Rene Chinea, a maintenance worker for a ship that sailed on the Chicago River and Lake Michigan, was last seen alive on May 6, 1988. Twelve days later, his decomposing and mutilated corpse was found buried under a pile of clothing in the closet of his Chicago apartment.
Miguel Castillo, a 36-year-old neighbor of the victim, was arrested in January 1989, based on a tip from Chinea’s former roommate, who told detectives that Castillo may have had a grudge against Chinea. Authorities issued a “stop order” to have Castillo detained and questioned. When Chicago police officers recognized him in a grocery store, they arrested Castillo without a warrant and took him to the station for questioning. Three police officers later claimed that Castillo confessed, but Castillo claimed that the officers fabricated the confession – after the beating they administered failed to extract one.
At the bench trial before Cook County Circuit Court Judge John E. Morrissey, the defense argued that the condition of Chinea’s badly decomposed body indicated that he had been killed between May 7 and May 9 – when Castillo was being held in jail for an unrelated burglary. The prosecution argued that the murder could have occurred on May 11, the date Castillo was freed on bond, even though the state’s own witnesses agreed that the crime almost certainly occurred earlier. Based solely on Castillo’s alleged confession, on October 24, 1991, Judge Morrissey found him guilty and sentenced him to 48 years in prison.
In May 2000, lawyers for Castillo requested a new trial, citing new evidence. Based on dating techniques developed during the 1990s, they presented affidavits from Robert Kirchner, a former deputy Cook County medical examiner, and Richard Merritt, an entomologist at Michigan State University. The testimony of both experts corroborated the time of the victim’s death as being between May 7 and May 9 of 1988. As a result of the affidavits, prosecutors agreed to a new trial and, in 2001, dismissed the charges against Castillo. Castillo filed a civil rights suit against the officers whom he accused of fabricating the confession – Jose Zuniga, Roland Paulnitsky, and Walter Cipun. The City of Chicago settled the suit for $1.2 million in 2004.
— Center on Wrongful Convictions