Innocent men Jose Montanez, 49, and Armando Serrano, 44, have spent the last 23 years paying for a crime they did not commit. That changed Wednesday when they were both able to walk out of the prisons that housed them as free men. They were convicted of the 1993 Chicago murder of Rodrigo Vargas, in what was believed to have been an armed robbery. Since that time, some shady police dealings have been brought to light, leading to dozens of cases needing to be reexamined.
Detective Reynaldo Guevara, now retired, is facing numerous claims of “framing or beating confessions out of suspects” while working Chicago’s Northwest Side. Over $20 million has already been paid out by the city to review, contest, and settle Guevara-related misconduct cases, and it seems there will be plenty more spent in the near future, with so many potentially innocent people behind bars.
The cornerstone of the case against Montanez and Serrano was sworn testimony by Francisco Vincente, who claims that the statements he made were basically spoon fed to him by the detective, with the promise of a light sentence for the string of felony charges he had pending at the time, as well as cash and cigarettes for his assistance.
Vincente recanted his statement in 2004 when talking with journalism students from Northwestern University. In two other already overturned cases, witnesses claim that Guevara pressured, coerced, and intimidated them to identify suspects, and they expect many more cases like this will be on the horizon.
After being freed, Armando Serrano said he was feeling good and was happy to be home. His son was just five-months-old when he was arrested, and he has only known his father by visiting him as an inmate at Dixon Correctional Center, a maximum-security prison in Illinois.
Jose Montanez echoed Serrano’s statements, saying it was “a long time coming.” What’s next for these men is still up in the air. How does one just go on with life, after having been incarcerated for most of your adult life? And think of how different things are now, compared to 1993. It’s a whole new world, with smartphones, Pokemon GO, virtual reality video games, Google and Facebook. One would think this would not be an easy adjustment to make, but it has to beat more than two decades in prison when you are innocent.
It makes one wonder, how many innocent people are currently incarcerated in this country, paying for crimes they didn’t commit? Of course, nearly every criminal claims they are not guilty, but according to The Innocence Project, up to five percent of all incarcerated people are actually innocent of the crime for which they have been convicted. That equals a huge amount of people sitting in prison, sucking up tax dollars, as well as many criminals out walking around, possibly committing other crimes and endangering other people.
And what will become of Reynaldo Guevara? Will he face some kind of charges for mishandling these cases? Chicago PD is notorious for being allegedly lenient with officers in these situations, so will he just be able to sit back and coast, knowing that many innocent people are away from their lives and families because he wanted to make the bust? It seems that there should be some form of punishment for this man, who essentially lied for years, causing more work for today’s officers as they will probably have to re-investigate all the cases Guevara worked on, checking for contamination. This could be a very costly situation for the city of Chicago and Cook County.
This kind of police corruption is exactly the problem that has been so prominent in the news recently. Men like Guevara are why police aren’t trusted. Being a member of law enforcement requires one to be of good character, not just another criminal.
[Image via Shutterstock]