A wrongfully convicted man who spent 21 years behind bars is seeking $42 million from the city, his attorney told jurors Wednesday during closing arguments in the lawsuit.
To date, the largest monetary award the city has had to pay for a case involving wrongful conviction and imprisonment was $25 million in 2011, according to Jury Verdict Reporter.
The current case involves Jacques Rivera, who was imprisoned for the 1988 murder of Felix Valentin before Rivera gained his freedom and was exonerated.
Valentin, 16, was shot to death in the West Humboldt Park neighborhood.
On Wednesday, before a jury at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse, Rivera’s attorney, Jon Loevy, railed against Reynaldo Guevara, 75, the former Chicago police gang crimes officer he claims was a main author of a scheme to frame his client for murder.
Apart from claims of false police reports, Loevy boiled the case down to the coerced testimony of Oscar Lopez, the only witness in the case, who was 12 years old at the time.
Guevara manipulated the “malleable memory” of a boy who saw a gunman from a distance of nearly 200 feet in order to fit the police version of events, Loevy said.
Lopez admitted to investigators from Northwestern University’s Center for Wrongful Convictions in 2010 that he knew Rivera — who’s now 52 — was not the shooter.
Defense attorney Jim Sotos on Wednesday said the notion that police would go out of their way to frame Rivera was “utter nonsense.”
Loevy reminded jurors that when asked if he framed Rivera for murder, Guevera took the Fifth on the witness stand.
He refused to testify to dozens of questions during the trial because “the truth would implicate him to a crime,” Loevy said.
Guevara and other gang cops — who Loevy painted as “cowboys” who adhered to no rules — had “already decided who did it” and were not open to pursuing other suspects.
“The whole thing was dirty,” Loevy said.
Loevy also pointed to a report he said police fabricated in which investigators claim that Valentin, the victim of the shooting, identified Rivera as the gunman during a hospital-room interview — even though Valentin was on heavy medication and “completely unresponsive” the day of the interview.
Guevara’s attorneys have maintained that the wrongful conviction was not Guevara’s fault but instead put the blame on Lopez’s testimony for inserting “a lie into the system” that led to an innocent man ending up in prison.
Jurors were expected to begin deliberating Thursday.
It’s not the first time Guevara, who’s accused of widespread corruption during his time with the police department, has taken the Fifth.
He’s refused to testify under oath about allegations of abuse made in wrongful conviction cases brought by dozens of defendants.