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David Gecht

Other Cook County, Illinois exonerations with co-defendant confession
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At about 1:45 a.m. on January 29, 1999, 35-year-old Roberto Cruz, a member of the Spanish Lords street gang, left the Bristol Lounge near the intersection of Wellington and Elston Avenues on the northwest side of Chicago, Illinois. As he walked to his car, he was hit from behind by a hail of bullets and killed.

Witnesses later told police that shortly after midnight, two heavy-set men entered the club and walked directly to a table where Cruz was sitting. The men appeared angry and said they had come to pick up their money. Cruz told them, “This ain’t the place to deal with this.” When a friend of Cruz’s stood up, as if to intervene, Cruz said, “I got it. I got it under control. Don’t worry about it. Forget it. We’ll deal with this later.”

The men left the club at about 1:05 a.m. Less than an hour later, Cruz lay dying on the street. He had been shot five times.

A witness told police that Cruz left the club earlier with a man the witness knew as “Omar.” Cruz went back inside the club briefly while Omar remained in Cruz’s car. Cruz was shot when he came back out of the club. He was found next to his car. Nine millimeter shell casings littered the street. Omar was not to be seen.

A dancer at the club said she heard the shots and saw three men running away, two of whom got into a white pickup truck and drove off.

Wilfredo Rosa told police that the two men who confronted Cruz in the club were either “Latin or Black,” one was 6’1” and 350 pounds, and had a goatee; the other was 5’7” and 250 pounds.

The day after the shooting, the police got an anonymous phone call from a woman saying that 27-year-old Ruben Hernandez and another man, 28-year-old Benjamin DeJesus, were bragging that they had shot Cruz because Cruz owed DeJesus $6,000. This information was shared with Detectives Reynaldo Guevara and Ernest Halvorsen, who pulled up rap sheets. These records showed that DeJesus fit the description of one of the two men seen arguing with Cruz. DeJesus’s nickname was “Fridge,” and he was 6’3” tall, weighed 215 pounds, and had a goatee.

Cruz’s mother told the detectives that Hernandez and DeJesus were enemies of Cruz. Both men had been convicted about a decade earlier of armed robbery and aggravated kidnapping. Both had served time in prison and had been paroled. Later in 1999—after the Cruz shooting, both would be convicted in two other armed robberies.

The police records would later show that Hernandez and DeJesus were not pursued as suspects. The case was still unsolved on March 1, 1999, when Hernandez was arrested on suspicion of committing an armed robbery in February. He was not charged with that robbery, however. He was taken to the detective bureau for questioning in the Cruz murder.

Hernandez was interviewed by Detective Allen Pergande. Hernandez said that the Insane Unknowns street gang, a rival to Cruz’s Spanish Lords gang, had a meeting before the shooting and that a prospective member of the gang was given a nine millimeter semiautomatic pistol to kill Cruz. Hernandez said the gun was stashed at a safe house on Pine Grove Avenue near Addison Street after the shooting. Hernandez did not mention that anyone else was involved. Police determined Hernandez was referring to 19-year-old Richard Kwil.

Police found Kwil already in custody. He had been arrested earlier that day while driving a stolen vehicle. Police never explained how Hernandez came to implicate Kwil just two hours after Kwil happened to be arrested in an unrelated case except to say it was a coincidence.

Kwil was brought to the detective bureau, and Guevara interrogated him. According to Guevara, Kwil admitted he was present at the shooting, but said the gunman was 18-year-old David Gecht, who was a member of the Insane Unknowns. According to the statement, Hernandez wanted Cruz killed so Hernandez could control Cruz’s territory. Unlike the descriptions of the men who confronted Cruz in the club, Gecht was 5’5” tall, weighed 140 pounds, and was white.

Shortly before 1 a.m., on March 2, 1999, Kwil directed detectives to an apartment where he had been staying. The apartment was at 3724 N. Pine Grove—less than two blocks north of Addison Street. There, police recovered a nine-millimeter semiautomatic pistol. A police firearms analyst later testified that the gun was linked to the shell casings recovered from the crime scene.

Guevara went to Gecht’s home at 12:30 a.m. on March 2, 1999 and arrested him. Gecht and his mother, Rosemary later testified that Guevara walked in without a warrant, put Gecht in handcuffs, and searched his bedroom. Nothing was confiscated, though.

There were vastly conflicting accounts of what happened at the police station. According to Guevara, Gecht at first denied involvement, but several hours later gave a court-reported statement admitting to the murder.

Gecht would later testify, during a pre-trial hearing on a motion to suppress the statement and at trial, that he was handcuffed to a ring on the wall of an interrogation room. He was interrogated numerous times by Guevara and two other detectives. He said he was not allowed to make a phone call, not given any food, and was not allowed to sleep. Gecht said that Guevara and Pergande struck and slapped him. He said that Guevara told him how the crime had occurred and, when Gecht denied involvement, “Guevara smacked him.” He was struck three times during the first interview, Gecht said.

Gecht said that he was probably with his 18-year-old girlfriend, Colleen Miller, at the time of the crime, but he was not sure. He said he made that statement so Guevara would stop hitting him.

Guevara left the interrogation room and returned about an hour later. During that time detectives went to Miller’s home and brought her to the station. Guevara and Halvorsen later filed a report saying that by 1:50 a.m., Miller, who was pregnant, had admitted that Gecht confessed to her that he had shot “Jefe of the Lords and I think I killed him.”

Not long after, Guevara returned to the interrogation room with Gecht, and punched him twice in the abdomen and four or five times in the face. Guevara left and Pergande came in. Pergande punched him four or five times in the back and left. Guevara came back in and showed Gecht a gun that Guevara said was used in the shooting.

Gecht said Guevara then punched him some more. By this time, Gecht had a chipped tooth and a cut in his mouth. He said Guevara told him he would be released if he gave a statement. Gecht said all the details in the statement came from Guevara and that he agreed to admit involvement to stop the physical abuse. At the time, Gecht suffered from a learning disability and attended a special school.

In the statement, Gecht said that he was driven to a location where Gecht, Kwil and Hernandez planned the shooting. They drove a rental car to the club, and Gecht flattened Cruz’s rear passenger tire—although the tire that was flat on the car was the front driver side tire. In the statement, Gecht said they waited until Cruz emerged and that he shot Cruz numerous times. They then fled in the rental car. Gecht said he hid the gun behind some bricks on Churchill Street.

Guevara then interrogated Hernandez a second time. According to Guevara, this time Hernandez recanted his earlier statement and now claimed that he, Kwil, and Gecht were responsible for the shooting. Hernandez gave a court-reported statement, but refused to sign it.

Gecht was charged with first-degree murder. In the hours after he was charged, Gecht was allowed to see Miller, who was being escorted by Guevara. Miller was crying. She said to Gecht, “I’m sorry, but they forced me.” Miller was pulled away at that point. Prior to trial, Miller visited Gecht at the Cook County Jail. She told him she gave the statement under pressure from the “fat Latino guy,” who Gecht understood to be Guevara. She said that police told her she was going to be charged as an accessory to the murder and that her baby, when born, would be taken away. In March 1991, Miller testified before a Cook County grand jury. At the end of her testimony, a grand juror asked, “Did David say he was defending himself in any way?” Miller replied, “No, he didn’t say he was defending himself. It was—I don’t believe he did it. I think he was…lying for his friend.”

Prior to trial, at a hearing in Cook County Circuit Court on a motion to suppress Gecht’s statement, Gecht testified about the physical abuse and denied that he was involved in the crime. Gecht’s mother, Rosemary, testified that Guevara burst into their home without a warrant and arrested Gecht. She said that as Gecht was being led out, he asked that he be allowed to speak to an attorney.

Guevara testified and denied physically abusing Gecht. He also said that when he went to the home, Rosemary opened the door and said, “Come in and get [David].” Guevara said that Gecht never asked to see an attorney.

Detective Pergande testified that he was only “minimally” involved in the investigation. He said he did not participate in any interrogation of Gecht.

The motion to suppress Gecht’s statement was denied, and Gecht went to trial in March 2000. Hernandez and Kwil went on trial as well. Hernandez and Gecht had separate juries, and Kwil chose to have his case decided by the trial judge.

During opening statements, Gecht’s attorney, Phillip Bartolementi promised the jury they would hear evidence that police failed to interview two witnesses to the shooting, including a man named Omar; that police ignored evidence that Rico Borgias ordered Cruz’s shooting; that police ignored the anonymous tip that Hernandez and DeJesus committed the crime over a debt; that a witness named Leon Hugo saw two individuals run from the crime scene and get into a white truck; and that Gecht had no criminal background.

At the conclusion of the statement, the trial judge granted a prosecution motion to preclude evidence about Omar, Borgias, and Hernandez’s potential involvement. The judge criticized Bartolementi, saying, “This is all going to hit you back in the face...I’ve never heard an opening statement that contained so much inadmissible evidence.”

The prosecution’s chief witness was Guevara, who described the course of his investigation and how he obtained the statements from Hernandez, Kwil, and Gecht.

Miller testified that the day after the shooting Gecht admitted he had shot Cruz. Bartolementi attempted to question Miller about her statement to the grand jury that she didn’t believe Gecht shot Cruz, but the judge blocked him after the prosecution objected.

Gecht’s statement was presented to the jury as well.

Gecht testified and denied confessing to Guevara or to Miller. He denied being involved in the shooting and described the physical abuse he was subjected to during interrogation.

On March 23, 2000, Gecht, Kwil, and Hernandez were convicted of first-degree murder. Gecht was sentenced to 45 years in prison. Hernandez was sentenced to 60 years in prison. Kwil was sentenced to 30 years in prison.

In November 2002, the Illinois Appellate Court upheld Gecht’s conviction and sentence.

That same year, Juan Johnson had his murder conviction and 30-year prison sentence vacated based on evidence of misconduct by Guevara. In 2004, Johnson was acquitted at a retrial. A federal jury later awarded him $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 Guevara to identify Johnson.

In 2003, Gecht filed a post-conviction petition that was dismissed as frivolous and without merit. He appealed, and the ruling was affirmed in December 2003 by the Illinois Appellate Court.

In 2006, Gecht filed a federal petition for a writ of habeas corpus. The petition was denied in December 2006, and his request for permission to appeal was denied.

Meanwhile, the number of cases continued to grow in which 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.

In 2011, 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.

In 2016, the murder convictions of Jose Montanez and Armando Serrano were vacated, and the charges were dismissed. Both had been convicted on false testimony that had been coerced by Guevara.

In April 2017, 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.

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.

In December 2017, Gabriel Solache and Arturo DeLeon-Reyes, who claimed that Guevara had beaten them into confessing to a murder they didn’t commit, had their murder convictions vacated and the charges dismissed. Others exonerated include: Thomas Sierra, Ariel Gomez, Ricardo Rodriguez, Robert Bouto, Geraldo Iglesias, and Demetrius Johnson.

In October 2020, Gecht, then represented by attorneys Jennifer Blagg and Eric Bisby as well as Joshua Tepfer and Anand Swaminathan from the Exoneration Project at the University of Chicago Law School, filed a post-conviction petition seeking to vacate his conviction.

The petition cited the burgeoning number of cases overturned due to misconduct by Guevara and Halvorsen and other detectives. The petition noted that Pergande had been accused of police misconduct “at least 23 times, “and that he had testified falsely in the Bouto prosecution.

The petition said that in 2011, Miller told Gecht’s sister, Jamie, that she had testified falsely and that Gecht never confessed to her. Miller told Jamie that the police told her she would have her baby in jail and then the child would be taken away from her. “So I told them what they wanted to hear,” Miller said.

The petition also said that Hernandez and Kwil had recanted their statements implicating Gecht. Hernandez and Kwil said they were physically abused by Guevara. Hernandez gave a statement saying that Guevara, Halvorsen, and Pergande hit and choked him, then fed him facts to recite back to conform to their version of events. Kwil said that Guevara wanted him to confess to killing Cruz and threatened Kwil with never seeing his daughter again. When Guevara changed course and told him to implicate Gecht, Kwil said he felt he had no choice but to go along with Guevara. According to Kwil, “Guevara laid out how the crime occurred and fed him all the facts of the crime,” the petition said.

In February 2022, a hearing on the petition was held. Miller testified about how she falsely implicated Gecht after Guevara threatened her with having her baby in jail and then having the baby taken away. She testified that she later suffered a miscarriage and lost the baby. Gecht’s sister, Jamie, testified how, in 2011, she saw Miller at a funeral and Miller admitted that she had lied. Melissa Rivera, a dancer at the club, testified that she saw Cruz in an altercation in the club with two men who were tall, dark-skinned Hispanics.

On May 22, 2022, Cook County Circuit Court Judge Diana Kenworthy vacated Gecht’s conviction and ordered a new trial. “This Court finds that Detective Guevara engaged in a pattern and practice of intimidating, threatening, and influencing witnesses in prior homicide investigations,” Judge Kenworthy declared. “Guevara’s wiliness to engage in misconduct to secure a conviction calls into question the integrity of Detective Guevara’s investigation into Cruz’s murder, and the integrity of Gecht’s conviction.”

“Gecht provided exculpatory evidence that Guevara had a pattern and practice of threatening the girlfriends and wives of suspects to give false testimony,” the judge ruled. “In this case, Guevara threatened Gecht’s girlfriend Colleen Miller to provide false statements against Gecht.”

Judge Kenworthy also ruled that Guevara “engaged in multiple, repeated and various instances of physical abuse in this case as well as other homicide investigations.” Noting that the wide array of testimony and evidence suggesting that the abuse Gecht said Guevara inflicted was rampant in many other cases, the judge said, “If even a fraction of the allegations included in this evidence had been presented at trial, Guevara’s credibility would have been damaged and Gecht would likely have been acquitted.”

The judge noted that during a deposition taken during the Sierra case, Guevara refused to answer questions about the prosecution of Gecht, Kwil, and Hernandez. He had invoked his Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination. “The fact that Guevara refused to answer and was nonresponsive…suggests that his investigation in this case was infected with the same pattern and practice of misconduct…Guevara’s silence speaks volumes,” Judge Kenworthy ruled.

On July 18, 2022, the prosecution dismissed the case, and Gecht was released.

By then, three more men were exonerated based on misconduct by Guevara and other detectives: Reynaldo Munoz, Daniel Rodriguez and Jose Cruz.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 8/4/2022
Last Updated: 8/4/2022
State:Illinois
County:Cook
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:1999
Convicted:2000
Exonerated:2022
Sentence:45 years
Race/Ethnicity:White
Sex:Male
Age at the date of reported crime:18
Contributing Factors:False Confession, Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No