Prosecutors Drop Charges Against 2 Wrongfully Convicted Men Who Spent 23 Years Behind Bars

Jose Montanez, 49, and Armando Serrano, 44, have both been incarcerated for 23 years and have maintained their innocence for years

Cook County prosecutors have dropped murder charges against two men whose convictions more than two decades ago were based largely on the work of a Chicago police officer at the center of numerous misconduct allegations. 

Prosecutors asked a judge Wednesday to dismiss all charges against Jose Montanez, 49, and Armando Serrano, 44, who have both been incarcerated for 23 years for crimes they say they didn't commit.

In February 1993, both men were sentenced to 55 years in prison for the killing of Rodrigo Vargas. According to their attorneys with The Exoneration Project, their convictions hinged on the testimony of Francisco Vicente, a heroin addict who was facing felony charges when he allegedly told Detective Reynaldo Guevara that the two men had confessed to the killing. 

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Both men denied the accusation and maintained their innocence. 

Vicente later recanted his testimony telling the Medill Innocence Project, "my false testimony was given as a result of threats, intimidation and physical abuse by Det. Reynaldo Guevara."

The convictions were among a handful of cases reviewed by the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office involving Guevara.

Several families have claimed in years past that their loved ones were framed by the detective, who retired from the police department in 2005.

Juan Johnson, who was wrongfully convicted in 1991 and released after 11 ½ years behind bars after evidence showed Guevara had coerced witnesses to implicate him in a crime, was awarded more than $21 million in 2009. The settlement was one of the largest ever in a wrongful conviction lawsuit.

The Better Government Association reported in 2015 that Chicago has paid more than $20 million to review, litigate, and settle Guevara-related misconduct cases.

“This was no mistake; Detective Guevara framed these innocent men. We give credit to Anita Alvarez for recognizing this injustice and setting Jose Montanez and Armando Serrano free,” Russell Ainsworth, Montanez’s attorney from The Exoneration Project, said in a statement. “Sadly, dozens more innocent Guevara victims remain incarcerated for crimes they didn't commit. We will not rest until every single one of them is exonerated.”

Montanez and Serrano are expected to be released from prison later Wednesday.

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