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Former Det. Guevara might answer questions about torture claims

Former Chicago Police detective Reynaldo Guevara | Sun-Times file photo

Retired Chicago Police detective Reynaldo Guevara may soon have to answer questions under oath about allegations he framed suspects in cases dating back decades.

At a hearing last week, Cook County prosecutors said they would grant Guevara immunity to testify in a wrongful conviction case in which two men claim Guevara beat them until they confessed to a 1998 double-murder.

The move by State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s office could be a bombshell that allows Guevara to openly talk about claims that he beat suspects and bullied witnesses in dozens of cases he worked as a gang unit detective who spent more than 30 years on the CPD.

Prosecutors say their intention is simply to defend a “strong case” against defendants Gabriel Solache and Arturo DeLeon-Reyes, who are hoping to have Judge James Obbish overturn their convictions after Guevara refused to respond to their allegations the detective pummeled them repeatedly during a 40-hour interrogation.

As he has in at least two other cases, Guevara asserted his “Fifth Amendment constitutional rights” rather than talk under oath about allegations of torture or bullying witnesses.

But without the threat of going to jail if he admits to past misdeeds, there is a chance — however slim— that Guevara might open up about allegations of physical abuse and witness intimidation that date back to the 1980s, said Karen Daniel, the Northwestern Law School professor representing Solache and DeLeon-Reyes in their bid for a new trial.

“I would love to hear an honest accounting from Guevara of all of his misdeeds, but I don’t know if we’re ever going to get that,” said Daniel.

Guevara’s lawyer did not respond to repeated requests for comment from the Chicago Sun-Times.

A source in the State’s Attorney’s Office said there is no intention by prosecutors to force Guevara into airing decades of dirty laundry.

“He will have to answer the questions honestly, or else risk a charge of perjury. We have a murder case we believe is a good case,” according to the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Defendants, for years, have claimed at trials, post-conviction appeals and in civil rights lawsuits that they were framed by Guevara.

Juan Johnson had his conviction overturned, then won a $16.5 million payout from the city in 2009 after a jury found he’d been framed by Guevara.

Johnson’s retrial was the last time Guevara testified under oath about misconduct allegations.

He has refused to answer questions to defend his work in the investigation that sent Armando Serrano and Jose Montanez to prison in a 1993 murder. The two men were released from prison last year after prosecutors dropped charges against them.

Last month, the State’s Attorney’s Office announced it was dropping its case against Roberto Almodovar and William Negron, who served more than 20 years in prison on a murder conviction that hinged on testimony of a witness who later recanted and said Guevara had steered him to identify Almodovar and Negron as the killers in a 1994 double-murder.

Guevara declined to even answer written questions from Almodovar and Negron’s lawyers, again asserting his Fifth Amendment rights.

Guevara’s habit of keeping silent while under oath, and refusing to even answer questions by affidavit, began not long after federal prosecutors in 2008 charged former CPD Cmdr. Jon Burge with perjury and obstruction of justice after Burge denied having knowledge of the torture of suspects on Chicago’s South Side in hundreds of cases handled by his “midnight crew” of detectives.

Burge never faced any criminal charges for allegations suspects were beaten, suffocated or shocked with electrical wires during interrogations under his watch at Area 2, but nearly 10 years after he was fired by CPD, he wound up with a 4 1/2 –year sentence for lying in his responses to written questions in a civil lawsuit by torture victim Madison Hobley.

Guevara’s attorneys have likely learned a lesson from Burge, said Jeff Cramer, the former federal prosecutor who brought the charges against Burge.

“This guy is now in a situation where you have two choices: you tell the truth, and the complete truth, or you lie and you try to avoid going to jail for perjury,” said Cramer, now managing director of the global investigations firm Berkeley Research Group.

“If everyone does what’s in their best interest, there is a possibility we will learn what really happened.”

An agreement of immunity means that prosecutors cannot use whatever Guevara says on the stand to bring criminal charges against him later, and indeed, since Guevara retired from CPD in 2005, too much time has probably passed to charge him for any crimes related to misconduct while he was a detective, said John Marshall Law School professor Hugh Mundy.

Typically, prosecutors will only cut such deals when they are hoping to get information about other criminals or a larger conspiracy.

“Clearly, they are interested in his testimony, and that’s what an offer of immunity is supposed to get you,” Mundy said. “I think if he’s offered immunity, chances are, he’ll testify.”

Foxx won the State’s Attorney race last year after pledging to reform the prosecutor’s office, and a spokesman earlier this year said convictions tied to questionable evidence obtained by Guevara are being reviewed by the Conviction Integrity Unit.

But prosecutors maintain that putting Guevara on the stand is about upholding the convictions of Solache and DeLeon-Reyes, who are accused of stabbing Mariano and Jacinta Soto to death in a plot to steal the couple’s infant child.

Jennifer Bonjean, who represented Almodovar on his appeal, has tried to get Guevara to testify since 2009, but she has muted her expectations for what he might say. If Guevara continues to hide behind the Fifth Amendment, prosecutors won’t be allowed to use his testimony during their confessions from his 2000 murder trial to try and keep Solache and Reyes from winning a new trial, Bonjean said.

“We have been trying to figure out the strategy here. He’s not going to go up and admit to beating those men. I can’t believe that’s what’s going to happen,” she said. “He could say a bunch of ‘I don’t knows’ or ‘I don’t remembers’ (in response to questions) … and then the judge would have to decide what to do with that.”

Russell Ainsworth, lawyer for Negron, said there are numerous other attorneys working on wrongful conviction cases or civil lawsuits involving Guevara, and he expects the courtroom will be full on May 25, the earliest date prosecutors offered for Guevara to testify.

“If detective Guevara shows up in a Cook County court to testify, I think you’re going to get a crowd,” he said.