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Gabriel Solache

Other Cook County False Confession Exonerations
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In the early morning hours of March 28, 1998, 43-year-old Mariano Soto and his 35-year-old wife, Jacinta, were stabbed to death in their home in the Bucktown neighborhood on the Near North Side of Chicago, Illinois. Mariano was stabbed 39 times. Jacinta was stabbed 20 times.

Their two children, two-month-old Maria Guadalupe and three-year-old Santiago, were abducted.

Later that day, 23-year-old Adriana Mejia told her husband that she was in labor and ready to give birth. She left and returned the following day to their home on Chicago’s South Side with a baby girl. She also brought along a young boy, who she said was the son of a woman at the hospital who had gone into labor and had no one to watch the child.

Mejia’s husband, Rosauro, and other family members were overjoyed with the new baby because Adriana and Rosauro had been trying to conceive for three years.

At the time, nine other people lived in their home in apartments that Rosauro had carved out. Among the residents were Rosauro’s brother, Jorge, and his wife, Guadalupe, who lived in a basement apartment. Other residents included 23-year-old Gabriel Solache and 25-year-old Arturo DeLeon-Reyes.

Three days later, on April 1, 1998, the bodies of Jacinta and Mariano Soto were discovered. Police sent photographs of the children to the media and the following night, Guadalupe Mejia saw a television news report about the murders and the disappearance of the children. She recognized a photograph of Santiago as the boy that Adriana brought home from the hospital. She told Adriana and theorized that the woman at the hospital who allowed Adriana to take the boy home was actually involved in the crime.

When Rosauro came home from work at 1:30 a.m., he said they should take the boy to the police. Adriana objected and suggested they just abandon him in an alley. When Rosauro insisted on taking the boy to police, Adriana argued vociferously and they quarreled for about 45 minutes about what to do. During the argument, Solache came home from his job as a machine operator. At Rosauro’s request, Solache and DeLeon-Reyes agreed to accompany Rosauro and the boy to the police station.

At the station, after waiting two hours for a Spanish-speaking officer, Rosauro explained why they were there. Police contacted a neighbor of the Soto family who came to the station and identified the boy as three-year-old Santiago Soto. Rosauro, Solache, and DeLeon-Reyes were then isolated in separate interrogation rooms.

Police went to Rosauro’s home. They found Adriana with the baby, who they identified as Maria Soto by a birthmark on her neck. Adriana was arrested and taken to the station, where she was put in a fourth interrogation room.

Two days later, following interrogations that lasted more than 40 hours, police announced that Adriana, Solache, and DeLeon-Reyes had each confessed to the murders. Chicago police announced that Adriana had wanted a child so badly that she was willing to kill to get one. After she paid them $600, police said, Solache and DeLeon-Reyes murdered Mariano and Jacinta Soto, and then abducted their two children.

Police said that Adriana admitted that she had faked being pregnant for nine months. As her due date approached, she spotted Jacinta and the two children at a medical facility and followed them home. Two days later, police said, Solache and DeLeon-Reyes went to the Soto home. Police said they confessed to stabbing Jacinta when she answered the door, and that Mariano was stabbed to death in his bed.

Meanwhile, according to her confession, Adriana told family members that she went to the hospital with stomach pains and that her family should not come with her. On March 29th, she came home with Jacinta Soto’s children.

Adriana’s husband, Rosauro, was released without being charged after police concluded he knew nothing about the murders.

Solache and DeLeon-Reyes—both of whom had no prior criminal records—went to trial before separate juries in Cook County Circuit Court in June 2000 on charges of first-degree murder, aggravated kidnapping, and home invasion.

Barbara Wilson, an Illinois State Police DNA analyst, testified that she performed DNA tests on Adriana’s shoes and pants, as well as on a towel recovered from Adriana’s vehicle. She also conducted tests on two knives, a towel, a baby blanket, and baby clothing recovered from the Soto home. Wilson testified that Adriana’s blood was found on one of the knives at the Soto home, as well as on the towel found in the car. In addition, Mariano Soto’s blood was found on Adriana’s pants and shoes.

However, none of the evidence could be connected to Solache or DeLeon-Reyes—neither man’s DNA was found. A male DNA profile was also found on the towel from Adriana’s car, but that profile was not linked to anyone.

The prosecution’s case against Solache and DeLeon-Reyes primarily rested on their confessions. Police detective Reynaldo Guevara testified that DeLeon-Reyes and Solache confessed, and denied that either man was mistreated.

Solache and DeLeon-Reyes both testified that they only spoke Spanish. Solache said that he was so fearful of being beaten again that he answered affirmatively in Spanish to questions posed in Spanish by Guevara. Solache said Guevara then provided an account in English to a prosecutor who wrote down what Guevara said. Solache said he signed the statement although he could not read English and no one had read it to him in Spanish. The defense pointed out that the confession did not match the facts of the case. In the confession, Solache said Mariano Soto was killed after he answered the door and Jacinta was killed in her bed. In fact, Mariano was killed in bed and Jacinta was killed at the doorway.

Solache said he had lost hearing in his left ear because of the repeated head slaps from Guevara. A physician at the Cook County Jail testified that Solache complained of being unable to hear out of his left ear because police had hit him. An audiologist at the jail testified that she tested Solache in July and August 1998, and the tests showed a profound hearing loss in the left ear.

In response, the prosecution called a physician who had treated Solache after he was involved in a car accident in 1997. The physician said that Solache had suffered a head injury that could have caused the hearing loss.

DeLeon-Reyes testified that Guevara slapped him in the head five times and threatened him with the electric chair unless he confessed. DeLeon-Reyes said that ultimately, he was asked questions in Spanish that were unrelated to the crime and that his responses were mistranslated into English as being admissions, which a non-Spanish-speaking prosecutor wrote up as his confession.

Rosauro testified for the defense that Guevara questioned him and asked him how much he had paid for the little girl. Rosauro said that when he said he did not pay anything for her, Guevara hit him. “He kept hitting me because he did not believe me,” Rosauro testified.

On June 20, 2000, the separate juries convicted Solache and DeLeon-Reyes of two counts of first-degree murder, two counts of aggravated kidnapping, and home invasion. Solache was sentenced to death and DeLeon-Reyes was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

In January 2003, Illinois Governor George Ryan commuted the sentences of all inmates on death row, including Solache’s sentence, to life in prison without parole.

The Illinois Appellate Court subsequently upheld Solache’s and DeLeon-Reyes’s convictions later that year. Both men filed post-conviction petitions alleging that Guevara had coerced numerous false confessions in other murder cases and had been accused in several other cases of police brutality—some of which the prosecution had known about, but failed to disclose at the time of their trial. The petitions were dismissed in 2004 and consolidated on appeal.

In December 2006, the Illinois Appellate Court reversed the dismissal of the petitions and ordered an evidentiary hearing. Subsequently, attorneys Jane Raley and Karen Daniel from the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law filed an amended petition seeking a new trial. The petition outlined numerous cases in which Guevara had been accused of physically abusing suspects and coercing false confessions in murder cases.

The petition further claimed that Solache’s attorney had provided an inadequate legal defense by failing to call an expert witness to testify that Solache’s hearing loss was caused by the beating inflicted by Guevara. The petition was accompanied by an affidavit from Dr. Urjeet Patel, a physician, who said that it was quite possible that the blows delivered to Solache caused his hearing loss, particularly because the 1997 auto accident likely left him predisposed to future hearing loss due to further trauma.

At an evidentiary hearing in 2013, Guevara invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination when called to the witness stand.

In 2016, Cook County Circuit Court Judge James Obbish declined to vacate their convictions. However, he ruled that Solache and DeLeon-Reyes were entitled to a hearing to determine whether their confessions should have been suppressed.

“It is abundantly clear that the uncontradicted accounts of these specific interactions entailing abuse, coercion and improper influence in addition to the negative inference drawn from Detective Guevara’s assertion of 5th amendment privilege against self-incrimination lend credence to petitioners’ allegations of abuse and coercion,” Obbish ruled.

“The accounts of the unrelated incidents…are sufficiently similar to the accounts testified to by (Solache and DeLeon-Reyes) in that they all include threats, abuse and coercion to secure statements and occurred within a range of time so as to constitute a pattern and practice,” Obbish ruled. “Altogether, these incidents include details implying that Detective Guevara would employ methods to secure a confessional or witness statement by whatever means they could.”

By the time Guevara was called as a witness at the hearing in October 2017, six men—Juan Johnson, Jacques Rivera, Armando Serrano, Jose Montanez, William Negron, and Roberto Almodovar—had been exonerated of murder convictions that were based on false confessions or false testimony from witnesses that resulted from physical abuse by Guevara. Cook County prosecutors called Guevara to the witness stand after granting him immunity from prosecution. Guevara denied he physically abused Solache and DeLeon-Reyes. The following month, in November 2017, the murder prosecution against Jose Maysonet was dismissed. Maysonet had long contended he falsely confessed as a result of of Guevara’s physical violence and ultimately was granted a new trial on other grounds. When Guevara and four other police officers refused to testify at Maysonet’s second trial, the prosecution dismissed the case. On December 13, 2017, Judge Obbish suppressed Solache’s and DeLeon-Reyes’s confessions, concluding that Guevara’s denials that he physically abused them were “bald-faced lies.”

Obbish declared, “I can’t give an ounce of credibility to something he did 20 years ago. If he would lie after being given immunity under oath, why would this court . . . believe that he was telling the truth when he first testified?”

On December 21, 2017, the prosecution dismissed the charges. Solache and DeLeon-Reyes, Mexican nationals who did not have legal status at the time of their arrest, were taken into custody by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for deportation proceedings.

In January 2018, Thomas Sierra became the 10th person 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.

On March 27, 2018, Ricardo Rodriguez became the 12th man whose conviction was obtained through misconduct by Guevara have his conviction vacated and the charges dismissed.

Also nn March 2018, Solache filed a federal civil rights lawsuit seeking damages for his wrongful conviction.

On June 25, 2018, Robert Bouto became the 13th man whose conviction was obtained through misconduct by Guevara have his conviction vacated and the charges dismissed.

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

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 1/3/2018
Last Updated: 7/1/2018
State:Illinois
County:Cook
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:Kidnapping, Burglary/Unlawful Entry
Reported Crime Date:1998
Convicted:2000
Exonerated:2017
Sentence:Death
Race:Hispanic
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:23
Contributing Factors:False Confession, Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No