Marilyn Mulero was sentenced to die in 1993 after she pleaded guilty in Cook County Circuit Court to taking part in a gang revenge murder of two members of the Latin Kings gang.
On Wednesday, the Illinois Prisoner Review Board entertained arguments by her attorneys that the conviction is flawed and that Gov. J.B. Pritzker should grant her clemency.
It is the third time that Mulero has turned to the Prisoner Review Board. “This was a very difficult and challenging case when we heard it the first time, and it’s no less difficult and challenging today,” Board Chairman Craig Findley said.
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But bolstering Mulero’s case this time are allegations that a key detective in the case, Reynaldo Guevara, was involved in framing dozens of suspects for murder.
At a hearing at the James R. Thompson Center on Wednesday, Mulero’s attorneys cited a series of issues that long have cast doubt on Mulero’s confession and subsequent guilty plea.
No physical evidence connected Mulero, who was 21 at the time of the 1992 murders of Jimmy Cruz and Hector Reyes, to the crime and the gun was never recovered.
She and two members of the Maniac Latin Disciples, Jacqueline Montanez, 15, and Madeline Mendoza, 16, were arrested and charged with conspiring the murders.
Mulero gave a statement to Detectives Guevara and Ernest Halverson confessing to one of the murders. In her clemency plea she contends it came after spending more than 20 hours in police custody. The petition contends during that time she was denied an attorney and threatened with the death penalty and separation from her two children.
After her confession she was represented by an inexperienced defense attorney who recommended she enter a guilty plea with no conditions attached, according to her clemency request. She then was sentenced to die by Cook County Circuit Judge John Mannion before, in 1998, she was resentenced to life in prison without an opportunity for parole.
But first in 2005 and again in 2014, the Parole Board provided a hearing on her claim for clemency, after one of the co-defendants, Montanez, gave a statement that she had committed both murders and Mulero had not known what Montanez was about to do.
“I shot [Reyes] once in the back of the head,” Montanez said in a Chicago Tribune video. “As he dropped, I came out of the bathroom and ran towards the other one. The other one had a gun. And my co-defendant Mendoza was scared cause you could tell that he was about to do something to her cause I’m sure he heard the gunshot. So I grabbed the gun and just shot and when I shot it hit him and he hit the floor.”
Following both hearings, Mulero was denied clemency.
On Wednesday, Mulero attorney Justin Brooks told the board that, fundamentally, the case comes down to what Mulero knew before the shootings.
“The only thing that makes her culpable is if she knew that they were going to Humboldt Park for the shooting,” he said. The idea that Montanez would commit one murder, then hand the gun to Mulero to commit the other doesn’t add up, he said.
“What makes more sense is that Jackie [Montanez] shot both victims and that’s something she confessed to many times over the years.”
Focused on the more-recent accusations against Guevara, another of Mulero’s defense team, Lauren Myerscough-Mueller told the board that Mulero’s “case has a nexus in the pattern of abuse.” She added, “These are the same things courts have found Guevara and Halvorsen did to others.”
Guevara has been accused of framing at least 51 people for murder. So far, 19 people have been exonerated in cases he investigated, and several include false confessions that followed beatings or coercion.
The state’s attorney’s office opposed Mulero’s request for executive clemency. Assistant State’s Attorney Sara Whitecotton argued that Mulero’s involvement was clear.
“Saying that she had no knowledge is just not reasonable. She was there, she helped facilitate the offense and she’s accountable,” she said.
The governor has no time limit on when he reviews and decides whether to accept the board’s confidential recommendation, Craig Findley said Wednesday. Typically, a decision is announced around a year after a hearing.