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Robert Bouto

Other Cook County Exonerations with Official Misconduct
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At about 3:05 p.m. on May 14, 1993, 15-year-old Salvador Ruvalcaba was fatally shot near Roosevelt High School on the northwest side of Chicago, Illinois.

Witnesses said Ruvalcaba, who was not a gang member, was walking with members of the Spanish Cobras street gang when a gunman emerged from a group of rival Puerto Rican Stones gang members and fired several shots.

Several neighbors said the gunman was clean-shaven, had a ponytail, and was wearing a dark hoodie and three-quarter length pants.

About an hour later, Chicago police officer Alan Pergande saw 17-year-old Robert Bouto and took him into custody because he was wearing clothing similar to the description given by the witnesses.

Meanwhile, detectives, including Reynaldo Guevara, were questioning 15-year-old Rey Lozada, as well as 19-year-old Carl Richmond, Frank Escobar, and Lozada’s older brother Jacobo. All were Spanish Cobras gang members and were walking with Ruvalcaba when he was shot.

All four were taken to a police car where Bouto and three other youths were being held. Richmond immediately and loudly proclaimed Bouto was the gunman. Lozada then identified Bouto as the gunman. Escobar said he did not see the gunman’s face, but said that Bouto was wearing clothing similar to the gunman’s clothing. Bouto denied he was the gunman and said he was kissing his girlfriend in a nearby alley when they heard the gunshots. He said he and his girlfriend separated, and she went home because she was not allowed to date boys and was already late for her 3:05 p.m. after school curfew.

That same day, other police officers arrested Francisco Vicente on charges he committed four robberies—three of them with a weapon. He was put into a cell about 30 feet away from the cell where Bouto was being held.

The following day, Vicente told Detective Guevara and his partner, Detective Ernest Halvorsen, that Bouto had confessed to him and another inmate named Edwin Maldonado that he was the gunman.

Ultimately, Vicente and Maldonado testified before a Cook County grand jury that Bouto confessed to being the gunman, although both also admitted that Bouto did not have a ponytail.

Neither man, however, was called to testify when Bouto went to trial in July 1996 in Cook County Circuit Court. By that time, Maldonado had recanted his claim that Bouto confessed, saying he only had implicated Bouto at the instigation of Vicente.

The prosecution primarily relied upon the testimony of Richmond and Lozada, who told the jury that they saw Bouto fire the shots that killed Ruvalcaba, as well as Escobar, who said Bouto was wearing clothing similar to that worn by the gunman. Two other witnesses also said they viewed Bouto in a lineup and identified him as wearing clothing similar to that of the gunman, although the defense noted that Bouto’s dark hoodie was made by a fashion designer that was extremely popular among teenagers at the time.

The defense presented booking photos of Bouto that did not show a ponytail. However, Officer Pergande, who was the officer who first detained Bouto, said that Bouto had a small ponytail about three inches long. The defense also noted that witnesses said right after the shooting that the gunman was clean-shaven. The booking photos showed that Bouto had a mustache, a patch of hair under his lower lip, and a goatee.

Bouto’s girlfriend, Tania Astefan, testified that she was with him in an alley when they heard the gunshots. Another classmate, Helen Kandah, testified she was walking behind Bouto and Tania when the gunshots occurred. The defense also called Mario Issa, Bouto’s barber, who testified that Bouto never had a ponytail.

On August 1, 1996, the jury convicted Bouto of first-degree murder. At his sentencing hearing, Bouto said, “I truly am innocent.” The judge sentenced him to 45 years in prison. Months later, Vicente was sentenced to nine years in prison for the four robberies.

In November 1998, the Illinois Appellate Court upheld his conviction and in 1999, the Illinois Supreme Court declined to review the case.

In 2004, the Medill Innocence Project at Northwestern University’s School of Journalism, under the direction of professor David Protess, was investigating the murder convictions of Jose Montanez and Armando Serrano. Vicente testified in their trial that not long after 28-year-old Rodrigo Vargas was shot to death in February 1993, Montanez and Serrano admitted to him that they killed Vargas.

When the students interviewed Vicente, he said that he had testified falsely against Montanez and Serrano—he had no knowledge of who killed Vargas—and that he had been “coerced” and “beaten” by Detectives Guevara and Halvorsen. He also recanted his claim that Bouto had confessed to him.

By 2005, Serrano and Montanez had filed post-conviction petitions to vacate their convictions. That same year, Guevara retired. A year earlier, Juan Johnson had been exonerated of a murder after evidence showed that Guevara had coerced three witnesses into falsely identifying Johnson as the killer.

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.

Meanwhile, pressure from defense attorneys and activists alleging that Guevara was responsible for numerous false convictions prompted the city of Chicago to ask the law firm of Sidley Austin LLP to conduct an independent investigation of Guevara’s cases.

In March 2015, the Sidley Austin report was completed. It concluded that Montanez, Serrano, Roberto Almodovar, and Bouto were “more likely than not actually innocent.”

The report determined that Vicente had been involved in the prosecutions of all four men, and that Vicente had claimed all four had confessed to him—claims that he had since recanted.

The report said that Guevara had allowed the witnesses to be in a room at the same time, and that all were shown photographs of Bouto. In addition, Guevara opened the door of a bathroom and allowed Lozada and Richmond to view Bouto, who was handcuffed to the toilet.

The report said that Richmond, Lozada, and other witnesses were separately escorted to a live lineup, and that all picked Bouto after Guevara told them that Bouto was in the number three position. Moreover, the report noted that only Bouto was wearing clothing similar to that described by witnesses—others in the lineup were wearing widely disparate items such as white pants and a red Chicago Bulls basketball jersey.

In June 2016, the Illinois Appellate Court vacated the convictions of Serrano and Montanez and ordered a new trial. On July 20, 2016, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office dismissed the charges “in the interest of justice,” and Montanez and Serrano were released from prison.

In November 2016, both men received certificates of innocence and each was awarded $222,900 in state compensation.

In December 2016, Kimberly Foxx, the newly elected Cook County State’s Attorney, took office after pledging to review other cases involving Guevara.

In April 2017, attorney Jennifer Bonjean filed a federal lawsuit on Serrano's behalf seeking $60 million in damages. In June 2017, attorney Russell Ainsworth of the Exoneration Project at the University of Chicago Law School filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of Montanez seeking damages for his wrongful conviction.

That same month, the convictions of Almodovar and his co-defendant, William Negron, were vacated and dismissed after Foxx said the prosecution no longer had confidence in the convictions.

Meanwhile, Bouto, who had been released from prison on parole in October 2015, continued to fight to overturn his conviction. In January 2017, Ainsworth filed a petition seeking to vacate Bouto’s conviction. The petition relied in part upon the report from Sidley and Austin. It also said that Richmond had signed a sworn affidavit saying that Guevara had threatened to charge him with an unsolved crime unless he identified Bouto. Lozada also signed a sworn affidavit saying that he identified Bouto only because Richmond had identified him.

In November 2017, Jose Maysonet became the seventh person to be exonerated based on Guevara’s misconduct. Maysonet, who was serving a sentence of life in prison without parole, falsely confessed after a 17-hour interrogation punctuated by beatings and torture by Guevara.

In December 2017, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office dismissed the murder charges against Gabriel Solache and Arturo DeLeon-Reyes. Solache and DeLeon-Reyes became the 8th and 9th persons to be exonerated based on evidence of Guevara’s misconduct. They had been convicted of murder in Chicago in 2000 based on false confessions made after Guevara beat them during more than 40 hours of interrogation.

In January 2018, Thomas Sierra became the 10th person exonerated after being wrongfully convicted based on Guevara’s misconduct. Cook County prosecutors dismissed charges against Sierra, who was convicted of murder and aggravated discharge of a firearm based on false identifications obtained by Guevara.

In February 2018, Ariel Gomez became the 11th person convicted based on Guevara's misconduct to be exonerated. And in March 2018, Ricardo Rodriguez became the 12th man whose conviction was obtained through Guevara’s misconduct to have his conviction vacated and the charges dismissed.

In April 2018, Cook County prosecutors agreed that Bouto’s conviction should be vacated. On June 25, 2018, the prosecution dismissed the charges. Bouto was the 13th person to be exonerated based on Guevara’s misconduct.

On June 29, 2018, a jury awarded Rivera $17.175 million in damages from the city of Chicago.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 7/2/2018
State:Illinois
County:Cook
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:1993
Convicted:1996
Exonerated:2018
Sentence:45 years
Race:Caucasian
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:17
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No