In early January, Cook County prosecutors dropped murder charges against Thomas Sierra. A man who had been wrongfully incarcerated due to the disastrous testimony by retired Chicago Police detective Reynaldo Guevara.
Sierra, who was paroled in Dec. 2017, served 22 1/2 years in prison for a 1995 murder, bowed his head and wiped tears from his eyes as Judge William Lacy tossed his conviction for the killing of Noel Andujar. Prosecutors literally said they could no longer “meet their burden” to support the charges against Sierra.
Sierra, who had been jailed since he was 19, said his release marked a “bittersweet” moment after years of claims that Guevara had manipulated witnesses into fingering him for the crime.
“It’s unreal right now,” Sierra told reporters in the lobby of the Leighton Criminal Courthouse following the hearing. “I did all the time for something I didn’t do and now, here it is, two months after being home, State’s Attorney’s office did right.”
Last month, Sierra’s lawyers filed a motion making note of Cook County Judge James Obbish’s ruling that Guevara lied on the witness stand when questioned in October about allegations of abuse made by Gabriel Solache and Arturo DeLeon-Reyes, two men who had spent nearly 30 years in prison for a 1998 double-murder.
Testifying under a grant of immunity from prosecutors, Guevara said he did not remember even minor details about his investigation of Solache and DeLeon-Reyes for the murder of Mariano and Jacinta Soto. He replied “I don’t know” to dozens of questions he was asked on the stand, including the address of his old police station.
Asked if he beat the two men, as they had claimed at trial, Guevara answered, “that’s not something I would have done,” and, prodded by Obbish, denied the abuse allegations with a flat “no.” And after tasting sweet freedom at last- the two men now don’t know what the future holds. Unfortuantely, our system has failed them again.
Gabriel Solache and Arturo DeLeon-Reyes were immediately detained again. This time they’re awaiting deportation proceedings from Immigration and Customs Enforcement because they entered the country illegally. Solache and DeLeon-Reyes barely knew each other or Mejia before their arrests. They lived together as roommates, along with Mejia’s husband and another man. They also didn’t know the Sotos.
Solache and DeLeon-Reyes are taking different paths now.
DeLeon-Reyes, who was 25 when he immigrated in 1997, wants to stay in the U.S. for now but ultimately return home in the Mexican state of Jalisco, where his wife and five children are. He’s opted for voluntary deportation, which an immigration judge granted, but the government plans to appeal to get an involuntary deportation. That designation that would make it more difficult for DeLeon-Reyes to legally come back to the U.S.
DeLeon-Reyes remains in custody at the Kenosha County Detention Center in Wisconsin as the government makes a decision on an appeal, due in about three weeks.
On Friday, Solache was released on bond while his immigration case progresses in the hopes he can stay in the U.S.
He walked out of the federal immigration services building wearing a Cubs jersey with the number 14 on the back — his number when he played soccer in Mexico. Also on the back was the name Jane Raley, the attorney at Northwestern University Law School’s Center on Wrongful Convictions who represented Solache for more than a decade before her death in 2014.
“She is the one who made this possible,” Solache explained.
His attorney, Karen Daniel, said when Solache was taken into custody, immigration officials tried to use his invalidated confession to keep him locked up even longer.
The allegations of Guevara’s brutality last year led to five overturned convictions. In previous years here have been other cases. One resulted in a 2009 jury award of $21 million — the largest award in in a wrongful conviction judgment at the time — to a man who spent 11 years in prison before his conviction was overturned.