The Watch

News and Information for Chicago FOP members.

Attorney Hints At False Witness Recantation In Guevara Trial

Northwestern Gets a Pass From Media...Again

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An attorney who recently settled a landmark lawsuit against Northwestern University cast doubt on yet another wrongful conviction claim by the university in a federal civil case.

Attorney James Sotos, one of several attorneys representing detectives accused of framing Jacques Rivera of a 1988 gang slaying, pointed out during cross examination Thursday that prosecutors still fought Rivera’s innocence claim even after the central witness in the case retracted his statements nearly two decades after fingering Rivera for the murder.

Sotos’ questioning hinted at the emerging conviction within the law enforcement and legal community casting doubt on the legitimacy of wrongful conviction claims.

Thursday’s federal trial naming several retired detectives as defendants is focused on retired detective Ray Guevara, accused by wrongful conviction lawyers of a pattern and practice of misconduct. Already several convicted killers have been released on the claims that Guevara coerced confessions from them.

Many of the prisoner releases have taken place under the administration of Cook County State’s Attorney Kimberly Foxx, who reversed course of her predecessor, Anita Alvarez. Prosecutors under Alvarez, including Celeste Stack, claimed that the Guevara convictions were legitimate. Prosecutors under Foxx cast doubt on Guevara’s cases and let several offenders out.

In one case, prosecutors under Foxx admitted that they believed the men were guilty of the 1998 stabbing death of a married couple in their apartment, but still released them.  

Foxx’s radical change from her predecessor in dealing with accused detectives is one more reason attorneys for detectives advise their clients to take the Fifth rather than be caught up in a perjury trap.

“A lawyer representing these retired detectives has a sworn oath to protect them.  It is the State’s Attorney’s job to prosecute the people who commit these heinous crimes.  Most of the time, the interests of prosecutors and detectives are allied, but the recent climate has been such that it appears the State has turned its back on the goal of prosecuting offenders and instead taken aim at the detectives themselves,” said FOP attorney Tim Grace. “It would therefore be tantamount to malpractice, in my opinion, to expose a client to lawsuits and perjury if you do not obtain a comfort level from the State as to who exactly they are looking at for prosecution.”

What is now emerging in the city is a battle between two camps alleging patterns and practices of misconduct. On the one hand, wrongful conviction attorneys are alleging pattern and practice claims against several retired detectives. On the other, claims of a pattern and practice of misconduct are emerging in several wrongful conviction cases. Indeed, the attorney for Rivera, Jon Loevy, seemed to be looking for any opportunity to impose his pattern and practice theory against Rivera during the trial Thursday.

The Rivera trial is crucial in the battle between patterns of misconduct, with tens of millions of dollars in taxpayer money at stake. A sign of just how important was evident in the coming and going of prominent wrongful conviction attorneys during Rivera’s testimony.

But the timing of the case is equally compelling.

Just last week, Sotos settled a lawsuit on behalf of Alstory Simon against Northwestern in which Sotos said in a letter to then Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez that “allegations of coercion…[are]…corroborated through discovery of a systemic, well-documented pattern proving Northwestern’s use of identical coercive tactics in several other cases.”

Those “well-documented” cases include allegations of bribing witnesses and attempted bribing of witnesses to change their testimony by Northwestern investigators.

A prominent theme in Sotos’ battle on behalf of Simon was the argument that the media in Chicago demonstrated an egregious bias in favor of wrongful conviction claims.

That bias is on full display in the Rivera case. Tribune reporter Jason Meisner, for example, has written lengthy articles about the case, never mentioning the evidence of false witness recantations that has emerged in other Northwestern cases.

The trial continues Friday.