Ex-Chicago detective takes Fifth more than 200 times in wrongful conviction case
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A controversial retired Chicago police detective took the Fifth more than 200 times on a federal witness stand Tuesday — including when he was asked if a criminal investigation into his conduct was underway.
Reynaldo Guevara, 75, repeatedly refused to answer questions about the wrongful conviction of Jacques Rivera for the 1988 murder of Felix Valentin. A group of jurors, who will be allowed to hold Guevara’s silence against him, looked on.
Rivera sued the city, Guevara and other police officers in 2012 after he spent more than two decades in prison for Valentin’s murder. U.S. District Judge Joan Gottschall has said Rivera’s innocence is not in dispute.
Rather, attorneys for the officers and the city say a key witness lied decades ago, falsely blaming Rivera for the murder and causing a breakdown in the criminal justice system.
The case has the potential to lead to an eight-figure verdict. Unlike in a criminal trial, jurors will be allowed to hold Guevara’s refusal to testify against him.
However, Guevara has already refused for years to answer questions under oath. Rivera attorney Jonathan Loevy promised jurors last week that Guevara would do so again in this case when confronted with Rivera’s allegations.
When he finally took the stand Tuesday, the silver-haired detective answered a few questions about his name, age and children. Then, as Loevy began to question him about the substance of the case, Guevara started to repeat the same answer.
“Upon advice of my counsel, I respectfully decline to answer the questions on the ground that I’m being compelled to be a witness against myself,” Guevara said.
After repeating that phrase roughly 30 times, Guevara began to just tell Loevy, “same answer.”
Guevara insisted on his Fifth Amendment right even when Loevy asked whether he had framed Rivera, whether he had framed others, and whether he feared being prosecuted for perjury if he denied the allegations.
Last fall, Guevara answered questions in state court under a rare grant of immunity. A Cook County judge later found Guevara told a “bald-faced lie” and couldn’t be considered credible.
Criminal cases based on Guevara’s testimony promptly began to collapse.
Rivera’s own exoneration began in 2011, after a key witness in his case recanted his original trial testimony, prompting prosecutors to drop the charges against him. The state court gave Rivera a certificate of innocence in 2012.
The key witness was Orlando Lopez, who saw Valentin’s shooting when he was 12. Loevy told jurors that Lopez’s testimony was the sole piece of evidence used to convict Rivera.
However, Lopez at one point allegedly tried to tell police Rivera wasn’t the shooter. Even the victim pointed the finger at someone else before he died, Loevy told jurors.
Lopez testified during Rivera’s criminal trial decades ago that the shooter’s hair was dyed brown or gold. During the same trial, Guevara said Rivera had a gold ponytail at the time of his arrest.
Lopez told Northwestern University’s Center for Wrongful Convictions in 2010 he knew Rivera was not the shooter.
But Thomas Leinenweber, Guevara’s attorney, has said it was Lopez who “inserted a lie into the system,” leading to Rivera’s incarceration for a crime he didn’t commit.