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Illinois Innocence Project drives Cook County exoneration

IIP client Marilyn Mulero, fully exonerated, speaks to press at the Cook County Courthouse in Chicago; to the left is IIP Co-Director Lauren Kaeseberg.
Illinois Innocence Project
IIP client Marilyn Mulero, fully exonerated, speaks to press at the Cook County Courthouse in Chicago; to the left is IIP Co-Director Lauren Kaeseberg.

A Cook County judge Tuesday vacated the wrongful murder conviction of Marilyn Mulero and dismissed all charges against her. Mulero spent nearly three decades in prison for a 1992 murder she did not commit.

The widespread practice of abuse by former Chicago Detective Reynaldo Guevara has resulted in nearly 30 exonerations. Attorneys and advocates for Guevara’s victims have made the case that homicides investigated by the former detective are tainted and that the State’s Attorney’s Office cannot defend them, according to the Illinois Innocence Project, which is based at the University of Illinois Springfield.

“Marilyn was just 21 when she was ripped away from her two young sons, terrorized by a corrupt police detective, and then convicted and sentenced to die in prison for a crime she did not commit,” says IIP Co-Director Lauren Kaeseberg.“While former Det. Guevara is a real-life example of evil and terror, today’s exoneration of Marilyn is a shining example of perseverance and a testament to the power of the human spirit.”

Mulero was convicted of a 1992 murder based on evidence allegedly fabricated by Guevara and former Chicago Detective Ernest Halvorsen.

After a marathon 20-hour interrogation session during which she was threatened with lethal injection, told her children would be taken from her, and denied sleep and a lawyer, she signed a statement “confessing” responsibility for one of the murders, the project stated.

Guevara has asserted the right not to incriminate himself when confronted with allegations that he manipulated his investigations.

Mulero entered an open plea on the advice of an attorney and was sentenced to death – without a trial. Her sentence was later reduced to life without parole but she spent the next 28 years imprisoned, including five on death row.

In 2019, the IIP, and attorneys from the California Innocence Projec and Exoneration Project, argued for the full pardon of Mulero in front of the Illinois Prisoner Review Board. In April 2020, Gov. JB Pritzker commuted Mulero's life sentence and she was released.

Maureen Foertsch McKinney is news editor and equity and justice beat reporter for NPR Illinois, where she has been on the staff since 2014 after Illinois Issues magazine’s merger with the station. She joined the magazine’s staff in 1998 as projects editor and became managing editor in 2003. Prior to coming to the University of Illinois Springfield, she was an education reporter and copy editor at three local newspapers, including the suburban Chicago Daily Herald, She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Eastern Illinois University and a master’s degree in English from UIS.