Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content

Fabian Santiago

Other Exonerations with Misconduct by Detective Guevara
Shortly before midnight on January 16, 1993, 18-year-old Billy Stewart and his twin brother, Bobby, accompanied by two friends, 16-year-old John Matos and 21-year-old Pedro Muriel, decided to walk two blocks from the Stewart home to buy cigarettes at a liquor store at the corner of North Avenue and Humboldt Boulevard in Chicago, Illinois.

As they returned home, someone shouted, “Cobra Love! King Killer!” and several shots were fired from an alley. Billy Stewart was shot in the chest and died. Muriel also was shot in the chest, but survived after nearly three months in the hospital. Bobby Stewart and Matos were uninjured.

Fourteen-year-old Maricela Hernandez, a passenger in the back seat of a passing car, suffered a graze wound on her thigh when a bullet pierced the car.

Matos said there were two gunmen. He said both were Hispanic, weighed about 180 to 200 pounds and were around six feet tall.

Four days later, on January 20, 1993, Chicago police detective Ernest Halvorsen reported that Detective William Dorsch had received information that 16-year-old Fabian Santiago had been overheard admitting to the shooting. According to Halvorsen’s report, a police officer named Cruz said that one of his informants heard Santiago boast about shooting at members of the Latin Kings street gang. The informant said that the gun used in the shooting was in the home where Santiago lived on North Francisco Street, about a block from the shooting.

Halvorsen and other officers went to Santiago’s home where Halvorsen said a .45-caliber semi-automatic pistol was recovered from behind a drawer under Santiago’s bed. Santiago was arrested on a charge of illegal possession of a firearm and taken to the police station. Santiago was 5 feet 4 inches tall and weighed 105 pounds.

Within hours, Halvorsen had arranged for Santiago to be placed in a lineup where, according to Halvorsen, Matos had identified Santiago as the gunman. In addition, Francisco Rivera, whose apartment faced the alley from which the shots were fired, also identified Santiago as the person he saw in the alley firing several shots.

Following several hours of interrogation of Santiago by Halvorsen, Assistant Cook County State’s Attorney Michael Holzman arrived. Holzman would later testify that while he sat in the interrogation room with Halvorsen, Santiago, and a youth officer, Santiago related what happened.

According to Holzman, Santiago said that the shooting occurred when he was standing near his home with a group of Young Latin Disciples gang members. Santiago said several members of the Latin King gang approached and fired a gun at them. Holzman said Santiago described going to a bush where a gun was hidden for security that day. Santiago said he usually kept the gun under his bed. Holzman said Santiago said he chased the gang members, then lost sight of them, before seeing some individuals crossing Humboldt Avenue. He believed they were Latin King members and shot at them. According to Holzman, Santiago said he fired the gun until it was empty, then ran home, wiped the gun clean with a cloth and hid it behind his bed behind a drawer.

At that point, Holzman said, Santiago asked to speak to a lawyer. Holzman terminated the interview and left. There was no written or electronic record made of the statement.

Santiago, who had turned 16 on the day of the shooting, was charged with first-degree murder of Billy Stewart, attempted murder of John Matos, separate counts of aggravated battery with a firearm of Muriel and Hernandez as well as four charges of aggravated discharge of a firearm.

Prior to the trial, Santiago’s defense lawyer sought to suppress the statement. During a hearing, Santiago testified that Halvorsen came into the interrogation room holding a gun and pointed it at him, saying “Now you know how it feels.” Santiago denied committing the crime or possessing the gun. Halvorsen yelled at him repeatedly and struck him in the face twice and once on the top of his head, Santiago testified.

Santiago said that the search of his home occurred after he was taken into custody. He said he signed a piece of paper that Halvorsen said would allow Santiago to be reimbursed if anything in his home was damaged during a search. In fact, Santiago later realized that he had signed an authorization for the search.

Santiago said he was scared and agreed to give a statement to the prosecutor after Halvorsen fed him the details.

During the hearing, Halvorsen denied striking Santiago or pointing the gun at him. He denied feeding the story of what happened to Santiago. Halvorsen testified that Santiago became a suspect after detective Dorsch said that an informant had told Officer Cruz that Santiago was bragging about the shooting.

The motion to suppress the statement was denied. On May 16, 1994, a jury was selected to hear the trial in Cook County Circuit Court. The following day, Santiago failed to appear. Judge Michael Toomin issued a warrant for Santiago’s arrest and directed that the trial begin without Santiago.

Matos testified and identified Santiago as the gunman, saying that he recalled him from going to the same grammar school years earlier. Rivera also identified Santiago. Both were impeached with their descriptions of the two men in the alley which were markedly taller and heavier than the diminutive Santiago.

Bobby Stewart and Muriel testified about the shooting. Neither were able to identify the gunman. Hernandez testified that she was riding in the back seat of the car with family members when a bullet pierced the rear door and hit her in the hip.

A forensic pathologist testified that Billy Stewart died of a gunshot wound to the chest. A Chicago police firearms analyst testified that he examined a bullet recovered from Hernandez’s car and the bullet recovered during Stewart’s autopsy. He said that the bullets were fired by the gun that had been recovered by police. He said he was unable to link six shell casings recovered at the scene to the shooting to the weapon.

Halvorsen testified about getting the information from detective Dorsch, arresting Santiago and recovering the gun from under Santiago’s bed. He denied that he physically abused Santiago.

On May 18, 1994, the jury convicted Santiago of the first-degree murder of Billy Stewart, the attempted murder of Matos, aggravated battery with a firearm of Muriel, as well as three counts of aggravated discharge of a firearm. The jury acquitted Santiago of charges relating to the wounding of Hernandez.

Judge Toomin imposed a sentence of 90 years in prison, describing the shooting as “an unwarranted and cold-blooded attack upon members of the community who had not caused any harm or threat” to Santiago.

Santiago, meanwhile, remained a fugitive.

More than two years later, on September 17, 1996, Chicago police arrested Santiago, who was using a false name with a driver’s license saying he was a resident of Florida.

Santiago pled guilty to bail jumping and was sentenced to an additional 10 years in prison.

In 1998, the First District Illinois Appellate Court upheld the convictions and sentence.

Santiago sought to overturn the convictions in state and federal court, but was unsuccessful.

Ultimately, attorneys Jennifer Bonjean and Ashley Cohen began investigating Santiago’s case among numerous other cases because of the involvement of Halvorsen, whose partner was detective Reynaldo Guevara.

In 2021, Bonjean asked Dorsch, who had retired from the police department in 1994 and worked as a private investigator before moving to Bulgaria, to review the Stewart homicide file. Dorsch said that he never received a tip from any officer named Cruz and that he had not told Halvorsen that Cruz reported that Santiago had been heard bragging about committing the shooting.

Dorsch reported—and on June 20, 2021, provided a sworn affidavit as well–that one of Halvorsen’s reports falsely claimed that Dorsch had been present for the two lineups in the case. Another report falsely claimed that Dorsch was involved in the arrest of Santiago and the search of his home. “My practice was to prepare a report if I participated in any investigatory conduct in connection with a case,” Dorsch said in the affidavit. “No such reports exist in this homicide file.”

By that time, numerous murder convictions had been overturned and dismissed based on misconduct by Guevara as well as Halvorsen.

In 2011, Jacques Rivera had been exonerated of a 1988 murder in Chicago after the witness who identified Rivera at trial recanted and said that Guevara had coerced him to falsely identify Rivera. In 2012, Rivera filed a federal lawsuit against Guevara and other officers of burying evidence and coercing the witness to testify falsely.

Rivera was the second person to be exonerated based on Guevara’s misconduct. In February 2004, Juan Johnson had been acquitted at a retrial after his 30-year prison term was vacated. He later would win $21 million in damages from the city of Chicago based on evidence that the original three eyewitnesses recanted their testimony and said they were coerced by Guevara to falsely identify Johnson. The lawsuit was later settled for $16.4 million. In June 2018, the jury in Rivera’s trial awarded him $17.175 million in damages.

The tally of wrongly convicted defendants as a result of Guevara’s misconduct had grown over the years. In December 2019, Demetrius Johnson was the fifteenth person exonerated based on Guevara’s misconduct.

On July 21, 2021, Bonjean and Cohen filed a post-conviction petition asserting Santiago was innocent.

During the reinvestigation of Santiago’s case, Bonjean and Cohen developed evidence showing that the gun was not recovered during a search of Santiago’s home. In fact, as they outlined subsequently in a federal lawsuit filed on behalf of Santiago, Guevara had gotten the gun from a gang member who gave it to Guevara to keep from being arrested.

In August 2021, during a court hearing, Dorsch testified via a video call from Bulgaria. He testified that his signature had been forged on at least one report and that the information that Halvorsen had attributed to him was false.

Santiago also testified at the hearing. He said his requests during the interrogation to see his family or a lawyer were ignored. He recalled the first time Halvorsen struck him after repeatedly denying involvement in or knowledge of the shooting. “I was in a state of shock and fear,” Santiago said. “And he told me, ‘Now you’re going to tell the truth, aren’t you.’ And he’s yelling and screaming while he’s telling me this.

“And I yelled to him that I had told him the truth,” Santiago said. “And he proceeded to strike me for the second time at full force once again ... .Ultimately, I relented. I told him, ‘I’ll tell you what you want to hear.’”

“He ended up coaching me into a story about how rival gang members had entered into my neighborhood, had shot at me and other individuals and had given chase, and where I had recovered a firearm and returned fire,” Santiago said.

On January 11, 2022, Santiago was released from prison. In April 2022, Hernandez’s older sister, Lorena, who was in the car the night Maricela was struck by the stray bullet, gave a sworn affidavit. She said that after the shooting, she had been interviewed by police officers and said she had not seen the gunman.

“I distinctly remember the detective pressuring me to make an identification and steering me to pick out one particular individual in the lineup,” she said. “I do not recall what the person looked like, but I remember that the detective was very upset with me when I insisted that I could not identify anyone because I had not seen the shooter. Even as I was walking out the door, he continued to pressure me to make an identification and he was angry that I could not.”

On October 25, 2022, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office agreed to vacate Santiago’s convictions, and the case was dismissed.

Santiago was among 19 defendants who were exonerated in 2022 based at least in part on misconduct by Guevara or Halvorsen or both. On July 22, 2023, Santiago was awarded a certificate of innocence, paving the way for him to seek compensation from the state of Illinois. In addition, four more defendants were exonerated in 2023 based on misconduct by Guevara and Halvorsen or both.

In September 2023, Bonjean and Cohen filed a federal civil rights lawsuit on behalf of Santiago against Guevara, the estate of Halvorsen who had died in 2020, and other officers in the case.

– Maurice Possley

Report an error or add more information about this case.

Posting Date: 10/22/2023
Last Updated: 10/22/2023
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:Attempted Murder, Assault, Illegal Use of a Weapon
Reported Crime Date:1993
Sentence:90 years
Age at the date of reported crime:16
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, False Confession, False or Misleading Forensic Evidence, Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No