CHICAGO – A judge on Tuesday vacated the double murder conviction of Madeline Mendoza, the latest in a series of overturned cases linked to disgraced former Chicago police detectives Reynaldo Guevara and Ernest Halvorsen.
“I’m actually super excited,” Mendoza, who served more than 17 years in prison, told reporters following her release.
“I want to thank my savior,” Mendoza added. “I want to thank my family, who has always been supportive of me, being away, fighting this fight with me. Never letting me go. Friends that stood by me as well.”
At the time, the Chicago Tribune reported that Mendoza and two others implicated in the case were accused of killing two rival gang members in Humboldt Park to avenge a previous murder.
Before her trial, a friend of Mendoza had been convicted and sentenced to life without parole. Following that sentence, Mendoza then pleaded guilty to her involvement in the murders of 22-year-old Jimmy Cruz and 22-year-old Hector Reyes.
Mendoza was 16 at the time of her arrest in 1992. A judge eventually sentenced the juvenile to 35 years in prison.
But for years after, Mendoza claimed her admission was a coerced confession centered around a fabricated case at the hands of two, now disgraced, Chicago Police detectives: Reynaldo Guevera and Ernest Halvorsen.
Guevara has been linked to more than 30 convictions that have been now overturned. During his career, he gained a reputation as a cop who could close even the most challenging cases.
WGN Investigates tracked the now-retired detective in San Antonio but declined comment.
“There’s new evidence showing that Madeline is innocent and we brought that evidence to the court and today, after the state reviewed it, they agreed to vacate the conviction, and that’s what the judge did,” said attorney Joel Flaxman.
Mendoza says her time in prison is motivating her to help others.
“I want to become an attorney,” she said. “I want to fight for people just like me.”