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Jesus Sanchez

Other Cook County Exonerations with Official Misconduct
At about 8 p.m. on May 1, 2013, a group of Sureños Street gang members were standing near a streetlight in the Winetree neighborhood of Wheeling, Illinois when four gunshots rang out. Twenty-year-old Rafael Orozco was fatally shot in the back.

About 30 minutes later, Wheeling police Sgt. Michael Conway saw two youths, 18-year-old Jesus Sanchez and Bryan Estrada, running toward him, being chased by Sureños gang members. Conway stopped and handcuffed Sanchez and Estrada. At about the same time, a Sureños gang member told another officer, Detect Ignacio Oropeza, that Sanchez knew something about the shooting. Sanchez and Estrada were taken to the police station and put in separate interrogation rooms.

Sanchez said he, Estrada, and 15-year-old Heladio Flores were on Bridal Trail, near the Winetree neighborhood, when they heard four shots. They got into a friend’s car and drove to the scene where they were dropped off. They ran, he said, because the Sureños gang members threatened to kill them.

At about 11 p.m., Sanchez was swabbed for gunshot residue. His clothes were collected for further gunshot residue testing. At 3 a.m. Detective Oropeza questioned Sanchez about a fight that occurred several hours before the shooting involving Edson Calleros, a Sureños gang member. At about 3:45 a.m., Oropeza conducted what he said was a “presumptive” gunshot residue test on Sanchez.

At 7 a.m., after Sanchez had been questioned for several hours, Oropeza turned on a video recording device and read Sanchez his Miranda warnings. Oropeza and Detective Joe Bush told Sanchez that the gunshot residue test was positive, which meant he had fired a gun.

Sanchez denied any involvement in the shooting. He also refused to say that Estrada was the gunman. At one point, Detective Bush removed the table separating him from Sanchez and moved his chair right next to Sanchez. “This was an accident,” Bush said. “You didn’t mean for this to happen, did you?”

Sanchez replied, “I didn’t do anything, sir.”

“We’re over that,” Bush said, adding falsely, “There’s too many people that saw you.”

“I didn’t do anything,” Sanchez repeated.

Finally, about 10 hours after Sanchez was brought to the station, Detective Bush pushed him to incriminate Estrada. “Did Bryan do something,” Bush asked. “What did Bryan do? You’re almost there.”

Sanchez answered, “He’s the one that shot.” Sanchez said the shots were fired from “the farthest parking lot.” When Sanchez pointed to a spot on a map, Bush accused him of lying and said, “Everybody’s telling me that you had the gun.”

Sanchez replied, “I didn’t have anything, sir. I put it on my mom’s life right now, cause she’s so sick right now, that I didn’t have any gun, sir.”

After making several more denials, Detective Bush focused again on Bryan Estrada. Sanchez finally said, “I held it, but Bryan shot it.”

Bush insisted a positive finding for gunshot residue meant that Sanchez fired the gun. Sanchez, weeping, insisted he did not fire the gun and repeatedly asked to speak to his mother, who he said had surgery the day before.

When Bush refused to accept Sanchez’s statement that “it was Bryan, I didn’t fire anything,” Sanchez offered a different account. He said the gun “went off by itself,” and then he handed it to Estrada.

Sanchez pointed to a spot on the map about 100 yards north of where Orozco was shot. He said that Estrada handed him the gun, it went off, and he handed it back. He said Estrada wanted to shoot at Sureños because he had been disrespected in a fight with Sureños earlier in the day.

Sanchez continued to ask to see his mother and the police continued to stall him, saying that he could see her after he admitted involvement. At 2 p.m. on May 2—about 18 hours after the shooting, police searched Sanchez for tattoos. At 5 p.m. on May 3, Oropeza and Bush questioned Sanchez again. This time, he again denied firing a gun. The officers told him he was lying. In all, Sanchez had asked to speak to his mother 28 times.

Meanwhile, police also had been questioning Heladio Flores, who had been with Sanchez and Estrada at the time of the shooting. It was not until 10 a.m. on May 2 that police turned on the video-recording equipment and read him his Miranda warnings.

Detectives told Flores that Estrada and Sanchez had implicated Flores as the gunman. When Flores continued to deny any knowledge of the shooting, the detectives told him that Sanchez had tested positive for the presence of gunshot residue. Ultimately, Flores said that Sanchez had the gun and after the shooting, he ran one way and Estrada and Sanchez ran a different direction.

When the detectives suggested that the shooting was motivated because Edson Calleros had flipped from being a Maniac Latin Disciple—the gang that Flores, Sanchez, and Estrada belonged to—to join the Latin Disciples, Flores said, “Yeah.” When the detectives suggested that Sanchez threw the gun in a pond near the shooting, Flores said, “Yeah.”

Police searched the pond for three days, but no gun was found.

Nothing corroborated the statements of Sanchez and Flores. And although both said the shots were fired from the north, Orozco was facing north when he was shot in the back, indicating the shots were fired from the south.

Sanchez was charged with the first-degree murder of Orozco and the attempted murder of Calleros.

Prior to trial, Sanchez’s lawyer moved to suppress the statements he made to Bush and Oropeza. The lawyer contended the statements were involuntary, that police failed to read his Miranda warnings prior to questioning, and that police violated a statutory requirement that custodial questioning in a murder investigation be recorded.

The motion was denied. Cook County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Fecarotta, Jr. ruled that Sanchez did not become a suspect until the presumptive gunshot residue test was positive on May 2. Sanchez was therefore not under arrest on May 1, and did not have to be read his Miranda warnings then. The judge also ruled that the confession was voluntary.

Shortly before trial, the defense learned that Flores had been treated as an inpatient at a drug rehabilitation center. Although the judge granted a defense request for an order directing the center to produce Flores’s medical records, the judge denied the defense motion to continue the trial or bar Flores from testifying when the records were not turned over prior to trial. At the defense request, the judge barred the prosecution from presenting evidence of the presumptive gunshot residue test.

Sanchez went to trial in Cook County Circuit Court in November 2014. Robert Berk, a trace evidence analyst, testified that swabs taken from Sanchez as well as his clothes were negative for gunshot residue. Berk said that the test could be negative even if a person handled a gun if “the particles were either removed by activity, not detected, or were not deposited.” He said that over time any residue could be removed by “normal hand activity” and sweating. Berk also said that no gunshot residue was found on the swabs and clothing of Estrada and Flores.

Detective Oropeza admitted that he lied to Sanchez to induce him to confess.

Flores testified and recanted his confession. He said he only made the statement because they said he would be charged with the murder if he did not make a statement. Flores said he told the detectives what they wanted to hear so he would not be charged. He told the jury he never saw Sanchez with a gun. Flores said that after he was told Sanchez confessed, he figured it was “okay to say that he was the shooter then.”

When the prosecution asked what evidence police had against Sanchez, the defense objected, citing the judge’s pretrial prohibition against introducing the presumptive gunshot residue test. The judge ruled that defense had brought up the subject matter—although there was no reference to it in the transcript at that point—and allowed the prosecutor to ask Flores about it. Flores said police told him they “supposedly found powder or something like that—gun powder” on his hands.

The prosecution, during closing argument said that Sanchez’s tears during the interrogation showed that he suffered from a burden of guilt. “You can see how that burden is lifted from him after he admits being the person who shot (Orozco).” The prosecution told the jury to ignore all of Sanchez’s statements that were contradicted by the evidence and to focus solely on his statement that the gun went off while he was holding it.

Sanchez’s defense attorney argued that the detectives fed information to Flores and Sanchez, and pressured them with lies about the evidence and words like “accident” and “mistake” to induce them to accept the false narrative.

In rebuttal, prosecutor Michael Gerber declared, “It’s bad enough to insult the integrity of the law enforcement people that were involved in this case. It’s bad enough to put dishonor upon their reputations, the people that are out there saving our lives and our communities.” A defense objection to the argument was overruled.

Likewise, the judge allowed the prosecutor to argue, “I’ve never seen anybody murdered by a cupcake before. He wants his Mommy. He is nothing but a sniveling, cowardly killer. That’s what he is.”

On November 7, 2014, after five hours of deliberation, the jury reported they were “split.” After five more hours, the jury convicted Sanchez of first-degree murder and acquitted him of attempted murder.

Prior to sentencing, Sanchez’s defense attorney filed a motion for a new trial. By that time, the defense had obtained Flores’s records from the rehabilitation center. In the records was a note from Flores’s therapist, which said: “Client is expecting to be called back into court…to testify again. Client…reported that he knows who did it and he along with several other witnesses have told the authorities about it.”

The defense lawyer argued that this information could have been used to cross-examine Flores. The motion was denied and Sanchez was sentenced to 45 years in prison.

On April 10, 2018, the Illinois Appellate Court reversed the conviction and ordered the case dismissed for insufficient evidence.

The court ruled that all of Sanchez’s statements were involuntary and illegally obtained and were therefore barred from evidence. The court held that police arrested Sanchez without probable cause that he had committed a crime, that they questioned him at least twice about the murder without reading him his Miranda warnings, and that those interrogations were not recorded as required by law.

The appeals court said there two factors that led to the verdict. “First, confessions have exceptional persuasive force and as we have already concluded, the jury should not have heard Sanchez’s incriminating statements,” the court said. “Second, the prosecutor insinuated that Sanchez’s hands had gunshot residue and the Sureños accused him of shooting Orozco and the prosecutor shifted the jurors’ focus from the evidence against Sanchez to the issues of whether defense counsel had grievously insulted police.”

“This case shows us how the use of deception in interrogations leads to false confessions,” the court said. “Deceptive practices contribute to an atmosphere in which whole communities act with hostility toward police. If police want the members of the community to treat them with respect and help them in their efforts to reduce crime, police should renounce the use of deceptive practices in law enforcement so that the members of the community learn that they can trust police officers to treat them honestly.”

The court said that the prosecution failed to present sufficient evidence to sustain the conviction. It then added that “here, the record leads to a further conclusion. The evidence convincingly shows that Sanchez did not murder Orozco.”

The prosecution did not appeal the decision.

In November 2018, Sanchez was granted a certificate of innocence and in March 2019, he was awarded $98,920 in compensation from the state of Illinois. In 2019, Sanchez filed a federal lawsuit against the police department in Wheeling and four other Illinois communities.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 6/6/2018
Last Updated: 9/10/2019
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2013
Sentence:45 years
Age at the date of reported crime:18
Contributing Factors:False Confession, False or Misleading Forensic Evidence, Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No