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Daniel Rodriguez

Other Cook County False Confession Exonerations
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At about 1:15 a.m. on March 17, 1991, Jose Hernandez Jr. was shot while in his car outside a restaurant on North Avenue in the Humboldt Park neighborhood of Chicago, Illinois. Hernandez, known as Junito, was able to drive away, but his car crashed, and he died.

Detective Reynaldo Guevara and his partner, Detective Ernest Halvorsen, of the Chicago Police Department investigated the shooting.

On May 9, 1991, Jason Rivera gave a written statement to the officers. Separately, David Velasquez signed a statement in the presence of Halvorsen on May 10, 1991. Both statements implicated 24-year-old George Laureano and 21-year-old Daniel Rodriguez in the shooting. According to the statements, Rivera and Velasquez said they were at the Taconazo restaurant on North Avenue when they saw Hernandez drive up and park. A short time later, they said, Rodriguez and Laureano drove up in Laureano’s car, with Rodriguez behind the wheel. They waited about 15 minutes until Hernandez started to leave. Then, according to the statements, Laureano leaned out of the car and shot at Hernandez’s car. A passenger in Hernandez’s car ran away, the statements said, and Rodriguez and Laureano drove off in pursuit of that person.

Police arrested Rodriguez on May 11, 1991, and charged him with murder. Police said Rodriguez gave a statement admitting his involvement in the crime. The statement said that Rodriguez and Laureano knew Hernandez, a rival gang member, was parked in their territory. Rodriguez said that Laureano wanted to get a gun, and the men stopped to get one. Then, according to the statement, Laureano told Rodriguez to drive by Hernandez’s car. Laureano fired the weapon, and Rodriguez drove off. There was no mention of a passenger.

Laureano was arrested in November 1991. He went to trial first and was acquitted by a judge on September 2, 1992, at the close of the prosecution’s case.

Rodriguez’s bench trial in Cook County Circuit Court before Judge Edward Fiala Jr. began in July 1993.

Velasquez testified for the prosecution, but his trial testimony did not implicate Rodriguez. He said his statement was false and had been coerced by Guevara. Velasquez testified that he was not with Rivera outside the restaurant at the time of the shooting, but he signed the statement accusing Rodriguez and Laureano of the shooting after Guevara threatened to charge him with an unrelated murder. The prosecution then impeached Velasquez with his prior statement to police.

Rivera had been issued a contempt citation for refusing to testify at Laureano’s trial and had told Laureano’s attorney in 1992 that he hadn’t witnessed the shooting because he was at a drug-treatment center at the time. But Rivera reversed course at the Rodriguez trial. He testified that he saw the shooting and placed Rodriguez at the scene.

Halvorsen testified that Rivera initially implicated Rodriguez on March 25, 1991, but there was nothing in the case file to document that conversation. He also testified that on April 29, 1991, a month after the shooting, he and Guevara stopped Rodriguez when Rodriguez was driving a blue Toyota Corolla. They let him go. Two weeks later, Halvorsen testified, Rivera identified Rodriguez. Halvorsen denied that he or Guevara roughed up Rodriguez or Velasquez while they were in police custody.

The prosecution also introduced Rodriguez’s confession into evidence.

Rodriguez testified and said he was at home with his fiancée, Gloria Rojas, her sister, and his infant daughter at the time of the shooting. Rojas and Laureano testified and affirmed Rodriguez’s alibi.

Rodriguez testified that his statement was coerced. He said Halvorsen hit him in the chest and that Halvorsen and Guevara told him what to say to the state’s attorney who took his statement.

The defense presented photographs of Rodriguez’s body taken after Rodriguez was charged and sent to the Cook County Jail. The photographs were taken by another prisoner who had smuggled in a camera. Rodriguez said the pictures showed faint bruising, signs of his abuse at the hands of the detectives. In Halvorsen’s testimony, he denied that he or Guevara roughed up Rodriguez or Velasquez while they were in police custody.

Judge Fiala convicted Rodriguez on July 29, 1993, and later sentenced him to 25 years in prison. The First District Illinois Appellate Court denied his appeals. Rodriguez was released from prison on parole on August 8, 2008.

By the time of Rodriguez’s release, other defendants had begun asserting claims of wrongful conviction based on misconduct by Guevara and Halvorsen.

In 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.

Seven years later, Jacques Rivera was exonerated of a murder. He later filed a federal civil rights lawsuit accusing Guevara and other officers of burying evidence and pressuring the witness to falsely identify him as the triggerman. In 2018, a jury awarded Rivera $17.175 million.

On September 23, 2020, Rodriguez filed a post-conviction petition in Cook County Circuit Court, represented by Joshua Tepfer and Anand Swaminathan of the Exoneration Project at the University of Chicago Law School.

The petition cited the mounting number of cases where defendants had been granted new trials based on evidence that Guevara and Halvorsen had forced defendants to falsely confess or forced witnesses to falsely testify.

The petition noted that Velasquez testified at a 2013 post-conviction hearing for Gabriel Solache and Arturo DeLeon-Reyes, who claimed that Guevara had beaten them into confessing to a murder they didn’t commit. At the hearing, Velasquez said that Guevara and Halvorsen forced him to sign a statement implicating Rodriguez and Laureano in the Hernandez shooting. He said the detectives took him to the territory of a rival gang and announced that Velasquez had killed one of their members. Velasquez said he begged the officers to stop and agreed to help them. The judge hearing that case found Velasquez’s testimony to be “credible.” Solache and DeLeon-Reyes’s convictions were vacated and dismissed in 2017.

Velasquez repeated these assertions at a separate post-relief hearing in 2013 for Armando Serrano and Jose Montanez, who also claimed misconduct by Guevara and Halvorsen. They had their convictions vacated and charges dismissed in 2016.

Rivera also testified at several of these evidentiary hearings and maintained that he testified truthfully at Rodriguez’s trial. He admitted that the state paid him more than $4,000 in living expenses during this period.

Rodriguez’s petition also presented evidence that the state had failed to disclose at the time of his trial that Rivera had been paid $1,350 in living expenses in February 1993, prior to Rodriguez’s trial, and that he was paid an additional $1,000 two weeks after Rodriguez was convicted.

Separately, the petition said that Guevara was in a relationship with Rivera’s mother, who worked as an administrator at the police department. Velasquez testified at an evidentiary hearing that Rivera’s mother, who died of COVID in 2020, pressured him to go along with her son’s false testimony.

The petition also asserted that Rivera was an unindicted co-conspirator in a murder around the time of the Hernandez shooting, which gave Rivera an added incentive to curry favor with the police.

Guevara did not testify at most of these evidentiary hearings, but after being granted immunity, he did testify at the hearing for Solache and DeLeon-Reyes. The judge called his answers lies. On April 25, 2022, Cook County Circuit Court Judge Sophia Atcherson vacated Rodriguez’s conviction, and then granted a motion by prosecutors to dismiss the case.

“I’m super happy,” Rodriguez said after the hearing. “I’m still in a daze, I still can’t believe it. After 31 years, it’s long overdue.”

Joined by Rojas, now his wife, and their adult children, Rodriguez said: “They grew up in a visiting room. Birthday parties and everything was in the visiting room. So … it’s a big win for me, but it’s bigger for them. You know, our family is celebrating today, but there’s another family that got hurt today. There was a victim in this case that didn’t have justice. His family was told that they had justice, but they didn’t, so now they live with that pain again.”

In all, 18 men have been exonerated based on evidence of misconduct by Guevara or his partners. The others are Roberto Almodovar, William Negron, Jose Maysonet , Thomas Sierra,  Ariel GomezRicardo Rodriguez,  Robert BoutoGeraldo IglesiasDemetrius Johnson, Reynaldo Munoz, and Jose Cruz.

In July 2022, the convictions of Juan Hernandez and Rosendo Hernandez were vacated and dismissed.

– Ken Otterbourg

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Posting Date: 5/10/2022
Last Updated: 8/13/2022
State:Illinois
County:Cook
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:1991
Convicted:1993
Exonerated:2022
Sentence:25 years
Race/Ethnicity:Hispanic
Sex:Male
Age at the date of reported crime:21
Contributing Factors:False Confession, Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No