Civil Rights Lawyer Says Chicago Has Big Wrongful Conviction Problem

Civil Rights Lawyer Says Chicago Has Big Wrongful Conviction Problem

Chicago, the Windy City, the City of Big Shoulders … the Capital of Wrongful Convictions?

Chicago has a reputation when it comes to crime and police brutality, and with it wrongfully convicting people for murder.

Roberto Almodovar was wrongfully convicted for a murder he never committed and will be set free this week after the state’s attorney finally waved the flag to overwhelming evidence that he was never involved in a double murder in Humboldt Park.

Almodovar’s attorney Jennifer Bonjean took on the case at no charge, knocked on doors, filed briefs and appealed the case before the state decided to free another one of her clients for a false conviction.

Attorney Jennifer Bonjean

She earlier represented Armando Serrano who was sentenced for murder but there were no eyewitnesses or physical evidence to link him to the shooting and the prosecution’s star witness’s testimony was false, induced and the product of illegal coercion by detective Guevara. Serrano was released last year.

She spoke to Chicago News about the problem Chicago has when it comes to locking up innocent people.

All of her clients have one thing in common – they were framed by rogue cop Reynaldo Guevara, a 30-year retired police detective. There are almost 30 men behind bars who claim they were framed for murders they never committed. A few have been freed.

“There is a fiction about the rogue cop,” Bonjean told Chicago News. “There isn’t one guy acting alone. They are all participating in this together. It’s called the Code of Silence.”

Bonjean, who practices law in three states including New York and New Jersey, said Chicago is unique in how the police operate.

“I understand prosecutors need to work with the police,” she said. “But the state needs the freedom to challenge the police in order to get the right results. Chicago stands alone in trying to penetrate this code of silence. Other places tend to do that, but you’ll see cracks to break through.”

Commander Jon Burge went to prison after it was proven he tortured mostly black men into making false confessions. However, what is less known is that he worked with many detectives who also beat up young men to get confessions and they were not punished.

Commander Guevara has also been accused of beating up young men in Humboldt Park into making false confessions. Like Burge, he was promoted.

“You’ll notice that the same lawyer who defended Jon Burge is also defending Guevara,” Bonjean said.

Bonjean worked from 1999 to 2004 in the Illinois State Appellate Defender’s Office, the agency representing poor clients on appeal. She left Chicago and set up her law practice in Brooklyn where she continues to handle wrongful conviction cases.

“The system is covering this up,” she said. “And prosecutors turn a blind eye. We are beginning to wonder whether innocence matters in this town.”

By Jim Vail