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Louis Robinson

Other Exonerations with Misconduct by Detective Guevara
On the night of June 20, 1996, 17-year-old Kelly Velez drove with a friend from her home in Schaumburg, Illinois, to see her boyfriend, Oscar Betancourt, with whom she had gone to the prom just weeks earlier at Hoffman Estates High School northwest of Chicago. At 11:20 p.m., as they chatted outside their cars at a gas station at 3057 North Kedzie Avenue, a maroon car drove by and the driver fired several shots.

Velez was struck twice and died.

Betancourt, who was a member of the Maniac Latin Disciples street gang, told police that the shooter was a male in his early twenties, who was a dark-skinned Black Hispanic. He said there might have been two others in the car.

Francisco Rocha, who lived on the second floor of a building at 3045 North Kedzie Avenue, told the police he heard gunshots and looked out his front window. He said he saw the driver’s arm being pulled back into the car. He said the driver was a white male with a dark complexion or a light-skinned Black male with a thin build. He said the driver was wearing a dark-colored athletic t-shirt. The second person was a white male, Rocha said.

The initial police report said there were three male suspects, one described as a white Hispanic. The other two were not described. A supplementary report written up the day after the shooting expanded the descriptions to a white male Hispanic in his early twenties and a white Hispanic male. This report was based on Rocha’s descriptions. At the time, Rocha did not mention any distinctive jewelry worn by the driver.

A friend of Velez’s who had accompanied her to the gas station was sitting in Velez’s car at the time of the shooting. She did not see who fired the shots. Three of Betancourt’s fellow gang members who had accompanied him to the station said they did not see the shooter.

The shooting of Velez was among a number of drive-by shootings during that summer in Chicago. The same night that Velez was shot, another shooting in a different area but in the same general neighborhood wounded Rogelio Barnes.

The lead detectives, Reynaldo Guevara and Ernest Halvorsen, believed that the shootings were the result of internal conflicts between two factions of the Latin Maniac Disciples—the Talman-Wabansia faction and the Kedzie-Barry faction, so called because of the streets demarking their territories. Although most of the gang members in these factions were Hispanic, police knew that some members of the Talman-Wabansia faction were Black. One of those was 28-year-old Louis Robinson, who was known as an “enforcer.” Police focused on Robinson after learning that Barnes was Robinson’s cousin and suspected that the shooting at Betancourt, who was in the Kedzie-Barry faction, was in retaliation for the shooting of Barnes.

On June 25, 1996, Betancourt came to the police station to view a photographic lineup that included a photograph of Robinson, who was a dark-skinned Black man with a stock build. Police would later testify that Betancourt identified Robinson in the photographic lineup at about 8 p.m. and then, shortly after midnight, he identified Robinson in a live lineup.

On June 26, Robinson was charged with murder and aggravated discharge of a firearm.

He went to trial in August 1997 and chose to have the case decided by Cook County Circuit Court Judge Mary Ellen Coghlan without a jury.

Betancourt testified and identified Robinson as the gunman. Rocha testified that although he was unable to identify Robinson as the driver, he saw that the driver had a gold medallion around his neck.

Officer Asvaldo Valdez testified that when he arrested Robinson to bring him in for the live lineup, Robinson was wearing a gold medallion and gold jewelry.

The defense and prosecution presented a joint stipulation, which said that at 3 a.m., Robinson was with Guevara at the station and gave a statement. Robinson said he was with his cousin, Barnes, when Barnes was shot. He said he went to his grandmother’s house where he met Barnes’s father. Together they went to St. Elizabeth’s hospital to visit Barnes. Robinson said that after the visit, he went to his girlfriend’s house where he spent the night.

Officer Kristine Carabello testified that she was assigned to investigate the shooting of Barnes. At the time, she did not know the identity of the person who had been wounded. She said she went to different hospitals looking for the victim. Carabello said she encountered Robinson at St. Mary’s Hospital, and he said, “My cousin is not here.” Carabello said that Robinson was wearing a medallion in the shape of a machine gun. Carabello said that after confirming that Barnes was not there, she went to St. Elizabeth’s hospital. There, she learned that Rogelio Barnes was being treated for a gunshot wound.

While she was interviewing Barnes, Carabello said she heard over her police radio of the shooting on Kedzie Avenue that killed Velez. Carabello said that she did not see Robinson at St. Elizabeth’s. She also testified that when she saw Robinson after he was arrested, he was wearing the same gold medallion he had been wearing when she saw him at St. Mary’s.

On August 26, 1997, Judge Coghlan convicted Robinson of first-degree murder and aggravated discharge of a firearm. She said that Betancourt was the “linchpin” of the prosecution’s case. She said that the other prosecution witnesses created “the fabric around which Mr. Betancourt’s testimony could sit.”

Judge Coghlan sentenced Robinson to 60 years in prison.

In October 2000, the First District Illinois Appellate Court affirmed the conviction and sentence.

In October 2019, while his direct appeal was pending, Robinson, acting without a lawyer, filed a post-conviction petition. In the petition, Robinson claimed that Betancourt had been coerced to falsely identify him as the gunman. He said that when it was his turn to stand up during the live lineup, he heard Detective Guevara ask, “Is that him?”

Robinson said he heard a voice say in response, “That’s not him.”

He then heard detectives—he couldn’t say who—say: “If you don’t say that’s him, we’ll give you the murder because we think they was {sic] trying to kill you. So far as we’re concerned, you’re the reason why your girlfriend is dead.”

Robinson said in the petition that he spoke up at that point, saying, “Please don’t do that.”

Shortly thereafter, an officer came into the lineup room and told Robinson he was under arrest.

In the petition, Robinson said he told his trial defense attorney about this, but the defense lawyer did not investigate the claim because he didn’t believe Robinson’s story.

The petition also noted that Robinson had no other evidence to back his claim until he learned about news accounts detailing “a litany of articles” that substantiated his claim that “Guevara was fully capable of doing what his [trial] defense attorney did not believe.”

Robinson said in the petition that he believed Guevara and Halvorsen had targeted him because he had had several run-ins with the officers in the past.

On January 17, 2020, Judge Domenica Stephenson, who was overseeing the case, dismissed the petition without a hearing, ruling that the claims were frivolous or without merit. The judge said that the claims of police misconduct were “lacking independent or objective corroboration.”

Robinson appealed. On January 21, 2022, the First District Illinois Appellate Court reversed the dismissal and remanded the case back to Judge Stephenson for an evidentiary hearing.

The court noted that the prosecution conceded that Guevara had an extensive history of misconduct, including influencing witnesses to obtain false identifications. The court cited a decision in another case which described Guevara as “a malignant blight on the Chicago Police Department and the judicial system.”

“Rather, the state maintains that [Robinson’s] petition should be summarily dismissed because the newly discovered evidence of Detective Guevara’s misconduct is not arguably material or so conclusive as to change the result on retrial,” the court said. “We disagree.”

“Certainly, evidence that Betancourt’s identification was coerced by a detective with a history of coercing witnesses to obtain convictions would be arguably relevant and probative of the defendant’s innocence,” the court ruled.

In August 2022, the prosecution filed an answer to the petition saying it would not oppose the claims related to Guevara’s misconduct. Moreover, the prosecution said that if the petition was granted, it would dismiss the charges.

On August 9, 2022, when the petition came up in court, Robinson’s attorney, Joshua Tepfer, from the Exoneration Project at the University of Chicago Law School, requested that the petition be granted. Judge Stephenson asked for arguments to be made in writing.

Tepfer filed a 99-page motion, including exhibits, the following day. “The State has now conceded the facts…relief is therefore proper,” Tepfer declared.

Stephen refused to grant the motion despite the prosecution’s concession and ordered that a hearing be held.

On September 12, 2022, Tepfer filed an amended post-conviction petition. The petition asserted that:

—Rocha had recanted his trial testimony. In an affidavit dated September 2, 2022, Rocha said, “It was dark and the car was moving, so I had very little time to see anything…I did not see the face of anyone in the car, and so I could not identify someone. I could not make out any distinct features or jewelry [sic]. It was too dark and the car had already passed my window.”

—Guevara and Halvorsen filed a false report saying that Robinson had denied going to St. Mary’s or meeting with officer Carabello. “This was a lie.”

—Guevara targeted Robinson because Robinson had refused a demand by Guevara to falsely implicate another man in an unrelated crime.

—Robinson did not own or have access to a maroon car. “[P]olice officers immediately identified a red Toyota Camry that they believed may have been used in the crime and that was registered to Jose Castillo.” At the time, Rocha had told police that the Toyota “looked like the car.” However, there were no indications in the police records that this lead was ever followed.

The petition also laid out Guevara’s “well-documented history of influencing and manipulating witnesses.” By 2023, dozens of murder convictions had been vacated and the charges dismissed based on misconduct by Guevara, some with Halvorsen as his partner.

Tepfer also filed a report by Dr. Caren Rotello, an eyewitness identification expert. Rotello had reviewed the transcript of the trial and the police reports and declared that in light of the factors undermining both eyewitnesses’ opportunity to observe the perpetrator, the inconsistency between the witnesses’ initial descriptions and the suspect Betancourt identified, combined with the repeated identification procedures, she concluded that “Mr. Betancourt’s identification of Mr. Robinson was unreliable.”

In November 2022, Betancourt provided a sworn affidavit saying that if he were called to testify about his identification testimony and the lineup procedures, he would assert his Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination.

Ultimately, on March 22, 2023, a hearing was held, and Tepfer and attorney Anand Swaminathan of the law firm of Loevy & Loevy presented the evidence outlined in the post-conviction petition.

On August 10, 2023, Judge Stephenson granted the petition and vacated Robinson’s convictions. The prosecution then dismissed the charges and Robinson was released nearly 26 years after his conviction in 1997.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 8/25/2023
Last Updated: 8/25/2023
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:Illegal Use of a Weapon
Reported Crime Date:1996
Sentence:60 years
Age at the date of reported crime:28
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No