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Hernandez brothers stick to their stories in bid to get new murder trial

For more than two decades, Juan and Rosendo Hernandez have maintained their innocence in the 1997 murder that sent them to prison — and identified former Detective Reynaldo Guevara, now the subject of widespread misconduct claims, as the person who framed them.

On Wednesday, attorneys for the brothers and Cook County prosecutors each said that the yearslong consistency supports their opposing arguments.

Prosecutors, hoping to keep the brothers’ conviction intact, noted that new trials, which the brothers are seeking, should be granted only on the strength of newly discovered evidence. Their allegations of Guevara’s malfeasance were made decades ago, and they were convicted in Jorge Gonzalez’s murder anyway, Assistant State’s Attorney Carol Rogala said.

The brothers’ attorneys, however, said their consistency stoutly refutes any claim that they are simply jumping on the bandwagon with a wave of overturned Guevara-related convictions. And more significantly, they said, the judge can consider newly discovered evidence of Guevara’s pattern of misconduct, the full extent of which was not clear until long after the brothers’ trials.

And Guevara, who has repeatedly invoked his right to remain silent when questioned about the repeated allegations, “doesn’t deny it,” attorney Joshua Tepfer said in closing arguments. “So it’s over and over and over again.”

The Wednesday arguments were the culmination of a three-day hearing before Judge Joanne Rosado, whom the Hernandez brothers are hoping will grant them a new trial. Rosado, who now must analyze a mountain of old records and transcripts, has not set a date to announce her decision.

The brothers were convicted in separate trials for murder, attempted murder and aggravated battery in a Northwest Side shooting that killed Jorge Gonzalez. Rosendo Hernandez was sentenced to a total of 75 years, while Juan was sentenced to 86, according to a court filing for the brothers.

Perhaps the most explosive allegation over the course of this week’s hearing came Monday evening. A former federal cooperator, Fred Rock, testified that notoriously corrupt drug-running cop Joseph Miedzianowski had it in for Juan Hernandez because he thought he had stolen drugs from an associate. Miedzianowski told Rock that Guevara was the guy who was going to help him “get” Hernandez, Rock tested.

Both brothers took the witness stood Wednesday and flatly denied any involvement in the shooting, repeating their alibis: Rosendo was at a bowling alley, Juan was at a pizza parlor helping prepare for a quinceañera. Guevara allegedly tweaked those alibis in the reports he wrote after interviewing the brothers, in order to make them less credible.

Rosado also viewed part of a deposition Guevara gave in April, in which he invoked his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent dozens of times in just a few minutes — even when asked seemingly benign questions like whether or not he knew the Hernandez brothers.

Of the multiple eyewitnesses who were tested at the brothers’ trials, only two took the stand again this week. One, José Gonzalez, said Wednesday that he was outside on North Mobile Street that night in 1997 when three men came up, two of whom fired shots.

He got a good view of the shooters’ faces, and identified them in photos, in a lineup, and at the Hernandez brothers’ trials, he said, maintaining that nobody influenced him or told him whom to pick out.

The Hernandez brothers’ attorneys insinuated that his identification could not be trusted: the lighting was poor, the situation was brief and highly stressful, and Gonzalez was only 13 years old at the time, they said.

While the Hernandez brothers were seated a few yards away from Gonzalez in the small courtroom, neither set of attorneys asked Gonzalez if he could identify anyone in the room as the shooters.

The other eyewitness, Daniel Violante, tested this week that he had told the police from the start he never saw the shooters’ faces, and he only identified them at trial because the victim’s family had said they were the gunmen so he figured they were correct.

Prosecutors sought to cast doubt on his credibility, noting that he signed an affidavit recanting his identification in 1998, then later went on to identify the brothers at their trials anyway. In addition, neither Violante nor Gonzalez ever claimed Guevara leaned on them or threatened them to finger a specific suspect, as Guevara has been alleged to do in multiple other cases; prosecutors argued that means the Hernandez brothers’ case does not fit the same pattern.

But Guevara has also been accused of lying on police reports to make suspects’ alibis seem weaker, as he is alleged to have done in this case, attorneys noted.

On Tuesday, attorneys presented testimony about someone they believe to have been an alternate suspect.

While driving around with his girlfriend in a beat-up van on a summer night in 1997, Nelson Pacheco encountered a friend, a Spanish Cobra gang member, driving a large, boxy car with a busted windshield, Pacheco tested Tuesday.

Pacheco said the Spanish Cobra waved at him to follow in his vehicle, then left his car and jumped into Pacheco’s van.

As Pacheco drove away from the area, he tested, the Cobra said he may have killed a rival gang member, and that someone threw a bicycle at his car as he drove away, smashing the windshield. Pacheco said he shushed him because his girlfriend was in the car, and he later dropped the Cobra off near a park.

Later, Pacheco tested, he drove past the Cobra’s car and saw that it had been torched.

“He wasn’t one to mess with,” Pacheco said of his friend.

When Jorge Gonzalez was shot and killed, Hector Vazquez was in the vicinity and heard gunshots, he tested on Tuesday.

“I saw a commotion,” he said. “Things were being thrown at a car.”

Vazquez testified that he saw someone throw a bicycle at the windshield of a dark-colored boxy car.

Vazquez said that he was friends with Gonzalez from the neighborhood. He also tested that he knew the Hernandez brothers from high school, but was not friends with them.

In closing arguments Wednesday, prosecutors noted that Vazquez and Pacheco’s description of the car is inconsistent with the description given by witnesses who saw the car the shooters were in. And while the Hernandez brothers’ attorneys have spoken extensively about the reason prosecution witnesses’ memories are unreliable, the same could be argued of Vazquez and Pacheco, prosecutors said.

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