By J. Coyden Palmer, Chicago Crusader
Cook County citizens can no longer count how many men of color have had murder convictions overturned after two more men were freed from the justice system April 30 by a Cook County judge. Anthony Jakes, 41 and Robert Buoto walked out of the Leighton Criminal Courts Building with wide smiles on their faces Monday afternoon. Both had been convicted of murder based off fraudulent testimony, it is believed. Jakes, convicted as a 15-year-old of the 1991 murder of Rafael Garcia, served all of his sentence and was released years ago. However, the conviction remained on his record, something he says has stifled him in life.
“You go around in life with a huge stain on your life,” he said. “Nobody really wants to hire you and I missed my late teen and early adulthood years. Prom, graduation, hanging with friends…all was stolen from me.”
His attorney would not say if Jakes would be filing a lawsuit, but based on past cases, there is a good chance he will. Special Prosecutor Robert Milan announced he was dropping the charges against Jakes. He cited to the court Jakes’ conviction was based on several troubling questions about evidence in the case. The most troubling involved the testimony of former Chicago Police Detective Michael Kill, who interrogated Jakes into a confession. The retired detective is alleged by Jakes to have beaten him during questioning. The 1991 interrogation fits into the time frame when several disciples of former Area 1 head of detectives Lt. Jon Burge is known to have used torture tactics to get confessions.
Jakes spent 23 years in prison for the crime, he now says he did not do. Milan said he reviewed the prosecutorial evidence in Jakes’ case for three months and came to the conclusion it did not meet the standard of proving a case beyond reasonable doubt.
About an hour after Jakes’ hearing, in another courtroom, Robert Bouto was learning that he too was about to have his conviction vacated. Bouto spent over 20 years in prison for a 1993 shooting death outside of a Chicago high school. Bouto was 17 when he was sentenced to 45 years in prison. He is now the 18th person to have their conviction overturned because of the actions of former Detective Reynaldo Guevara. Guevara has been accused of misconduct in dozens of other cases. Like former Det. Kill, he is a disciple of Burge. The city has already paid out over $100 million in settlement monies to Burge victims alone.
Attorney Russell Ainsworth of the University of Chicago Exoneration Project is representing both Jakes and Bouto. He said while his primary responsibility is to correct past judicial wrongs, he is calling for criminal investigations into police and prosecutorial misconduct in Cook County.
“It is time to turn the tables. It is time to criminally investigate these detectives for all the harm they have done to so many families, to so many young men of color who were convicted of crimes they did not commit, simply because these detectives wanted to close the case rather than get to the truth,” Ainsworth said.
That may be easier said than done as to date there has been only one conviction of misconduct done by police in the Burge cases and that was of Burge himself, who was convicted of lying about the torture, not the action itself. No prosecutors have ever been charged with any crime.
Like Jakes, Bouto said he lost time out of his life that can never be replaced. He said he is very angry about what happened to him, especially since he is just one of dozens of victims.
“Once this is gone, I can build,” he said. “But nothing is going to give me back the years I lost.”
Meanwhile over in federal court, another man who had his murder conviction thrown out earlier this year filed a civil lawsuit against the city. Thomas Sierra served 22 years in prison for a 1995 murder. The investigator in his case was Guevara.
The Crusader reached out to the city’s Law Department about all three cases for comment. They declined citing possible future and pending litigation.
Bouto will have another hearing on his case May 29th when prosecutors are expected to announce they have no plans on retrying him for any criminal case. He is currently working as a parking valet because he claims it is hard for him to get employment with the conviction on his record.