michael Obbish recently described former Chicago Detective Reynaldo Guevara as “a liar” with “no credibility” – not in his court or in any legal proceeding.

But judging from the strategy and statements of First Assistant Cook County State’s Attorney Eric Sussman at the recent hearing where Obbish made those remarks, prosecutors still consider Guevara and his investigations credible.

Obbish said Guevara was speaking “bald-faced lies” when he testified that he didn’t recall his interrogation of Gabriel Solache and Arturo Reyes, who claim that Guevara forced them to falsely confess to murder in 1998.  It’s hard to think otherwise; Guevara testified multiple times during their trial and other proceedings, and it’s been a high-profile and controversial case for over a decade.

Given a stack of case reports to refresh his memory during his testimony, Guevara refused to review them.  He even testified that he didn’t remember where Area 5 headquarters, where he worked for decades, was located.

For several years, Guevara has taken the Fifth Amendment in all court proceedings related to his past investigations. The proceedings arose from allegations that Guevara manipulated eyewitness identifications and coerced false confessions that led to convictions. Prosecutors gave him a grant of immunity in hopes of getting him to talk on the stand and back up the validity of the convictions.  It didn’t work.

When Guevara refused to testify at the recent hearing, Sussman wanted Obbish to allow Guevara’s testimony from Solache and Reyes’ original trial in 2000 to be used to defend their confessions.  Obbish refused, as the Chicago Sun-Times reported, saying, “If he would lie after being given immunity under oath, why would this court…believe that he was telling the truth when he first testified?”

Without Guevara’s testimony, the State’s Attorney’s Office was forced to drop all charges.  But even then – even after 20 witnesses, including a retired Chicago detective, testified to misconduct allegations against Guevara – Sussman insisted Guevara had gotten it right. “There’s no doubt in my mind, or the mind of anyone who has worked on this case, that Mr. Solache and Mr. Reyes are guilty of these crimes,” he said in court.

Maybe there’s something Sussman knows that he’s not telling us. But there is apparently no evidence he can present in court, besides the two men’s confessions, to indicate their guilt – and there is important evidence that points to their innocence. Curiously, prosecutors seem to have decided they can’t call Solache and Reyes’ co-defendant, who pled guilty to the murders 17 years ago – and who testified back then that Guevara had pulled her hair and hit her, and that she had seen Guevara slap Solache.

It’s a bizarre case.  A husband and wife were murdered and their two children abducted by Adriana Mejia, possibly with assistance.  Apparently she desperately wanted to have children and was unable to.  She confessed after the blood of one of the victims was found on her shoes and later pled guilty.

After learning from a TV news report that the new children in the home they shared had been abducted, Solache, Reyes and Mejia’s husband took the kids to a police station.  There, the three men were held for questioning.

Mejia’s husband was released. But Solache and Reyes were held many hours and denied food and sleep; Solache was handcuffed to a wall in a standing position for nearly two days. Such treatment is known to foster false confessions. First Mejia, confronted with the blood found on her shoes, confessed, and then she implicated Reyes; Reyes, who said he was unable to withstand the beatings, confessed and implicated Solache; then, after 40 sleepless hours and many slaps to the side of his head, Solache confessed.

A funny thing about their confessions: The men said they stabbed the wife in the doorway and the husband in bed.  But the police report on the crime scene stated that the husband was in the doorway and the wife was in bed.  “That’s the kind of mistake you make when you weren’t actually there,” said Solache’s attorney, Karen Daniel of the Center on Wrongful Convictions. The confessions of the two men, neither of whom spoke English, were translated and dictated to assistant state’s attorneys by police officers. Solache’s confession was dictated by Guevara.

Prosecutors have said they believe Mejia acted alone. But they haven’t addressed new evidence; a year and a half ago, additional testing of one of the murder weapons revealed a DNA profile that excluded Solache and Reyes as well as the victim.

The State’s Attorney’s Office has not responded to a request for comment.

Prosecutors have argued that the allegations of misconduct against Guevara, in this case and in others, arose from a conspiracy of gang members to get revenge on the detective.  But plenty of witnesses against Guevara are known to have no connection to gangs.  That includes Melvin Hunt, an African-American bus driver who charged that Guevara beat and choked him and called him racial epithets in a road rage incident in 1986.  Witnesses backed Hunt, and the Chicago Police Department’s Office of Professional Standards sustained his complaint.

And neither Solache nor Reyes were gang members.  They were factory workers, immigrants from Mexico who had never been in trouble with the law.  They are exactly the kind of people most susceptible, after many hours in custody and the prospect of unending physical abuse, to giving false confessions.

Yet Sussman still believes Guevara.

Evidence against Guevara continues to pile up.  A recent Buzzfeed investigation details how Guevara ignored inconvenient facts and manipulated witnesses in order to build murder cases against two men in 1995 – and that supervisors and prosecutors backed him up.  One of the men was acquitted.  The other, Thomas Sierra, was convicted even though a prosecution witness recanted his identification of Sierra, saying it was made at Guevara’s behest.

Sierra served 30 years in prison and was released late last year.  Now he’s seeking to prove his innocence.

A Cook County judge has determined Guevara is a liar and lacks all credibility.  The Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, continuing to defend Guevara’s cases, has now lost seven cases on retrial in the past two years.  It’s time they face facts, if only to spare themselves further embarrassment.