All 19 were from working-class neighborhoods in Chicago, all either African-American or Latino. And all but two were victims of what is proven to be a common practice by Chicago cops and others across the country — the use of coercion, from psychological abuse to torture, to elicit false confessions or create “testimony” to convict people of crimes they did not commit.
According to data compiled by the National Registry of Exonerations, at least 146 people had been freed from prison after being framed up and convicted by cops and prosecutors in Cook County. Many spent decades behind bars. The 19 released this week make the total 165.
On Nov. 14, Arthur Brown, 66, was released from prison after 29 years, convicted of murder based on a false confession that cops beat him into signing.
The following day Jose Maysonet, 49, was released after 27 years in prison for murder. After his conviction was overturned, prosecutors put him back on trial, but five retired cops refused to testify, invoking the constitutional protection against self-incrimination. Among the five cops was Reynaldo Guevara. Numerous convictions in which he played a role were overturned because he beat suspects and coerced witnesses.
On Nov. 16 the Cook County State’s Attorney threw out the drug-related convictions of 15 men. They were framed by police Sgt. Ronald Watts and his crew. Watts and an officer under his command were sent to federal prison in 2013 for stealing money from a drug courier working as an FBI informant.
Speaking at a news conference, Joshua Tepfer, the Exoneration Project’s lead attorney for the 15, said that Watts and his associates were involved in as many as 500 convictions.
Also addressing the media was Leonard Gipson, one of the 15 exonorees, who described how Watts framed him on drug charges in 2003 because he refused to pay him “protection” money. After Gipson filed a false-arrest complaint against Watts, the cop framed him up again on heroin-related drug charges. He spent two years in jail awaiting trial, finally yielding to the advice of his attorney and pleading guilty.
The day these convictions were thrown out, the Chicago Police Department put seven cops who had been associated with Watts on desk duty. A police spokesperson claimed the department would investigate their conduct.
Then on Nov. 21 Nevest Coleman and Darryl Fulton were released from prison after new DNA evidence cleared them of 1994 rape and murder convictions that had kept them incarcerated for 23 years.
The Exoneration Project and others continue to press to absolve and win freedom for hundreds of others framed up by Reynaldo Guevara, Watts and his associates, infamous former Chicago Police Department detective Jon Burge and his “midnight crew,” and other cops.
“For 19 people to be exonerated in less than a week is great,” Esther Hernandez, mother of both Juan and Rosendo Hernandez, who were framed up for murder and attempted murder in 1997, told the Militant. “But it also shows the scope of the problem. It’s not just Burge or Watts or Guevara. It’s how the cops and the justice system work.”
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