CHICAGO (CBS) -- Seven people had their murder convictions tossed out on Tuesday, after Cook County prosecutors determined the cases had been irreparably tainted by disgraced former Chicago Police Detective Reynaldo Guevara.
Most of those people had already served decades behind bars and had been released from prison before Tuesday's exonerations.
Nelson Gonzalez was one of them. He spent 21 years in prison for a murder he didn't commit.
"I'm here today to first of all, thank God," Gonzalez said at a news conference at the George N. Leighton Criminal Court Building.
He said he was framed by Guevara.
"This was a conspiracy created by Mr. Guevara and other agents," Gonzalez said.
Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx said her office supported vacating Gonzalez's conviction and six others, because evidence of Guevara's misconduct was all too clear, after her office has spent years reviewing claims he routinely framed suspects.
"We no longer believe in the validity of these convictions or the credibility of the evidence of these convictions," Foxx said Tuesday morning as prosecutors were in multiple courtrooms at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse, asking judges to clear eight people whose convictions were linked to Guevara.
One of those hearings was continued for further proceedings, but seven other people had their murder convictions tossed out.
Foxx said her office has been looking into Guevara's cases since 2019, and the unprecedented move of vacating multiple murder convictions in a single day is another step toward restoring justice for Guevara's victims.
"We did not take this responsibility lightly. These cases involve murder convictions, and while we focused on the allegations of misconduct, we did not want to lose sight that lives were lost, and the impact that our decision could have on the families of victims who believed that justice had been served by these victims," Foxx said.
In all of these cases, people who had been convicted of murder claimed Guevara framed them.
"We are not taking a position on innocence. What we are saying is that we cannot stand by these convictions based on the serious allegations of misconduct and findings of credibility against Detective Guevara," Foxx said.
Guevara is accused of coercing false confessions and manufacturing evidence, and dozens of other cases tied to that misconduct already have been thrown out.
More than 30 people with cases tied to Guevara going back as far as 1989 have been fighting to get their convictions tossed for decades. Most of the convictions have already been vacated.
Foxx said she understands the pain suffered by those who were wrongfully convicted, and also the families of those murdered.
"We got to this place because you have a corrupt police officer – a corrupt detective – who chose to engage in this type of behavior," Foxx said, "and his harm is not just to those who may have been imprisoned for crime they didn't commit, but to families who are looking for justice for the loss of their loved ones."
The CBS 2 Investigators have been covering some of the Guevara cases.
Jose Montanez and Armando Serrano are two of those who spent decades in prison for a 1993 murder they did not commit.
"He destroyed families. It isn't right," Serrano said of Guevara in 2016.
Last month,after their cases were overturned. They have said Guevara framed them, and prosecutors have said they would not seek to try them again.
Days later, Eruby Abrego also was released from prison,
Guevara has repeatedly refused to talk about the cases in court, invoking his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination, just one of many red flags Foxx said her office has uncovered in their review of the seven latest cases.
"On other instances, he has told as Judge [James] Obbish said, 'bold-faced lies,' where he could not remember basic facts about a case in which he has given depositions, where the only thing that Detective Guevara seems to remember about these heinous murder cases that he investigated was his own name," Foxx said. "The allegations are varied throughout many of the cases; some in which it is suggested that he manipulated photo arrays, where he manipulated lineups, where he used coercive interrogation tactics."
Investigators have been following Guevara misconduct allegations for years. Foxx said she has no explanation for Guevara's actions – and she also would not say if any prosecutors or any of Guevara's supervisors may be held accountable.
"Any allegations of ethical misconduct or professional misconduct will certainly be a part of that review," Foxx said, "but where we are today is simply looking at the convictions."
Foxx said she will not challenge the exoneration in the one case that was continued Tuesday. She also said her office is still reviewing other cases linked to Guevara, and could ask judges to throw out other convictions linked to the disgraced detective in the coming weeks.
So far, settlements stemming from Guevara misconduct cases have cost taxpayers at least $37 million.
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