by Matt Clarke
March 2018 should have been the happiest month of his life. After over two decades of wrongful imprisonment, the Cook County State’s Attorney agreed to drop murder charges against Illinois state prisoner Ricardo Rodriguez. He should have walked out of prison a free and exonerated man. Instead, on March 28, 2018, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) took Rodriguez into custody for possible deportation proceedings.
“It would be a very big injustice for them to do that to not only my mother, but my family who have tried so hard to prove his innocence all these years,” said Maria Rodriguez-Lopez, Rodriguez’s sister.
Rodriguez was a lawful permanent resident when he was arrested for the 1995 murder. That status was revoked after he was convicted. He was brought into the country as a child, and his family still resides in the United States.
Rodriguez is one of at least 160 people who have been exonerated and freed from prison after having been convicted of a felony in Cook County. That number is higher than the number of exonerations for most states.
It is the tenth exoneration case since 2016 that is related to former retired Chicago police detective Reynaldo Guevara. Guevara has been accused of beating suspects and improperly coercing witnesses to give false testimony but has not faced any charges related to his alleged misdeeds.
Rodiguez was convicted in the fatal drive-by shooting of Rodney Kemppainen, a homeless man who did odd jobs for people in exchange for permission to sleep in their garages. The gunman fired at Kemppainen and another man in Humbolt Park. The other man survived but was initially unable to identify the shooter. Then an anonymous tip accused Rodriguez of the crime.
There was neither a confession nor physical evidence linking Rodriguez to the murder. One witness against him later said Guevara manipulated him. Two said they were unable to describe the suspect until Guevara showed them a photograph of Rodriguez.The Exoneration Project found another witness who said Rodriguez was not the shooter.
Guevara has repeatedly refused to testify regarding the allegations of his misconduct. When he was forced to testify in a hearing for prisoners Gabriel Solache and Arturo Reyes, he claimed to not recall anything substantive about those cases. Solache and Reyes, who had entered the country illegally, were subsequently exonerated, but were taken into custody by ICE, which initiated deportation proceedings.
“For decades, the community has known that detective Guevara was involved in wrongful convictions, and we are grateful that the courts are taking notice and that [Cook County State’s Attorney] Kim Foxx’s office took action in this case,” said attorney Tara Thompson, who represents Rodriguez.
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