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Edwin Davila

Exonerations with misconduct by Detective Guevara
In the early morning hours of July 2, 1995, 17-year-old Jaime Alvarez, 28-year-old Michael Ybarra, and 20-year-old Ivar Velasco were driving near Pulaski Park in Chicago, Illinois, looking for marijuana. Ybarra was driving, Alvarez was in the front passenger seat, and Velasco was in the back seat. At about 2 a.m., another vehicle, described as a white Buick, pulled up alongside. Words were exchanged, and a bottle was thrown from the white car, which then sped off.

Ybarra sped after the vehicle until it stopped near 1719 West Pierce Avenue. Ybarra would later testify that the passenger of the Buick ran to the sidewalk where several other people were gathered. Ybarra said the passenger got a gun and shot at them from about 10 feet away. Ybarra was struck in the leg, and Alvarez was shot in the head. Ybarra immediately backed up and sped to St. Mary’s Hospital. Ybarra was treated for his wound. Alvarez died four days later without regaining consciousness.

When first questioned by the police at St. Mary’s, Ybarra and Velasco reported that they were not able to see who shot them. Police reports indicated Velasco believed the gunman was among the people gathered on the street. Neither of them said the gunman was the passenger in the Buick.

Ybarra was interviewed for a second time that same day after he was transferred to Cook County Hospital. He told Detective Ernest Halvorsen that he did not see who fired the shots. Ybarra said two males were in the Buick.

On July 9, Halvorsen and his partner, Detective Reynaldo Guevara, were assigned to investigate the crime. They drove around the neighborhood where the shooting occurred. They later reported that some young kids told them they had heard that someone from the “Jivers” street gang had shot a Latin Kings gang member. They told the detectives that members of the Jivers hung out near Pierce Avenue and Paulina Street less than a block from the shooting.

Later that day, according to Guevara, they saw 21-year-old Edwin Davila and another man installing a stereo in a car parked at 1750 West Pierce Avenue. Davila gave Guevara his address, which was about a mile away. Guevara later said that Davila was wearing an Italian tee shirt and that he saw a “J” [for Jiver] tattooed on his back.

Although Guevara would later say he spoke to four other people in the area and obtained photographs of all of them, including Davila, Guevara did not put any of that information in a report or document the interviews.

Two days later, on July 11, 1995, Guevara and Halvorsen put together a photographic lineup including Davila’s picture and showed it to Ybarra at the hospital. The detectives reported that Ybarra picked Davila as the gunman. On July 13, 1995, Velasco was shown the same photographic lineup, and, according to Guevara, Velasco picked Davila.

On July 29, 1995, Davila was arrested. The following day, Ybarra and Velasco viewed a live lineup and both picked out Davila. In their police report, Guevara and Halvorsen said, “Latin Jivers provoked strangers who were driving through their turf by throwing a bottle at the strangers’ car.” The report said that when Ybarra pulled up at 1719 West Pierce Avenue, the passenger of the Buick got out “and walked into a gangway and came out with a handgun shooting at the strangers…motive: set-up gang retaliation.”

In 1996, Davila went to trial in Cook County Circuit Court and chose to have the judge decide the case without a jury.

Ybarra and Velasco both testified and identified Davila in court. They recounted how they had identified him in photographic and live lineups. Both testified that they heard people yelling at them, “King Killer,” and identifying themselves as members of the Disciples street gang. The prosecution argued that Ybarra and Velasco did not come forward immediately because they were afraid.

Guevara testified about creating the photographic array and conducting the live lineup.

The defense presented no witnesses. On March 20, 1996, the judge convicted Davila of first-degree murder and attempted murder, declaring that “the witnesses in this case were credible in their identification.”

Prior to sentencing, the defense filed a motion for a new trial based on affidavits from Christopher Lorenzi and Carlos Cotto. Cotto said he saw the shooting and identified the gunman as Philip Willis. Lorenzi said he saw the car chase and saw Willis come out from a gangway and shoot at the car containing Ybarra, Velasco and Alvarez.

The motion was denied. Davila was sentenced to 50 years in prison on the murder conviction and 10 years on the attempted murder conviction with the sentences to be served concurrently.

In 1997, the First District Illinois Appellate Court upheld his convictions. Davila then filed a post-conviction petition based on the affidavits from Cotto and Lorenzi as well as an affidavit from Davila’s girlfriend, Myrian Porras. She said that Davila was on the phone with her at the time of the shooting and was about a mile away.

The petition was denied without a hearing in 1998. Davila appealed, and the dismissal was upheld.

In 2000, Davila filed another post-conviction petition that included affidavits of Pedro Carmona and Samuel Matias. Carmona and Matias implicated Willis in the shooting. They said that on the same day as the crime, July 2, 1995, they were chased while driving their car.

Carmona was the driver, and Matias was in the passenger’s seat. They were chased by another car, which pulled up to the right side of their car. They saw four Hispanic males flashing gang signs and yelling “King love.” A bottle was thrown at Carmona’s car. The second car rammed their car, and they got out of their car on Pierce Avenue.

At that point, both Carmona and Matias saw Willis, whom they knew from the neighborhood, appear and cover his head with a hoodie. Willis held a gun while yelling and started to shoot at them. Carmona and Matias got back in their car and drove off – they only found out months later that someone had died. Both stated that Davila was not present at the shooting.

This petition was dismissed in November 2000. Davila appealed and the dismissal was upheld.

On February 7, 2020, Davila was released on parole.

In August 2022, Russell Ainsworth, an attorney with the Exoneration Project at the University of Chicago Law School, filed another petition seeking to vacate Davila’s conviction.

In addition to the prior affidavits pointing to Willis as the gunman, the petition cited dozens of murder convictions that had been overturned based on misconduct by Guevara, including physically abusing suspects and witness to coerce false confessions and false identifications by witnesses.

The petition said that when Davila was first taken to the police station, Guevara came in to talk to him, and told Davila he was going to go into a lineup and that “the witnesses will point him out, and it did not matter if he did it.” Davila also said that he was the only person in the line-up made to turn his back to the mirror. He was wearing a Chicago Bulls basketball team jersey, and his large Jivers tattoo on his back was visible to anyone viewing the lineup.

Davila also said that Guevara showed him two pictures before the lineup of Jivers gang members and falsely claimed that they were Davila’s friends and that they had made statements against him.

The petition said that Dr. Deryn Strange, an expert in eyewitness identification, had reviewed the evidence. Dr. Strange, a professor of psychology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, opined that there were numerous factors that called into question the reliability of the identifications by Ybarra and Velasco, including that the lighting conditions were poor, that Ybarra and Velasco were likely focused on the gun, not the face, of the gunman, and that the incident happened in a short period of time.

The petition said, “Dr. Strange concluded that she was ‘confident that the factors…are evident in this case. Importantly, these factors can and do have a cumulative effect on identification performance to a reasonable degree of scientific certainty.’”

The petition noted that until Guevara began working on the case, there were no suspects and both Ybarra and Velasco said they could not identify the gunman. And neither of them said the passenger of the white Buick was the gunman until they testified at the trial.

“Suddenly, and rather miraculously, Guevara chanced upon Davila (with no reason to suspect him), and then two days later identifications were made from the photo arrays,” the petition said. “The expert evidence explains just how dubious the identifications were; indeed, the shooting was an extremely chaotic and quick event that took place late at night.”

“Davila’s trial theory was that the victims were pinning a murder on Davila as revenge,” the petition said. “He had no way to know that the lead detective on his case was the most corrupt police officer in Chicago’s history. Now—with overwhelming newly presented evidence entirely discrediting the identifications and demonstrating Detective Guevara’s pervasive misconduct, and supported by dispassionate scientific evidence –Davila’s convictions cannot stand.”

On November 15, 2022, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s post-conviction unit agreed that Davila’s conviction should be vacated. The charges were then dismissed.

In March 2023, Davila filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city of Chicago and Guevara seeking compensation for his wrongful conviction. He also obtained a certificate of innocence and was awarded $268,960 in state compensation.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 12/19/2022
Last Updated: 7/9/2024
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:Attempted Murder
Reported Crime Date:1995
Sentence:50 years
Age at the date of reported crime:21
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No