Illinois authorities exonerated two brothers who have spent more than 25 years in prison after they alleged they were framed for murder by a retired Chicago police detective who was trying to protect a drug ring run by cops.
A judge ordered the release of Juan and Rosendo Hernandez, who had been in prison over a 1997 murder, on Thursday.
"[Tomorrow] the brothers will walk out of prison and into the arms of their mother, Esther, after 25 years," their attorney, Anand Swaminathan, wrote on Twitter.
The Hernandez brothers are the 25th and 26th people to have their convictions tossed in cases tied to Reynaldo Guevara, a retired detective.
In a statement, the Cook County State’s Attorney Office said that based on a review of the case, which included allegations of misconduct involving Guevara, "we agree with the Judge’s decision and noted on the record that we will not pursue a new trial."
A BuzzFeed News investigation in 2017 uncovered more than 50 people who accused Guevara of framing them for murders they say they didn’t commit. Some said they had been beaten into false confessions, while others alleged Guevara had tampered with witnesses or evidence.
Two other men, David Lugo (formerly David Colon) and Jose Cruz, were also exonerated in the past week alone.
Juan Hernandez, now 45, and his brother, Rosendo, 44, were each sentenced to more than 100 years in prison over the murder of Jorge Gonzalez, an 18-year-old shot to death on his front porch in 1997.
Both brothers had alibis for where they were when the murder took place, and witnesses at trial testified as to their whereabouts.
But police said they received an anonymous tip linking the brothers to the killing, and several Gonzalez family members who were with Jorge when he died and had to flee the shots themselves identified them.
The Hernandez brothers contended in legal filings and in interviews with BuzzFeed News that they believed the witnesses had been manipulated by police as payback for drugs stolen from a stash house where Juan lived and cooked crack cocaine for an operation run by police sergeant–turned–drug dealer Joe Miedzianowski.
Miedzianowski, who was once Guevara's supervisor, was convicted in 2001 for his role in the drug ring and is serving a life sentence.
BuzzFeed News reporter Melissa Segura tracked down two of the witnesses to the Gonzalez murder in 2016 and both maintained they were not coerced into identifying the brothers, although one conceded she may have been mistaken. Ultimately, attorneys tracked down another witness who recanted their testimony.
Eyewitness testimony from people fleeing gunfire can be unreliable, according to experts.
Another former drug dealer said in an affidavit and also told BuzzFeed News that he heard Miedzianowski state his intentions to frame Juan Hernandez on at least three occasions.
The brothers' mother, Esther, has worked to free them since their imprisonment, and has also become a prominent campaigner for others convicted by Guevara.
"Esther never stopped fighting for her sons. She is a human dynamo," Swaminathan said. "It has been an honor to fight alongside her and many other families of Guevara's victims."
Melissa Segura contributed reporting.