Prosecutors in Chicago Tuesday tossed the conviction of another man who claims he was framed for murder by Detective Reynaldo Guevara.
The dismissal for Thomas Sierra comes 11 days after a BuzzFeed News investigation revealed troubling inconsistencies in his case. Witnesses said that Guevara and his longtime partner Ernest Halvorsen altered their statements. In several documented instances — including at Sierra’s trial — a key witness in the case claimed the detective influenced him to select Sierra from a photo spread.
Sierra completed a 22-year prison sentence in November has since been on house arrest. “Thomas Sierra spent 22 years serving a debt to society he didn’t owe,” said one of his attorneys, Steve Art, who credited the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office for “quickly reinvestigating the case and giving Sierra the long overdue vindication he so richly deserved.”
“It’s a blessing, a relief,” Sierra said after the dismissal. “I can go on now without this over my head. I can apply for a job and if they ask, ‘Have you been convicted of a felony,' I can check no.”
Sierra, 41, is the 13th Guevara defendant to have his murder conviction dismissed, and the sixth since BuzzFeed News revealed last spring that more than 50 people have accused Guevara of framing them for murder. The detective, who is now retired, has been accused of beating witnesses and suspects, manipulating witness identifications, and distorting evidence to frame people.
“We were unable to meet our burden so we dismissed the case,” Robert Foley, the Cook County State’s Attorney spokesperson, said in a message to BuzzFeed News.
Sierra was 19 when he was arrested in May, 1995, and charged with opening fire on a car in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood, killing 24-year-old Noel Andujar. The car’s two surviving passengers gave police vague descriptions of the shooter but they gave a more complete description of the shooter’s car: a dark Buick Park Avenue with custom rims and tinted windows.
Guevara claimed to have seen Sierra in a friend’s Buick Park Avenue three days earlier. He showed that car to the crime scene witnesses but they testified that they told Det. Guevara it could not be the car used in the murder, because it did not have the tinted windows or custom wheels they had repeatedly described. Yet the detective’s reports say the witnesses said it was the right car.
One of those witnesses, Jose Melendez, testified at Sierra’s trial that the detective showed him an array of photos — but held Sierra’s photo apart from the others, a violation of police practices that has been linked to false identifications. Melendez testified that he hadn’t gotten a clear look at who was shooting at him, but that he identified Sierra because he wanted someone to pay for the crime and Guevara seemed like “he knew something I didn’t know.”
BuzzFeed News found other instances in which Guevara is accused of violating photo lineup procedures, including in the case of Roberto Almodovar and William Negron. A witness in that case repeatedly testified that Guevara showed him pictures of Almodovar and Negron before viewing a lineup — another tactic that is prohibited by police procedures and linked to false identifications.
Last month, two other Guevara defendants who claim the detective beat them into signing false confessions had their murder convictions tossed after a judge accused Guevara of telling “bald-faced lies.” The judge, James Obbish, said Guevara “has now eliminated the possibility of being considered a credible witness in any proceeding.”
Sierra filed a post-conviction petition seeking to prove his innocence 15 years ago. Today would have been one of his first hearings in that case.
A spokesman for Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx told BuzzFeed News last month that her office is reviewing all cases in which Guevara played a role.
Sierra expressed gratitude for the attention his case has attracted. “There are more guys like me but they don’t have that outside help,” he said.
At least 15 other people who say Guevara framed them are still seeking to have their convictions overturned.
This story has been updated to include a comment from Thomas Sierra.