Once again, claims of misconduct swirling around retired Chicago police Det. Reynaldo Guevara have led him into a courtroom.
And once again, Guevara is expected to maintain his Fifth Amendment right not to testify during a civil trial now underway at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse. At issue is the wrongful conviction of Jacques Rivera for the murder of Felix Valentin in 1988.
But unlike in a criminal case, this jury will be allowed to hold Guevara’s refusal to testify against him. That’s why, in a trial that could lead to an eight-figure verdict, Rivera’s lawyer seized during opening statements Wednesday on what jurors will likely not hear.
“He’s not going to deny it,” Jonathan Loevy said of Guevara. “He’s not going to say anything.”
And, Loevy said, “you can infer that if he told the truth, it would be bad for him.”
The trial is expected to last weeks.
Rivera is suing the city and a group of Chicago police officers over the more than 20 years he spent in prison for Valentin’s murder. U.S. District Judge Joan B. Gottschall, who is presiding over the case, has said in rulings that Rivera’s innocence is not in dispute.
Rather, lawyers for the officers and the city maintain a key witness lied when he fingered Rivera for the murder, causing a breakdown in the criminal justice system.
Guevara is key among the officer defendants. Last fall, after years of claiming his Fifth Amendment right not to testify, he finally answered questions in state court under a rare grant of immunity. Ultimately, a Cook County judge found Guevara told a “bold-faced lie” and couldn’t be considered credible.
Criminal cases based on Guevara’s testimony promptly began to collapse.
Rivera’s 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 Wednesday 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 the jury.
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. He also said he “did try to tell [the police] it was not the real guy,” records show.
Thomas Leinenweber, who represents Guevara, told jurors the Fifth Amendment is a constitutional right that protects the guilty — and the innocent.
But he also said it was Lopez who “inserted a lie into the system,” leading to Rivera’s incarceration for a crime he didn’t commit.
“That’s what this case is about,” Leinenweber said. “The lies of Orlando Lopez.”