Wrongfully convicted of murder and freed after spending 20 years in prison, instead of walking out as a free man, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials took Ricardo Rodriguez into custody.
Rodrigues now faces the possibility of deportation.
Rodriguez always maintained his innocence and last week the Cook County state attorney agreed to drop the case against him after allegations revealed that a police detective, who has since been discredited, manipulated witnesses.
But as soon as he walked out of prison Wednesday, federal immigration officials detailed Rodriguez, who used to be a legal permanent Illinois resident before he was convicted in 1995 of murder.
According to his attorneys, the government revoked his status and, despite being freed, he faces deportation.
His sister, Maria Rodriguez-Lopez notes that Ricardo came to the U.S. as a child and his entire family is here. Everyone in the family is worried that he will be deported. She said:
“It would be a very big injustice for them to do that to not only my mother, but my family, who have tried so hard to prove his innocence all these years.”
Rodriguez was convicted in the drive-by shooting of Rodney Kemppainen at a local park. Kemppainen, who was homeless, did neighborhood jobs for people so that he could sleep in their garages. Tara Thompson, an attorney for Rodriguez, said:
“Nobody seems to have a motive to kill him, including our client.”
According to court records, a gunman fired at Kemppainen and another man, who survived.
During his time in prison, Rodriguez’s attorneys maintained he was innocent, arguing that Detective Reynaldo Guevara framed him. Detective Guevara has since retired, Uproxx reports.
Guevara’s alleged coercion of witnesses led to 10 cases being overturned.
Data compiled by the National Registry of Exonerations, a database that tallies wrongful convictions, Cook County (where the murder took place) has one of the highest wrongful conviction rates in the United States. At least 159 people have been released from prison after being wrongfully convicted — and that doesn’t include Rodriguez’s case.
Rodriguez’s is the tenth case related to Guevara that a judge tossed out since allegations surfaced in 2016 that the retired detective beat suspects and wrongfully coerced witnesses.
Prosecutors vacated the case after a witness came forward and admitted that Guevara manipulated him by allegedly showing him a photo when the witness had trouble physically identifying a suspect, The New York Times reports.
The Times noted that even before the witness amended his statement, there wasn’t enough evidence to connect Rodriguez to the murder.
Guevara and his partner claimed they received an anonymous tip that pinpointed Rodriguez “under highly suspicious circumstances,” the Exoneration Project reports. And the project found an additional witness who came forward saying that Rodriguez wasn’t the shooter.
Now some immigration attorneys think Rodriguez’s case may set a new precedent if he winds up being deported. He has two prior convictions for cannabis possession, and that means Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who is against marijuana and undocumented immigrants, may use him to serve as a warning to others.
On Wednesday, hours passed before his family was able to find out if he was detained by ICE after his release from prison. The Department of Corrections finally confirmed that Rodriguez was detained by the Department of Homeland Security. He was able to call his family later to let them know he was at a detention facility in Kankakee, Illinois.
“He’s also hoping they do the right thing, and they can get him out of there.”
She also offered condolences to Kemppainen’s family.
“Justice wasn’t done for him, or for us.”
But with a president who is so strongly racist and who clearly dislikes immigrants, it’s just another day where the seemingly unthinkable keeps happening. In other words, it’s just another day in America.
Featured image By Fifaliana Via Pixabay/Public Domain.