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Jose Maysonet

Other Cook County Exonerations with Official Misconduct
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On May 25, 1990, 26-year-old Kevin Wiley and his 27-year-old brother Torrence were shot to death while standing on a street corner on North and Kimball Avenues in Chicago.

Police recovered four shell casings and two spent slugs. An autopsy showed that the brothers were shot at close range. Ballistics testing would later link the casings and bullets to the same nine-millimeter pistol, although no gun was ever recovered.

A police canvass of the neighborhood failed to turn up any witnesses, although some residents reported hearing the gunshots.

The crime remained unsolved until August 22, 1990, when detectives arrested 22-year-old Jose Maysonet based on a tip from another man, Justino Cruz, who would later claim that Detective Reynaldo Guevara coerced a false statement from him.

Maysonet did not speak English, and was described by family members as mentally “slow.” Guevara, who spoke Spanish, interrogated him over a 17-hour period that lasted into the following day. Maysonet would later testify he immediately asked to speak with his attorney, but that request was denied.

Maysonet said he was handcuffed to a ring attached to the wall of the interrogation room when Guevara came in and asked if he was “ready to talk.” After he again asked to see his lawyer, Guevara put on a pair of black leather gloves and began banging on his head, asking, “Do you still want your lawyer?” “Was it a drug deal gone bad?” “Why did you do it?” “Who else was with you?”

Maysonet said he insisted he knew nothing about the crime, but that during the 17 hours, Guevara repeatedly beat him in the head and body with a telephone book, and also beat him with a flashlight in the head, body, and testicles.

“You wasn’t crying like a little bitch when you shot those two niggers, was you?” Guevara declared. “Tell me how you got the drop on them.”

When Maysonet continued to ask for his attorney, Guevara left the room. He returned with sheets of paper, which he taped over the window in the interrogation room door. “This,” Maysonet would later say, “is when the beating with the flashlight and phone book intensified and lengthened.”

At one point, Guevara left and detective Frank Montilla entered with Maysonet’s girlfriend, Rosa Bella, who was pregnant with his child. She told him that police said that unless he cooperated, they would take away her two children from a previous relationship that they were raising together.

Sometime in the early morning hours of August 23, 1990, Maysonet said, Montilla came in and whispered something to Guevara, who then left. Montilla then uncuffed Maysonet from the ring on the wall and cuffed his hands in front of him. Montilla straightened up his shirt and brought him a cup of water, saying that someone was there to see him.

Moments later, Guevara and a female prosecutor came in. Guevara stood behind him and the prosecutor, speaking through Montilla who translated, began reading his Miranda warning. When she said he had the right to an attorney, Maysonet interrupted her to say, “Yes, I want him.”

Guevara pushed his head forward and demanded, “Start talking to her,” Maysonet recalled. The prosecutor then asked Guevara to leave. She told Maysonet, “I know he’s a mean man, Jose. I told him to leave you alone. But I need you to work with us. Tell me what happened up there on North Avenue or else I have to leave and he’s going to come back in here.”

Maysonet said he again denied knowledge of the crime, asked for his lawyer, and said that the detective “just can’t hit on me like that.” The prosecutor replied, “Okay. If that’s the way you want it” and left the room.

Guevara then returned. He grabbed Maysonet’s testicles and squeezed. “Now I told you (that) you was going to talk to me about those two dead niggers or else your nuts are going to explode,” he said.

“All I could do was scream,” Maysonet later said. He urinated on himself and began sobbing. Guevara threatened to arrest his sister, girlfriend, and other family members.

Maysonet finally broke down. “I told Guevara I would say whatever it was he wanted me to say.” At that, Guevara left the room and brought back a clean, dry pair of pants and a cup of water. The handcuffs were removed so Maysonet could change clothes, and he was allowed to remain uncuffed.

Ultimately, a different prosecutor arrived and Maysonet signed a statement saying that a man he knew as Lluvia—who was named Alfredo Gonzalez came to Maysonet’s home with Justino Cruz and Christopher Gossens and asked for a gun. Maysonet gave them a gun and then drove the three to the corner of Kimball and North Avenues. The statement said that Gonzalez, Cruz, and Gossens got out of the car and walked toward Kevin and Torrence Wiley. After a brief conversation, Gonzalez fired four shots. All four then fled with Maysonet behind the wheel.

Maysonet, Cruz, Gonzalez, and Gossens were each charged with two counts of first-degree murder.

Gonzalez went to trial first in Cook County Circuit Court in 1995. The primary witnesses against him were Maysonet’s girlfriend, Rosa Bello, and Justino Cruz, who had agreed to testify for the prosecution and plead guilty to murder in return for a sentence of 22 years in prison.

Bello testified that Gonzalez, Cruz, and Gossens came to the apartment where she lived with Maysonet and asked for a gun. She said Maysonet gave them a nine-millimeter pistol, which Gonzalez hid under his hoodie. All four left with Maysonet behind the wheel. Bello said that she had since been placed in a witness protection program after a car tried to run her down as she walked on the street with her three children.

Cruz testified that after they left Maysonet’s apartment, they drove to the corner where they saw the two victims. He said he stood back as Gonzalez and Gossens approached the victims. After five or 10 minutes, he said, he heard gunshots and Gonzalez and Gossens ran back to the car. Gonzalez said, “Let’s get out of here. We just shot two guys."

Gonzalez testified in his own defense. He said that he was walking on the street when he saw the car being driven by Maysonet and containing Cruz and Gossens. He flagged them down and asked for a ride home. On the way, he said, Maysonet stopped the car and got out along with Gossens and Cruz. Gonzalez said he heard several gunshots and the three jumped back into the car. They then took him home. He denied having any role in the crime.

A jury convicted Gonzalez of two counts of first-degree murder and he was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Maysonet and Gossens went to trial in August 1995. Gossens chose to have his case decided by the judge and Maysonet chose to have his case heard by a jury. Neither Bello nor Cruz testified for the prosecution. The prosecution presented its case through the testimony of five police officers, including Montilla and Guevara. The prosecutor who had taken Maysonet’s statement read it to the jury.

The officers testified that Maysonet had confessed to participating in the murder and denied mistreating him.

On August 11, 1995, the judge acquitted Gossens and the jury convicted Maysonet of two counts of first-degree murder. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

The Illinois Court of Appeals upheld Maysonet’s convictions in 1998. He filed a post-conviction petition, and was allowed to amend it in 2009. That petition was dismissed in 2010, and the Illinois Court of Appeals upheld the dismissal in 2011.

Maysonet’s post-conviction attorney, Jennifer Bonjean, filed another post-conviction petition in 2011, claiming that Maysonet’s confession was false and been extracted by violence and psychological coercion. The petition cited dozens of instances that had been uncovered where Guevara had been accused of coercing confessions through beatings and other physical abuse.

The petition also claimed that Richard Beuke, who was Maysonet’s trial attorney, failed to disclose that at the time of the trial, he was representing Guevara in child support proceedings. The petition also cited an FBI report of an interview with a man who said that Beuke had twice paid Guevara bribes of $20,000 to get cases against men Guevara had arrested dismissed.

A judge dismissed the petition. Maysonet appealed, but before a ruling could be made, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office admitted that the dismissal was not warranted. At the request of the prosecution, the petition was remanded to the trial court for a hearing.

By that time, evidence was mounting that Guevara’s misconduct had led to the wrongful convictions of several other men.

On February 23, 2004, Juan Johnson, whose 30-year prison sentence for a murder conviction had been vacated in 2002, was acquitted at a retrial. A federal jury later awarded Johnson $21 million in damages from the city based on evidence that the original three eyewitnesses recanted their testimony and revealed that Guevara coerced them to identify Johnson. The City of Chicago appealed and, during the appellate process, settled the case for $16.4 million.

In 2012, Jacques Rivera was exonerated of a murder after evidence showed that Guevara had coerced a 13-year-old boy into falsely identifying Rivera as the killer. After Rivera was exonerated, pressure mounted from defense attorneys and activists alleging that Guevara was responsible for many other false convictions. Some compared Guevara to Chicago’s Lt. Jon Burge, who oversaw a group of detectives that tortured numerous defendants into falsely confessing to murders. This prompted the city of Chicago to ask the law firm of Sidley Austin LLP to conduct an independent investigation of Guevara’s cases.

In 2015, the Sidley Austin report was completed. It concluded that Jose Montanez and Armando Serrano, among others, were “more likely than not actually innocent.”

In July 2016, Montanez’s and Serrano’s convictions were vacated and the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office dismissed the charges, bringing the number of exonerations linked to Guevara’s misconduct to four.

In October 2016, the prosecution requested that Maysonet’s convictions be vacated because Beuke’s representation of Guevara was a conflict of interest. In fact, Beuke had represented Guevara for about a decade.

In April 2017, two more men—Roberto Almodovar and William Negron—were exonerated after evidence showed that Guevara had improperly influenced witnesses to identify them as the perpetrators of a drive-by shooting that killed two people and wounded a third. Almodovar and Negron had been convicted in 1995 and sentenced to life in prison without parole.

By the time Maysonet was preparing for his second trial, Rosa Bello and Justino Cruz had recanted their testimony at Gonzalez’s trial implicating Maysonet in the crime. Bello said that she had told police that Maysonet did have a gun at home, but was coerced to say that he had given it to Gonzalez and had gone with the others. Cruz said he was not involved and had falsely accused the others after Guevara coerced him. Gonzalez had also recanted his testimony from his trial, and was prepared to testify that Maysonet was not involved in the shooting.

There was no second trial, however. On November 15, 2017, the prosecution dismissed the charges against Maysonet because Guevara and the other four police officers said they would invoke their Fifth Amendment protection from self-incrimination and refuse to testify at Maysonet’s retrial.

First Assistant State’s Attorney Eric Sussman said that without the detectives’ testimony, the prosecution did not have a case. Sussman said the prosecution “continues to maintain that Mr. Maysonet is guilty.”

Maysonet was released immediately.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 11/20/2017
State:Illinois
County:Cook
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:1990
Convicted:1995
Exonerated:2017
Sentence:Life without parole
Race:Hispanic
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:22
Contributing Factors:False Confession, Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No