Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez is appealing a ruling that grants two prisoners serving life sentences a hearing on confessions they say were coerced by notorious former Chicago police detective Reynaldo Guevara. Credit: Photo by Max Herman

With a growing number of murder convictions based on investigations by disgraced Chicago police Detective Reynaldo Guevara being overturned, Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez signaled last month that she would continue to defend Guevara and his convictions.  It doesn’t matter that Guevara refuses to testify out of fear of self-incrimination.

On July 26, less than a week after Guevara victims Jose Montanez and Armando Serrano were released, the State’s Attorney’s office announced that it would appeal a ruling granting two prisoners a hearing on their motion to suppress their confessions.

Imprisoned since 2000, Arturo Reyes and Gabriel Solache are serving life sentences stemming from a bizarre case in which a couple was murdered and their two young children abducted.  Reyes and Solache were arrested when they brought the children to a police station after learning their identities from a news broadcast.  They were held for two days, one arm handcuffed to a wall.

Their housemate, Adriana Mejia, pled guilty to the crimes (she’s also serving a life sentence) after the victims’ blood was found on her shoes, and under questioning from Guevara she implicated Reyes, who then named Solache as an accomplice.

No physical evidence linked Reyes or Solache to the crime.

Both Reyes and Solache testified at their trial that they confessed only after sustained beatings by Guevara.  Reyes said the detective would slap him every time he didn’t like an answer Reyes gave; Solache said beatings to his head caused him to lose his hearing in one ear.  In a pretrial hearing, Mejia testified that she saw Guevara slap Solache; Guevara denied any physical abuse took place.

In 2003 the two men filed post-conviction petitions which were dismissed by the trial judge, but in 2006 an appeals court reversed that decision, ruling that new evidence of a pattern of abuse by Guevera added credibility to their claims of coerced confessions.

An amended petition filed in 2008 on Solache’s behalf by Northwestern’s Center on Wrongful Convictions laid out dozens of cases of misconduct by Guevara that had come to light in the intervening years, including a distinct pattern of manipulating witnesses and coercing confessions to win convictions in murder cases where no physical evidence existed.  The state moved to dismiss the petition, and another round of legal wrangling took place.

Finally in February 2013 an evidentiary hearing began (it stretched over two years) on their petition for post-conviction relief.  The defense presented witnesses and testimony from other cases spelling out 20 instances of Guevara’s misconduct, including the testimony of a retired detective who said he told his supervisor that Guevara had manipulated a photo array.  A murder charge in that case was subsequently dropped.

Guevara was called to the stand but refused to testify, taking the Fifth Amendment dozens of times.  That’s a problem, as Circuit Court Judge James M. Obbish noted in his June 29 ruling, since it left every credible allegation against him unrebutted.

“Altogether, these incidents include details implying that Det. Guevara would employ methods to secure a confessional or witness statement by whatever means that he could,” Obbish wrote. “Because there was no evidence presented in direct refutation of claims of abuse, coercion and other misconduct, petitioners’ newly discovered evidence is unrebutted.”

And Obbish noted: “Where a witness asserts the 5th amendment in post-conviction proceedings, the court is not only permitted to draw a negative inference from the refusal to testify, but should do so in circumstances where the petitioner’s evidence goes unrebutted by the state.

“Because petitioners’ evidence was unrebutted by the state and there was no testimony from Det. Guevara regarding the conduct he is alleged to have engaged in, this court draws the negative inference that he refused to answer so as to avoid admitting wrongdoing while under oath. The inference that Det. Guevara possibly engaged in wrongdoing overwhelmingly supports petitioners’ claim that he engaged in abuse and coercion in the incidents submitted as new evidence as well as their own interrogations.”

But Alvarez insists on standing by Guevara.  Here’s the thing: If the appeals court were to uphold Obbish’s ruling and a hearing on the prisoners’ motion were held before she leaves office next year, she’d be forced to concede at that point, simply because Guevara refuses to stand by his own investigations.

To all appearances, this is pure legal gamesmanship, just delay for the sake of delay.  Alvarez would have us take another year or so to get an appeals court hearing and perhaps another year after that before that court rules.

Meanwhile, two men who are quite possibly innocent will spend those years in prison.

“I don’t think quite honestly there’s a valid basis for appeal,” said Karen Daniel of the Center on Wrongful Convictions, who represents Solache. “If Guevara is taking the Fifth, they can’t defend the allegations of coerced confessions and they can’t defend the convictions.”

She added: “This appeal is simply something that’s going to delay justice for X number of months or years. It’s really frustrating.”

And there’s a larger issue, in her view: “This unwillingness on the part of the State’s Attorney’s office to ever make a concession in a case where police misconduct is alleged” is the reason “why we have Guevara and why we could have Burge, because nobody will stand up and say we can’t support this conviction.”

At this point, Reyes and Solache are merely seeking a hearing on their claim that their confessions were coerced.  Their claim is entirely credible.  As Judge Obbish has said, they deserve a hearing – and they deserve it without unnecessary delay.

Curtis is an opinion writer for The Chicago Reporter.

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