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Madeline Mendoza Exonerated After Wrongful Conviction for Murder Engineered by Disgraced Former Chicago PD Detective Reynaldo Guevara

by Jo Ellen Nott

In January 2023, a Cook County Illinois judge vacated the wrongful conviction of Madeline Mendoza who served 17 years in prison for a murder she did not commit.  On September 22, 1993, Mendoza pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and was sentenced to 35 years in prison in a case that was tainted by the misconduct of disgraced former Chicago PD detective Reynaldo Guevara and his partner Ernest Halvorsen.  

Madeline Mendoza’s saga began in May 1992 when she accompanied Jackie Montanez and Marilyn Mulero to Chicago’s Humboldt Park one night.  A deaf gang member of the Maniac Latin Disciples to which Montanez, Mulero, and Mendoza pledged allegiance had been shot by the Latin Kings a week earlier.  Montanez then shot two Latin King members in retaliation at one of the park’s bathrooms.  Although Montanez was the only killer, lies, false claims, coerced confessions, and manipulated testimony orchestrated by Guevara and Halvorsen led to Marilyn Mulero’s and Madeline Mendoza’s wrongful convictions. 

Guevara and Halvorsen used snitch Ivette Rodriguez to obtain information about the retaliatory killing.  Rodriguez was in custody for a drug offense when she gave the detectives a series of false statements in interviews with them.  In return for her statements, Guevara had Rodriguez’s drug charges dismissed, and she did not have to face a federal parole violation. 

On September 22, 1993, the 17-year-old Mendoza pleaded guilty to murder and was sentenced to 35 years in prison.  At the sentencing hearing, another jailhouse snitch gave false information about Mendoza’s involvement under threats from Halvorsen that he would send gang members against her family.  In exchange for her coerced testimony, Halvorsen arranged for the snitch to be released from jail, placed on electronic monitoring, and reduced her charges to misdemeanors for which she was given probation. 

In January 2017, Montanez finally came forward and admitted she had shot both men and that Mulero and Mendoza had nothing to do with the murders.  Montanez was not the only one to recant.  Another witness admitted she was instructed beforehand by the detectives to identify the defendants in the lineup.  On August 5, 2009, Mendoza was released on parole after unjustly serving 17 years.

In the time between the conviction and exoneration of Mendoza, the evidence of misconduct by Guevara and Halvorsen had been steadily increasing.  In September 2023, attorney Joel Flaxman filed to vacate Mendoza’s conviction.  The motion noted that Mendoza was “a victim of wrongdoing by Guevara and Halvorsen.”  On January 3, 2023, the prosecution vacated Mendoza’s conviction.  Mendoza has filed for a Certification of Innocence to formally clear her name and plans to become an attorney to help others who have been victimized by crooked detectives and prosecutorial misconduct. 

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