Marilyn Mulero

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Marilyn Mulero was wrongly convicted of murder and sentenced to death on a plea deal. Mulero’s case involved disgraced Chicago Detective Reynaldo Guevara, who, to date, has been personally responsible for dozens of wrongful convictions.

On May 12, 1992, in Humboldt Park, Chicago, two members of the Latin Kings Street Gang were shot and killed. The day after, police arrested Marilyn Mulero and Jackie Montanez in connection with this crime. They were taken to the station and questioned separately. The police did not respect their wishes for legal representation, and each woman was questioned for more than nine hours. Marilyn said she had nothing to do with the crime during her questioning. But soon, the detectives told her she had two choices: confess to one murder, or face charges for both and face the death penalty.

The police lied to Marilyn saying Jackie had already confessed and blamed her for both murders. They also said she would not be able to see her kids again unless she confessed. The prosecutors hinted that they would not seek the death penalty in a case where Latinos were involved in the shooting. After interrogation, without a lawyer or sleep, Marilyn signed a prepared statement, implicating herself for both murders, one as a shooter and one for conspiracy. 

Without investigating the case, Marilyn’s attorney, Jeremiah Lynch, entered a blind plea of guilty. This plea deal put her at risk of facing the death penalty. Eventually, based on what the jury suggested, Marilyn became the first woman in Illinois to be sentenced to death.

Justin Brooks, who started the California Innocence Project, went to Illinois to meet Marilyn in prison. She kept saying she did not do the murders. Shocked that Marilyn was given the death penalty without a proper trial, Justin started investigating and litigating her case. 

In May of 1997, the Illinois Supreme Court ordered a new sentencing hearing after vacating Marilyn’s death sentence. The result of the hearing led to Marilyn being resentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Justin continued his investigation into Marilyn’s case. As he dug deeper, he found out that some of the evidence the prosecution used was not so strong.

For example, the prosecution’s main witness Jackie Serrano (Serrano) claimed she watched the crime from her apartment window. But an investigation found that this could not be true. Her apartment was too far away, bushes were blocking the view, and it was dark outside when the crime happened. Also, other people who said Marilyn and Jackie confessed to the murders turned out not to be trustworthy.

In January 2017, Jackie Montanez admitted in a written statement and verbally many times that she alone planned to shoot the men, shot both of them and that Marilyn did not know about the plan. 

Marilyn filed habeas petitions using this information, but state and federal courts denied her claims. The United States Supreme Court ultimately denied certiorari. Justin went so far as to argue that the Illinois criminal legal system violated international human rights law by sentencing people to death without trials, however, the courts took no action based on those claims. 

In addition to receiving ineffective assistance from counsel, an investigation uncovered that two well-known detectives from Chicago made up evidence against her. They not only got Marilyn to confess to something she did not do, but they also got false statements from witnesses too. These detectives, Guevara and Halvorsen, have caused more than 20 people to be wrongly convicted and later found innocent. 

In 2019, the California Innocence Project, the Exoneration Project, and the Illinois Innocence Project worked together to file a new clemency petition on Marilyn’s behalf. A hearing was held in October 2019, and on April 6, 2020, Illinois Governor J. B. Pritzker granted Marilyn Mulero’s clemency petition.  On Wednesday, April 8, 2020, Mulero walked out as a free woman after more than 26 years in prison for a crime she did not commit.

On August 9, 2022, the district attorney’s office agreed to vacate Marilyn’s conviction. Marilyn became the 190th person to be exonerated from death row in the United States. 

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