7 murder convictions overturned in a single day after prosecutors stop backing group of cases tied to alleged misconduct by disgraced former Chicago police detective





His father died while Nelson Gonzalez was in prison. Alfredo Gonzalez couldn't go to his daughter's wedding. And Marilyn Mulero missed out on her two children's childhoods.

"It's been hard - I lost my brother," Mulero added, her voice breaking. "He was my strength."

These are three of the Chicago families affected by murder convictions tainted by allegations of misconduct by former Chicago police Detective Reynaldo Guevara.

In a historic move Tuesday, judges overturned seven murder convictions in a single day. Many of the exonerees have spent decades in prison for slayings that took place between 1989 and 1996.

The Cook County state's attorney's office had filed motions in the seven cases and an eighth to be heard at the Leighton Criminal Court Building. In an unprecedented move, State's Attorney Kim Foxx announced at a news conference Tuesday morning that prosecutors "can no longer stand by these convictions," leading to the mass dismissal.

"Rebuilding the community trust in our justice system requires that when we find an injustice, we work diligently to correct it," Foxx said. "Today marks another step in that process at the Cook County state's attorney's office."

Exonerees, family members and supporters spoke with reporters after the court hearings. Emotions ran high as people cheered, cried and hugged. Some were holding signs showing the faces of Guevara accusers.

Mulero spoke as the first woman to have a conviction overturned due to allegations of misconduct by Guevara.

"I had to be a strong individual because I had two toddlers when I was incarcerated. I had to fight for them. I had to be strong for them," Mulero said, wiping tears from her eyes.

She served 28 years in prison - including five years on death row - and was released in April 2020.

"There's other women out there that are incarcerated, that are innocent, that I will keep fighting for, just like our other Guevara victims that are in there," she added.

Tuesday's development marks 31 convictions overturned since 2016 in connection to Guevara's alleged misconduct, claims that range from manipulating witnesses to fabricating evidence.

Alfredo Gonzalez's family, who was at the courthouse for the hearings Tuesday, was itching to see him. He had been serving a life sentence after his arrest in 1990.

"We've been waiting for a very long time. My dad got taken away from us when I was 3, my brother was 7," his daughter Maria Gonzalez said. "We are just ready to drive over there and pick him up."

Nelson Gonzalez, who served 22 years and was released in 2016, called on Foxx to seek charges against Guevara.

"This was a conspiracy created by Mr. Guevara and other agents. And I'm asking Kim Foxx to press charges, to pursue, to prosecute not only Guevara, but the other CPD agents that helped him convict these individuals," he said. "They created a chaos within many families. And we're not going to stop. We're going to keep going. We're going to keep pushing, we're going to keep pushing."

Gonzalez said he plans on going back to school to study criminal justice.

"I would love to be a lawyer," he said. "I know what the journey is, so I can speak from both sides. So, that's what I'm gonna be focused on, and family, and making sure my mom's OK, and continue to help the community. I'm not going to give up just because I was vindicated."

The other men exonerated Tuesday included Carlos Andino, who had been serving a 60-year sentence, Johnny Flores, who served 20 years, and Jaime Rios, who served 18 years. David Colon's conviction was vacated last month after having served 26 years in prison.

The conviction of an eighth Guevara accuser, Louis Robinson, was not thrown out Tuesday. Robinson is still serving a 60-year sentence after his arrest in 1996. He "remains in custody pending further court proceedings," Foxx said in a news release.

"Louis Robinson, you know we will continue to fight for you," Mulero said. "Today was the day that wasn't your day, but your day is going to come. It is coming."

At the state's attorney's office news conference, Foxx said Guevara had repeatedly pleaded the Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself "and then when asked questions, was not truthful." She added that her office hasn't actively pursued charges against Guevara yet.

"Our first priority was ensuring that we could stand by these convictions, the next step of that: We're going to review these cases, and also review the possibility for charges where appropriate," she said.

Foxx pointed out that there might also be issues with the statute of limitations to prosecute the former detective.

She also spoke about the pain of those who lost family members to the homicides. Guevara's alleged misconduct, she said, hurts them too.

"To lose a loved one is difficult enough - and to lose a loved one to violence. And to believe that you have someone being held accountable, only to be told that conviction doesn't stand, is disheartening," Foxx said. "(Guevara's) harm is not just to those who may have been imprisoned for crimes that they didn't commit, but to families who are looking for justice for the loss of their loved ones."

Looking ahead, Foxx said three other cases will be reviewed in the coming weeks. If those convictions - and Robinson's - are tossed, it would bring the tally for vindicated Guevara accusers up to 35.

"We expect to resolve additional cases with similar court action in the upcoming weeks," Foxx said. "We also anticipate that more individuals may come forward, and we will review their cases as they come."

"What do we want?" Mulero asked before leaving the mic setup at Leighton Criminal Court Building.

"Justice!" the group of supporters, families and exonerees behind her responded.

"When do we want it?"

"Now!"

adperez@chicagotribune.com

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