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BGA Public Eye: Judge being asked to step aside over conflict in Reynaldo Guevara case

With Roberto Almodovar’s double-murder conviction among the cases now under review by Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez over allegations an ex-Chicago detective framed suspects, Almodovar’s lawyer is arguing it’s a conflict of interest for Alvarez’s office to review a conviction it’s already defended in court.

Instead, Almodovar has asked Judge Paul Biebel Jr. — the chief judge of Cook County’s criminal courts — to appoint a special prosecutor and make Alvarez step aside from the case.

But Biebel might have a conflict, too. His brother, Robert Biebel, was listed as the “supervising sergeant” in a homicide investigation — led by then-Detective Reynaldo Guevara — that resulted in first-degree murder convictions against Almodovar and his co-defendant William Negron, court records show.

Robert Biebel, a former Area 5 Violent Crimes sergeant, signed off on Guevara’s work on the case, putting his signature to a police report outlining the charges against Almodovar and Negron.

The men are serving life sentences in prison in a Sept. 1, 1994, gang-related double-murder in Humboldt Park. Both have said they were framed by Guevara, who has been accused in court of railroading other suspects, as well, most of them Latino men.

Robert Biebel hasn’t been accused of any wrongdoing.

Reynaldo Guevara. / Sun-Times file photo

Reynaldo Guevara. / Sun-Times file photo

His brother was set to hear arguments Monday on Almodovar attorney Jennifer Bonjean’s motion to appoint a special prosecutor, which Alvarez opposes. But  Bonjean has asked the judge to step aside from the case because of his brother’s involvement.

“A judge not only has a duty to be fair but to be perceived as fair,” Bonjean says. “In this case, there’s a question of whether [the judge] would rule in such a way to protect his brother or the investigation.”

Roberto Almodovar

Roberto Almodovar

Judge Biebel says he was unaware Bonjean was asking him to recuse himself. He wouldn’t comment beyond that.

Robert Biebel, who retired from the Chicago Police Department in 2011 and collects an annual city pension of $92,643, hung up on a reporter.

Judge Biebel isn’t the only judge with ties to the “handful” of criminal cases that prosecutors — at the request of the Emanuel administration after a taxpayer-funded investigation by the law firm of former U.S. Attorney Scott Lassar – are reviewing.

The Better Government Association previously reported that Cook County Circuit Judge Matthew Coghlan — who previously was an assistant state’s attorney — prosecuted Armando Serrano and Jose Montanez in 1994. Alvarez’s office is reviewing the case, in which the convictions hinged on uncorroborated testimony from a jailhouse informant who received a reduced prison sentence in return for testifying.

The informant testified that Serrano and Montanez told him they did the killing, but he has since recanted, saying Guevara forced him to falsely implicate the two men.

Coghlan also prosecuted two other murder suspects based on testimony from the same informant. Guevara was the lead investigator in those cases, too, according to court records.

Coghlan, who as a judge now handles criminal cases, declined to comment.

The Emanuel administration asked Lassar and his law firm Sidley Austin LLP to review some of Guevara’s criminal cases in 2013 after two murder convictions were vacated — in part because of misconduct allegations involving Guevara.

The city has paid nearly $20 million to investigate, defend and settle Guevara-related misconduct claims, records show.

The Lassar probe concluded earlier this year with the city, at his urging, turning over what officials said were a “handful” of cases to Alvarez for review.

Though City Hall has refused to say which cases are being reviewed, they also include the 2000 convictions of Arturo Reyes and Gabriel Solache in a double-murder in 1998, according to court records and interviews.

Reyes, 42, and Solache, 40, are serving life sentences. They were convicted largely as the result of their own confessions, which they now say were false, saying they were coerced by Guevara through beatings, threats and lengthy interrogations, according to court filings.

Guevara wouldn’t comment. In court depositions, he has cited his right against self-incrimination in refusing to answer questions.

This  was written by Andrew Schroedter of the Better Government Association.