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Former detective accused of coercing testimony invokes 5th Amendment rights

Updated: July 19, 2013 6:26AM

A former Chicago detective accused of coercing testimony from witnesses and making the notorious former police Commander Jon Burge “look like small potatoes” spent Monday morning invoking his Fifth Amendment rights on a witness stand.

A pair of defense attorneys did their best to interrogate retired Det. Reynaldo Guevara as they fought to overturn their clients’ convictions for the 1993 murder of Rodrigo Vargas.

But the elderly, bespectacled Guevara answered each of their questions with the same refrain.

“I remain, my Fifth Amendment rights,” Guevara answered.

The lawyers representing Armando Serrano and Jose Montanez questioned the former detective about alleged promises he’s made and violence he’s accused of either threatening or carrying out against witnesses in the case against their clients.

But he refused to answer.

“I remain, my Fifth Amendment rights,” Guevara repeated calmly.

A federal jury gave $21 million in 2009 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.

Now Jennifer Bonjean and Russell Ainsworth, lawyers for Serrano and Montanez, respectively, are pointing to an affidavit filed by Francisco Vicente in 2004.

Vicente wrote in his affidavit that he falsely testified against Serrano and Montanez, implicating them in Vargas’ murder, because Guevara intimidated and abused him and offered to reward him.

Vicente filed his affidavit while serving a sentence at the Danville Correctional Center.

In exchange for his testimony, Vicente wrote that Guevara told him an armed robbery case against him would “work out fine.” He also said he was promised money and private visits with his ex-wife while he was incarcerated.

Vicente said he was put in protective custody and received money through a relocation program after his testimony.

He said Guevara previously hit him in the back of his head with his hand and sometimes with a phone book while making him give false information about other suspects.

Outside Cook County Judge Maura Slattery Boyle’s courtroom, Bonjean said Guevara has tainted several local cases.

“It makes the Jon Burge matter look like small potatoes in terms of quantity,” Bonjean said.

Burge was convicted in 2010 of perjury and obstruction of justice for lying in a civil court case when asked if he knew of the alleged torture that went on under his watch as Chicago’s Area 2 commander.

Elizabeth Ekl, Guevara’s defense attorney who tried unsuccessfully Monday to assert her client’s Fifth Amendment rights on his behalf, said, “Today was a difficult day for Reynaldo Guevara. He devoted 33 1/2 year of his life investigating gang crimes in a neighborhood he lived in and now he’s being targeted for doing his job.”

“He wished he could testify but he invoked his Fifth Amendment rights because we [lawyers] told him to,” Ekl continued.

Ekl said Johnson’s case has led more people to come forth with false accusations against the Chicago Police veteran, pointing out that during hearings involving Johnson, defense attorneys could not present evidence that some witnesses only withdrew statements incriminating him because they were pressured to so by gangs.

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