HUMBOLDT PARK — A Cook County judge on Wednesday ordered two men to be released from prison after prosecutors dropped charges against them in a decades old Humboldt Park murder in a case involving a Chicago Police detective who has been described as "a frame-up artist."
Cook County prosecutors dropped the murder charges against Jose Montanez and Armando Serrano Wednesday morning and a judge vacated the convictions and dismissed all charges against them. Montanez, 49, and Serrano, 44, had each been sentenced to 55 years in the killing of Rodrigo Vargas in February 1993.
Montanez was represented by an attorney with the Exoneration Project at the University of Chicago, which investigated the case.
One of the investigators on the case, Det. Reynaldo Guevara, is accused of coercing a heroin addict into implicating the two innocent men. There was no physical or eyewitness evidence linking either man to the crime.
The only evidence in the case came from Francisco Vicente, the admitted heroin addict, who was fed a false story by the detective under threats, intimidation and physical abuse.
Vicente had four felony cases pending against him at the time and received the mandatory minimum sentence for his pending felony cases despite facing up to 100 years in prison, according to court records.
Guevera retired from the department in 2005. A Better Government Association report in 2015 found that the city had paid nearly $20 million to investigate, defend and settle misconduct allegations against Guevara.
Guevera has been accused of concealing evidence and beating up suspects and witnesses in cases, according to the BGA.
“This was no mistake, Detective Guevara framed these innocent men," said Russell Ainsworth, Montanez’s attorney from The Exoneration Project.
Ainsworth gave credit to Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez "for recognizing this injustice and setting Jose Montanez and Armando Serrano free."
"Sadly, dozens more innocent Guevara victims remain incarcerated for crimes they didn't commit. We will not rest until every single one of them is exonerated," Ainsworth said.
Montanez was expected to be picked up by family and friends Wednesday from the Danville Correctional Center.
The 1993 murder of Vargas occurred in his Humboldt Park driveway while he was sitting in his van with the motor running, according to court filings.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel's administration requested an investigation into Guevara's previous criminal cases over allegations of misconduct.
The BGA found that at least eight other prisoners in addition to Montanez and Serrano have claimed in court filings that Guevara framed them.
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