Man jailed since 1999 gets new trial after judge rips CPD detective for framing ‘random men’

David Gecht has been imprisoned for decades for a murder he said he did not commit.

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Jamie Gecht (left), David Gecht’s sister, hugs Jennifer Blagg, one of David’s attorneys after a press conference, Wednesday, May 25, 2022.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Time

A judge has granted a new trial for a man found guilty of a 1999 murder, finding that a North Side man convicted of murder as a teen is the latest in a group of “random men” framed by a former Chicago Police detective.

More than 20 cases investigated by former CPD detective Reynaldo Guevara have been overturned in recent years based on allegations of abuse and Guevara’s refusal to answer questions about past trials under oath.

In a 30-page ruling issued at a hearing Wednesday, Judge Diana Kenworthy cited testimony from witnesses in the case of David Gecht, as well as a half-dozen men who have been exonerated based on allegations they were beaten or intimidated into giving false confessions in cases investigated by Guevara.

Kenworthy found that Guevara beat and threatened the 19-year-old Gecht into making a false confession, and threatened Gecht’s pregnant, 18-year-old girlfriend into implicating Gecht.

“When examined together, the pattern of behavior that developed regarding Guevara was that he would select random men as suspects in unsolved cases,” Kenworthy wrote in a 30-page order handed down at a hearing Wednesday.

“The suspects and the chosen witnesses such as close friends, girlfriends and wives of suspects wold be encouraged, manipulated, induced, threatened and/or physically abused into either making a false identification, giving a false statement implicating another person, or giving a false confession.”

Former Chicago Police Detective Reynaldo Guevara leaves Leighton Criminal Courthouse after a 2016 hearing.

Former Chicago police detective Reynaldo Guevara

Sun-Times files

Prosecutors asked for two weeks to review Gecht’s case before deciding whether they will attempt to try the case again. The State’s Attorney’s office announced in 2020 that it would begin a review of hundreds of cases that relied on Guevara’s testimony. One judge once said Guevara’s vague denials of abuse were “bald-faced lies.”

Gecht had long claimed he was dragged out of bed in the early morning hours of January 29, 1999, soon after a man named Roberto Cruz was shot and killed outside an Avondale bar. Gecht was held at the 25th District police station for hours and roughed up by Guevara until he confessed after Guevara promised Gecht he could go home, lawyer Anand Swaminathan said Wednesday at a press conference at his law office.

“David Gecht was an easy target,” Swaminathan said. “He was 19, he was gullible.”

Hours after the false confession, Gecht’s girlfriend, then pregnant with his child, provided a handwritten statement that Gecht had also confessed to her the night of the shooting, after Guevara told her she would be arrested and have to give birth in jail.

The girlfriend, who took the stand against Gecht at his trial, later testified in an evidentiary hearing that she lied because she was afraid of Guevara.

With no physical evidence tying Gecht to the murder — and Guevara unlikely to testify at a new trial — Swaminathan called on prosecutors to drop the case against Gecht, who has been serving a 45-year sentence at the state prison in Pontiac.

Gecht’s case is the latest in a string of cases involving Guevara that have unraveled. Guevara, who retired from CPD in 2005, has refused to answer questions under oath about his old cases when called to testify at post-conviction hearings, or in civil lawsuits that have cost Chicago millions.

Attorneys for Guevara have said that the former detective has been instructed not to say anything, based on the example of former CPD commander Jon Burge, who was convicted of lying about torturing suspects when questioned in civil lawsuits years after he was fired from CPD.

But Guevara’s defenders have said the long list of recanting witnesses and overturned cases are part of a coordinated effort by gang members to free their comrades and sully the reputation of a prolific homicide detective.

David Gecht’s niece, Alisiya (from left); mom, Rosemary; and sister, Jamie, appear at a press conference after he was granted a new trial Wednesday, May 25, 2022.

David Gecht’s niece, Alisiya (from left); mom, Rosemary; and sister, Jamie, appear at a press conference after he was granted a new trial Wednesday, May 25, 2022.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Time

Gecht recanted the confession soon after he realized Guevara wasn’t going to have him released, said his sister, Jamie, who visited him at the police station after his arrest.

“My brother has fought since day one,” Jamie Gecht said Wednesday. “Ever since that first visit with him, he has maintained his innocence.”

Before he was convicted, prosecutors ridiculed Gecht’s story in their closing argument, said lawyer Jennifer Blagg. During the decades Gecht has been in prison, his former girlfriend had admitted during a chance meeting with Gecht’s sister at a 2011 funeral that she’d been forced to confess, and a string of wrongful conviction cases involving Guevara have built up evidence of similar abuses by the detective.

“They said, ‘How could you believe this gangbanger,’” Blagg said. “What we now know is that it was the truth.”

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