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Reynaldo Munoz

Other Cook County, IL, Murder Exonerations
https://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/PublishingImages/Reynaldo_Munoz%202.jpeg
Shortly after 4 a.m. on September 8, 1985, 19-year-old Ivan Mena and 21-year-old Bouvier “Bobby” Garcia were shot while walking in the 4200 block of West Potomac Avenue in Chicago, Illinois. They were returning to a party just around the corner on Keeler Avenue after getting cigarettes from Mena’s car.

Mena was killed. Garcia was shot in the leg and survived.

Police interviewed Garcia at the hospital. He said the gunman fired three shots. The first shot hit Mena and he dropped to the sidewalk. Garcia was hit by the second shot and then he said he heard footsteps retreating through a nearby gangway. Garcia said he did not know who fired the shots. He was unable to give a description of the gunman or his clothing, and he could not describe the firearm.

Two days later, on September 10, 1985, Chicago police detective Reynaldo Guevara and two other police officers pulled up to 16-year-old Reynaldo “Scooby” Munoz as he walked on the street. Munoz later said that he was handcuffed and put into the backseat of the police car with Guevara.

Years later, Guevara would be exposed as a detective who routinely physically abused suspects and witnesses alike. Numerous murder convictions would be overturned based on evidence that he coerced false confessions and false witness identifications.

Munoz said that Guevara questioned him about three different murders, including the shooting of Mena and Garcia. When Munoz denied knowing any information, “Detective Guevara hit me in the mouth multiple times,” Munoz later said.

As they drove into hostile gang territory, “Detective Guevara threatened to let me out of the car,” Munoz said. “He told me that if I didn’t tell him what he needed to know, he would not stop the gang members from doing whatever they were going to do to me. I continued to deny any knowledge of the people he was asking about.”

The police car stopped near the intersection of Grand Avenue and Monticello Avenue in territory controlled by the Imperial Gangsters street gang. Munoz, who had ties to a rival gang called the Insane Unknowns, was familiar with the gang. “The Imperial Gangsters knew who I was based on previous interactions I had with members of their gang and considered me a threat which would result in their hostile actions toward me,” Munoz said.

Guevara pulled Munoz out of the police car by his handcuffs and uncuffed one of Munoz’s hands. Guevara held onto the loose cuff as members of the Imperial Gangsters approached. “There were about 10 to 15 gang members there and about half of them recognized me,” Munoz recalled. “Some of them spit on me and beat me on the head.”

After a few minutes, Guevara put the handcuff back on, put Munoz back into the police car and drove him out of the neighborhood. Guevara then released Munoz.

Eighteen days after the shooting, on September 26, 1985, police arrested Munoz. The following day, Munoz was put into a live lineup and Garcia identified him as the gunman.

Munoz was charged with first-degree murder and attempted murder. In November 1986, he went to trial in Cook County Circuit Court.

Garcia testified that on September 7, 1985, prior to the shooting, he and Mena had gone to a party at 1301 North Keeler Avenue, arriving about 10 p.m. He said that at about midnight, Munoz arrived at the party with Ishmael Torres.

According to Garcia, sometime later, in the early morning hours of September 8, 1985, Munoz got into a fight with a person whom they knew as “Junior.” Junior was a member of the band that was playing at the party. Garcia said that he and Mena broke up the fight. They grabbed Junior, who was intoxicated, and helped him find a ride home. Garcia said he and Mena talked briefly with Munoz and then left the party.

Garcia said he and Mena walked to Garcia’s brother’s house, then went to Mena’s car to get cigarettes, and decided to return to the party. However, they never got back there.

Garcia said that at 4218 West Potomac Street, they saw Munoz on the street. When Garcia and Mena were about 10 to 15 feet away, Munoz fired three shots, Garcia said. One struck Mena and the other hit Garcia.

Garcia said that he had lied to police when first questioned. He said he did not identify Munoz because he was afraid of retaliation from members of the Insane Unknowns.

Lydia Mena testified that she heard gunshots at about 4:15 a.m. and looked out the window. She saw a body on the ground. She called the police and then went outside and discovered the body was her son, Ivan.

Migdalena Mena testified she was at the party with her brother, Ivan, and that she saw Ivan and Garcia break up the fight between Junior and Munoz. She said that after Munoz calmed down, she saw Ivan and Garcia leave the party, walking in the direction of the Mena home.

Munoz’s parents, Illalus and Tellifo, testified that Munoz arrived home at 3:30 a.m. and they were angry at him because he was out past his curfew. They testified that he went to bed in the bedroom he shared with his father and did not go back out.

Munoz testified as well. He denied shooting Mena and Garcia. He said he did not have a dispute with either Garcia or Mena. Munoz said he got into the fight with Junior when he asked for a beer. He said that Junior was drunk and asked if he wanted to go to the alley. When they got there, they began to fight until Mena and Garcia broke it up. He said that his friend Torres decided to go home around 3:20 a.m., so he left and walked home.

Ivan Mena’s aunt, Evangelina Rivera, who lived in the same building where the party was held, testified for the prosecution in rebuttal. She said she was outside the home when she heard three gunshots at about 4 a.m. She said she ran inside and looked out a window and saw three boys leaving the alley. She said two of them were Munoz and Torres. She said she did not see any guns—all three had their hands in their pockets. She admitted she had not told anyone what she had seen until a few days before the trial.

Detective Ernest Halvorsen also testified in rebuttal for the prosecution. Halvorsen, who was Guevara’s partner, testified that during questioning, Munoz said he was a member of the Insane Unknowns street gang.

On November 25, 1986, the jury convicted Munoz of first-degree murder and attempted murder. He was sentenced to 60 years in prison.

In 1988, the Illinois Appellate Court upheld the convictions and sentence.

Munoz filed his first post-conviction petition in 2001. It was dismissed as frivolous and without merit. That ruling was upheld on appeal. He filed a second petition in 2008. That was dismissed as well, but in 2010, the Illinois Appellate Court reinstated the petition and remanded it for a hearing. In July 2014, Munoz’s attorney, Kathleen Zellner, filed a supplemental petition for relief. In February 2016, Zellner withdrew and a public defender was appointed. In August 2016, Munoz retained attorney Jennifer Bonjean.

On September 15, 2016, Munoz was released from prison on parole. He had spent nearly 30 years in prison since his conviction.

In 2018 Bonjean filed an amended post-conviction petition. By that time, numerous cases had been overturned and dismissed based on misconduct by Guevara and Halvorsen and other detectives.

In 2004, Juan Johnson, whose 30-year prison sentence for a murder conviction had been vacated in 2002, was acquitted at a retrial. A federal jury later awarded Johnson $21 million in damages from the city based on evidence that the original three eyewitnesses recanted their testimony and revealed that they were coerced by Guevara to identify Johnson.

Seven years later, Jacques Rivera was exonerated of a murder. He later filed a federal civil rights lawsuit accusing Guevara and other officers of burying evidence and pressuring the witness to falsely identify him as the triggerman. In 2018, a jury awarded Rivera $17.175 million.

In November 2017, Jose Maysonet became the seventh person to be exonerated based on misconduct by Guevara. Maysonet, who was serving a sentence of life in prison without parole, falsely confessed after a 17-hour interrogation punctuated by beatings and torture by Guevara.

In December 2017, Gabriel Solache and Arturo DeLeon-Reyes, who claimed that Guevara had beaten them into confessing to a murder they didn’t commit, had their murder convictions vacated and the charges dismissed.

In the first three months of 2019, the convictions of Ariel Gomez, Ricardo Rodriguez and Thomas Sierra were vacated and the cases dismissed based on Guevara's misconduct.

In December 2019, Demetrius Johnson became the 15th man whose conviction was obtained through misconduct by Guevara to have his conviction vacated and the charges dismissed.

Over three days in July and August 2021, an evidentiary hearing was held before Cook County Circuit Court Judge Sophia Atcherson.

Bonjean presented police reports that had never been disclosed to the defense—nor, apparently, to the prosecution—at the time of Munoz’s trial. An October 1985 report prepared by Halvorsen and another detective documented an interview with Hermino Molina, who said that he saw the shooting. Molina said the wrong person was charged. The shooter was nicknamed “Shorty,” not Scooby, he said. Molina told the detectives he saw two youths come out of an alley. The one he knew as Shorty fired five shots at some other youths and then fled on foot, Molina said.

Another police report that was never disclosed stated that on September 9, 1985, the day after the shooting, a police crime lab technician said that based on an analysis of bullets and shell casings, the gun that was used to shoot Mena and Garcia had been used in another shooting about three weeks earlier in the same neighborhood. In that shooting, Roy Lee Croft had been murdered.

An additional police report—also never disclosed—was dated September 29, 1985—three days after Munoz was arrested. This report documented that John Fox had been an eyewitness to Croft’s murder. Fox told the detectives that he knew Munoz and that Munoz was not the gunman who shot Croft.

During the hearing, Bonjean presented a sworn affidavit from Molina, as well as his deposition testimony that Munoz was not the gunman.

Bonjean also presented extensive evidence that Halvorsen and Guevara physically abused suspects and witnesses. Daniel Rodriguez, who was convicted in a different murder and was still fighting to overturn his conviction based on misconduct by the detectives, testified that Halvorsen was a detective who would “make sure that you will be off the street by any means necessary.”

Rodriguez said that during an interrogation about a murder, Halvorsen hit him in the chest, ribs, and abdomen whenever he said he was innocent. Rodriguez eventually falsely confessed because of the physical abuse.

Bonjean took Halvorsen’s deposition on April 20, 2018. Halvorsen declined to answer questions. He invoked his Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination.

Bonjean also presented the testimony of witnesses whose testimony had led to the exonerations of William Negron, Roberto Almodovar, Jose Montanez, Geraldo Iglesias, Armando Serrano, and Robert Bouto. The witnesses detailed how they were physically beaten by Guevara and Halvorsen until they falsely implicated the men that Halvorsen and Guevara had targeted.

One witness, Francisco Vicente, said: “I falsely testified because detectives Guevara and Halvorsen physically harmed me and threatened to continue to beat me if I did not cooperate with them.”

Retired Chicago police detective William Dorsch testified that in an unrelated murder investigation, Halvorsen had fabricated information in police reports and had forged Dorsch’s signature.

On February 22, 2022, Judge Atcherson issued a 56-page ruling that vacated Munoz’s convictions and ordered a new trial.

“When examined together, the pattern of behavior that developed regarding Halvorsen was that he and his partner would select random men from the Humboldt Park neighborhood as suspects in unsolved cases,” Judge Atcherson said. “Upon arriving at [the police station], both suspects and the chosen witnesses would be encouraged, manipulated, induced, threatened and/or physically abused into either making a false identification, making an identification that was not based on their own knowledge, or giving a false confession.”

“This Court finds that Detective Halvorsen’s misconduct in subsequent cases calls into question the integrity of Detective Halvorsen’s investigation into Mena’s murder,” the judge declared.

“Overall, the cases show that Detectives Halvorsen and Guevara were motivated by a desire to close cases regardless of whether they had found the actual perpetrator,” Judge Atcherson said. “The cases show a pattern of Halvorsen first seeking voluntary cooperation, and then using manipulation, inducements, and coercion if it is not given. This method was used to obtain false eyewitness identifications.”

“This Court finds that evidence in this case is of such conclusive character that it will probably change the result on retrial,” the judge said. “If even a fraction of the allegations included in this evidence had been presented at trial, Halvorsen’s credibility would have been damaged and Munoz would likely [have] been acquitted.”

Following Atcherson’s ruling vacating the convictions, the prosecution dismissed the charges.

Two other men, Daniel Rodriguez and Jose Cruz, also were exonerated in 2022 based on misconduct by Guevara and other detectives.

In July 2022, the convictions of Juan Hernandez and Rosendo Hernandez were vacated and dismissed.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 3/9/2022
Last Updated: 8/13/2022
State:Illinois
County:Cook
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:Attempted Murder
Reported Crime Date:1985
Convicted:1986
Exonerated:2022
Sentence:60 years
Race/Ethnicity:Hispanic
Sex:Male
Age at the date of reported crime:16
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No