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Sandro Caban

Other Cook County, Illinois exonerations with mistaken witness identification
At 1:30 p.m. on November 6, 2012, 70-year-old Josefina Medina drove into the Maryhill Cemetery in Niles, Illinois, to place a wreath on her late husband’s grave. She parked her car, left the doors unlocked, and walked to the grave. She noticed a red car pull up near where her car was parked as she placed the wreath on the grave.

As she got into her car and drove off, she noticed a black object on the road, but didn’t pay much attention to it. Her sister-in-law, who was in a car behind her, flashed her headlights and waved for Medina to come back. When she did, she saw that the black object was her purse. When she opened it, she saw that her wallet was missing.

Medina went to the cemetery office to report the incident and learned that someone leaving the cemetery had found the wallet and turned it in. Medina said that her money—either $280 or $480—was gone.

The Cook County Sheriff’s police investigated the crime. Michael Courtney, a gravedigger, told police that between 8:30 a.m. and 9 a.m. on that day, he saw a red Toyota automobile pull up next to the car of a woman who regularly came to the cemetery. He said he saw a man get out of the Toyota and look into the woman’s car.

Courtney told police he started to walk toward the man, and, when he got about 20 feet away, the man knelt at a headstone as if to pray.

Courtney said that after the woman left, the man got into his car, and Courtney and a coworker followed the man in his truck. They wrote down the license plate number of the vehicle. Courtney said that the red Toyota made a three-point turn and drove back past his truck. He said he got a good look at the driver.

Cook County Sheriff’s Detective Jason Moran ran a search of the license plate number and learned it was registered in the name of Liperino Caban. Moran interviewed Caban, who said that he had not been to the cemetery. He also said that his son, 38-year-old Sandro Caban, drove the vehicle, which was a red Toyota.

On April 13, 2013, Moran put a photograph of Liperino into a photographic lineup and showed it to Courtney. Courtney said the man was too old. Moran created another photo array containing Sandro Caban’s photograph. On April 8, 2013, Courtney viewed this lineup and identified Sandro Caban as the man in the cemetery.

Caban, who had been arrested the day before, was charged with burglary and theft. He went to trial in Cook County Circuit Court and chose to have his case decided by a judge without a jury. Courtney testified and identified Caban as the driver of the Toyota he saw between 8:30 and 9 a.m. on November 6, 2012.

Medina also testified about finding her empty purse and reporting the theft to the cemetery office. She said she arrived at the cemetery at 1:30 p.m.

Detective Moran testified that he had repeatedly requested Sandro Caban to come to the police station, but that he did not show up. On August 7, 2013, Moran said he went to Liperino Caban’s home. As he arrived, he saw a red Toyota pull out of the drive. Moran said he activated his police lights and siren and stopped the car. Moran said he told Sandro Caban, who was behind the wheel, that he was under arrest for burglary.

Moran said Caban refused to get out of the car and drove away. Moran said he pursued him and eventually arrested him with help from Niles police.

After his arrest, Caban said he had never been in the cemetery in his life and denied taking a purse, Moran testified.

Moran said that he interviewed Medina and that she told him the car she saw that day was a red Toyota.

On September 25, 2014, Cook County Circuit Court Judge Marguerite Quinn convicted Caban of burglary and theft. She said that “everything weaves together absolutely perfectly where all roads lead to the decision or the conclusion that it was the defendant and the defendant only who was in that cemetery and who took the purse from Mrs. Medina.”

Judge Quinn sentenced Caban to 12 years in prison.

On appeal, Caban’s lawyer argued that the prosecution proved at most that Caban was in the area five hours before Medina reported her purse had been stolen.

On May 31, 2019, the First District Illinois Appellate Court reversed the verdict for insufficient evidence and ordered the case dismissed. “There was not a scintilla of evidence that defendant was in the Maryhill Cemetery around 1:30 p.m. when Medina’s purse was taken from her vehicle,” the court said.

The court said there was no evidence that anyone saw him there at that time or that he was seen there driving the red car Medina said she saw. There was no evidence that Caban was found in possession of anything belonging to Medina. "The conclusion that defendant committed the offenses of burglary and theft was based upon pure speculation, not proof beyond a reasonable doubt,” the court declared.

Caban was then released from prison. He filed a motion for a certificate of innocence, which was granted on August 11, 2020 by Cook County Circuit Court Judge LeRoy Martin Jr.

Caban then filed a claim for compensation from the state of Illinois. On September 22, 2020, the Illinois Court of Claims granted him $80,000 in compensation, of which $20,000 was for his lawyer, Joel Flaxman.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 2/15/2023
Last Updated: 2/15/2023
Most Serious Crime:Burglary/Unlawful Entry
Additional Convictions:Theft
Reported Crime Date:2012
Sentence:12 years
Age at the date of reported crime:38
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No