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Nelson Gonzalez

Other Exonerations with Misconduct by Detective Guevara
At about 2 a.m. on June 20, 1993, after a night of drinking, 45-year-old Jose Mendoza was driving home from a bar on the northwest side of Chicago, Illinois. His brother, Ciro, was in the back seat, as was a friend, Raul Moreno. Another friend, Romaldo Alvarez, was in the front passenger seat.

Near the intersection of Cortland Street and Kostner Avenue, the car stalled. As Mendoza attempted to restart the car, five or six men approached. One of them smashed out the rear window, and another shattered the driver’s side window and began beating Mendoza with a baseball bat. From the rear passenger seat, Ciro attempted to stop the attack. He managed to rip a Gitano brand wristwatch from the attacker’s arm before the men fled in a red car.

Ciro got behind the wheel and began driving to seek help. A police car noticed the car driving erratically and running a red light. The officers pulled them over and summoned help.

Later that day, Chicago police detective Reynaldo Guevara claimed that an anonymous caller had reported that the attacker was 24-year-old Nelson Gonzalez, who had been arrested hours after the attack on an unrelated charge.

Although Ciro Mendoza’s description of the attacker was of a youth 16 to 18 years old with brown skin, Guevara put together a four-person lineup consisting of Gonzalez, who was 24 years old and had light skin, along with three fillers. Ciro selected Gonzalez as the attacker.

Six days later, Mendoza died of head injuries. Gonzalez was charged with first degree murder.

In November 1994, Gonzalez went to trial in Cook County Circuit Court. He was convicted on November 10, 1994 based solely on Ciro’s identification. The other two occupants of the car—Moreno and Alvarez—were unable to make any identification. Gonzalez was sentenced to 45 years in prison.

In September 1996, the First District Illinois Appellate Court upheld the conviction and sentence.

In 2002, Gonzalez, acting without a lawyer, filed a motion for DNA testing of the wristwatch. In January 2004, the motion was denied. He appealed, and, in 2005, the Appellate court ordered the testing be performed. In November 2005, the DNA testing revealed a mixture of DNA. Gonzalez was excluded from the DNA found on the watch. The only identifiable DNA was that of the victim.

In 2016, Gonzalez was released on parole after spending nearly 20 years in prison since his conviction.

During that time, the first evidence of misconduct by Guevara and other detectives began to surface and prompted the undoing of convictions.

In February 2004, Juan Johnson, whose 30-year prison sentence for a murder conviction had been vacated in 2002, had been 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.

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 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.

In August 2019, Gonzalez’s attorneys, Jennifer Bonjean and Ashley Cohen, filed an amended post-conviction petition seeking to vacate Gonzalez’s conviction. The petition cited the numerous cases in which Guevara’s misconduct had been exposed, including the manipulation and coercion of witnesses to falsely identify suspects.

The petition also cited the lineup containing four persons that Guevara had created from which Gonzalez was identified by Ciro Mendoza. The petition noted that when Guevara submitted to a deposition as part of post-conviction proceedings, he invoked his Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination when asked about the many cases of misconduct. In regard to Gonzalez’s case, he invoked that protection and refused to answer questions about whether he fabricated the claim that an anonymous source had reported that Gonzalez committed the crime. He likewise refused to answer whether he directed Ciro to identify Gonzalez.

“The case against Mr. Gonzalez was razor thin, turning entirely on the testimony of Ciro Mendoza who by his own admission was under the influence of alcohol at the time of the event and who was unable to give any meaningful description of any of the offenders immediately after the event,” the petition said.

The petition noted that Ciro and the two others in the car looked at mug shot books at the police station immediately after the attack and identified no one, even though Gonzalez’s photo would have been in the books since he had been arrested a dozen times in that police district.

Moreover, the petition said, “The line-up assembled by Guevara was inherently suggestive and violated every law enforcement norm government line-up procedure where it contained only three fillers. The Department of Justice commands that line-ups contain a minimum of five fillers in addition to the suspect.”

With just three fillers, the petition noted, “Any witness viewing the line-up would have a 25 percent chance of identifying the suspect by closing his eyes and randomly pointing at anyone in the line-up.”

As the petition was pending, more convictions based on Guevara’s misconduct were being dismissed. On July 12, 2022, the prosecution 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 exonerated include: Thomas Sierra, Ariel Gomez, Ricardo Rodriguez, Robert Bouto, Geraldo Iglesias, Demetrius Johnson, Reynaldo Munoz, and Daniel Rodriguez.

On July 21, 2022, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office abruptly asked that the convictions of Eruby Abrego and Jeremiah Cain be vacated and dismissed. On that same day, the prosecution also agreed to dismiss the murder convictions of Juan Hernandez and Rosendo Hernandez, two brothers who were falsely convicted by misconduct of Guevara and other detectives.

On August 9, 2022, the Cook County State’s attorney’s office agreed to vacate Gonzalez’s convictions, and the case was dismissed.

In 2023, Gonzalez was granted a certificate of innocence, paving the way for him to apply for compensation from the state of Illinois. In September 2023, Gonzalez was awarded $268,960 in state compensation.

In September 2023, he filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against Guevara and other police officers seeking compensation for his wrongful conviction.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 8/22/2022
Last Updated: 12/13/2023
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:1993
Sentence:45 years
Age at the date of reported crime:24
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:Yes