Exoneree Blames Ex-Chicago Detective for Murder Conviction

This undated Illinois Department of Corrections photo via the Chicago Sun-Times shows Arturo DeLeon-Reyes, a Mexican immigrant who was wrongfully convicted of a double-murder nearly 20 years ago and granted his freedom in December 2017. (Illinois Department of Corrections/Chicago Sun-Times via AP)

CHICAGO (CN) – A man exonerated of kidnapping two children and killing their parents sued a disgraced former Chicago detective blamed for a string of wrongful convictions, claiming the officer beat a false confession out of him and the police department falsified and suppressed evidence.

Arturo DeLeon-Reyes and his co-defendant Gabriel Solache were convicted of the 1998 grisly double murder of Mariano and Jacinta Soto in their basement apartment in Chicago, and for kidnapping their infant daughter Maria and 3-year-old son Santiago.

Adriana Mejia was also convicted of the stabbing deaths and is serving life. She told authorities that DeLeon-Reyes and Solache were her accomplices and behind the stabbings, after she had faked a nine-month pregnancy and emerged from a hospital with the Sotos’ infant daughter and son.

DeLeon-Reyes and Solache, who barely knew Mejia but had rented rooms in her apartment, were released last year after it emerged that no blood or DNA evidence linked them to the crime scene. Mejia’s clothes had blood on them.

The Chicago police immediately treated the two immigrants as suspects even though they had brought 3-year-old son to the police, according to a lawsuit DeLeon-Reyes filed Friday in Chicago federal court. He is represented by Anand Swaminathan of Loevy & Loevy, who did not immediately respond Monday to a request for an interview.

DeLeon-Reyes and Solache’s freedom after their exoneration was short-lived. Immigration authorities apprehended the two men almost as soon as they won their freedom in December.

DeLeon-Reyes wants to return voluntarily to Mexico to reunite with his wife and five children. An immigration judge granted the request but the government is seeking involuntary deportation, which would make it harder for him to return to the United States.

In his lawsuit, DeLeon-Reyes, who spent 20 years in prison, claims notorious former police detective Reynaldo Guevara coerced his confession.

DeLeon-Reyes says that Guevara extracted a false confession out of him after almost 40 hours of abuse.

The Mexican immigration claims interrogating officers did not allow him to sleep or feed him. He says that Guevara led the interrogation on April 2 to April 5, 1998, and upon entering the interrogation room slapped DeLeon-Reyes across the face, putting him “in a state of immense fear and confusion.”

Later, the detective allegedly told DeLeon-Reyes that he faced execution by electric chair if he did not start talking and then repeatedly slapped him across the face while as he was handcuffed to the wall.

The officers did not give DeLeon-Reyes a Miranda warning, he claims, and drafted his written confession. He did not speak or understand English and officers did not read it to him in Spanish before asking him to sign the statement, according to the complaint.

“After more than 40 hours of physical and psychological abuse, with his will broken and fearing further abuse, plaintiff complied,” the lawsuit states, adding that the officers used similar bullying tactics to interrogate Solache.

Officers withheld evidence of witness statements against DeLeon-Reyes that were false and contradictory and falsified police reports, he claims. Crime lab technicians allegedly destroyed evidence including photographs that would have discredited the false confession. To cover their tracks, the officers claimed that a camera used to take crime scene photos was broken, the lawsuit alleges.

DeLeon-Reyes’ timesheets revealed that he was working at the time of the double murder and abduction of the children, according to the lawsuit.

“Defendants disregarded the fact that crime scene investigators had collected numerous pieces of physical evidence from the scene of the crime, but none of it – not a single fingerprint, shoeprint, drop of blood, item of clothing, bedsheet, or hair – connected plaintiff to the crime,” the lawsuit states. “In fact, the only conclusion that can possibly be drawn from the physical evidence discovered at the crime scene is that plaintiff could not have had anything to do with the crime.”

The complaint says that since 1986, there were 70 cases where Chicago police officers falsified or suppressed evidence to secure wrongful convictions. DeLeon-Reyes says Chicago’s police department routinely failed to properly investigate those cases and has never disciplined an officer involved in them.

Guevara and his co-defendant and former partner Ernest Halvorsen have been involved in dozens of cases where they coerced confessions from suspects and falsified evidence, according to the lawsuit.

Last year alone, five convictions linked to Guevara’s bullying tactics were overturned.

“They engaged in such misconduct because they had no reason to fear that the city of Chicago and its police department would ever discipline them for doing so,” the lawsuit states.

In 1989, Juan Johnson sued Guevara following his exoneration for the murder of Ricardo Fernandez after spending 11 years in prison. In 2009, a federal jury awarded Johnson $21 million in damages.

In December 2017, prosecutors dropped the charges against DeLeon-Reyes and Solache.

At a post-conviction hearing, Cook County Judge James Obbish admonished Guevara for telling “bald face lies” after he was evasive when asked if he had beaten DeLeon-Reyes during the interrogation and declined to look at police reports to see if they jogged his memory.

The former detective refused to answer questions even though the state had granted him immunity.

Guevara’s attorney Jeffery Kivetz did not immediately respond Monday to a request for comment.

Tandra Simonton, spokeswoman for the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, said she could not comment on pending litigation.

 

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