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Thomas Kelly

Other Exonerations with Misconduct by Detective Guevara
On October 11, 1998, Manuel Rodriguez drove 24-year-old Daniel Garcia to an alley near West Armitage Avenue and North Whipple Street in Chicago, Illinois to buy narcotics. Garcia got out of the car and walked into the alley. Not long after, Garcia came running out and jumped into the car, saying, “Step on it!” As they sped away, Garcia was holding a bag of cocaine.

At about 1:30 a.m. on October 12 , Garcia returned to the area near Whipple and Armitage with Jesus Fuentes and Esteban Rodriguez (Manuel Rodriguez’s brother). They had been drinking since about 10 p.m. Fuentes was driving a van, and they dropped Garcia off close to the same alley and waited. About 15 minutes later, Fuentes drove the van around the block looking for Garcia.

After circling the block a second time, Fuentes pulled into the alley. There he saw a group of five or six men further down the alley who looked like they were pushing or shoving each other. Fuentes later said he was able to see some of the young men's faces. Rodriguez also saw the group of young men.

After their third drive around the block, Rodriguez and Fuentes went down the alley where they had seen the group of men. They saw Garcia lying in a parking lot at the edge of the alley, beaten and covered in blood, in the same spot where Fuentes and Rodriguez had seen the group of men. Garcia was unconscious. Rodriguez tried to lift Garcia into the van, but he was too heavy. Fuentes and Rodriguez flagged down a police car, but were unable to communicate with the officers because Fuentes and Rodriguez only spoke Spanish, and the officers could not understand them.

Rodriguez and Fuentes then went to tell Garcia's family what had happened. Garcia was eventually taken to the hospital, where he was treated but was in critical condition.

On October 16, Esteban told a Chicago police detective that he “saw no one on the street” prior to discovering Garcia on the ground.

On December 10, 1998, Garcia died of his injuries, and the case was reclassified as a homicide. Detective Reynaldo Guevara was assigned to the case. That same day, Guevara would later claim, he re-interviewed Esteban and also interviewed Fuentes at Esteban’s home. Esteban would later claim the interview never took place, and Fuentes would later assert that he and Esteban were elsewhere on that day. According to Guevara, both men said they “heard some voices” in the alley.

On December 28, 1998, Guevara reported that he was at a police station interviewing Margarita Casiano, who was a witness to an unrelated shooting. Casiano, a self-described daily drug user, told Guevara that sometime in October 1998, she went to buy drugs in the alley at Whipple and Armitage and saw the beating. She said she saw some members of the Latin Kings street gang who were “laughing and giggling about some Mexican dude they had beaten up and left in the alley.”

Casiano said she knew them as Toy, Johnny, Rabbit, and Snoopy. She identified a photograph of 19-year-old Jose Tinajero as Toy. On January 24, 1999, Casiano was shown more photos and identified Johnny as 18-year-old John Martinez, Rabbit as Angel Serrano, and 17-year-old Thomas Kelly as Snoopy.

That same day, Guevara went to interview Mellony Parker, who lived in a third-floor apartment on Whipple near Armitage. Guevara had concluded that Parker had made a 911 call at 1:55 a.m. about a fight in the alley. She later testified that she looked out of her living room window, which had a tree in front of it, and saw a Hispanic man walk into the alley and approach a group of men. She said she heard one of the group say, “Where’s my money?” and then saw that person punch the Hispanic man. She said a brawl ensued, and the Hispanic man was beaten and left on the ground. According to Guevara’s report of the interview, Parker said she “recognized” the person who yelled about the money as a local “gang banger” who drove a gray car. She did not identify him by name.

Guevara reported that he showed Parker a photographic lineup, and she identified Tinajero as the person who demanded money and initiated the brawl. Two weeks later, on February 6, 1999, Guevara visited Parker’s apartment with additional photographs, but Parker said she would not make any more identifications. Two days later, on February 8, 1999, at 9:15 p.m., Guevara conducted a lineup at the police station, and Parker was there. She identified Tinajero and Martinez as two of those involved in the beating. Kelly and Serrano were in the lineup, but she did not identify them.

Two hours later, Parker signed a handwritten statement written by a prosecutor. In the statement, Parker said she saw Tinajero holding a chair and chasing a van down the alley. She said he hit the van with the chair. Seconds later, another van approached, and Tinajero hit that van as well. She said she remembered Martinez punching Garcia, but not how many times. The statement said that after the beating stopped, Tinajero returned twice to resume beating him. Finally, she said Tinajero just “pushed or prod[ded]” Garcia with his foot and then drove off in his gray car.

At 5 a.m. on February 7, two detectives arrested Tinajero. He denied any knowledge of the beating. That evening, police arrested Martinez, Kelly, and Serrano. Guevara interviewed them. None made any admissions.

The next day, at 3 p.m., Guevara came on duty, and almost immediately, Guevara later said, Tinajero not only admitted his involvement, but also implicated Martinez, Kelly, and Serrano in the beating. In a statement transcribed by a court reporter, Tinajero claimed he punched Garcia, stole his wallet, and left, but could see Martinez, Kelly, and Serrano beating on him.

Guevara also interviewed Esteban on February 8, 1999. Guevara reported that Esteban admitted he “forgot” to tell the detectives everything that he knew. Guevara said Esteban told him that after discovering Garcia’s body, he saw four Hispanic men at the mouth of the alley. The men started throwing bottles at the van and told them to leave Garcia alone. When the men began running toward them, Esteban and Fuentes left. Esteban would later say he didn’t recall saying anything of the kind to Guevara and that this second interview did not take place either.

Guevara brought Esteban to the police station to view a live lineup. According to the lineup report, Esteban identified Martinez, Tinajero, and Kelly as among those who were beating Garcia. Esteban did not identify Serrano. Prior to this time, Esteban had never said he saw anyone beating Garcia.

Guevara told Martinez and Kelly that they had been identified by witnesses, but neither would admit involvement.

However, at 6:45 a.m. on February 9, Martinez signed a handwritten statement claiming he heard a commotion and went to the alley where he saw Garcia on the ground. Tinajero, Serrano, and Kelly were standing around him. In the statement, Martinez said he gave Garcia two kicks in the side and then used his foot to roll Garcia onto his back, before driving away.

More than 12 hours later, Guevara re-interrogated Kelly. At 8:40 p.m., more than 48 hours after he was arrested, Kelly signed a handwritten statement saying he saw Tinajero punch Garcia and then joined in the beating. According to the statement, Kelly drove away when he heard police sirens. Despite the statements, Serrano was released and never charged.

Two weeks later, on February 23, 1999, Fuentes viewed a lineup conducted by Guevara. Fuentes, Guevara reported, also identified Martinez, Tinajero, and Kelly.

On March 5, based on the testimony of Guevara, a Cook County grand jury indicted Martinez, Kelly, and Tinajero on charges of first-degree murder and robbery.

Prior to trial, Tinajero’s defense lawyer filed a motion seeking to suppress his statement. During a hearing on the motion, Tinajero recanted his statement. He said he agreed to the false statement after Guevara told him, “[Y]ou had better tell me a story when I come back in 10 minutes, or I am going to charge you with first-degree murder.” Tinajero said he gave the statement to avoid being charged with murder and because Guevara caused him to believe he would go home after he gave the statement. The motion to suppress was denied.

In August 2001, Martinez, Kelly, and Tinajero went to trial together in Cook County Circuit Court before Judge Marcus Salone. Tinajero chose to have his case decided by a jury, while Martinez and Kelly chose to have their case decided by Salone.

Esteban and Fuentes testified to an entirely different version—a version not detailed in any police reports or recounted by any police officers. They testified that when they were driving around looking for Garcia, they saw five or six men in the alley shoving each other in a playful manner. Garcia was not among them. Esteban and Fuentes said they had never seen these men before. Esteban said he saw them for only about 10 seconds, and he was too far away to see if they had facial hair or describe their haircuts. He said he was not able to see anything very well. Fuentes said he only saw them for “just a moment. It was seconds.” He also said he could not identify them. Fuentes and Esteban said their lineup identifications were only of the individuals they saw play fighting while they were looking for Garcia. They denied anyone threw bottles at the van, and neither testified—contrary to Guevara’s reports—that they saw anyone beat Garcia.

Casiano’s testimony was shaky. She said the crime occurred either on October 13 or October 14, not October 12. She said that when she heard the gang members laughing about the beating of the “Mexican dude,” she also heard them say that the “Mexican had ripped off the girl for rocks the night before.” She identified Martinez, Kelly, and Tinajero as among the gang members. Esteban identified Martinez, Kelly, and Tinajero as three of the people he saw on the night of October 12, 1998. She said Martinez was one of those pushing and kicking Garcia.

Parker testified that she did not see any of the faces of those who were beating Garcia. She identified Martinez being present prior to the brawl erupting. She also said that she had not identified anyone at her apartment as Guevara had reported. Her testimony was confusing. She said Tinajero and Martinez looked alike and then said photos of them were actually of Kelly. Eventually, she identified Kelly, but not Tinajero, as being involved. At one point, when shown a photograph of Martinez, she said she never saw him in the alley.

Guevara testified and contradicted Parker’s testimony. He said that she had initially declined to look at photos, but eventually identified Tinajero while looking at photos in her apartment.

The prosecution was allowed to introduce the handwritten statement that Parker had given after the lineup.

Martinez testified that he was the person that Parker had said she saw go over to look at the victim on the ground. He testified that he was near the alley, speaking to a girl when he heard noises and went to investigate. He said that when he got there, Garcia was lying face down, and Tinajero was walking away. Martinez said he walked up and nudged Garcia with his foot in an attempt to see his face. He said Garcia was having difficulty breathing, and he left.

Martinez denied assaulting Garcia or giving him a hard kick. He said the only person he saw in the alley was Tinajero.

Martinez said that during the two days he was in custody, every time he tried to sleep, detectives came in and woke him up. After two nights, during which he only ate some chips and drank water from the tap when he went to the bathroom, Detective Randy Troche told him that a prosecutor was going to come in and that all Martinez had to do was sign some papers, and he would be released.

Martinez said Troche told him since he just “nudged him with your foot” and “didn’t kill anyone,” Martinez would be used as a witness against Tinajero. Martinez said he signed the statement without reading it.

The defense and prosecution stipulated that Detective Troche, if called to testify, would deny that he ever told Martinez he would only be a witness, and would testify that Martinez slept the entire night while in custody.

On August 7, 2001, the jury convicted Tinajero of first-degree murder and robbery. Judge Salone convicted Martinez and Kelly of first-degree murder and acquitted them of robbery. The judge said his verdicts were “based primarily on what I believe to be the clear, credible and convincing testimony of Miss Parker.”

Judge Salone acknowledged Parker’s testimony was at times equivocal, but he gave credence to her statement to Guevara and noted she had named Kelly as a participant—although the report did not state that at all.

Prior to sentencing, John Byrne, a defense investigator, interviewed Parker, who said Guevara had used an outstanding arrest warrant against her to pressure her to make identifications. Parker testified at a hearing on a motion for a new trial that when Guevara first came to her, he told her she had an outstanding warrant for possession of stolen property. She said she had not been aware of its existence. He took her to the police station where he told her the warrant would be quashed if she would help in the investigation of Garcia’s death. She said she had not seen the victim but signed a photograph of Garcia because Guevara told her it was a photo of the victim. Parker denied that Guevara threatened her and told her to make identifications of the defendants.

Martinez’s trial lawyer argued that Parker had “fudged” her identification of Martinez because she was promised help with the warrant. Judge Salone denied the motion for a new trial. Martinez and Kelly were sentenced to 25 years in prison. Tinajero was sentenced to 30 years in prison.

All of their convictions were upheld on appeal.

In October 2014, the Exoneration Project at the University of Chicago Law School began representing Martinez and subpoenaed records in the case from the Chicago police department. In June 2018, attorneys Joshua Tepfer and David Owens filed an amended petition for post-conviction relief.

The petition cited a lengthy list of murder cases that had been vacated and dismissed based on findings of misconduct by Guevara. The allegations of misconduct against Guevara involved physical abuse of suspects and witnesses that resulted in false confessions and false witness identifications.

In November 2016, Martinez’s lawyers filed a supplement to the petition. Jim Saltouros, a former assistant public defender whom Guevara listed as “present” for the lineup “in this case,” said in an affidavit that, in fact, Guevara had refused to allow him to be present.

The supplement also said that during a subsequent interview, Parker said that she believed Guevara was going to arrest her on the outstanding warrant unless she cooperated. Prior to the lineup, Guevara told her that “the people who did [the] beating were in the lineup,” Parker said. She recalled that he told her that he knew that was true because “they had searched their apartments and found bloody boots that [had been] used to stomp the victim.”

Parker said she picked people she had seen in the alley that night although she had not seen faces of those involved in the beating.

The supplement also included an opinion from Dr. Geoffrey Loftus, an expert in the frailties of eyewitness identification. He said that there were numerous factors which weighed against Parker’s ability to accurately identify anyone that night. These included that she was far away from the alley—at least 65 feet, a tree obstructed her view, it was at night and the lighting was poor. In addition, Loftus said that “her attention was likely not on the assailants’ appearance, and she was of a different race [Parker was Black] from the assailants.”

Dr. Loftus also criticized the live lineups that Guevara conducted—12 people were assembled, and all three of the defendants were included. The petition noted that “this bizarre method” increased the chances of a false identification.

The prosecution filed a motion to dismiss, contending that the “litany of misconduct” by Guevara was not relevant to the Martinez case. The motion was granted, and the defense petition was denied. Martinez appealed.

In June 2021, the First District Illinois Appellate Court reversed the denial and ordered a hearing on the petition for post-conviction relief. The court eviscerated the prosecution’s claims, including the claim that Parker’s statements did not constitute newly discovered evidence. “We find this contention to be entirely disingenuous,” the court said.

“Contrary to the State’s assertion and the trial court’s finding, the defendant’s petition clearly presented evidence that Detective Guevara engaged in misconduct in this case,” the court declared. The court said Martinez had made a “substantial showing of actual innocence.”

The court also said that Martinez’s lawyers had made a “substantial showing that Detective Guevara’s misconduct violated [Martinez’s] right to due process.”

On January 17, 2023, Martinez’s conviction was vacated. On February 9, 2023, the prosecution dismissed the case, and Martinez was released, more than 20 years after his conviction. Kelly and Tinajero remained in prison.

In March 2023, Martinez filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city of Chicago and Guevara seeking compensation for his wrongful conviction.

In July 2023, attorney Joel Flaxman filed a post-conviction petition on behalf of Tinajero based on Guevara’s misconduct.

In November 2023, Gregory Swygert, an attorney at the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University, along with law students Chelsea Blake and Zachary Furlin, filed a post-conviction petition on behalf of Kelly seeking to vacate his conviction based on Guevara’s misconduct.

On January 17, 2024, Kelly was released on parole.

On January 31, ,2024, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office agreed that Kelly’s and Tinajero’s convictions should be vacated. After the convictions were vacated, the prosecution dismissed the charges in both cases. Tinajero was ordered released.

After the hearing, Kelly declared, “Justice prevailed. It's been a long road for me. It's been 25 years in prison for this case I had nothing to do with.”

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 2/5/2024
Last Updated: 2/5/2024
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:1998
Sentence:25 years
Age at the date of reported crime:17
Contributing Factors:False Confession, Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No