Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content

Angel Rodriguez

Other Chicago Exonerations With Mistaken Identifications
Ibrahim “Billy” Zayed, a grocery store owner on Chicago’s west side, was murdered on November 24, 1996, during an armed robbery. 
The murder was witnessed by Andrew Bolton, a store employee, who gave a description of the murderer to police, and a composite sketch was created.  Also, Bolton claimed that, shortly after the crime, he saw a man purchasing a snowblower at a nearby store and recognized him as Zayed’s killer.  The police showed the composite sketch to the store owners and both owners agreed it was a close fit, although they thought the man in the store had a bigger nose.   
In March 1997, a drug suspect mentioned that, according to the word on the street, a man nicknamed “Flaco” killed an Arab grocer.  Chicago Police Detective Ernest Halvorsen determined that Zayed was the only person killed in a grocery store in 1996 and 1997.  Halvorsen learned from other detectives that there was a gang member, 33-year-old Angel Rodriguez, who went by that nickname.  A photo lineup of six photos, which included a photo of Rodriguez, was shown to Bolton, and he identified Rodriguez as the shooter.  On March 23, Rodriguez was arrested on a warrant for an unrelated traffic violation. 

The next day, a lineup including Rodriguez was conducted by another detective, Jon Woodall.  Bolton thought that Rodriguez looked similar to the shooter, but the shooter was a lot smaller.  Woodall lied to Bolton that the police had been holding Rodriguez for several months and he picked up some weight.  all then “pressured” Bolton to select Rodriguez as the shooter, telling him that Rodriguez had a long criminal history in the neighborhood.  Bolton finally identified Rodriguez as the murderer.  
Rodriguez was charged and, on March 10, 1998, he was convicted by a jury for the murder.  Judge Dennis Porter sentenced Rodriguez to 60 years in prison. 

In July 1999, while the case was on appeal, the Chicago Tribune reported that the Chicago Police Department had removed Woodall from the street and assigned him to desk duty as part of an ongoing federal investigation of allegations that police officers were helping run and shield a narcotics ring.

On March 31, 2000, the Illinois Appellate Court reversed Rodriguez’s conviction, holding that Bolton’s testimony had been contradicted and that without corroboration was insufficient evidence to sustain the conviction. The court ordered that Rodriguez be released without retrial. The Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office filed a notice of appeal, but never actually filed the appeal.  As a result, Rodriguez was freed on August 14, 2000. 

Nearly three years later, in February 2003, Woodall pled guilty to federal charges alleging the theft of and distribution of cocaine. In June 2003, Rodriguez filed a federal civil rights lawsuit after Bolton gave a sworn affidavit saying he had been coerced by Woodall and Halvorsen to frame Rodriguez.

In depositions taken in that case, the owners of the snowblower store testified that once they saw Rodriguez in person, they realized that he was not the man in their store that day.  Bolton also was deposed under oath and testified that he had been coerced to falsely identify Rodriguez by Woodall and Halvorsen. By that time, Woodall had been sentenced to 10 years in federal prison.

In 2005, Rodriguez’s lawsuit went to trial in U.S. District Court in Chicago. A federal jury, however, denied Rodriguez the $12.4 million he sought against Halvorsen and Woodall. The jury’s verdict was upheld on appeal.

In 2009, Rodriguez was granted a certificate of innocence and was awarded $85,000 in state compensation by the Illinois Court of Claims. In 2010, he filed another federal lawsuit, but the case was dismissed.

— Rob Warden

Report an error or add more information about this case.

Posting Date:  Before June 2012
Last Updated: 7/4/2018
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:1996
Sentence:60 years
Age at the date of reported crime:33
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No