Prosecutors drop charges against man who spent 22 years in prison for murder

SHARE Prosecutors drop charges against man who spent 22 years in prison for murder

Thomas Sierra speaks to reporters in January after his murder charges were dropped. | Andy Grimm for the Sun-Times

Cook County prosecutors on Tuesday dropped murder charges against Thomas Sierra – the latest conviction to collapse in the wake of disastrous testimony by retired Chicago Police detective Reynaldo Guevara.

Sierra, who was paroled last month after serving 22 1/2 years in prison for a 1995 murder, bowed his head and wiped tears from his eyes as Judge William Lacy tossed his conviction for the killing of Noel Andujar, after prosecutors said they could no longer “meet their burden” to support the charges against Sierra.

Sierra, who had been jailed since he was 19, said Tuesday marked a “bittersweet” moment after years of claims that Guevara had manipulated witnesses into fingering him for the crime.

“It’s unreal right now,” Sierra told a phalanx of reporters in the lobby of the Leighton Criminal Courthouse following the hearing. “I did all the time for something I didn’t do and now, here it is, two months after being home, State’s Attorney’s office did right.”

Former Chicago Police Detective Reynaldo Guevara.

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

Sun-Times file photo

Last month, Sierra’s lawyers filed a motion making note of Cook County Judge James Obbish’s ruling that Guevara lied on the witness stand when questioned in October about allegations of abuse made by Gabriel Solache and Arturo DeLeon-Reyes, two men who had spent nearly 30 years in prison for a 1998 double-murder.

Testifying under a grant of immunity from prosecutors, Guevara said he did not remember even minor details about his investigation of Solache andDeLeon-Reyes for the murder of Mariano and Jacinta Soto. He replied “I don’t know” two dozens of questions he was asked on the stand, including the address of his old police station.

Asked if he beat the two men, as they had claimed at trial and in subsequent post-conviction pleadings, Guevara answered, “that’s not something I would have done,” and, prodded by Obbish, denied the abuse allegations with a flat “no.”

Obbish last month ruled that Guevara’s testimony was “bald-faced lies,” and said the detective, who retired in 2005, could not be considered a credible witness in any case. Without Guevara’s testimony, prosecutors grudgingly dropped their case, and Solache andDeLeon-Reyes were released from prison, though the two men were were immediately taken into custody by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers.

Gabriel Solache (left) and<br>Arturo DeLeon-Reyes | Illinois Department of Corrections

Gabriel Solache (left) and
Arturo DeLeon-Reyes | Illinois Department of Corrections

“Obviously (the State’s Attorney’s Office) have made a determination that Reynaldo Guevara cannot stand as a reliable witness to support criminal prosecutions,” said Sierra’s lawyer, Steve Art. “We think that’s the right decision. We applaud that decision.”

Guevara’s lawyer, William Fahy, did not immediately return calls seeking comment. A spokesman for State’s Attorney Kim Foxx did not respond to questions about whether Sierra’s case marks the course for how the office will handle the dozens of cases in which defendants have made similar claims that Guevara framed them.

Guevara for years had refused to testify in cases where he was accused of beating suspects, once asserting his Fifth Amendment rights in response to some 200 questions from a defense lawyer during a single deposition.

To get around his Fifth Amendment concerns, Foxx’s office had taken the unprecedented step of securing an immunity guarantee for Guevara’s testimony in the Solache-DeLeon-Reyes case, meaning the veteran detective could not be prosecuted based on any criminal acts he admitted to while on the stand. First Assistant State’s Attorney Eric Sussman said dropping the case against Solache and DeLeon-Reyes marked a “tragic day for justice in Cook County,” but said Guevara’s refusal to answer questions had sunk the state’s case against them.

At a press conference Monday at the City Club of Chicago, marking her first year in office Foxx declined to comment on whether prosecutors would pursue perjury charges against Guevara.

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