A Criminal Justice System Implodes...
Cook County State's Attorney Kimberly Foxx Sells out...
The mob action otherwise known as the wrongful conviction movement was on full display in courtroom 706 at 26th and California Tuesday morning, Oct. 17.
The room was filled with attorneys from various law firms and law schools that have freed dozens of convicted killers and rapists during the past four decades and have garnered hundreds of millions of dollars in settlements along the way. With them was a small but vocal army of demonstrators, wearing T-shirts with the image of retired detective Ray Guevera on the front. Earlier in the morning, they had demonstrated in front of the building.
Also in the courtroom was a row of journalists dutifully writing down various quotes from these attorneys and activists, and huddling with them for intense briefings on the events about to unfold. There was little pretense of objectivity and even fewer signs of getting the entire story.
The attorneys/activists walked around the room as if it were a celebration party, not a courtroom, shaking hands and hugging each other.
Why shouldn’t they?
They had reason to celebrate, and not simply because this hearing might lead to the release of at least one more convicted killer—and another multimillion dollar settlement. This hearing all but signified one of the greatest victories the wrongful conviction movement has ever attained: having the Cook County State’s Attorney in its back pocket.
The movement’s future, once mired in a murky world of scandal and investigations against them, now seemed better than ever. Who knows how many more cases the movement will overturn? Who knows how many more millions will be scored in settlements?
In this celebratory atmosphere, there was little to indicate the horror of the crime upon which the case was originally built. The defendants, Gabriel Solache and Arturo Reyes, along with a woman named Adriana Mejia, had been convicted of murdering Jacinta and Mariano Soto by repeatedly stabbing the couple in their own apartment. The three offenders then kidnapped the Soto’s children.
It was a vicious, bloody murder of two wholly innocent people. Blood from Jacinta Soto was found on the wall, five feet away from her body. The forensic evidence will never fully tell the horror of her last moments alive, or that of her husband. Proud happy parents one moment; stabbed to death the next.
Physical evidence tied Adriana Mejia, the female offender, to the crime. She fingered Solache and Reyes, both of whom eventually confessed.
Reyes got life. Solache was sentenced to death, but was saved from execution by Governor George Ryan, who ended the death penalty in Illinois in 2003 under pressure from the wrongful conviction crowd.
Later on, the wrongful conviction crowd pulled out its playbook, asserting that a detective who worked the case, Ray Guevera, was dirty. They argued that many of Guervara’s convictions were the result of his own misconduct. Pushing the cases into the court of public opinion, these law firms compelled the city to reconsider the cases.
It is a mark of the just how deeply the wrongful conviction movement has burrowed into the public imagination and the city’s institutions that such a ludicrous theory of framing defendants can be considered either in the media or in a courtroom. Why would detectives in such a gruesome, horrible murder want to pin the case on the wrong people? If they did, they would have to know that new evidence would arise in the coming weeks or months would expose a criminal frame-up.
Nevertheless, in response to the claims against Guevera, the city caved in and hired an independent law firm, Sidley Austin LLP, to review the cases. Even that review bolstered the guilt of Solache and Reyes. The report cast doubt on other Guevera cases, but the prosecutors weren’t buying it. Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez stood by Guevera and the convictions.
"We don’t feel these guys are innocent guys," prosecutor Favio Valeniti said.
But within weeks of Kimberly Foxx taking over the prosecutors’ office after defeating Alvarez in the election, there was a sea of change. Rather than back the Guevera cases as Alvarez did, Foxx began moving against the detective. She walked away from the convictions of two men in another Guevera case, both of whom were released from prison.
How could one prosecutor’s office so clearly back the convictions, then the next one toss them?
Foxx then forced Guevera to testify in the Solache/Reyes case, imposing a deeply suspicious “immunity” on Guevera that undermined his right to plead the Fifth. Guevera’s attorney cried foul, saying that his client was being put in a “perjury trap.”
And so it went. In just a few months, Guevera went from being backed by the prosecutor’s office to being thrown under a bus recklessly driven by Foxx. Foxx’s reversal of Alvarez in these cases is an ominous sign of just how aligned she appears to be with the wrongful conviction crowd.
But it only hints at just how degraded the prosecutors’ office has become under her leadership.
Here is why:
All claims against Guevera are based on the theory of a pattern and practice against the detective. But Foxx’s office has ignored the evidence of a pattern and practice of misconduct against the wrongful conviction, a pattern and practice that is now being scrutinized in the federal courts.
In this pattern and practice theory, attorneys are alleging a litany of misconduct in cases going back 30 years. Many of the most controversial cases have been initiated by Northwestern University, whose attorneys comprise the chorus of accusers against Guevera.
Much of the evidence of misconduct in the wrongful conviction movement, and of false allegations against detectives, was obtained during the Alvarez administration. That evidence was so persuasive it compelled Alvarez to undermine the most influential wrongful conviction case in state history by releasing Alstory Simon from prison in 2014. Simon had confessed to a double murder, a confession that spurred the release of Anthony Porter from death row in 1999 on the claim that he was wrongfully convicted.
After he got out, Simon’s attorneys filed a $40 million dollar lawsuit against Northwestern, alleging that he was framed for the murders.
Foxx has wholly ignored this and other evidence of misconduct in the wrongful conviction movement, even though much of it was generated within her own office. At the same time, she is all too willing to embrace it against a Chicago detective. A prosecutor who ignores one pattern and practice in favor of another is abdicating the rule of evidence. She is violating her oath of office.
Looking at wrongful conviction cases through the pattern and practice theory of misconduct in the movement, a chilling theme emerges, one in which one public office after another has sold out in the face of the hysteria the movement has generated. A pattern of prosecutors, governors and judges caving into the movement has emerged.
But none of it matches the chilling image of a prosecutor working virtually hand-in-hand with the movement.
Small wonder Judge Obbish’s courtroom looked more like a party than a courtroom Tuesday. It’s a wonder the wrongful conviction lawyers and their supporters didn’t break out in a dance, a dance starting at 26th and California, and ending on the graves of Jacinta and Mariano Soto.