by Derek Gilna
In December 2017, Gabriel Solache and Arturo Reyes saw their confessions in a 2000 murder trial that resulted in their convictions set aside by Cook County Circuit Court Judge James M. Obbish. But as soon as they were released from prison they were immediately taken into custody by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Solache, 46, and Reyes, 43, confessed to the 1998 murders of Mariano and Jacinto Soto at the couple’s home in the Bucktown neighborhood of Chicago. The men had recently arrived from Mexico to work as laborers, living in the same apartment building as Adriana Mejia, who received a life sentence for planning the killings to kidnap the Soto’s infant daughter.
Tried separately, Solache and Reyes were both convicted and sentenced to life in prison (Solache was originally sentenced to death, which was later commuted to life without parole). The pair, who did not speak English at the time of their arrest, claimed their confessions were beaten out of them by Chicago Police Department Detective Reynaldo Guevara, a 30-year veteran.
Accused of abusing suspects and bullying witnesses in several cases, Guevara has been the subject of multiple investigations. In cases where he was questioned about his interrogation methods, he exercised his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
To prevent that from happening in this case, Guevara was offered immunity in exchange for his testimony against Solache and Reyes in a post-conviction hearing in October 2017. But the plan backfired when he gave evasive answers, claiming he did not remember the crime, investigation or his interrogations, earning a rebuke from Judge Obbish, who called Guevara’s testimony “bald-faced lies.” The judge threw out the 1998 confessions and said the detective had “now eliminated the possibility of being considered a credible witness in any proceeding.”
Calling it “a tragic day for justice in Cook County,” then-First Assistant State’s Attorney Eric Sussman said he had “no choice” but to toss the cases against Solache and Reyes, freeing the men after they had served 18 years in prison.
In a separate proceeding, Roberto Almodovar, another prisoner reportedly framed by Guevara who was incarcerated for 23 years, also was released.
All told, five cases in which Guevara was involved were dismissed in 2017 alone, including that of Jose Maysonet, whose conviction was set aside when Guevara and four other former police officers refused to testify in a rehearing of his 1995 murder case. That marked the second time in just five weeks that Cook County prosecutors were forced to drop murder charges because former Chicago detectives would not cooperate in court proceedings where defense counsel claimed testimony had been manufactured.
Neither Solache nor Reyes was in Cook County for the hearing when their convictions were dismissed. Because they had not entered the United States legally, they were taken into custody from their downstate prisons shortly afterward by ICE. ICE said both men were “amenable to removal” from the U.S. and would “remain in ICE custody pending disposition of their immigration cases.”
After 41 days in ICE custody at the Kankakee County Detention Center, Solache was released on $7,500 bail on February 2, 2018 so he could prepare to leave the country voluntarily. A hearing was set two weeks later to consider his request for “voluntary departure with safeguards.”
A judge granted a similar request made by Reyes, but he remained in jail while ICE considered appealing the court’s order. According to his immigration attorney, Van Huynh, ICE rarely appeals voluntary departure orders, which allow deportees to re-apply for entry to the U.S. To prevent that, he said officials in this case may be trying to get a permanent deportation order. But an ICE spokeswoman said the agency had no plans to appeal.
Because Solache and Reyes were victims of a crime committed against them in the United States, they were eligible to apply for a “U visa,” though only 10,000 or so are issued annually.
“We’ve been focused on their detained case and trying to get them out, we haven’t fully sat down to discuss their U Visa eligibility,” said Huynh. “If that’s something that they’re interested in pursuing, they could do that whether they’re in the U.S. or Mexico.”
Almost immediately after Reyes’ voluntary departure order was granted, attorney Anand Swaminathan with the law firm of Loevy & Loevy filed a federal civil rights suit on his behalf against the City of Chicago, Detective Guevara and 11 other police officers for their malfeasance in obtaining his confession, which was allegedly “concocted and coerced by defendants after 40 hours of abusive and illegal interrogation of a recently arrived Mexican immigrant who could not speak or understand English.”
According to Alexa Van Brunt, an attorney with the MacArthur Justice Center, Solache also plans to file a lawsuit because Guevara kept him in custody without access to a lawyer or to anyone else who spoke Spanish. Van Brunt accused the former detective of “torturing” Solache by beating him so severely that he suffered permanent hearing loss.
“The city turned a blind eye to a ‘rogue cop’ and condoned Reynaldo Guevara’s behavior for so many years,” said Van Brunt. “They knew since the ‘80s that he was abusing people in his custody.”
Since 2016, eight convictions have been overturned based on allegations that witnesses were coerced and suspects physically assaulted by Guevara, who has refused to offer substantive testimony in rebuttal and has since retired. In June 2009, a federal jury awarded Juan Johnson $21 million for his wrongful conviction and 11½ years in prison after finding that Guevara had coerced witnesses to frame him in a murder case. [See: PLN, Nov. 2009, p.40].
Solache said he looks forward to returning to Mexico City to live with the family he left behind 20 years ago.
“I’ve been away from my family for a long time. I want to get back over there,” he stated. “They’re happy and excited to see me. I have a lot of things to do.”
Reyes also plans to return to Mexico City, where his wife and children reside. But to keep his options open, Huynh said it’s “important for him to continue presenting the fact that he’s innocent.”
“It’s sort of unfair that he has to take a final removal order – which is seen as a blemish on your immigration record,” he added, since Reyes was convicted of a crime that he did not commit.
Sources: www.buzzfeed.com, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, www.nbcchicago.com, www.law.northwestern.edu
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