Roberto Almodovar’s double-murder conviction is among the “handful” of cases that Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez is reviewing because of allegations that an ex-Chicago cop framed the suspects.
Almodovar’s attorney claims it’s a conflict of interest for Alvarez’s office to review a conviction it has already defended in court, and has asked Cook County Circuit Court Judge Paul Biebel Jr. to appoint a special prosecutor and make Alvarez step aside.
Turns out Biebel, the Criminal Court’s presiding judge, may have a conflict, too.
His brother, Robert Biebel, was the “supervising sergeant” in a homicide investigation — led by Chicago Police Detective Reynaldo Guevara — that resulted in first-degree murder charges against Almodovar and co-defendant William Negron, court filings show.
Robert Biebel, a former Area 5 Violent Crimes sergeant, hasn’t been accused of wrongdoing.
|Chicago Police Detective Reynaldo Guevara|
Court filings show he approved Guevara’s work in the case, signing a police report that outlined the charges facing Almodovar and Negron. The men are serving life sentences in prison for a Sept. 1, 1994, gang-related double murder in Humboldt Park. Both have proclaimed they’re innocent and allege they were framed by Guevara, who has been accused in court filings of railroading numerous other suspects, mostly Latino men.
Judge Biebel was scheduled to hear arguments Monday on Almodovar attorney Jennifer Bonjean’s motion to appoint a special prosecutor, something Alvarez opposes, according to interviews and records.
However, Bonjean has asked Judge Biebel to recuse himself because of his brother’s involvement.
“A judge not only has a duty to be fair but to be perceived as fair,” Bonjean says. “In this case there’s a question of whether [Biebel] would rule in such a way to protect his brother or the investigation.”
Judge Biebel told the Better Government Association he was unaware Bonjean requested his recusal. He declined further comment. Reached by phone, Robert Biebel, who retired from the police department in 2011 and collects an annual city pension of $92,643, hung up on a reporter.
Other cases in play
Judge Biebel isn’t the only judge with ties to the “handful” of criminal cases that prosecutors – at the request of the Emanuel administration after a taxpayer-funded investigation by the law firm of former U.S. Attorney Scott Lassar – are reviewing.
The BGA has reported that Cook County Judge Matthew Coghlan prosecuted Armando Serrano and Jose Montanez when Coghlan was an assistant state’s attorney in 1994. Alvarez’s office is now reviewing the case, most likely because the convictions hinged on uncorroborated testimony from a jailhouse informant who in return for taking the stand received a reduced prison sentence.
The informant testified that Serrano and Montanez told him they did the killing but he has since recanted and claims Guevara forced him to falsely implicate the men. Coghlan also prosecuted two other murder suspects, based on testimony from the same informant. Guevara was the lead investigator in those cases, too, according to court filings.
Coghlan, now handling criminal cases, declined to comment. Told about Coghlan’s situation, Judge Biebel said he had nothing to add.
The Emanuel administration asked Lassar and his law firm Sidley Austin LLP to review some of Guevara’s criminal cases in 2013 after two murder convictions were vacated — in part because of misconduct allegations involving Guevara.
The probe concluded earlier this year with the city, at Lassar’s urging, turning over a “handful” of cases to Alvarez’s office for a fresh look. The city wants to determine the scope of possible police misconduct – to not only ensure there aren’t innocent people imprisoned but to confront the potential legal liability, officials have said.
The city has refused to identify the cases but through interviews and court records the BGA has confirmed that Almodovar, Serrano and Montanez are among the “handful,” as are the 2000 convictions of Arturo Reyes and Gabriel Solache.
|Arturo Reyes||Gabriel Solache|
Reyes, 42, and Solache, 40, are serving life sentences for a 1998 double-murder.
There are no fingerprints, DNA evidence or blood samples linking them to the killings. The convictions were largely based on confessions that Reyes and Solache claim were false and coerced by Guevara through beatings, threats and lengthy interrogations, according to court filings.
Chicago’s municipal government has already paid nearly $20 million to investigate, defend and settle Guevara-related misconduct claims, records show. Guevara wouldn’t comment when contacted by a reporter.
In court depositions, Guevara has refused to answer questions, citing his constitutional right against self-incrimination.
This column – a regular feature called The Public Eye, appearing in the Chicago Sun-Times – was written and reported by the Better Government Association’s Andrew Schroedter, who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (312) 821-9035.