December 19, 2002 | Chicago Sun-Times
2 set free in '97 murder as 3 others are accused
BY JANET RAUSA FULLER AND CARLOS SADOVI STAFF
Two men mistakenly sent to jail for the 1997 murder of a West Side furniture store owner were released Wednesday after a federal probe into a violent drug crew uncovered evidence that three other men had committed the killing.
The three were among nine people charged Wednesday with being part of the Carman Brothers Crew that allegedly not only dealt drugs but robbed, kidnapped, tortured and killed to get what they wanted.
The new charges in the murder of businessman Sindulfo Miranda were filed against Richard Carman, 25, Omar Avila, 24, and Daniel Perez, 24, all of Chicago.
Hours after the charges were announced, Omar Aguirre and Edar Duarte-Santos--convicted with two others in the Miranda murder--walked out of the Criminal Courts Building at 26th and California into the pouring rain.
"I'm going to spend Christmas with my son and my daughter. It's a blessing," said Duarte-Santos, whose wife, children and sister waited with a freshly baked cake.
"It's very much a bittersweet day for law enforcement today," acknowledged U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald.
"It's a tragedy to learn that four people were convicted for a crime it appears they did not commit.
"However, we have to take some solace that . . . law enforcement took the investigation to its logical conclusion."
The Carman Brothers Crew is responsible for 12 drug-related crimes, including kidnappings of alleged drug dealers, between 1997 and 2001, Fitzgerald said.
Carman, Perez and Avila are accused of kidnapping and beating to death Miranda, who they thought was a drug dealer. Miranda, 56, was found dead--his body charred--in his Mercedes-Benz in July 1997.
Of the five originally charged with Miranda's murder, Duarte-Santos pleaded guilty this year to aggravated kidnapping and was sentenced to 12 years. Aguirre was convicted by a jury in 1999 and sentenced to 55 years. Both made admissions at the time to police and prosecutors, officials said.
But while investigating the Carman Brothers Crew for other crimes, authorities realized the wrong men were behind bars. Fitzgerald would not comment on specific evidence linking the Carman crew to the murder.
Two other men originally charged in the Miranda murder--Luis Ortiz and Robert Gayol--remain behind bars on other convictions. The fifth was acquitted.
Cook County State's Attorney Richard Devine and Chicago police Supt. Terry Hillard defended the detectives and prosecutors originally on the case.
"We certainly take our share of responsibility, but this is a total system that relies in part on the adversarial process," Devine said. "Some people on the defense side also have to look at where they were on this case."
Attorneys for the two men released say they and their clients knew all along where they stood.
"We claimed he was innocent from the beginning. We even alleged prosecutorial misconduct," said Duarte-Santos' attorney, Marijane Placek, who said her client never made statements to police and doesn't speak English.
Other crew members indicted are Carman's brother Jerome Carman, 27, Cesar Casiano, 26, Natividad Calderon, 24, Alberto Rodriguez, 29, Charles States, 24, and Francisco Ortiz, 31. All except Jerome Carman and Omar Avila are in custody.
Another man, Miguel LaSalle, 40, was charged separately for lying to FBI agents when he said he overheard Duarte-Santos talk about the planned murder in a bar and was shown a bracelet by Duarte-Santos that spelled out the name "Miranda" in diamonds.
December 18, 2002 | Associated Press
Feds say 4 wrongly convicted of murder; Fed indict new suspects in crime gang
By Joe Biesk, Associated Press Writer
Four men imprisoned in Illinois for a drug-related murder did not commit the crime, U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said Wednesday.
Fitzgerald simultaneously announced the indictment of nine members of a criminal gang called the Carman Brothers Crew, some of whom Fitzgerald said were actually responsible for that murder.
The murder victim, Sindulfo Miranda, was kidnapped in Chicago in 1997, beaten, tortured and killed.
Two of the four men wrongfully convicted of Miranda's murder were freed on bond Wednesday night from the Cook County Jail.
The other two co-defendants in the original Miranda murder case have been convicted of additional crimes and will remain in state prison, Fitzgerald said.
The nine men indicted Wednesday, members of the so-called Carman Brothers Crew, are charged with crimes ranging from racketeering conspiracy, to murder, attempted murder, kidnapping, extortion, torture and drug offenses.
They are: Jerome Carman, 27; his brother, Richard Carman, 25; Daniel Perez 24; Omar Avila, 24; Charles States, 24; Cesar Casiano, 26; Natividad Calderon, 24; Alberto Rodriguez, 29; Francisco Ortiz, 31.
In a press conference which included U.S. Attorney Fitzgerald; Thomas Kneir, special agent in charge of the Chicago Office of the FBI; Cook County State's Attorney Richard Devine; and Chicago Police Supt. Terry Hilliard, the officials said part of the reason for the convictions of the wrong men was that a key witness lied.
That witness, identified as Miguel LaSalle, 40, of Deltona, Fla., and formerly of Chicago, has also been indicted for allegedly providing federal prosecutors with false information during the murder investigation.
Asked if this is another example of the Illinois criminal justice system convicting the wrong people,
"It was law enforcement agencies that came up with this information and followed it up, and rather than duck it, were willing to stand up and say this is the right things to do."
He said defense lawyers were partly to blame.
"This is a total system that relies in part on the adversary system. Some of the people on the defense side have to look at where they were in this case," Devine said.
Devine said two of the four men wrongly convicted pleaded guilty and two were convicted at trial. Of the four, two also gave confessions, and "There were no motions to quash the statements given by the defendants," Devine said.
Assistant Cook County public defender Marijane Placek said that was not true. She said she represented one of the innocent defendants, Omar Aguirre.
She said Aguirre's confession was written in English although he only speaks Spanish. Aguirre also denied the signature on the confession was his, Placek said.
Placek said she challenged the confession in court.
Nevertheless, Aguirre, 33, was convicted in January 1999 and was sentenced in March 1999 to 55 years in prison.
Authorities said Wednesday the other three men who were wrongly convicted of the Miranda murder were:
Luis Ortiz, 24, who pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and was sentenced in February to 25 years in prison; Duarte Santos, 31, who pleaded guilty to aggravated kidnapping and was sentenced in February to 12 years in prison; and Robert Gayol, 39, was convicted of murder in September 2001 in a bench trial and sentenced to life in prison.
Santos and Aguirre were released on bond from Cook County Jail Wednesday evening.
Two cars full of family members greeted Santos as he left jail in the pouring rain, dressed in his inmate blues. Santos said he was glad to finally be reunited with his family for the holidays.
"There were five Christmases that I missed with my family," Santos said. "This one is going to be special, it's such a great blessing."
Aguirre left without speaking to reporters.
John Gorman, a spokesman for state's attorney Devine, said, regarding Aguirre's alleged confession, that Aguirre confessed in Spanish to a Spanish-speaking police officer. The officer translated it into English for an assistant state's attorney who wrote the confession out in English.
Aguirre then signed every page of the English-language confession, Gorman said.
Prosecutors said the Carmen Brothers Crew was a citywide operation that sold cocaine, crack and marijuana. They also allegedly robbed, kidnapped and tortured other suspected drug dealers.
According to the indictment, Richard Carman, Perez, Avila and Ortiz abducted Miranda, whom they thought was a drug dealer, in July 1997 and kept him in an apartment on Chicago's North Side.
Carman, Avila and Perez then allegedly beat and tortured Miranda ó their first alleged kidnapping victim ó to coerce him into surrendering drugs and money. Miranda died from that alleged treatment. Those three now face federal murder charges.
Fitzgerald said 15 different people were kidnapped in eight different incidents committed because members of the Carmen Brothers Crew sought information or drugs.
Authorities are still looking for Jerome Carman and Avila.
Besides the Carmen Brothers Crew indictments, Fitzgerald said they also indicted four men on related, federal drug charges. They included Mark R. Johnson, 33; Alexander R. Hirsch, 36; Robert M. Morgan, 52; and Richard Romolo, 30.
The gang had kidnapped three of the men ó Morgan, Hirsch and Johnson. They face 20 to 40 years in a federal prison.
Associated Press Staff Writer Maura Kelly contributed to this report