Roberto Almodovar with his daughter
courtesy of the Almodovar family
CHICAGO—A man who claims he was framed for a 1994 double murder by a retired Chicago detective had his conviction tossed Friday morning and will walk free from prison for the first time in 23 years.
Roberto Almodovar, 41, appeared before Judge James B. Linn to hear prosecutors from the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office announce they have decided it is “in the best interests of justice” to drop charges against him and his co-defendant, William Negron.
Linn told a packed courtroom on Friday, “this is one of the most contentious, hard fought cases I've ever seen. Lawyers for the defendants and the state went eyeball-to-eyeball with every witness” for more than two years.
He said he was “dismayed” and “stunned” when he received a call Tuesday evening from a representative from the State's Attorney's Office alerting him of their plans to drop the charges.
“The cases are dismissed,” Linn said. The proceedings took a matter of minutes, with the official decision handed down at 10:30 a.m. CT
Mary Almodovar Rodriguez, one of Roberto's aunts, said she was awake all night, too excited to sleep. “My heart just skips a beat,” she said Friday. “I can't believe he's coming home.”
At 3 a.m., she began packing the clothes she'd carefully picked out for him at Khol's the day before — she was holding the full bag in the courtroom. She said she felt like she was going to have a heart attack on the way to court this morning.
Almodovar's relatives, overcome with emotion, gathered and waited for him to finally be released and walk free. “I can't wait to give him a hug,” said Almodovar's older sister, Vicky Navarro, who flew in from her home in Miami Thursday night to attend the proceedings.
Jasmyn Almodovar, 23, Roberto's daughter, struggled to catch her breath while waiting. “I'm trying, I'm trying” she said through tears. “I'm very restless.”
“She's overwhelmed,” her mother, Sassy Carrillo, said. She wept quietly in a corner of the courtroom as the charges were dismissed.
Almodovar’s release comes ten days after a BuzzFeed News investigation into his case and the former detective who helped imprison him for more than two decades. The investigation found that at least 51 people have accused Guevara of framing them for murder and that Chicago authorities had ample warnings about the long series of allegations against the detective.
“I always pictured this day,” Almodovar told BuzzFeed News Thursday, when Jennifer Bonjean, informed him of his pending release over the phone Thursday. He said, “Are you serious?”
Almodovar has always maintained his innocence in the shooting deaths of two teens, Amy Merkes and Jorge Rodriguez, who were sitting on an apartment stoop when they were killed in a driveby shooting.
Five people swear Almodovar was with them at his aunt's house at the time of the shooting.
One of two surviving eyewitnesses claimed that Guevara, the lead detective, showed him pictures of Almodovar and Negron before the police lineup and then lied about it—a clear violation of police protocols.
In written responses to questions in Almodovar’s quest for a new trial, Guevara asserted his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination 159 times. In 2009, Guevara’s attorney claimed the allegations against him were part of a gang conspiracy, telling the Chicago Tribune: “We strongly believe there is an orchestrated effort by gang members that witnesses were told to recant.”
A prosecutor from the State’s Attorney’s office made a similar argument in court earlier this week, before prosecutors suddenly did an about-face Wednesday and said they would no longer oppose Almodovar and Negron’s efforts to reverse their convictions.
Almodovar’s co-defendant, Negron, is awaiting resentencing in another, unrelated murder and is not expected to be released immediately.
In addition to Almodovar and Negron, there are 27 other people in prison who have alleged that Guevara framed them. Many of them have appeals pending.
Almodovar’s aunts, Mary, Gladys and Iris, were key members of a support group that, over the past two decades, painstakingly pieced together what they claim is a clear pattern of Guevara’s misconduct.
Almodovar, who was initially facing the death penalty when he was charged, said Guevara’s misdeeds shouldn’t be lost in the emotion of his release. “This man,” he said, “tried to murder me.”
BuzzFeed News will be reporting live from Almodovar's court hearing and jail release. Check back here for updates and follow @MelissaDSegura on Twitter for live updates.
Here's the series of articles leading up to Almodovar's release: