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Daniel Alberto Ochoa

Other Cook County, Illinois exonerations with false confession
At about 7:30 p.m. on December 17, 2002, 17-year-old Joe Maldonado, a member of the Two-Six street gang, and his girlfriend, 15-year-old Marilu Socha were walking in the 3000 block of South Kolin Avenue in Chicago when a car pulled up. Someone inside shouted, “King love,” signifying their affiliation with the rival Latin Kings gang.

Shots were fired and Socha was killed. Maldonado, the apparent target, was unharmed.

Maldonado, as well as two other Two-Six gang members, Andrew Linares and Juan Morales, were unable to identify anyone in the car. They told police the car was green with plastic covering the driver’s side window. A description of the vehicle was broadcast to police citywide.

Two hours later, police responded to a report of an armed robbery in the 2400 block of South Spaulding Avenue and spotted a car fitting the description. Police arrested three youths there. Sixteen-year-old Arturo Bentazos was sitting in the driver’s seat of the car. Inside a building at 2410 South Spaulding, police arrested 19-year-old Arturo Simon.

At the police station, Detective Adrian Garcia interrogated Simon and Bentazos, who were primarily Spanish-speakers. In addition, Bentazos had an IQ of less than 70, the benchmark for intellectual disability. Both denied any involvement in the shooting.

Simon and Bentazos admitted they were Latin Kings gang members. They said they had been hanging out together earlier in the day with another Latin Kings member, 21-year-old Eduardo Torres. They said that they went to a restaurant and then a video arcade called the Black Hole. When they ran out of money, they went to the apartment of 20-year-old Daniel Alberto Ochoa, who lived at 2442 South St. Louis Avenue.

They said that Ochoa owed some money to Torres. After Ochoa paid Torres, they left, Simon and Bentazos said.

In the early morning hours of December 18, 2002, Linares, Maldonado and Morales, the Two-Six gang members, viewed a lineup containing Bentazos and Simon. They did not identify anyone in the lineup.

Nonetheless, Detective Garcia then told Simon and Bentazos that witnesses had identified them as being in the car involved in the drive-by shooting. Simon and Bentazos denied involvement and their requests for a lawyer were ignored, they later said

Garcia then said that Socha was still alive. He said that if they did not admit to being involved, Simon would be charged as the gunman. Garcia said that if Simon would give a statement, he would be released. After 15 hours in an interrogation room, Simon gave a statement of activities up until the time of the shooting, but continued to deny involvement. Garcia said that because gunshot residue had been found on Simon’s clothing, he would be charged with being the gunman. Garcia said that if Simon were to implicate Ochoa, he would be released. At that point, Simon relented and falsely claimed that Ochoa was the gunman and had gotten rid of the gun.

Garcia then confronted Bentazos, saying that the “truth” was that Ochoa was the gunman. Garcia offered the same deal—sign a statement implicating Ochoa and Bentazos could go home.

At about 2 p.m. on December 18, Garcia met with Cook County assistant state’s attorney, Jennifer Walker, who did not speak Spanish. Walker relied upon Garcia to serve as translator during an interview with Simon, who then signed a handwritten statement. The statement was written in English although Simon spoke minimal English and could not read or write English at even a basic level of proficiency. Garcia told Simon that if he signed the papers he could go home. After Simon signed, he was charged with murder and taken to the lockup.

Garcia then told Walker that Bentazos had given a similar account identifying Ochoa as the gunman. When Walker learned that Bentazos was only 16 she demanded that detectives locate a relative to be present.

By that time, Garcia had been on duty for nearly 24 hours. He handed off the investigation to Detective Jose Lopez, who also was a Spanish-speaking detective. Garcia told Lopez that he had convinced Simon and Bentazos that Socha was still alive and they had identified Ochoa as the gunman.

At 7:30 p.m., Bentazos signed a statement in the presence of Walker, Lopez and Bentazos’s grandmother, who spoke no English at all. Lopez did not translate the statement, but told them that Bentazos would be released after he signed since Bentazos had not fired any shots. As soon as he signed, Bentazos was charged with murder. Simon and Bentazos would later claim they were denied a request for lawyer and that they were not read Miranda warnings by Garcia.

Meanwhile, Torres, a high school dropout with minimal English skills, was arrested and brought to the station. Lopez, joined by Detective Eugene Schleder, interrogated Torres. They denied his request to call family to obtain a lawyer and did not read the Miranda warnings.

Lopez told Torres that he already knew what happened—that Torres was in the car but Ochoa had committed the shooting. Lopez promised that if Torres told him what happened, he could go home. Torres admitted that he was in the car with Simon and Bentazos but said Ochoa was not involved. Torres said Ochoa was not a gang member at all. In fact, Ochoa was a Mexican national who had come to Chicago six months earlier to find work as a day laborer.

Torres agreed to take the detectives to Ochoa’s home. They arrived at 3 a.m. When Ochoa answered the door, he was handcuffed and taken to the back porch. There, Lopez accused Ochoa of being the gunman and demanded to know where the gun was.

When Ochoa denied involvement or any knowledge of a gun, Lopez began to punch him in the abdomen and then pushed his thumb into Ochoa’s throat. Lopez threatened to kill him. Ochoa continued to deny involvement and Lopez went inside where other officers were ransacking the apartment to try to find the gun. At that point, Schleder struck Ochoa in the groin with a metal flashlight.

Lopez then returned and dragged Ochoa back inside and shoved him to the floor. When no weapon was found, Ochoa was taken to the police station.

Lopez told Ochoa that if he didn’t confess, he would get the death penalty. Lopez ignored Ochoa’s request for a lawyer and began punching Ochoa. At some point, Lopez left and returned to the interrogation room. He told Ochoa a lawyer was coming to speak to him and he could leave after talking to the lawyer.

Shortly thereafter, Lopez brought Kent Delgado, a Cook County assistant state’s attorney who did not speak Spanish. Ochoa would later say that under questioning in Spanish by Lopez, he recounted how he had come to Chicago from Mexico to find work, and how he came to know Simon and Torres. He continued to deny involvement in the shooting.

However, Lopez falsely summarized Ochoa’s statements to ASA Delgado, saying that Ochoa admitted to committing the shooting and hiding the weapon. Delgado then wrote out the statement in English, which Ochoa could not read. Ochoa signed it, believing he would be released. Instead, he was charged with first-degree murder and aggravated discharge of a firearm.

Prior to trial, Ochoa’s defense attorney filed a motion to suppress the statement. Lopez and Schleder denied abusing him and said Ochoa voluntarily confessed. The motion was denied. In March 2005, Ochoa went to trial in Cook County Circuit Court. On March 31, 2005, based primarily on the confession, a jury convicted Ochoa of the murder of Socha and aggravated discharge of a firearm for shooting at Maldonado. He was sentenced to 90 years in prison. Simon and Bentazos were convicted in separate trials and each was sentenced to 45 years in prison. Torres pled guilty and was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

In 2007, the Illinois Appellate Court reversed the convictions and ordered a new trial.

The court ruled that the prosecution “repeatedly elicited testimony that contained a strong inference that the co-defendants implicated [Ochoa] in their statements. This exchange went beyond mere questioning concerning the investigatory process, and included serial questions to build the inference that [Ochoa] was named by his criminal cohorts.” The court said that the prosecution improperly “reinforced this evidence by reminding the jury multiple times during closing arguments that, after police interviewed the co-defendants, they knew they were looking for a person with the precise characteristics of [Ochoa].”

Prior to retrial, Ochoa’s defense lawyer filed a motion seeking to exclude “inadmissible hearsay evidence inferring the co-defendants’ identification” of Ochoa. The motion was granted with the judge noting that he was sure no one wanted to try the case a third time.

Ochoa went to trial a second time in 2013. During questioning of Detective Garcia, the prosecutor asked, “After dealing with Bentazos and Simon, what did you do next in this investigation?”

“We obtained information of two additional offenders,” Garcia replied.

Ochoa’s attorney objected. The judge sustained the objection and ordered the jury to disregard Garcia’s answer.

The jury was sent out of the courtroom. Ochoa’s attorney asked for a mistrial, noting, “This is why the case got reversed after the first trial.” The trial judge then read the reversal ruling from 2007 aloud and decided that the prosecutor’s question and Garcia’s answer was “different” than what happened at the first trial.

The jury was brought back to the courtroom and the jury was admonished to disregard the testimony by Garcia. However, he as well as Detective Lopez were allowed to testify—over defense objection—that Bentazos and Simon had implicated Ochoa in the shooting.

On August 23, 2013, Ochoa was convicted a second time. He was again sentenced to 90 years in prison.

On February 15, 2017, the Illinois Appellate Court reversed the convictions once more—again for introducing hearsay evidence. “A very similar scenario played out in the courtroom during defendant's second trial,” the court declared. “Again, the police were allowed to testify to the substance of the statements apparently obtained from defendant's codefendants.”

The court said, “We find that the detectives’ testimony here was inadmissible hearsay. The State repeatedly elicited testimony with the strong inference that [Ochoa’s] co-defendants implicated him to the police. The jury witnessed this exchange, which went beyond mere questioning concerning the investigatory process and, like in the first trial, included serial questions to build the inference that [Ochoa] was named by his criminal cohorts.”

Prior to a third trial, Ochoa’s defense attorneys, Jennifer Bonjean and Steven Greenberg, were granted permission to re-open the motion to suppress Ochoa’s confession. By that time, they had obtained statements from Bentazos, Simon and Torres recanting their statements implicating Ochoa. In addition, they located a witness, Carlos Tellez, who was present when Ochoa was arrested. Tellez told the defense he saw Detective Lopez assault Ochoa on the back porch and in the apartment.

During the hearing, the lawyers presented evidence that Lopez had a “prodigious history” of misconduct. The allegations consisted of more than 50 citizen complaints “alleging a range of misconduct over the course of his career, including numerous complaints that he physically coerced statements from suspects and witnesses in the course of investigating cases, that he harassed civilians and threatened to frame civilians for crimes they did not commit, and for stealing property belonging to arrestees or detainees.”

The lawyers noted that after Lopez was promoted to the rank of sergeant, he later became a supervisor of officers working with Sgt. Ronald Watts. Watts and his team of officers engaged in widespread framing of dozens of residents and visitors to the Ida B. Wells public housing development in Chicago. In 2013, Watts and another officer, Kallatt Mohammed were convicted in federal court and sentenced to prison for taking money from an FBI informant.

Greenberg and Bonjean said that between 1995 and 2000, Lopez was the subject of over 20 citizen complaints for excessive force, harassment, illegal searches, sexual abuse, and stolen property.

None of that information had been presented during Ochoa’s previous trials. On September 23, 2019, Cook County Circuit Court Judge Carol Howard granted the defense motion to suppress Ochoa’s statement.

On October 23, 2019, the prosecution dismissed the charges. Ochoa was released, nearly 17 years after his arrest. In May 2020, Bonjean and Greenberg filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against Garcia, Lopez and Schleder seeking damages for his wrongful conviction. Ochoa also obtained a certificate of innocence and filed a claim for state compensation.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 12/17/2021
Last Updated: 12/13/2023
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:Assault
Reported Crime Date:2002
Sentence:90 years
Age at the date of reported crime:20
Contributing Factors:False Confession, Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No