Judge Vacates Ariel Gomez’s Murder Conviction

In an interview with The Medill Justice Project at Pontiac Correctional Center in Pontiac, Ill., Ariel Gomez explains how he fired his gun once into the air, not into the crowd. (The Medill Justice Project)

By Allisha Azlan and Rachel Fobar
The Medill Justice Project
Updated: 11:55 a.m., April 9, 2018

On Feb. 14, a Cook County Circuit Court judge vacated the conviction of a man who served 20 years in prison for a murder he said he did not commit.

Ariel Gomez, 38, whose case The Medill Justice Project, then The Medill Innocence Project, investigated in 2011, was released on parole in October 2017. Through his wife, Evelyn Ginjauma, Gomez declined to comment.

The University of Chicago Law School’s Exoneration Project reported that the Cook County State’s Attorney has dismissed the charge against Gomez. The State’s Attorney’s office declined to comment Wednesday, and Gomez’s lawyers could not be reached for comment.

In 2014, Gomez’s attorneys filed a petition for post-conviction relief citing evidence of Gomez’s innocence, including testimony from eyewitness Ruth Antonetty, who says she saw someone else shoot the victim, a report from a ballistics expert who says Gomez could not have killed the victim, records that indicate evidence was destroyed and evidence of misconduct by the lead detective, Reynaldo Guevara.

In June 1997, Gomez, then 17, was accused of shooting 32-year-old Concepcion Diaz on the northwest side Chicago after a Chicago Bulls game. Gomez and four of his friends were in his mother’s car, a red Nissan Pathfinder, when the celebrating crowd turned violent, throwing bricks and rocks at the car. Gomez said he shot a gun once straight up into the air and that someone else fired the deadly shot. He was sentenced to 35 years in 1998.

In 2011, Gomez told The Medill Justice Project that Chicago police detective Reynaldo Guevara, now retired, beat him for about 20 minutes and demanded that he confess to shooting into the crowd. When Gomez’s mother, Celia Gomez, was allowed to see him after the interrogation, she said she saw bruises and blood on his face. The next day, Gomez said he signed a handwritten statement without reading it, thereby admitting that “he then fired the gun once in the direction of the group.” Dozens of defendants have accused Guevara of beating them into giving false confessions, and he has been linked to several convictions that were later thrown out. Guevara’s attorney could not be reached for comment.

In 2011, MJP also interviewed three eyewitnesses who say police tried to pressure them into identifying Gomez as the killer, including Antonetty, who said she told police the fatal shot did not come from the Pathfinder.

Dragon Jovanovic, who was with Gomez on the night of the crime, says he has been meeting with Gomez every week to help him acclimate to life outside prison. “I was in court every step of the way,” he says.

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