Armando Serrano - Convicted of murder based entirely on the testimony of a snitch witness

Armando Serrano was sentenced to 55 years for the murder of a man in Humboldt Park. There were no eyewitnesses or physical evidence linking Serrano to the shooting. The prosecution’s star witnesses testimony was false, induced, and the product of illegal coercion by Detective Reynaldo Guevara.  

Rodrigo Vargas was murdered in his car at 5:30 am on February 5, 1993. He was holding a radio in his hand and his wallet containing $190 remained untouched in his pocket. There was no evidence of a struggle. Wilda Vargas, Rodrigo’s wife told detectives she had no idea who would have wanted Rodrigo killed. She could think of no motive for the shooting and maintained that Rodrigo had no enemies. The crime went unsolved for four months until Detective Reynaldo Guevara took over the investigation. 

Francisco Vicente was the State’s key witness against Serrano. At the time Vicente testified at Serrano’s trial, he had four pending robbery cases and was a State witness in three separate murder trials – all investigated by Detective Guevara. Vicente was not an eyewitness to any of the murders, but rather, in all three cases, the defendants had allegedly confessed their crimes to Vicente. 

In exchange for Vicente’s testimony in Serrano’s trial, the Cook County State’s attorney agreed to recommend a mandatory minimum sentence of nine years’ imprisonment for Vicente’s guilty plea to three armed robbery charges and one simple robbery charge. Vicente was held in the State’s Attorney’s witness quarters during his detention in the Cook County Jail where he received perks not available to the general prison population, including cigarettes, walk man radios, Nike sweat suits, home-cooked meals, and contact visits with friends and family.

Vicente did not provide any statements regarding his knowledge of the Vargas murder until after he was arrested on three armed robbery charges and one simple robbery offense and faced a maximum sentence of 100 years’ incarceration. In 2004, Vicente admitted that he lied on the stand and that Detective Guevara induced his false testimony through threats, intimidation, and physical abuse. 

On June 7, 2016, the Appellate Court of the Illinois First Judicial District reversed and remanded Judge Slattery Boyle's decision to deny Armanda Serrano's actual innocence claim [See: Opinion]. On July  20, 2016, Judge Leroy Martin Jr. vacated the convictions of Armando Serrano and his co-defendant Jose Montanez. After 23 years in prison, Armando is finally free. 

On April 17, 2017, Serrano filed a federal lawsuit against Detective Guevara, his cohorts Officer Edward Mingey and Ernest Halvorsen, former state's attorneys Matthew Coghlin and John Dillon, the City of Chicago, and Cook County. Read the complaint via Buzzfeed here