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Jacques Rivera

Other Chicago Exonerations with Child Victims
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In August 1988, 16-year-old Felix Valentin was shot multiple times as he sat in a car parked in an alley on Chicago’s West Side. Eighteen days later, he died from his wounds. An 11-year-old boy who saw the shooting from an alcove about 25 feet away told police that he had a “clear view” of the gunman’s face and had seen him playing baseball at Humboldt Park several times that summer.

The witness described the shooter as approximately 5-10, dressed in black, and wearing his long dark hair in a ponytail dyed gold. Black and gold were the colors of the Latin Kings, and after the witness gave this description to police, they showed him photo albums of suspected Latin Kings gang members. He identified 23-year-old Jacques Rivera’s photo in one of the albums and later picked Rivera out of a lineup.

Rivera was arrested in September 1988, and tried at a bench trial before Cook County Circuit Court Judge Michael Close on April 5, 1989. The eyewitness, who was 13 by the time of trial, was the state’s only witness who placed Rivera at the scene of the shooting. No physical evidence connected Rivera to the crime.

The witness testified that he knew Valentin, who was a friend of his older sister. According to the witness, Valentin’s older brother was a member of the Campbell Boys street gang, which at the time was feuding with two other area gangs, the Latin Kings and the Imperial Gangsters.

The witness said that on the day of the murder, he was crossing an alley on the way to a neighborhood video store. In the alley, he saw a man standing next to Valentin’s parked car. The witness saw the man fire several shots into the car at Valentin. The witness testified that he ran to the video store, but when store clerks refused to call the police, he ran back to the alley and hid in the alcove. From there he saw the man shoot into the car one last time. After firing the final shot, the shooter looked in the direction of the witness, but apparently did not see him, jumped into a car parked in the middle of the street, and sped away from the scene.

Rivera testified that he had spent the day at home with his common-law wife and their children, and that he had never played baseball at the Humboldt Park recreation center. Furthermore, he testified that he had not been a member of the Latin Kings since he was much younger, and had never dyed any part of his hair gold. Rivera’s pastor and a friend were called as witnesses and corroborated his testimony.

The defense presented testimony from Chicago police officer Craig Letrich that the victim himself identified someone other than Rivera as the shooter. Letrich testified that, as a result of his interview with Valentin the day after the shooting, he showed Valentin a photo album of suspected Imperial Gangsters. Valentin identified Jose Rodriguez, whom Officer Letrich arrested, and Phillip Nueves, who was never apprehended. Rodriguez, however, was released without being charged.

Judge Close found Rivera guilty and sentenced him to 80 years in prison. Rivera lost all of his appeals.

In January 2010, investigators from the Center on Wrongful Convictions located the eyewitness at Rivera’s trial, 23 years after his identification of Rivera. In an interview with an investigator, the witness broke down and told of his misidentification. In a sworn affidavit, the witness said he tried to tell the police and prosecutors before Rivera’s trial that, several days after identifying Rivera, he saw the actual shooter, and that he had wrongfully identified Rivera. According to the witness, the detectives did not believe him and thought he was recanting because he was afraid of gang retaliation. The witness stated: “I have been waiting for years for someone to find me so I could tell the truth.”

Following the recantation, Jane Raley from the Center on Wrongful Convictions, sought a new trial for Rivera. Cook County Circuit Court Judge Neera Walsh ruled that the witness’s recantation was credible, stating that “the only reason this court sees for [the witness’s] recantation now is a desire to correct a mistake” and ordered a new trial for Rivera.

On October 4, 2011, Cook County prosecutors announced that they did not intend to proceed to a new trial and dismissed all charges. Rivera was freed that day.

On September 5, 2012, a Cook County Circuit Court judge granted Rivera a certificate of innocence. He was awarded $208,800 in state compensation. That same year, Rivera filed a federal civil rights lawsuit Chicago police detective Reynaldo Guevara and other officers of burying evidence and pressuring the witness to falsely identify him as the triggerman. The lawsuit was still pending in April 2017.

Rivera was the second person to be exonerated following evidence that witnesses were coerced by Guevara.

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 they were coerced by Detective Reynaldo Guevara to identify Johnson. The City of Chicago appealed and, during the appellate process, settled the case for $16.4 million.

During the next several years after Rivera was exonerated, pressure from defense attorneys and activists alleging that Guevara was responsible for numerous false convictions was mounting. 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 their charges were dismissed, joining the ranks of Johnson and Rivera.

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 shooter and driver in a drive-by shooting that killed two people and wounded a third. Almodovar and Negron were convicted in 1995 and sentenced to life in prison without parole.

In November 2017, Jose Maysonet became the seventh person to be exonerated based on misconduct by Guevara. 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.

– Center on Wrongful Convictions and Maurice Possley

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Posting Date:  Before June 2012
Last Updated: 11/20/2017
State:Illinois
County:Cook
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:1988
Convicted:1990
Exonerated:2011
Sentence:80 years
Race:Hispanic
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:23
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No