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Rosendo Hernandez

Other Exonerations with Misconduct by Detective Guevara
On July 21, 2022, Juan Hernandez and Rosendo Hernandez, two brothers who had spent more than 25 years in custody following their June 1997 arrest in Chicago on murder charges, were freed after prosecutors dismissed the charges.

The dismissal came following the disclosure that Chicago police Detective Reynaldo Guevara conspired with Joseph Miedzianowski to frame the brothers for a June 27, 1997 shooting that killed 18-year-old Jorge Gonzalez and wounded 15-year-old Juan Cruz. Miedzianowski, once labeled Chicago’s “most corrupt” police officer, was sentenced to life in prison without parole after a 2001 federal conviction for operating a Miami-to-Chicago drug ring while he was a police officer. The evidence presented by the Hernandez brothers’ attorneys showed that Miedzianowski wanted to frame them for the shooting because he suspected Juan Hernandez was interfering with his drug operation.

Other evidence presented by the attorneys revealed that one of the witnesses who had identified the brothers at their separate trials recanted and admitted he did not see any faces of the gunmen on the night of the crime.

Moreover, the lawyers presented evidence of Guevara’s involvement in the false convictions of more than 20 other men, secured through violence and intimidation to obtain false statements from witnesses and false confessions from some of the defendants.

The shooting occurred at about 11 p.m. as several young men and women, including Jorge Gonzalez and Juan Cruz, were listening to music while on the porches of two homes at 2208 and 2212 North Mobile Avenue on Chicago’s northwest side.

According to the witnesses, three men approached and began making gang signs, indicating they were with the Maniac Latin Disciples (MLD). One of the youths, 16-year-old Daniel Violante, an MLD member, returned gang signs. The men then revealed they were actually members of the Insane Spanish Cobras (ISC). One man drew a gun and pointed it at Violante. Another man drew a gun as well. Both gunmen then opened fire. Violante turned and ran. Maribel Gonzalez ran inside one of the homes. Cruz followed, but was wounded as he ran. Jorge Gonzalez was fatally shot. The gunmen then fled in a vehicle variously described as light purple, dark blue, and purple.

The witnesses said the entire event lasted variously from 20 seconds to 30 seconds to as long as a minute.

Cruz was treated and released from the hospital. He told detectives he did not know the gunmen. One of the witnesses, Nancy Gonzalez, said the shooters were bald. No weapon was found. One witness said that as the car sped away, someone threw a bicycle at it, shattering the windshield.

About 24 hours later, on June 28, 1997, officer Joel Bemis reported that he received an anonymous call saying that “Poochie” and “Junebug” were the gunmen. Bemis knew the nicknames to be referring to 19-year-old Rosendo Hernandez and his brother, 20-year-old Juan Hernandez.

Bemis and another officer then created a photo array of 12 photographs, including the two brothers. Only six of the individuals were bald and a seventh had short hair. Neither Juan nor Rosendo were bald.

On June 29, 1997, Bemis visited the Hernandez home. No search was conducted. Later that day, attorney Kent Brody called Bemis and said the brothers would come to the police station.

That same day, Detective Guevara and his partner, Detective Ernest Halvorsen, were assigned to the case. They picked up Juan Cruz as well as two others, Jesus and Jose Gonzalez—all juveniles—and drove them to the station. Guevara showed them the photo array, and all three selected Juan and Rosendo as the gunmen.

On June 30, 1997, Guevara went to the wake being held for Jorge Gonzalez. There he showed the same photo array to Nancy Gonzalez. Guevara would later testify that she identified Rosendo as one of the gunmen and pointed to Juan saying that he “looked like” the other gunman. However, his report of that interaction did not contain any mention of her saying anything.

Guevara also showed the array to Violante, who was at the wake. Guevara said Violante identified Juan and Rosendo as the gunmen.

Later, at the police station, Guevara arranged for live lineups for Juan and Rosendo. He refused to allow attorney Brody to be in the room with the witnesses. Four of the witnesses—Jose Gonzalez, Daniel Violante, Jesus Gonzalez, and Juan Cruz—identified Juan and Rosendo in separate lineups. When Nancy Gonzalez viewed the lineup containing Juan, she made only a tentative identification of him, Guevara later said, even though his report said she made no identification. Nancy identified Rosendo as one of the gunmen.

On June 30, 1997, Juan and Rosendo were each charged with first-degree murder, the attempted murder of Violante and aggravated battery with a firearm for the wounding of Juan Cruz.

In August 1999, Rosendo went to trial first in Cook County Circuit Court. The five witnesses all identified him as one of three men who approached and shot at them. They all described differing, but short exchanges between Violante and the first man who made gang signs. Jesus Gonzalez said he ran inside as soon as the shooting started. Cruz said he ran after the first gang signs were exchanged without seeing who shot him in the back of the leg. Violante and Jose and Jesus Gonzalez said they could identify Rosendo even though they were at one of the two houses and Rosendo was at the other house. Violante admitted he turned and ran before the shots were fired. The street was illuminated by a single street light, according to testimony.

Jesus Gonzalez said the car was a light purple four-door Lincoln Town Car. Violante said it was “purplish.” Jose Gonzalez said it was a “big four-door like light pink, light purple.”

Officer Bemis testified that he had known Juan and Rosendo for several years and that he focused on them because of the anonymous phone call.

An Illinois state police forensic analyst testified that shotgun pellets as well as .38-caliber and .22-caliber bullets were found at the scene. The analyst said the shotgun pellets could have been fired from a handgun as could the other bullets. The analyst said it was possible that the ammunition came from either two or three different weapons.

A medical examiner testified that only one of Jorge Gonzalez’s several wounds was a contact wound. She said he died of gunshot wounds and that he had a significant amount of alcohol in his system when he died.

Rosendo’s friend, Luis Torres, who admitted he was an ISC member, testified that on the night of the shooting—a Friday—he and Rosendo were at a bowling alley. Torres said that they went there every Friday and Saturday night. Torres said Rosendo arrived at 9 p.m. He recalled the night because they were betting on a boxing match scheduled for the next night—that of Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield. This fight would be memorable because Tyson bit Holyfield’s ear. Torres said they left about 11:30 p.m. because the bartender began demanding identification showing they were of legal age to drink alcohol. Torres said Rosendo was not very involved in the Cobras.

Torres’s cousin, Moises Lopes, testified that he was at the bowling alley as well. He said that he arrived between 8 and 9 p.m. and that Rosendo and Luis were there. He also remembered placing bets on the upcoming fight. He said he was carded by the bartender at about 11:30 p.m. and was asked to leave because he was underage. He said he and Rosendo and Torres walked to where Lopes’s mother worked. They got car keys and drove Rosendo home at about 12:30 p.m.

Valerie Pinkston testified that she was working at the bowling alley as a counter attendant. She knew Rosendo because he frequented the bowling alley. She remembered that he was bowling on lane 12, and she remembered him leaving around midnight because the bartender began asking people for identification.

Rosendo testified and denied involvement in the shooting. He said he had been a Spanish Cobra, but was in the process of leaving the gang. He said that he and a friend were lifting weights on the afternoon of the shooting and that he later went to the bowling alley where he saw Torres and Lopes. He said he bowled and played pool and left at midnight.

He said that he returned to the bowling alley the next night to watch the Tyson/Holyfield boxing match.

In rebuttal, Guevara testified that he interviewed Rosendo on July 1, 1997 and that Rosendo said that on the night of the crime he was home by 11 p.m. The prosecution argued this was enough time for Rosendo to get to North Mobile Avenue by car to commit the crime. Guevara said Rosendo later told him he went to a cotillion at 10 p.m. on the night of the shooting, was out until 6 a.m., and said nothing about going to the bowling alley to watch the fight.

Police officer Steven Sesso testified that he was a gang intelligence officer and that he was familiar with Rosendo. He said he knew him to be a member of the Cobras. Sesso said Rosendo was the second chair of the gang located in the area of Fullerton and Tripp Avenues. He said that Juan was in the first chair, meaning second in command. During cross-examination, Sesso said that while it was “common knowledge” that Rosendo was in the second chair, he could not say how he knew that was true other than his “experience” as a gang officer.

On August 12, 1999, the jury convicted Rosendo of first-degree murder, attempted murder and aggravated battery with a firearm. He was sentenced to 75 years in prison.

Juan went to trial in Cook County Circuit Court in March 2000, but a mistrial was declared when the prosecution discovered that his defense attorney, Richard Bueke, had failed to disclose that he had previously represented Guevara in civil matters.

Juan went to trial again in November 2001. The prosecution’s case relied on the testimony of the same witnesses, including Nancy Gonzalez, who, despite not making a positive identification of Juan in either the photo array or live lineup, testified at trial that Juan was one of the gunmen.

Juan testified and denied involvement in the shooting. He said that on the night of the crime, he was assisting a family friend, Rosa Solis, and her daughter, Sophia, prepare for Sophia’s quinceanera party. Rosa and Sophia testified and confirmed Juan was helping organize the party.

The defense moved to present evidence exploring Guevara’s record of misconduct—specifically two groups of people who were investigating Guevara: Northwestern University Law School’s Center on Wrongful Convictions and a group of citizens who claimed that Guevara framed about 15 or 20 of their sons and relatives. The court denied their motion.

The trial judge also barred the defense from presenting testimony by Abraham Gutierrez, a Maniac Latin Disciple who claimed that the evening after the shooting two officers arrested him and said he would not be released until he gave the names of two Cobras. He gave them Juan and Rosendo’s names because he hated them as rival gang members, and he wanted to go home.

On November 19, 2001, the jury convicted Juan of first-degree murder, attempted murder, and aggravated battery with a firearm. He was sentenced to 86 years in prison.

The First District Illinois Appellate Court upheld Rosendo’s convictions and sentence in 2002. In 2003, Rosendo, acting without a lawyer, filed a post-conviction petition alleging his trial and appellate lawyers were ineffective. He did not present any evidence, and the petition was dismissed in August 2003.

In June 2004, the First District Appellate Court upheld Juan’s convictions and sentence. He also filed a post-conviction petition, but, like his brother’s, it was dismissed in July 2005.

By then, the first of what would become dozens of Guevara cases had begun to unravel.

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 2016, the murder convictions of Jose Montanez and Armando Serrano were vacated, and the charges were dismissed. Both had been convicted on false testimony that had been coerced by Guevara.

In April 2017, Roberto Almodovar and William Negron were exonerated after evidence showed that Guevara had improperly influenced witnesses to identify them as the shooter and driver in a drive-by shooting that killed two people and wounded a third.

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 April 2018, Juan’s attorney, Gregory Swygert from Northwestern, and Rosendo’s attorneys, Tara Thompson of the Exoneration Project at the University of Chicago Law School and Dan Stohr, filed a joint petition for post-conviction relief for the brothers.

The petition said that a witness, Nelson Pacheco, revealed in 2017 that on the night of the shooting, he and his girlfriend, Desiree Dones, were driving around when they encountered a Cobra they knew as “Will Kill” and “Crazy Willy.” Pacheco said he was driving a dark-colored Ford with a smashed windshield. “Will Kill” waved at Pacheco to follow him. They drove at high speed, blowing through stop signs until “Will Kill” pulled over and got into Pacheco’s van.

He told Pacheco, “I think I just killed a MLD…They threw a bike as I was trying to get away.” He then said that he stopped, and his passenger got out and removed the bicycle. “Will Kill” said he drove off without the passenger. Pacheco said he dropped “Will Kill” off at a location he requested. Pacheco said the next day, he drove back to where the car had been left and saw that it had been destroyed by fire.

Pacheco’s girlfriend confirmed that “Will Kill” got into the van and said that a bicycle had been thrown at his windshield.

Hector Vazquez reported that he saw the gunmen leaving the scene. He and two others told police they heard glass breaking as the car drove off. The petition said that he saw one of his fellow MLD friends throw a bicycle at a large four-door dark-colored “boat-like” car. Vazquez said that he could not see the driver, but he did see the passenger. He said that the passenger was not Juan or Rosendo Hernandez.

The petition said that “evidence in this case from a credible FBI source and a corroborating witness demonstrates that Guevara’s misconduct includes involvement in one of the most notorious cases in Chicago Police Department history, that of former Chicago Police Gang Specialist Joseph Miedzianowski. Newly-discovered evidence shows that Guevara worked with Miedzianowski and with Joel Bemis to frame the Hernandez brothers in this case.”

The petition said that Fred Rock was an FBI informant in the Miedzianowski case. At the time, Rock was a drug dealer in Miedzianowski’s operation. “Rock…was aware that Miedzianowski would have other officers frame people he [Miedzianowski] thought were crossing him. Juan was one of those persons.”

The crossing was based on a confrontation between Juan and one of Miedzianowski’s dealers, Frankie Figueroa, the petition said. When a burglary occurred at a stash house that Figueroa and Juan both used, Figueroa accused Juan of committing the burglary. Rock said that he was with Miedzianowski on three occasions when Miedzianowski said he was going to frame Juan, the petition said.

On one of those occasions, Guevara was present. Rock said Miedzianowski told Guevara that they were going to get Juan. “At least two other FBI cooperators detailed issues with Guevara in regards to the Miedzianowski case,” the petition said. Miedzianowski “had a reputation for messing with gang members,” and “accepted bribes to change positive or negative identifications during lineups for murder charges,” the petition said.

The petition quoted a report from the FBI that said: “[I]n two murder cases, Richard Bueke paid Guevara twenty thousand dollars for each, and the cases were dropped.”

Before Maysonet’s conviction was overturned, he was prepared to testify that he first met Guevara and Miedzianowski in a restaurant. They discussed Maysonet paying $1,000 a week in exchange for protection from arrest for his drug dealing. Within months after Maysonet stopped paying the money, he was arrested for a double murder, and Guevara extracted a false confession from him. Maysonet’s attorney in the murder case was Bueke.

The petition also presented evidence from Dr. Geoffrey Loftus, an eyewitness identification expert. Loftus “inescapably concluded” that based on the circumstances of the identifications, the identification procedures were biased against Juan and Rosendo Hernandez.”

Loftus said a lack of lighting, lack of attention to the gunmen’s appearance, high stress, and “short functional duration” severely limited the witnesses’ abilities to “accurately perceive and memorize the offenders’ appearance.”

According to Loftus, “it is highly unlikely that any of the witnesses would have been capable of making a reliable identification of any suspect.” He said that none of the identifications were reliable.

In addition, Violante provided a statement to the prosecution in 2019 saying that he had not really seen the faces of the gunmen. His identification was based, he said, on what others told him.

The prosecution filed a motion to dismiss the petition. The motion was denied, and an evidentiary hearing was ordered.

In June 2022, Rock testified at the hearing by video from his home on the Caribbean island of Dominica, where he moved after he completed his prison sentence for his role in Miedzianowski’s drug operation. Rock said Miedzianowski “wanted [the drugs] back or he’d make sure Poochie [Juan] got in trouble…He wanted to get Poochie, no matter what the cost.”

Violante testified that on the night of the shooting, one of the gunmen pressed a gun to his abdomen, and he ran. Violante said he identified the Hernandez brothers because he knew that the brothers already were the main suspects.

"I just put two and two together,” Violante testified. “If their family is saying they pointed them out, he must have did it…That's what I thought to myself at that time.”

On July 12, 2022, while the case was pending, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office Conviction Integrity Unit announced that it would no longer contest a petition brought by Jose Cruz, alleging he was wrongly convicted of murder based on misconduct by Guevara. Cook County Circuit Court Judge Tyria Walton vacated Cruz’s convictions, and the charges were dismissed. Cruz was released that day, after spending more than 26 years in prison.

Cruz was the 18th person to be exonerated based on evidence of misconduct by Guevara or his partners. Others exonerated include: Thomas Sierra, Ariel Gomez, Ricardo Rodriguez, Robert Bouto, Geraldo Iglesias, Demetrius Johnson, Reynaldo Munoz, and Daniel Rodriguez.

On July 14, 2022, Cook County Circuit Court Judge Joanne Rosado granted the petition and vacated the convictions of Juan and Rosendo. She called Guevara a “lying, scheming person.”

On July 21, the prosecution dismissed the cases.

In March 2023, Juan and Rosendo filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city of Chicago and Guevara seeking compensation for their wrongful convictions. In May 2023, both men were granted certificates of innocence, clearing the way to seek compensation from the state of Illinois. Both men were subsequently each awarded $268,960 in state compensation.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 8/15/2022
Last Updated: 12/13/2023
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:Attempted Murder, Assault
Reported Crime Date:1997
Sentence:75 years
Age at the date of reported crime:19
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No