Innocent Man Says Cops Seized Car in Murder Probe

Jose Aguirre bought his Cadillac in 2010, three years after authorities say it was used in slayings of Edgar Mercado and Jaime Cepeda

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Police took Jose Aguirre's car, without warning, as evidence in a murder case he had nothing to do with. Lisa Parker reports. (Published Wednesday, Aug 21, 2013)

    Years after the trail went cold on a gruesome double murder case from 2007, it picked up in a most surprising place: beginning with a rap on the window of a north side man's home.

    "The detectives came and they took my Cadillac," Jose Aguirre recently told NBC 5 Investigates. "They gave me a search warrant and they said we are taking your car because it was used in some crime."

    That crime, according to the search warrant, was the double murder of two Chicago men, Edgar Mercado and Jaime Cepeda, in November of 2007. Aguirre bought the used Cadillac in 2010, three years after the bodies of the two men were found dumped in a south suburban forest preserve.

    His car was taken by search warrant more than two years after he bought it, in November of 2012. He is not suspected of any wrongdoing in the case, but investigators clearly believe his car played some role in it.

    "Obviously, something happened in that car," Aguirre said. "They were telling me I would get it back some time after thanksgiving, but that never happened."

    In fact, eight months went by and Aguirre says he couldn’t get any answers as to when he might get his car back. He continued to pay the car loan, and struggled to borrow relatives’ cars that could get him to his job at an auto factory. He says he was patient for several months, but began to feel mistreated when he couldn’t get any straight answers from the law enforcement agencies involved in the investigation. Lawyer after lawyer told him they couldn’t take his case.

    Frustrated, he ultimately contacted NBC 5 Investigates to help get some answers.

    Our investigation began with the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, where the case is being handled. Despite the fact that evidence like Aguirre’s car can only be released by a prosecutor, the office refused to answer any of our questions about Aguirre’s car, its whereabouts, or why the search was taking so long. A spokesperson for the CCSA told us we would have to ask those questions to the agency that physically took the car: the Cook County Sheriff’s Office.

    To which Sheriff Tom Dart said: "The prosecutor is the one who says we do need this, don't need that. Everyone knows that. So to say otherwise is one of those things -- when I talk to my kids we call it a lie. It's just not true."

    Dart says the State’s Attorney had clear control over Aguirre’s car, but acknowledges: the system as a whole messed up here. While his investigators don’t have authority to release evidence, Dart says does wish his office had been a better advocate for Aguirre.

    "What happened to Mr Aguirre was just plain wrong,” Dart said. “There needs to be a more thoughtful process for somebody whose life has been interrupted and had nothing to do with anything."

    Despite the refusal to answer any of our questions, the same day we called the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, Jose Aguirre’s car was finally released. Weeks later, he still awaits its arrival from the body shop where it was disassembled during the search process. But after our inquiry, he did receive something even more helpful: repayment for the months of car loans he paid out while his car was in custody. Sheriff Dart’s office used funds to pay the innocent bystander, utilizing money seized from drug dealers.

    Jose Aguirre is expecting delivery of his re-assembled car any day now. He’s not sure how long he will keep it, however. He says after all the talk of the double murders being connected to his vehicle, his girlfriend doesn’t want to ride in it anymore.

    "I’ll probably sell it," he said.