CHICAGO — A woman who spent nearly three decades in prison for a murder she did not commit has filed a federal lawsuit against the Chicago Police Department and several individual officers, including a disgraced former detective accused of framing dozens of innocent people.
The 13-count civil complaint filed Monday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois on behalf of Marilyn Mulero, 52, alleges that detectives Reynaldo Guevara and Ernest Halvorsen and other officers engaged in a “number of unconstitutional and egregious acts” and coerced a false confession from Mulero.
She is one of at least 38 people exonerated after being convicted on murder charges due to the misconduct of the officers, according to the complaint. Collectively, the innocent men and women have served more than 800 years behind bars, the complaint says.
“I stand here today because, unlike myself, there’s many other innocent people incarcerated,” Mulero said at a press conference Tuesday, adding, “There are many women that are innocent. And these women are not spoken of.”
The Chicago Police Department said it does not comment on ongoing litigation.
What happened to Marilyn Mulero?
In May 1992, Mulero was 21 years old with two young children. She was in a park on Chicago’s West Side when another woman shot and killed two people. Mulero “did not participate in the shootings or have any knowledge they were going to occur,” her attorneys said.
Yet Mulero was “subjected to brutal and unconstitutional interrogation tactics” to force a confession, including being told she would receive a lethal injection if she did not confess, her attorneys said.
A corrupt Chicago cop destroyed lives.Now victims want justice.
According to the complaint, the officers did not provide Mulero with access to a lawyer, used psychological torture, manipulated and coerced purported witnesses into providing false statements, promised leniency to jailhouse informants in exchange for false testimony and manipulated lineups and identifications.
Mulero pleaded guilty in the hopes of avoiding the death penalty, but she was sentenced to death anyway. Her sentence was reduced to life in prison several years later. In total, she was incarcerated for 28 years, including five years on Death Row.
“It took many long, long years of writing letters to get support,” said Mulero, who estimated writing 3,000 letters to try to gain attention to her case. She added: “Every day I’d wake up wondering what it’d be like for me to take my children to school.”
In 2020, after investigations and lawsuits uncovered evidence that Guevara, Halvorsen and other officers had framed dozens of people, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker commuted Mulero’s sentence, and she was released from prison. In 2022, a Cook County judge granted motions filed by State’s Attorney Kim Foxx to dismiss all charges against Mulero.
“She was the first Latinx woman ever sentenced to death in Illinois, the first woman to be exonerated in a Guevara-related case, and she is the first and only woman exonerated from death row in Cook County, Illinois,” Mulero’s attorneys said in a press release.
Mulero said there were many times while incarcerated when she wanted to “give up.” She said it has been hard to get a job and rebuild her relationships with her children and grandchildren. At one point, she was homeless for six months, she said.
“I struggle every day because I’m a broken woman. I’m trying to rebuild myself, but it’s not easy,” she said.
The attorneys called Mulero’s exoneration “a step in the right direction” but said her exoneration “can never give her back the nearly thirty years that she spent in prison, nor the opportunity to raise her two children, who grew up with a wrongfully incarcerated mother.”
800 years served by innocent people, attorneys say
Several other people wrongfully convicted in cases tied to Guevara and Halvorsen stood alongside Mulero at the press conference Tuesday.
“This is something that we have to live with for the rest of our lives,” Mulero said.
The Death Penalty Information Center, a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., has accused Guevara of framing defendants of murder in more than 50 cases.
The City of Chicago has paid more than $26 million since 2010 for outside counsel to handle civil rights lawsuits involving Guevara, according to an analysis of Law Department records by the Chicago Tribune. So far, the city has resolved a handful of the suits. In court, Guevara has repeatedly plead the Fifth Amendment.
Mulero’s complaint seeks monetary damages and aims to make it “unsustainable for the City of Chicago to protect and defend officers who have no business wearing a patch,” said attorney Antonio Romanucci.
Halvorsen, who was a member of the Chicago Police Department from 1972 until 2010, died in 2020. Guevara, who served from 1976 until 2005, continues to collect more than $80,000 per year from his police pension, according to the complaint.
“We still believe there are more victims and survivors of these disgraced officers,” Romanucci said.