Reynaldo Munoz became the 3,000th known person to be exonerated in the United States when his conviction was overturned in March 2022 after he served 30 years in prison, The National Registry of Exonerations told USA Today.
At the age of 16, Munoz was convicted of killing Ivan Mena, 21, and attempting to kill Bouvier “Bobby” Garcia, 19. He has denied his guilt every day since his arrest in 1985, according to a USA Today article.
“The lead detective in this case, Ernest Halvorsen, was part of a corrupt group of Area 5 detectives in Chicago who routinely framed young Hispanic men,” according to the exoneration petition written by attorney Jennifer Bonjean, who represented Munoz.
The National Registry of Exonerations, which has tracked every known overturned conviction since 1989, reported that 102 of the 3,000 known exonerations happened due to official misconduct. They also reported that six other exonerees have made similar claims of abuse against Detective Halvorsen.
In the petition for Munoz’s exoneration, Bonjean noted that suppressed evidence and a favorable witness statement were withheld from the defense because it would have raised too much reasonable doubt. The information withheld by the detectives was critical to allowing Munoz’s conviction.
In the years since Munoz was arrested, it has been revealed that Detective Halvorsen and Gang Crime Specialist Reynaldo Guevara frequently resorted to fabrication of evidence, beatings and coercion to close homicide cases. These were some of the tactics they used in Munoz’s arrest, according to his attorney.
When Munoz — a low-level gang member at the time who used the nickname “Scooby” — was arrested, the corrupt detectives were looking for a different kid, whose nickname was “Shorty.” Munoz claims he pleaded with Guevara, saying that “Guevara was trying to pin a murder” on him, USA Today reported. In 2018, at Munoz’s wrongful conviction trial, Guevara invoked his Fifth Amendment right more than 200 times, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Guevara often teamed up with Halvorsen to target Hispanic or Latino people to “clear” homicides, according to court records and various media reports. Up to 50 additional murder convictions could be overturned in the coming months due Guevara’s misconduct and manipulation of evidence.
The new report by the National Registry of Exonerations sheds light on similar corruption across the U.S. For example, the registry also reported that Sgt. Ronald Watts of the Chicago Police Department planted drugs on individuals who refused bribe payments. Additionally, 15 more exonerations in Illinois happened due to wrongful convictions for weapons possession, the annual report said.
Official misconduct accounted for 42% of exoneration cases in 2012. A decade later, official misconduct jumped in 2021 to 56%, according to The National Registry of Exonerations.
The increase in official misconduct cases is due partly to increased drug-possession arrests, mainly in Chicago. Most of the drug arrests also included perjury and false accusations, mostly by law enforcement officials framing innocent people.
The increase also comes from courts’ increasing awareness of other kinds of official misconduct like fraud, and the failures of prosecutors and law enforcement to divulge exculpatory evidence, The National Registry of Exonerations said.
Munoz is pushing forward to the day when his record and his name can be cleared. He is asking for justice for the years of freedom that he missed.