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7 convictions tied to ex-Chicago cop vacated in what may be largest mass-exoneration for murder in U.S. history

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Imprisoned victims call for prosecution against disgraced CPD Detective Reynaldo Guevara
Imprisoned victims call for prosecution against disgraced CPD Detective Reynaldo Guevara 03:16

The Cook County state's attorney's office on Tuesday said judges have vacated seven murder convictions connected to a retired Chicago police detective accused of framing others who were sent to prison. CBS Chicago reports it is believed to be the largest mass-exoneration for murder in U.S. history.

An eighth cases remains, pending further court proceedings.

State's Attorney Kim Foxx told reporters that her office no longer will oppose post-conviction litigation in the eight cases following a 2019 review of cases related to allegations of police misconduct involving Reynaldo Guevara.

"We no longer believe in the validity of these convictions or the credibility of the evidence of these convictions," Foxx said.

The seven cases dismissed Tuesday involved slayings committed between 1989 and 1994.

Five defendants already have completed prison sentences and are no longer in custody. Two others are expected to be released, while one remains in custody pending further court proceedings.

Two dozen cases already have been vacated and action on three additional cases is expected in the coming weeks.

Guevara's victims are now experiencing freedom – some for the first time in decades. CBS Chicago talked with one of them – Alfredo "Freddie" Gonzalez, who served his sentence at Stateville Correctional Center in Crest Hill.

Gonzalez said, "I'm free!" as he tearfully embraced his daughter, Maria.

Gonzalez spent 32 of his 64 years behind bars – three decades of a life sentence for a murder he didn't commit.

"I had a broken heart, because I wasn't attentive," Gonzalez said.

Also exonerated Tuesday was Nelson Gonzalez, who spent 21 years in prison for a murder he didn't commit. He did not mince words about who he thinks is to blame.

"This was a conspiracy created by Mr. Guevara and other agents, and I'm asking Kim Foxx to press charges," Gonzalez said.

Guevara - a former member of a police department dogged by decades of scandal, cover-ups and brutality - has never been charged with a crime. Foxx said her office is reviewing possible charges against Guevara, who retired in 2005 and is receiving a city police pension and a Chicago Park District pension.

He helped inmates win freedom by repeatedly invoking his constitutional right against self-incrimination or insisting that he couldn't remember facts, thus forcing prosecutors to dismiss charges in several cases.

In one case, after he was granted immunity by prosecutors, he answered repeatedly that he didn't remember confessions that he elicited from two men ultimately convicted of murder. The judge characterized his comments as "bald-faced lies" and threw out the confessions.

"Could we try these cases again today without the work of Detective Guevara?" Foxx said Tuesday. "Based on our review, we are not able to retry these cases."

She added that additional investigations could be conducted "to see if, in fact, someone else committed these crimes."

Last September, Chicago's City Council agreed to pay $20.5 million to two of at least a dozen men whose murder convictions were dismissed after allegedly being framed by Guevara.

The lawsuits were filed on behalf of Armando Serrano and Jose Montanez who spent 23 years in prison before they were released in 2016. A key witness in their case admitted that he had lied about hearing them confess because Guevara had threatened to beat him if he didn't.

In 2009, a jury awarded $21 million to a man who spent 11 years in prison before he was retried and acquitted because witnesses testified that Guevara intimidated them into falsely identifying the man as the killer. The city later agreed to pay $16.4 million.

Another jury awarded $17 million in 2018 to a man who made similar allegations.

Foxx said Tuesday that she would not discount the impact each case had on the defendants and their families.

"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 convictions," she added. "We looked at these cases with a careful lens to ensure that we got it right."

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