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Gamalier Rivera

Other Exonerations with Misconduct by Detective Guevara
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At about 11:30 p.m. on April 22, 1996, 39-year-old Antonio Diaz, his wife, Maria, and their friend, Richardini Lopez, pulled their red Cadillac into an alley near Grand and Karlov Avenues in Chicago, Illinois, in search of cocaine. They pulled up behind a Dodge Colt containing Javier Cruz and 14-year-old Jesus Ramos.

Antonio Diaz got out of the passenger seat, leaving his wife in the back seat and Lopez behind the steering wheel. He walked toward Cruz, who had gotten out of his car to get the drugs, which were stashed nearby. At that moment, a white four-door Chevy Blazer with tinted windows drove down the alley. As it got close, a man leaned out of the passenger side, yelled “Disciple killer,” and fired four or five shots from a pistol. The Blazer then sped off.

Antonio Diaz was wounded in the abdomen and right leg. Ramos, who was sitting in the Dodge Colt, was shot in the back. Diaz survived. Ramos died in surgery.

Maria Diaz admitted they were in the alley to purchase drugs and had bought them from Cruz in the past. She said she believed there were three men in the Blazer. The only description of the gunman she could provide was that he wore “dark clothing” and leaned out of the rear passenger window. She said she ducked down when the shots were fired.

Lopez, the owner of the Cadillac, also confirmed they were trying to buy drugs. He said the gunman leaned out of the front passenger window. He said the man was in his early 20s, had short hair shaved on the sides, and wore dark clothing. He said he ducked down as well when the shooting began.

Detectives talked to Cruz, who denied selling drugs. He said he and Ramos were in the Dodge Colt in the alley. When they saw Antonio and Maria Diaz walking in the alley, the Blazer drove by and shots were fired. Cruz gave no description of the gunman.

Police interviewed Antonio Diaz at the hospital. He said that Ramos was on foot, not in the Dodge Colt, when the Blazer came down the alley. Diaz gave no description of the gunman. Diaz said that immediately after the shooting, Ramos, while still conscious, said that the gunman was the same person who had fired a gun at him and Cruz in a prior incident. Police spoke with Ramos before he went into surgery, and he repeated that claim.

Ramos’s brother, Miguel Gonzalez, told the police that Ramos was a member of the Spanish Cobras street gang. Gonzalez said he believed a high-ranking member of the Insane Unknowns street gang was responsible for the shooting. Another of Ramos’s brothers, Santos Villa, told the police that Ramos had a “beef” with Reinaldo “Butchie” Dejesus, a leader of the Insane Unknowns.

Gonzalez said he witnessed the earlier shooting that Ramos had spoken of before he died. Gonzalez said that Ramos and Cruz were near the same intersection—Grand and Karlov. A police report from a security officer at a nearby school confirmed that Butchie was seen near that shooting. Gonzalez also said that another Insane Unknown, 14-year-old Valerio Gomez, had been threatening Ramos. Police found reports that a juvenile previously had been arrested near Grand and Karlov on a charge of unlawful use of a weapon after Ramos told a police officer that a member of the Insane Unknowns was in a car with a gun.

On April 24, 1996, detectives Reynaldo Guevara and Ernest Halvorsen showed photographs of Insane Unknown gang members to Lopez. Although Butchie was in the photos, Lopez did not make an identification.

On June 8, 1996, a police officer handed Guevara a photograph of 21-year-old Gamalier Rivera, a member of the Insane Unknowns who had been arrested on May 6 on a charge of possession of marijuana. Guevara created a photo lineup that included Rivera’s photograph and took it to Lopez’s house on June 10, 1996. Guevara said Lopez identified Rivera as the gunman.

On June 17, Rivera was placed in a live lineup conducted by Guevara and Halvorsen. Lopez identified Rivera again. On June 18, Rivera was arrested and charged with the shooting.

On June 18, Guevara picked up Antonio Diaz and Javier Cruz, who were in the Cook County Jail on unrelated charges. Guevara took them to the police station where they individually viewed a live lineup. Both identified Rivera as the gunman, although Antonio said he was “not sure.”

A week later, on June 27, 1996, Guevara brought Maria Diaz to the station where she viewed a live lineup and also identified Rivera as the gunman.

Prior to trial, Rivera’s defense lawyer filed a motion to suppress the identifications. Guevara testified that he allowed Rivera to pick the lineup seat he wanted. Rivera testified that was false. He said that in all of the lineups, Guevara and Halvorsen ordered him where to sit and did not give him any choice. Rivera also testified that for the Maria Diaz lineup, a public defender was present, but the detectives waited until the public defender went to lunch, and then told him where to sit. When the defender returned, Rivera was in the spot where he had been ordered to sit. A photograph of that lineup taken by police had disappeared by the time of the hearing.

The defense also argued the lineups were suggestive because Rivera wore yellow shorts and a solid blue shirt in all of them, while the remainder of the men in the lineup wore blue pants and various shirts. In one lineup, one of the other men wore red sweatpants and a Chicago Bulls jersey.

The motion to suppress the identifications was denied.

In January 1998, Rivera went to trial in Cook County Circuit Court. He was charged with first-degree murder, attempted murder, and aggravated discharge of a firearm. The Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office sought the death penalty.

The case rested almost entirely on the four witnesses—Antonio and Maria Diaz, Lopez, and Cruz—who all identified Rivera as the gunman.

Although Rivera had identified three witnesses who were prepared to testify that he was elsewhere at the time of the shooting, the defense did not call them to testify.

During closing arguments, the prosecution told the jury the shooting was the product of a struggle for control of drug turf between the Spanish Cobras and the Insane Unknowns.

“You know what control means to the Insane Unknowns, you know what it means to Gamalier Rivera, and what control means is that he’ll do anything at all cost,” the prosecutor declared. “The evidence showed you that that there was dealing of drugs by members of possible Spanish Cobras in the area [controlled] by the Insane Unknowns, and you don’t do that to Gamalier Rivera, and you don’t do that to his gang because that’s their territory, they’ll fight for it and they’ll do anything to control it.”

On January 28, 1998, the jury convicted Rivera of first-degree murder, attempted murder, and aggravated discharge of a firearm. The judge declined to impose the death penalty and sentenced Rivera to 45 years in prison.

In May 2000, the First District Illinois Appellate Court rejected defense arguments that the prosecution had improperly argued facts that were not in evidence by characterizing the shooting as a battle for drug turf between gangs. And the court declined to find that the lineups were suggestive. The court did order the charge of aggravated discharge of a firearm to be dismissed. The ruling did not affect Rivera’s 45-year sentence.

Acting without a lawyer, River filed a post-conviction petition in 2001. It was denied without a hearing.

Rivera was released on parole in October 2019, having served more than 21 years in prison since his conviction. By that time, numerous other defendants convicted of murder based on investigations conducted by Guevara and Halvorsen had been exonerated based on evidence that the detectives physically abused defendants and witnesses to obtain false confessions or false statements implicating the defendants.

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 had been coerced by Guevara.

In April 2017, Robert 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 2020, Joshua Tepfer and Anand Swaminathan, attorneys from the Exoneration Project at the University of Chicago Law School, filed a successive petition for post-conviction relief on behalf of Rivera. The 42-page pleading outlined dozens of cases involving misconduct by Guevara and Halvorsen.

“The evidence supporting this murder conviction begins and ends with the testimony of victim eyewitnesses who only had a chance to view the shooter for mere seconds late at night, in a dark alleyway, while the perpetrator was shooting at them from a moving car with tinted windows,” the petition said. “And the witnesses stated the obvious—they ducked immediately when they heard the shots, undermining their ability to view and identify the shooter.”

Despite “minimal and inconsistent descriptions, in a troubling but familiar pattern, now-disgraced Detective Reynaldo Guevara stepped into the investigation and suddenly ‘solved’ the case, obtaining lineup identifications of Gamalier Rivera from these same eyewitness victims two months after the shooting,” the petition said. “Their identifications were of a stranger they had never met.”

The petition cited expert testimony from an eyewitness identification expert, Dr. Nancy Franklin that, given the conditions at the time and the witnesses’s reactions, their identifications were “unreliable and were at high risk of being erroneous.”

The petition said, “Given the overwhelming evidence of Detective Guevara’s pattern of rigging lineups, coercing eyewitness identifications, and blatant lying and perjury, this conviction cannot stand.”

In July, 2022, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office agreed to dismiss murder convictions of Jose Cruz, Eruby Abrego, and Jeremiah Cain. On July 14, 2022, following a contentious hearing, Cook County Circuit Court Judge Joanne Rosado vacated the convictions of brothers Juan and Rosendo Hernandez. She called Guevara a “lying, scheming person.” On July 21, the prosecution dismissed those cases as well.

By that time, others exonerated based on misconduct by Guevara included Thomas Sierra, Ariel Gomez, Ricardo Rodriguez, Robert Bouto, Geraldo Iglesias, Demetrius Johnson Reynaldo Munoz, and Daniel Rodriguez.

On August 9, 2022, the State’s Attorney’s Office dismissed the convictions of six more men and one woman who had been victimized by Guevara.

On August 16, 2022, Cook County Circuit Court Judge Vincent Gaughan granted a motion by the prosecution to vacate Rivera’s convictions and to dismiss the case. Rivera was the 31st person whose conviction was dismissed based on Guevara’s misconduct.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 9/6/2022
Last Updated: 9/6/2022
State:Illinois
County:Cook
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:Attempted Murder, Illegal Use of a Weapon
Reported Crime Date:1996
Convicted:1998
Exonerated:2022
Sentence:45 years
Race/Ethnicity:Hispanic
Sex:Male
Age at the date of reported crime:21
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No