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Retired detective Reynaldo Guevara again takes the Fifth

Former Chicago Police Detective Reynaldo Guevara

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

Reynaldo Guevara on Tuesday asserted his Fifth Amendment rights and offered a string responses along the lines of “I don’t remember” during about 10 minutes of questioning Tuesday in a hearing in a case of two men who claim the retired detective coerced them into confessing to a double-murder they did not commit.

Guevara did not look out at the packed gallery as he entered the courtroom from an anteroom behind the witness stand. About half of those in the crowd— including about a dozen men who claim Guevara framed them during his three-decade career— rose to their feet as Guevara entered, standing until Judge James Obbish ordered them to sit.

Placed under oath, the silver-haired detective spoke softly, answering initial questions from Assistant State’s Attorney James Papa about his age, where he grew up, and his fluency in Spanish. Gabriel Solache and Arturo DeLeon-Reyes, who were convicted of murder and kidnapping charges in a 1998 double-slaying investigated by Guevara, sat beside their attorneys, gazing intently at Guevara and listening to a Spanish translator.

But when Guevara was asked if he was assigned to the 5th District in the spring of 1998, when Solache and Reyes were arrested for the murders of Mariano and Jacinto Soto, he replied softly: “On advice of my attorney I invoke my 5th Amendment rights.”

After a few more questions and a few “I don’t recalls” and “I don’t remembers” later, Papa said he was finished with Guevara for the day, and would summon him back for a hearing Oct. 30.

What tack prosecutors will take when Guevara returns to the stand is uncertain, but attorneys for Solache and Reyes have made it clear they intend to question Guevara about abuse allegations by their clients and others, dating back decades. Guevara took the stand under protest, and then only under an offer from state and federal prosecutors for immunity for his testimony, meaning they cannot use his statements under oath to build a case for misconduct charges.

With the immunity deal in place, Guevara cannot use the 5th Amendment to decline to answer, and the 74-year-old could even be jailed for contempt of court— though prosecutors Tuesday made move to Obbish compel Guevara to give more substantial answers.

Guevara has been accused of abuse and intimidation by dozens of defendants over the years, and State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, who ran on a reform platform, dropped charges this spring against Roberto Almodovar and William Negron, who claimed they were convicted of murder based on coerced confessions and statements by witnesses who had been bullied.

But prosecutors have said the case against Solache and Reyes is strong, and that they need Guevara to testify to sustain their conviction. And Guevara stepped down Tuesday, Papa called to the stand detectives, prosecutors and a youth officer who acted as a translator when Solache and Reyes gave confessions in 1998. Each in turn said that neither man showed signs of abuse or claimed Guevara had hit or threatened them.

Guevara seems unlikely to say anything substantial on the stand, however. Guevara had denied abuse allegations at Solache and Reyes’ trial, and for years had denied claims of bullying witnesses and suspects in his criminal cases, post-conviction appeals and civil rights lawsuits.

But in 2009, a civil jury awarded $20 million to Juan Johnson, whose murder conviction had been overturned after witnesses said Guevara coerced them into identifying Johnson as the killer. A few months later, former CPD commander Jon Burge was convicted of perjury and sentenced to four years in prison. Burge remains a cautionary tale for police officers facing allegations of misconduct.

Burge for years had been implicated in the torture of suspects by detectives under his command in CPD’s Area 2 on the South side during the 1980s and ’90s, but never faced criminal charges until he denied knowledge of the abuse under oath during a deposition in a civil lawsuit.

Legal experts say that Guevara faces a “perjury trick bag,” if he opens his mouth about the allegations against him, even if prosecutors have agreed not to use his statements on the stand to charge him with a crime.

But facing questions about events that happened decades ago, any error could potentially be used to charge him with lying on the stand. If he admits to abuse, even with his immunity deal, he could provide a roadmap for prosecutors to charge him with other crimes unrelated to his testimony. If Guevara denies beating suspects, he might face perjury charges that could be hard to beat if a jury hears dozens of witnesses and exonerated inmates repeating stories of abuse at his hands.

Tuesday’s testimony was a disappointment for Roberto Almodovar, who was released from prison this spring after prosecutors dropped charges against him this spring amid allegations Guevara had bullied witnesses in the case. Almodovar had hoped that prosecutors offer of immunity for Guevara’s testimony would prompt the detective to answer questions, or, if Guevara refused, would see Guevara spend at least some time in jail for contempt.

“It seems like the state is working with him, trying to help him out,” Almodovar said outside the courthouse. “(Now) and in the past, too. Nothing’s changed.”