Feds: 2 prisoners will be freed after charges against drug ring
By Joe Biesk; Associated Press Writer; December 18, 2002, 4:17 PM CST
Four men imprisoned for a drug-related murder did not commit the crime, law enforcement officials said today in announcing charges in a series of related crimes.
Two of the men were expected to be freed later in the day while the other two were convicted of additional crimes and will remain in state prison, U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said.
The men were convicted of charges related to the 1997 killing of Sindulfo Miranda.
Fitzgerald announced charges against nine other people in what he called a criminal crew. The crimes included racketeering conspiracy, murder, attempted murder and kidnapping, as well as drug charges.
He said 15 different people were kidnapped in eight different incidents committed as members of the crew sought information or drugs.
Cook County State's Attorney Richard Devine was asked if the case was another example of Illinois' criminal justice system convicting the wrong people.
Since capital punishment was reinstated in Illinois, 13 people who were sent to death row have been found to have been wrongfully convicted.
"It was law enforcement agencies that came up with this information and followed it up, and rather than duck it, were willing to stand up and say this is the right things to do," Devine answered.
He said defense lawyers were partly to blame.
"This is a total system that relies in part on the adversary system. Some of the people on the defense side have to look at where they were in this case," he said.
Devine said two of the men were convicted at trial and two confessed.
"There were no motions to quash the statements given by the defendants," he said.
However, assistant county public defender Marijane Placek said that was not true. She said she represented one of the defendants, Omar Aguirre.
She said his confession was written in English although he only speaks Spanish. He also denied the signature on the confession was his, she said.
Placek said she challenged the confession in court.
Aguirre, 33, was convicted of murder after a jury trial in January 1999 and was sentenced in March 1999 to 55 years in prison.
The other three who were wrongly convicted, authorities said Wednesday, were Luis Ortiz, 24, who pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and was sentenced in February to 25 years in prison; Duarte Santos, 31, who pleaded guilty to aggravated kidnapping and was sentenced in February to 12 years in prison; and Robert Gayol, 39, was convicted of murder in September 2001 in a bench trial and sentenced to life in prison.