A man sentenced to life in prison based on testimony by a former Chicago Police detective accused of framing dozens of defendants during the 1990s is due to be released from prison Friday, after Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx announced her office would no longer oppose a motion for a new trial for Roberto Almodovar and his co-defendant, William Negron.
The two men have served 23 years in prison.
The announcement Wednesday afternoon came two days after a two-hour hearing at which a lawyer for Foxx’s Post-Conviction Unit had defended the prosecution of Almodovar and Negron in a 1994 double homicide – a case in which a witness claims detective Reynaldo Guevara steered him to pick the two men out of a police lineup.
“After a thorough and deliberate review of the evidence and arguments presented to the circuit court, the State’s Attorney’s Office has concluded that the evidence presented could change the result of this case on retrial,” Foxx’s office said in a statement.
“In light of this decision, we have determined that proceeding with this case is no longer in the best interests of justice and we are withdrawing our opposition to petitioners’ request for a new trial. Based on the totality of the evidence currently available, the office has concluded that it is insufficient to support a retrial of this case.”
Attorney Russell Ainsworth said the move by the state’s attorney was welcome, and that Almodovar was likely to be released after a hearing Friday, though Negron still must serve out his sentence for another murder conviction.
“(Almodovar) is thrilled to be coming home,” Ainsworth said. “I’m glad that Ms. Foxx did the right thing, but it’s been an awfully long struggle for justice for two innocent men.”
Ainsworth said he would also appeal Negron’s life sentence for the second, unrelated murder conviction.
Guevara’s name has surfaced in dozens of bids for new trials by defendants who claimed that the veteran investigator bullied witnesses or elicited false confessions.
Guevara, who retired in 2014 after more than 30 years with the police department, recently refused to testify about his work, asserting his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination.
Guevara’s lawyer has said the veteran detective, now 73, is the victim of a gang conspiracy to undermine his work, a theory advanced by Assistant State’s Attorney Celeste Stack on Monday.
Stack claimed that a high-ranking gang member was present when witness Kennelly Saez recanted his testimony identifying Almodovar and Negron as the perpetrators in a drive-by shooting that killed his friends, Jorge Rodriguez and Amy Merkes.
The city of Chicago spent nearly $2 million to have former U.S. Attorney Scott Lassar review some 70 cases handled by Guevara, and last year received a report that a “handful” of convictions— including Almodovar’s— were likely bogus.
Foxx earlier this year announced that her office would review an undisclosed number of Guevara cases. Stack, who is slated to retire, had argued on Monday in favor of upholding Almodovar and Negron’s convictions, at times directly addressing a courtroom gallery filled with supporters of the two men.
Jose Montanez and Armando Serrano were among those in the courtroom. Montanez and Serrano are just nine months removed from their release from prison after serving more than 20 years for the 1993 murder of Rodrigo Vargas.
In that case, a jailhouse informant who testified against the men recanted, saying that Guevara threatened and beat him, until he agreed to say he’d heard Montanez and Serrano confess to killing Vargas during a stickup.
Another man, Jose Maysonet, was granted a new trial in October, after claiming that he confessed to a 1990 double-murder after Guevara beat him with a flashlight and a phone book, while Maysonent was handcuffed.
In 2009, Juan Johnson was awarded $21 million judgment in a wrongful conviction for a 1989 murder, after a key witness said Guevara had threatened to pin the murder on him if he didn’t implicate Johnson. Johnson won a second trial, and was acquitted in 2004, after serving 11 years in prison.