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Judge upholds murder convictions of men who claimed cop coerced witness

Two men who claim that a former Chicago Police detective coerced and bribed a witness to pin a 1993 murder on them lost their bid for freedom Thursday after a Cook County judge ruled that their convictions could not be overturned.

Judge Maura Slattery Boyle made the ruling even before prosecutors presented their evidence, according to an attorney representing one of the two men.

“The judge said to show actual innocence, we have to show exoneration,” said Jennifer Bonjean, a lawyer for Armando Serrano.

Bonjean slammed Slattery Boyle for her decision and vowed to appeal.

“This is the biggest travesty of my law career,” Bonjean said. “I will not sleep soundly until Armando Serrano is out of jail.”

Slattery Boyle could not be reached for comment.

Bonjean pointed to a 2004 affidavit by Francisco Vicente, who was the prosecutors’ key witness at the time the trials of Serrano and Jose Montanez.

Vicente said Detective Reynaldo Guevara had forced him to implicate Serrano and Montanez for the murder of Rodrigo Vargas, who was killed as he left his Humboldt Park residence, headed for work.

Guevara took the stand in the case over the summer but invoked his Fifth Amendment rights.

Four years ago, a federal jury gave $21 million to Juan Johnson, a man who spent 11 years in prison for a wrongful murder conviction that hinged on testimony from people who later said they only implicated him because Guevara or others working for him told them to.

David Protess, whose Chicago Innocence Project has been developing “the pattern and practice evidence against Guevara,” also echoed Bonjean’s dismay at Slattery Boyle’s ruling.

“Judge Boyle’s ruling is blatantly contrary to the facts and the law and should be overturned on appeal,” Protess said. “In the meantime two innocent men will remain behind bars while the rogue detective who framed them escapes justice.”

Serrano, 41, and Montanez, 46, have spent the last two decades in prison.


Twitter: @rummanahussain

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