When prosecutors dropped charges against Arturo Reyes and Gabriel Solache in a decades-old double murder, the two men and their lawyers thought they would walk out of prison within hours. And Solache and Reyes did indeed leave prison — aboard a bus to an Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center, where they await deportation to Mexico.
Lawyers for the two men, whose convictions were overturned by a dramatic ruling on their claims they were beaten into giving confessions by now-retired Chicago Police Detective Reynaldo Guevara, said that law enforcement officials are trying to use their forced confessions again to keep them behind bars.
While the pair were officially no longer convicted of the 1998 murders of Jacinta and Mariano Soto, Solache and Reyes did enter the U.S. illegally years before their arrest. Solache and Reyes have been lodged at ICE detention centers — basically, cells inside the county jails in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and downstate Danville, their lawyers said — since they were turned over to ICE by state Department of Corrections officials.
Their belated release was stalled further when immigration officials this week opposed their request for bond, saying Reyes and Solache were a danger to the community, and using their discredited confessions as proof.
“I think it’s outrageous to try and detain them based on confessions that a judge has ruled should be excluded from a court of law, because we showed they were coerced,” said Karen Daniel, who represented Solache during much of his 15-year battle to overturn his criminal conviction. “They have already had so much stolen from them, and this is like getting kicked in the gut again.”
Solache may go free on $7,500 bond as soon as Friday, said Jessey Neves, spokeswoman for the MacArthur Justice Center at Northwestern University. Immigration officials also appealed Reyes request to voluntarily return to Mexico as soon as next week, said Vân B Huynh, the immigration lawyer handling his case.
Solache no longer has family in the U.S., and intends to return voluntarily to Mexico after settling his affairs in the U.S., Daniel said. Neither man had yet attempted to use their long incarceration or the allegations of police abuse to qualify for a “U Visa,” which is legal resident status offered to immigrants who are crime victims.
Solache and Reyes both had claimed they were punched and kicked by Guevara, who faces similar accusations of abuse in dozens of cases, before they made their confessions. The State’s Attorney’s office made the unprecedented move of offering Guevara immunity to testify about the interrogations, but the 25-year-old case fell apart when the retired detective took the stand last fall and claimed not to remember the case and made meek denials when asked about the alleged beatings.
In ruling to toss the confessions in November, Judge James Obbish stated Guevara’s testimony was “bald-faced lies” and said the detective’s testimony could not be considered credible. Prosecutors, claiming they still believed Solache and Reyes were guilty, dropped the case in December. Both men had been serving life sentences. Solache’s original death sentence had been commuted to life by Gov. George Ryan.
Corrections officials did not tell lawyers who were waiting for Solache and Reyes to be released that the two men had been turned over to ICE, until both men had already been placed in ICE custody.
The lawyers were told it was IDOC policy to alert immigration officials when undocumented inmates are released, though an IDOC spokesperson did not respond to questions from the Chicago Sun-Times.
At an immigration hearing this week in Chicago, officials presented the two confessions obtained by Guevara in 1992, as well as confessions from co-defendant Adriana Mejia and two witness statements, Huynh said. An immigration judge ruled that since the confessions had been ruled inadmissible, he would not consider them in weighing whether to grant bond.
A spokeswoman from the Executive Office for Immigration Review, the branch of the Justice Department that prosecutes immigration violations, did not immediately respond to questions from the Sun-Times.