Sunday, August 07, 2016

Chicago: 2 Innocent Men Freed After 23 Years in Jail

Jose Montanez and Armando Serrano always maintained their innocence.

An Illinois judge Wednesday ordered the release of two prisoners who spent 23 years in prison for murder charges. Their release follows a decision last month from a state appellate court that "profoundly alarming acts of misconduct in the underlying investigation and prosecution" led to the men's convictions.

Jose Montanez, 49, and Armando Serrano, 44, were convicted of the 1993 murder of Rodrigo Vargas, but both have maintained that they were wrongfully convicted and framed by a Chicago police detective who is at the center of several wrongful conviction probes.

The cop, Reynaldo Guevara, who retired more than a decade ago, has been accused of manufacturing evidence, and beating confessions out of suspects during his career as a detective in a predominantly Latino neighborhood on the city’s northwest side.

Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez has said that she will not retry the case. Alvarez, who has come under heavy criticism for being too lenient with officers accused of using excessive force, was defeated in the city's March primary.

Alvarez's office said in a statement that prosecutors "determined that we are unable to meet our burden of proof at this time, so we believe that it is in the best interests of justice to dismiss this case."

However, the release of Montanez and Serrano comes more than a decade after the prosecution's star witness, Francisco Vincente who was facing a long prison sentence, recanted his testimony, saying that Guevara pressured him to lie under oath in exchange for a lighter sentence

Two other murder cases involving Guevara have also been overturned.

According to the the National Registry of Exonerations, an online database on wrongful convictions, more than 1,600 individuals have been exonerated since 1989.

The average length of time served by exonerees is 14 years, according to a 2015 report by the National Registry of Exonerations.

"You hear so many cases, particularly here in Cook County, about … (wrongful convictions) ... that you begin to accept it as just a problem with the criminal justice system. And it's not something that we should accept. It's not something that we should become numb to.” Serrano's Attorney Jennifer Bonjean told the Chicago Tribune.

"These are all human beings with families, and every single wrongful conviction needs to be resolved and reversed," Bonjean said. "We need to get on with the business of cleaning up the mess that Guevara made."

The Chicago Police Department has gained an infamous reputation for imposing lenient punishments on officers charged with police misconduct.

Of the 8,452 misconduct complaints made from 2011 to 2012, only 105 were sustained.

Original report here

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