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Eruby Abrego

Other Exonerations with Misconduct by Detective Guevara
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At about 5:45 p.m. on March 22, 1999, 46-year-old Jose Garcia and his 32-year-old nephew Ramon Torres were sitting in a parked car near the intersection of Monticello and Belmont Avenues in Chicago, Illinois. They were talking to 20-year-old Julio Lugo, who was with his 10-year-old cousin, Isidro Quinones.

As they were talking, a man wearing a sweatshirt with a hood pulled over his head shouted gang slogans from across the street while holding a handgun. Garcia, who was sitting in the passenger seat, was struck in the head. Torres, who was in the driver’s seat, ducked and then sped off.

Lugo shielded his cousin, who escaped injury. Lugo was shot once in the shoulder and once in the buttock. Torres, meanwhile, pulled over several blocks away and summoned help. But Garcia was dead by the time he arrived at the hospital. Lugo was released from the hospital several days later.

Lugo was a member of the Latin Kings street gang. The gunman was suspected to be a member of the rival Orchestra Albany (OA) street gang because he shouted, “OA Love” and “King killer” before opening fire.

Police reported varying descriptions of the gunman. Witnesses who were nearby said the gunman was a dark-skinned Hispanic male who was 5 feet 7 inches tall and heavy-set—about 200 pounds—with curly dark hair and a mustache.


Torres said the shooter was 19-22 years old, 6 feet tall, and 180 pounds. Lugo said the shooter was in his twenties, 5 feet 8 inches tall, 200 pounds, and had a dark complexion.

Fred Marrero, who was a friend of Lugo and was nearby at the time, said the shooter was heavy set and 5 feet 7 inches tall. Detective Reynaldo Guevara, who was one of several detectives assigned to the case, prepared a report saying the shooter was 20-25 years old, 5 feet 8 inches to 5 feet 10 inches tall, with a medium build and a medium complexion.

Ultimately, police charged 20-year-old Eruby Abrego with the shooting. He was 5 feet 4 inches tall with a light complexion. In addition, 23-year-old Jeremiah Cain, who was accused of supplying the gun used in the shooting, was also charged.

Their charges and ultimate convictions were a product of false confessions and false witness identifications coerced by threats and physical abuse, as well as from gang members who hoped the real killer would remain free to face street justice.

Shortly before the shooting, Lugo and Quinones were riding in a car with Marrero, who police said was a former Latin King gang member. At one point, they were confronted by OA gang members in a gold-colored Chevrolet Caprice. The Caprice had pulled over, and its occupants shouted gang slogans and tossed bottles at Marrero’s car before Marrero sped away.

Detectives decided that the key to solving the case was finding the Caprice. Within hours, police found one parked in the area and determined it belonged to 20-year Juan Parra, an OA member. Guevara and his partner, William Halvorsen, showed a photographic lineup containing Parra to Lugo and Torres, but they did not make an identification.

Parra was brought to the police station about 1:30 a.m. on March 23, 1999. He denied any involvement and offered several alibis for his whereabouts. He was kept at the station until the following morning, when he agreed to submit to a polygraph examination. After police told him the examiner concluded Parra had been deceptive, Parra was questioned by Detective Anthony Wojcik. When Parra was told that his alibis were not panning out, Parra “agreed to tell the truth,” Wojcik later testified.

Wojcik said Parra said that Abrego, who was an OA that he knew as “Sef,” had complained about Latin Kings causing trouble. Abrego and another OA nicknamed “Peewee” had recently engaged in a physical fight with some Latin Kings. Wojcik said Parra claimed that on the afternoon of the shooting, he went to Kosciuszko Park where he met Abrego, Peewee, and Cain. Parra said they drove to Latin King territory where they saw a car containing Latin Kings. According to Wojcik, Parra said he pulled over, and Abrego, Peewee, and Cain got out. However, the car with the Latin Kings sped away.

Parra said Peewee and Cain returned to the car, but Abrego did not. Parra said he pulled into an alley and waited. He then heard several shots and saw Abrego running back to the car holding a pistol. Parra said he drove back to near the park, and everyone split up.

Wojcik said he consulted a police database of gang members and learned that 20-year-old Nicascio Santiago lived near the park and was known as Peewee.

Parra was then charged with murder.

On March 24, 1999, police went to Cain’s home where they arrested him and confiscated a handgun in his bedroom. The Illinois State Police crime laboratory would later conclude that the gun was the weapon used in the shooting.

Detectives Raymond Schalk and Jerome Bogucki initially interrogated Cain. Cain told them that he was in a car with Peewee and another person he knew as “Gilbert,” and that they threw bottles at a car containing Latin Kings. Cain said Peewee and Gilbert dropped him off and said they were going to “take care of it.” Later, Peewee and Gilbert returned and told Cain they “took care of business.” They handed Cain a handgun and asked him to hold on to it. That was the gun police found in Cain’s bedroom.

That version did not match what Wojcik believed had happened. So Wojcik began interrogating Cain. According to Wojcik, Cain changed his story to say that after he met with Abrego, Santiago and Parra in the park, he went home to retrieve the gun he kept in his bedroom. Wojcik said Cain now said he was riding with Abrego and Santiago in Parra’s car, and after the bottle throwing incident, Abrego got out of the car to find Latin Kings while the rest of them waited in the alley.

Cain would later claim that none of the detectives read him his Miranda warnings. He said that Wojcik slapped him in the face and punched him in the chest. Cain said Wojcik said that if he confessed, he would only be charged with supplying the gun and that if he refused to confess, the police would “put the whole case” on him.

Later that day, police arrested Abrego and Santiago at Abrego's sister's home. Abrego said Wojcik forced his way in by prying open the door with a screwdriver. Officers entered with guns drawn. There was no warrant. Everyone in the home was ordered to get on the floor and put their hands behind their heads. Wojcik told Abrego, “You know what you did.” When Abrego said he didn’t know what Wojick was talking about, Wojcik punched Abrego twice in the face. Abrego and Santiago then were taken to the police station.

There, Abrego told other detectives that he was not involved in the shooting. The detectives left and Wojcik came into the interrogation room. He spent about 15 minutes demanding that Abrego confess and then “started swinging...like I was a punching bag,” Abrego later testified. Wojcik punched him in the ribs, back, and chest about 20 to 25 times and then left.

Wojcik returned a few hours later and told Abrego he would rot in jail because his friends had confessed and implicated him. Wojcik showed him statements from Cain and Parra and walked out.

Meanwhile the police put together a live lineup of five people—one filler and four suspects: Abrego, Santiago, Roger Somarreba (who had been arrested with Abrego and Santiago) and Gilbert Daniels, whom police had concluded was the person Cain referred to as “Gilbert.” Marrero, Quinones, and Torres viewed the lineup. Marrero said Abrego looked like one of the people who had thrown a bottle, but he was not positive. Quinones and Torres both identified Abrego as the gunman.

Lugo viewed a lineup after he was released from the hospital, but he was unable to identify Abrego.

After the lineup, Abrego was left overnight chained to the wall in the interrogation room. He had been given no food. When he yelled that he needed to use a bathroom, he was ignored and eventually urinated on the floor. Abrego later said that when Wojcik returned and saw the urine, he “snapped.” Abrego said Wojcik hit him about 20 times and left.

Abrego said that in the early morning hours of March 25, 1999, Wojcik returned. Abrego later testified that he was in pain and asked for medical attention. Wojcik took him to the bathroom where Abrego vomited blood. He showed it to Wojcik and asked to go to the hospital.

“Just tell me whatever I want to hear, and I’ll take you wherever you want to go,” Wojcik replied.

Abrego decided to cooperate. “I told him whatever he wanted to hear,” Abrego later testified, “I thought he was going to beat on me some more.”

Abrego then gave a court-reported statement. It consisted of a prosecutor reciting Wojcik’s version of events and asking Abrego to confirm it.

The statement was false. Abrego added details that were not true in the hope of raising a red flag. For example, Abrego said he wanted to go to Latin King territory on the day of the shooting because some Kings had “got me and my nephew and my little sister.” However, Abrego’s sister was 12 years older than him.

His sister was allowed to visit him after he gave the statement. She later said his bruises were starting to show. He asked for clean underwear because he had urinated on himself.

The following day, at a bond hearing, his defense attorney reported to the judge that Abrego had been beaten by police. Abrego had visible cuts and bruises and he said he was coughing up blood. Following the hearing, Abrego was taken to Cook County Jail. An intake report created at the time reported Abrego said he was vomiting blood, but also, inexplicably, said that Abrego denied any medical problems and had no complaint. There was no report of bruises or cuts or swelling. A physician’s assistant who was summoned to see Abrego in jail separately reported “[t]here was vomiting two days ago, one episode” and Abrego “feels fine.”

During this time, Santiago was being interrogated separately. He told Detective Schalk that he was not involved in the shooting, but he had heard that an OA called “Spirit” was the gunman. Wojcik then took over the interrogation and, according to Wojcik, Santiago decided to tell the truth. Santiago later signed a statement implicating Abrego as the gunman. He also said that Cain provided the gun and after the shooting, he gave the gun back to Cain who took it home.

Santiago later said that Wojcik repeatedly hit and choked him. He said Wojcik showed him statements from others and told him, “This is the story.” Santiago said that when he denied any knowledge of the shooting, Wojcik “grabbed me by my throat and put a pen right underneath my chin like he was trying to stab me.’

Santiago also included false information in his statement. He said he went to Wright Junior College, that his nickname was “Pistol,” and that he had a nephew named Josh—all false facts.

Santiago, like Abrego, Cain, and Parra, was charged with murder and aggravated battery with a firearm.

In 2001, Cain, Parra, and Santiago went to trial in Cook County Circuit Court and requested that their cases be decided by a judge without a jury. Cain’s motion to suppress his confession had been denied. On August 28, 2001, Judge Kenneth Wadas acquitted Parra and Santiago. The judge convicted Cain of first-degree murder and aggravated battery with a firearm based on the legal ground that he was accountable for the acts of Abrego, who witnesses said was the gunman. Cain was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

Abrego went to trial in September 2004. Prior to the trial, he had filed a motion to suppress his statement because he had been physically abused. Wojcik denied both physically abusing Abrego and striking Cain and Santiago. Judge Wadas, who presided over the hearing, said he relied in part on the jail intake record, which did not indicate any bruises. But Judge Wadas also said, “Wojcik’s testimony is in my view believable. I do not believe the defendant…I believe [Abrego] was treated humanely, fairly, and the statement was not coerced.”

Torres, Lugo, and Quinones each identified Abrego as the gunman. Antonio Vasquez testified that he was a security guard and had purchased the gun used in the shooting. He said he sold it to Santiago for five rocks of crack cocaine.

A forensic analyst from the Illinois State Police crime lab testified that based on the comparison of the bullet from Gonzalez’s head with bullets test-fired by the gun recovered from Cain’s bedroom, he concluded the recovered gun was the murder weapon. Another forensic analyst testified that Abrego was excluded as the source of a latent fingerprint.

On September 22, 2004, the jury convicted Abrego of first-degree murder and aggravated battery with a firearm. He was sentenced to 90 years in prison.

Both men’s direct appeals were rejected by the First District Illinois Appellate Court.

By the time Abrego was convicted, the first of what would become dozens of cases investigated by Guevara, Halvorsen, and other detectives had begun to unravel.

In February 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 Guevara to identify Johnson.

Seven years later, in October 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 Guevara had coerced.

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.

In 2018 and 2019, lawyers Karl Leonard and David Owens at the Exoneration Project at the University of Chicago Law School, representing Abrego, and attorneys Jennifer Bonjean and Ashley Cohen, representing Cain, filed post-conviction petitions outlining an array of evidence pointing to the innocence of Abrego and Cain.

In 2017, Torres and Lugo had recanted their identifications of Abrego and said they had been coerced by Guevara. Torres said Guevara told him to pick Abrego in the lineup. In addition, Torres said he wanted the real killer to remain on the streets so that family and friends of the victims could exact their own revenge.

Lugo said the detectives told him that Abrego was the gunman. “I really didn’t know who did it,” Lugo said. He said he didn’t care who did it. “They’re all in the same gang and they all know something about who did it. Whoever really did it…God will punish them.”

The petitions for post-conviction relief recited a lengthy list of cases in which Guevara and other detectives, including Wojcik, had been accused of physically abusing witnesses to falsely implicate defendants and physically abusing defendants to obtain false confessions.

Wojcik also had come under fire following the controversial fatal shooting by police of Laquan McDonald in Chicago in 2014. An investigation showed that Wojcik rewrote and approved false reports to exaggerate the threat that McDonald posed before he was shot in an effort to justify the police shooting. Officer Jason Van Dyke was convicted of the shooting and sentenced to seven years in prison. Wojcik retired before he could be fired. Likewise, by then, Guevara and Halvorsen had retired.

In August 2019, Abrego’s attorneys filed an additional petition detailing how, in 2012, a journalism student at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism had interviewed Santiago as part of her work in the Medill Justice Project. During the interview, which was electronically recorded, Santiago admitted that he was the gunman—not Abrego.

At the time, the student, Lorraine Ma, did not know what to do with the recording. She had told Santiago that the confession would be “off the record” and she felt bound to honor that promise. She did not seek advice from her professor because they had a bad relationship due to what she perceived as his sexual harassment and sexual misconduct toward students. (In 2018, the professor, Alex Klein, was accused by multiple students of sexual harassment. He denied the accusations and resigned.)

Ma eventually left journalism and went to business school at Stanford University. She subsequently contacted a fellow former Medill student who knew Abrego’s lawyers and connected Ma with them. In May 2019, Santiago provided a sworn affidavit confessing to the murder and exonerating Abrego. “Even though I was acquitted, I actually committed the crime,” Santiago said.

In 2020, Santiago gave another statement saying that Cain did not provide the weapon to carry out the shooting. As a member of the gang at the time, one of Cain’s responsibilities was to keep track of gang weaponry. Santiago said that Cain had no knowledge before, during, or after the shooting that Santiago was going to shoot at the Latin Kings.

At a hearing on the petitions in 2022, Santiago testified and admitted he was the gunman. He said Abrego and Cain were not involved. Torres testified and admitted that after Guevara told him to pick Abrego as the gunman, he did so knowing that Abrego was innocent.

On July 21, 2022, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office abruptly asked that the convictions of Abrego and Cain be vacated. The motion was granted. The charges were dismissed and both men were released from prison. On that same day, the prosecution also agreed to dismiss the murder convictions of Juan and Rosendo Hernandez, two brothers falsely convicted by misconduct of Guevara and other detectives.

Just days earlier, on July 12, 2022, the prosecution had agreed to vacate and dismiss the murder conviction of Jose Cruz, who claimed he was wrongly convicted of murder based on misconduct by Guevara. Others previously exonerated include: Thomas Sierra, Ariel Gomez, Ricardo Rodriguez, Robert Bouto, Geraldo Iglesias, Demetrius Johnson, Reynaldo Munoz, and Daniel Rodriguez.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 8/25/2022
Last Updated: 8/25/2022
State:Illinois
County:Cook
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:Assault
Reported Crime Date:1999
Convicted:2004
Exonerated:2022
Sentence:90 years
Race/Ethnicity:Hispanic
Sex:Male
Age at the date of reported crime:20
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, False Confession, Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No