A Chicago man who served 27 years for a double murder walked free today, after the police officers he says framed him refused to testify at his retrial.
Jose Maysonet, 49, has repeatedly claimed that Chicago detective Reynaldo Guevara beat him into confessing to the 1990 murders of two brothers. Maysonet was granted a retrial last year on the grounds that he had been denied effective counsel.
Hours before a preliminary hearing in that retrial, attorneys for Guevara and four other officers in Maysonet’s case announced that they would invoke their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Without the officers’ testimony, prosecutors determined they couldn’t meet their burden of proof.
The state’s attorney’s office “continues to maintain that he is guilty and that Mr. Maysonet’s statements are not the product of police misconduct,” Eric Sussman, first assistant state’s attorney, told the court. Sussman said he dropped the charges with “deep regret and sadness for the victims in this case.”
An attorney for two of the officers, Fernando Montilla and Roland Paulnitsky, said they were angered over the prosecution’s decision. The attorney, Timothy Grace, told BuzzFeed News that his clients decided that they would invoke their Fifth Amendment rights after Kim Foxx of the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office declined to grant the officers immunity in exchange for their testimony.
His clients “didn’t do anything improper,” Grace said, but they wanted protection so they couldn’t be targeted in future cases given what he calls the “hysteria” of the wrongful conviction movement.
Maysonet’s attorney, Jennifer Bonjean, offered a different explanation: “They feared prosecution for what they did, which was frame my client,” aided by the complicity and the silence of other officers. The officers’ refusal to testify, she added, is evidence that the division where Guevara and other officers worked “is rotten to the core.”
The officers’ request for immunity and refusal to testify points to a rift between Foxx, who campaigned on a reformist agenda, and police. Foxx has been criticized by both the police officers’ union, for putting officers like Guevara on the stand, and the families of Guevara’s accusers, who say her office isn’t doing enough to ensure innocent men aren’t behind bars.
While officers and prosecutors bemoaned Maysonet’s release, his mother, Miriam LaJara, along with other family members, sat in the front row of the courtroom, sobbing with joy. His sister, Rosa, rocked back and forth repeating, “Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, Jesus.”
Maysonet is the fifth man in the last two years whose conviction has been tossed after allegations of Guevara’s misconduct. At least 51 people accuse the retired detective of actions from beating them into false confessions to tampering with witnesses. In a pretrial hearing last month, Maysonet, an admitted former drug dealer, said he paid Guevara at least $1,000 a week in exchange for protection from arrest. Maysonet stopped paying the detectives after a bitter dispute, Maysonet’s attorney told the court. Three months later, she said, Maysonet was framed the double murder.
“I’m still shocked,” Maysonet said as he was set free.
The codefendant in Maysonet’s case, Alfredo Gonzalez, is also appealing his conviction.
A total of five officers said they would not testify in Jose Maysonet's retrial. The article originally said four.