Cook County prosecutors Thursday dropped charges against two men who claim they were beaten into confessing to a gruesome double-murder, a move that comes a week after a judge blasted the testimony of Reynaldo Guevara, the controversial detective who led the investigation.
For nearly two decades, Gabriel Solache and Arturo DeLeon-Reyes had maintained that they were beaten into giving confessions that were the only evidence against them in the 1998 murder of Jacinta and Mariano Soto. Last week, Judge James Obbish threw out their confessions, finding that Guevara had offered “bold-faced lies” when questioned about their allegations of abuse.
Without the confessions, First Assistant State’s Attorney Eric Sussman grudgingly admitted Thursday, the prosecutors could not make their case.
“There is no doubt in my mind, or the mind of anyone who has worked on this case, that Mr. Solache and Mr. Reyes are guilty of these crimes,” Sussman said. “It is a tragic day for justice in Cook County.”
But there was no triumphant walk to the prison gates for either Solache or Reyes on Thursday. Both men, Mexican nationals who were undocumented immigrants at the time of their arrest, were transferred from state prisons to Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention centers, defense attorneys said.
“They were not free for one split second,” said attorney Karen Daniel, who had waited at the state prison in Pontiac for hours Thursday afternoon before learning Solache had been taken by ICE agents.
Andrew Vail, DeLeon-Reyes’ attorney, said that the move by prosecutors nonetheless vindicated the two defendants, challenging Sussman’s contention that the two were guilty.
“That wrongful conviction was based entirely on a false confession by Reynaldo Guevara,” Vail told reporters in the courthouse lobby. “(Guevara’s) testimony … proves that he’s a liar.”
Solache and Reyes are the sixth and seventh defendants to win their freedom based on allegations of misconduct by Guevara in the last two years. In all, nine defendants have been released in cases where they claimed Guevara beat them or coerced witnesses, according to the National Registry of Wrongful Convictions.
Guevara had long denied allegations of abusing suspects, but in recent years the detective had refused to answer questions under oath, asserting his 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination. The 74-year-old detective was put on the stand yet again in a last-ditch effort to preserve the convictions of Solache and Reyes, with prosecutors taking the unprecedented step of granting Guevara immunity.
Despite the immunity deal, Guevara responded to a string of questions from prosecutors with some form of “I don’t remember” — even claiming he didn’t recall the location of the Area 5 headquarters where he worked for decades— and refused to read old reports about the case to refresh his memory.
Asked directly whether he punched or slapped DeLeon-Reyes and Solache, Guevara first said “That is not something that I would do,” then offered a soft, “No” when Judge James Obbish prompted him for a yes-no answer.
Last week, Obbish slammed the detective, saying Guevara’s testimony was so compromised he could not believe anything he’d said and all but informing prosecutors they had no case. Thursday, the judge again took a dig at Guevara.
“And the reality is that no one may ever completely know the truth of what occurred when those two people were slaughtered,” Obbish said, noting it was unlikely that a third codefendant would have been able to overpower and stab the Sotos without help.
“We have all been left with a void because of the decision, the selfish decision, of Detective Guevara, placing himself ahead of the citizens he was sworn to protect,” Obbish said.
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Guevara’s lawyer, William Fahy, did not respond to requests for comment. The state’s attorney’s office would not say whether they would pursue perjury charges against the 74-year-old, who retired in 2005.
Prosecutors had no choice but to roll the dice and offer Guevara immunity and hope he would answer questions truthfully, said Jeffrey Cramer, a former state and federal prosecutor who led the perjury prosecution of former CPD commander Jon Burge.
“It looks like (prosecutors) did what they were supposed to do, assuming they believed the defendants were guilty,” Cramer said. “(Guevara’s) testimony was the most important thing in that case, there was no DNA, no video, no witness. It literally the detective and the confession he got.”