A former Chicago police detective, Reynaldo Guevara, is accused of framing dozens of people is the subject of a special edition of Aqui y Ahora on Sunday, "Betrayed by Justice."
The former detective’s recent appearance in court, caused relatives of the alleged victims to reach a boiling point. For some, it was the first time they came face to face with the man they blame for their loved ones’ incarceration.
Guevara’s handling of various investigations has come under scrutiny and at least three men convicted of murder in cases he was involved with have been released from prison amid allegations that Guevara coerced witnesses and concealed evidence.
Nelson González grew up in Humboldt Park, Chicago, an area that in the 1980s was plagued by crime and gang wars. He remembers the day when the police appeared at his house and, under the pretext of being part of an identification lineup, they took him to the station. Since he had nothing to hide, he agreed. But shortly after they told him that he had been accused of murdering a man.
"Detective Guevara appeared, took me to a room and asked me questions ... It was then that I learned for the first time about the murder of José Mendoza," he revealed in an interview with Aquí y Ahora.
González says he did not know the victim, who had been killed in a car in front of his house.
"I was not even in Chicago," he said. "I was in Lake Station, Indiana." González had traveled with his family to a relative’s home to watch a basketball finals game, but none of that mattered. According to González, the detective said that an anonymous call had identified him as the murderer. His sentence: 45 years.
Today, González is a free man, but he spent 24 years behind bars. "I felt betrayed by the people who are supposed to protect us." He adds that his father, who never saw him as a free man, always fought for him. "He believed in my innocence and that's why now my mission is to clear my name."
The case of Roberto Almodovar Jr.
"There were some nights that I thought he was never going to get out. My husband told me, Mary, don't cry," said Mary Rodriguez, the aunt of Roberto Almodóvar Jr. who spent two decades in jail after being wrongly accused.
Almodovar and his girlfriend were at Mary Rodriguez’s house the night the shooting occurred in which two young people died. He clearly remembers that evening because he and his wife were arguing and his aunt Mary asked them to stop because her son had to start school the following day...it was 1:30 in the morning.
Although he had witnesses who placed him in the house, Almodóvar and a friend were accused of the murder. His aunt, still in shock, could not believe it when the verdict was reached. "At no time did I think that, but when they said guilty, it was like a death that had happened in the family." Crying, she still remembers the look of her nephew when he was sentenced to life imprisonment.
Determined not to give up, Rodriguez, along with the other families of the defendants, began their own investigations and found a series of patterns that repeated themselves: anonymous calls, questionable witnesses and the lack of physical evidence. But the most important thing was the common denominator: Detective Reynaldo Guevara.
Although they encountered many barriers, years later, some families found justice and managed to exonerate their loved ones.
Last April, Almodóvar was freed, his daughter was only six months old when he was taken away - now she is a 23 year-old woman. He was released after an extensive investigation and thanks to a lawyer who is helping some of the accused prove their innocence.
Dozens more cases
There are dozens more cases, some still behind bars waiting to prove their innocence and others already exonerated. Meanwhile, their families say they will not give up and hope that one day detective Guevara, now retired, will tell the truth. In the words of a relative: "I do not know when or how, but you are going to pay."
Recently, Guevara has been forced to appear in court to testify in the case of two men who allege that the detective beat them into confessing to a 1998 double murder they say they didn’t commit.. Guevara says he has no recollection of the alleged incident.
Guevara invoked his constitutional right against self-incrimination in response to two questions from the judge. He also said he didn’t remember anything about the investigation or if he testified against the two men.
Another $60 million lawsuit alleges two former prosecutors conspired with Guevara and others to fabricate evidence that led to a wrongful murder conviction of Armando Serrano. He and co-defendant Jose Montanez were released last summer, after more than two decades in prison, when prosecutors dropped charges.
The lawsuit alleges Guevara and then-assistant state’s attorneys Matthew Coghlan and John Dillon collaborated to pressure a key witness into pinning the 1993 murder of Rodrigo Vargas on Serrano.
Guevara has come under fire over allegations he bullied witnesses and framed innocent people in dozens of cases. He’s invoked his right against self-incrimination when questioned about the accusations.
A number of cases involving Guevara, who retired in 2005, have been reviewed by Cook County State Attorney Anita Alvarez’s office after several allegations were made claiming that the detective framed or beat suspects. In addition to Montanez and Serrano’s cases, two other murder convictions that were linked to Guevara have been overturned. According to a report released last year, reviewing, litigating, and settling misconduct cases involving the detective has cost Chicago more than $20 million.
An attorney with the Exoneration Project, a free legal clinic at the University of Chicago Law School which represented the two recent exonerees, commended Alvarez for her actions but lamented that many innocent people that Guevara helped imprison still remain behind bars and vowed that they would not rest until all of them are freed.