Double-murder charges dropped after 5 cops say they’ll take the Fifth

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Jose Maysonet is hugged by his attorney Jennifer Bonjean outside Cook County Jail after he was released on Wednesday. | Leslie Adkins/For the Sun-Times

Nearly three decades after his arrest, Cook County prosecutors on Wednesday dropped murder charges against Jose Maysonet, after five Chicago cops said through their attorneys that they would invoke their Fifth Amendment right not to testify during Maysonet’s upcoming retrial.

Lawyers for retired Chicago Police detective Reynaldo Guevara and four former CPD officers who worked on or supervised the investigation that led to Maysonet’s 1995 conviction told Judge Timothy Joyce the veteran officers would not answer questions under oath.

Wednesday night, Maysonet left the Cook County Jail and stepped into the chill, damp air, a free man for the first time in the 27 years since he was arrested outside a courtroom in the adjacent Leighton Criminal Court Building.

Wearing a jail-issued white, short-sleeved shirt and black slacks, Maysonet seemed confused as he reached California Avenue and found himself alone. Family members who had been waiting for hours ducked away to warm up in a car just moments before he walked out, leaving him to be greeted by reporters.

“It’s just a dream I’ve been waiting for these past 27 years,” Maysonet said, adding that he was disappointed by the officers’ refusal to testify, he said.

“If he was man enough to do what he did to me 27 years ago, I want him to be man enough to come to court to say what happened.”

Miriam Lajara, Jose Maysonet’s mother talks to the press after her son Jose (left) was released from Cook County Jail Wednesday. Rose Maysonet, Jose’s sister is to the right. | Leslie Adkins/For the Sun-Times

Miriam Lajara, Jose Maysonet’s mother talks to the press after her son Jose (left) was released from Cook County Jail Wednesday. Rose Maysonet, Jose’s sister is to the right. | Leslie Adkins/For the Sun-Times

Prosecutors seemed disappointed that the prosecution of the 1990 murders of brothers Torrence and Kevin Wiley had been derailed when lawyers for Guevara, Guevara’s partner Ernest Halvorsen, and supervisors Edward Mingey, Frank Montilla and Roland Paulnitsky all said their clients also would invoke the Fifth Amendment if they were called to the stand.

“We were prepared to present this case for trial, but after learning that the former Chicago Police detectives were going to refuse to testify we were obligated to drop the charges,” said Robert Foley, a spokesman for Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx. “This refusal to testify undermines the pursuit of justice for all involved.”

Maysonet maintained that Guevara beat him with a flashlight and a phone book, coercing his confession to the fatal shootings. Similar allegations have surfaced in dozens of cases handled by Guevara, who spent 30 years on the CPD, mostly working gang cases in the Humboldt Park neighborhood.

Guevara has in recent years declined to answer questions under oath, including last month, when he was granted immunity to testify in the case of Gabriel Solache and Arturo Reyes, two men serving life sentences for a double-murder claim the detective framed them. Even after prosecutors granted him immunity for his testimony, Guevera testified that he didn’t remember even basic details about the Solache and Reyes case, but denied that he beat them to get their confessions.

“It’s something I would not have done,” Guevara said last month.

Maysonet’s laywer, Jennifer Bonjean, credited the state’s attorney’s office for acting swiftly to free Maysonet once it became clear the officers wouldn’t testify, and was critical of the decision to let Guevara take the stand with a grant of immunity in the Solache case. Outside the jail, she urged State’s Attorney Kim Foxx not to stand by convictions won based on evidence and confessions from Guevara and his fellow officers.

“This should be a wakeup call,” Bonjean said.

In the years before he went silent, Guevara had denied allegations he hit suspects, and his lawyers said the wave of witnesses who claimed they’d been coerced into lying to incriminate others was the result of a conspiracy by gang members to take down the veteran detective. Guevara, now in his 70s, retired from CPD in 2005.

Maysonet is the fifth defendant in just the last year to win release in a 1990s-era case handled by Guevara, a tally that includes two men who came to watch the retired detective in court Wednesday, Roberto Almodovar and Armando Serrano.

Maysonet’s conviction was overturned last year, based on allegations of abuse and a conflict of interest by his defense lawyer, Richard Beuke, who had served as Guevara’s lawyer multiple times over a period of more than a decade, including during the time Beuke was defending Maysonet from the murder charges. Maysonet claims that Guevara targeted him for arrest because he’d refused to pay protection money to the detective.

Maysonet said he planned to find some tacos for dinner, and said he hoped soon to reconnect with his son, who was born not long after his arrest and whom he hadn’t seen in 24 years.

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