Even in Cook County bond court, where freshly-arrested defendants freely offer bold and unlikely excuses, Ricardo Rodriguez had a doozy. As it turns out, Rodriguez was telling the truth. And what a story it is.
Shortly after noon Friday, Assistant State’s Attorney James Murphy laid out detailed allegations of home invasion and kidnapping against Rodriguez for Judge Charles Beach’s consideration. Murphy then noted that Rodriguez is a convicted murderer who received a 60-year sentence in 1997.
“It was vacated,” Rodriguez insisted. “I was wrongly convicted. It was vacated.”
Murphy said he knew nothing of Rodriguez being exonerated and suggested that he was out of prison because old sentencing guidelines didn’t require murderers to serve anywhere near their full terms.
But, CWBChicago quickly learned, Ricardo Rodriguez was indeed exonerated of the murder. His lawyers argued for years that crooked CPD Detective Reynaldo Guevara framed Rodriguez.
The Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office confirmed as much in a statement to CWBChicago on Friday evening:
“We concluded that the totality of the evidence was insufficient to support the [murder conviction],” the office, led by State’s Attorney Kim Foxx said. “On March 27, 2018, we asked the court to vacate the conviction, and the motion was granted by order of the court, and the case was dismissed.”
Almost immediately, Rodriguez walked out of prison and directly into the hands of agents from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
The feds were preparing to deport him to Mexico because his status as a permanent U.S. resident was revoked when he was convicted of murder. One year later, in March 2019, a federal immigration judge terminated deportation hearings after concluding that Rodriguez was not deportable, according to the University of Michigan’s National Registry of Exonerations.
Rodriguez was finally a free man.
About 4 months later, on August 3, he and at least four other people dressed as police officers raided a couple’s home and took a woman hostage at gunpoint while demanding a $1 million ransom, according to prosecutors. A police spokesperson today told CWBChicago the crime was narcotics-related.
Details of the home invasion were laid out by prosecutors earlier this month when 38-year-old Teresa Rodriguez arrived back in Chicago after being picked up on a warrant by authorities in San Diego.
Around 2:25 a.m. on August 3, 2019, a 55-year-old Belmont Cragin man and his wife heard a knock on their front door. The man peeked outside and saw four or five men and a woman on his front porch.
“Police,” yelled one of the strangers, all of whom wore bulletproof vests emblazoned with the word “POLICE.” One wore a police star on a chain around his neck. Someone on the porch yelled the man’s full name. Thinking something terrible had happened, the man opened his door.
The entire group of strangers then barged in — one intruder in a police vest held a gun to the man’s chest and pushed him all the way into the dining room, where the victim was tied to a chair.
When the man’s 33-year-old wife saw what was happening, she got out of bed and was quickly restrained by some of the home invaders while other offenders scoured the couple’s home while demanding $1 million or a massive trove of cocaine from someone they thought would be there.
But that third person wasn’t home, and the crew took the woman hostage — shoving her into an SUV and driving away. Prosecutors would later say the SUV was registered to Ricardo Rodriguez, the newly-exonerated murderer. The kidnappers took the woman to a home. Then, they shuffled her to a second location.
Meanwhile, the man that the home invaders were looking for when they broke into the couple’s home started getting phone calls demanding $1 million in cash for the safe return of the hostage. The calls came from various phone numbers — including from one he recognized as being Teresa Rodriguez’s. The man allegedly recognized Teresa’s voice during some of the demand calls.
Upon recognizing Teresa’s voice, the man remembered that she had a brother who recently got out of prison — Ricardo. So the man found images of Ricardo Rodriguez on Google and showed them to the man whose wife had been kidnapped. The man thought Ricardo looked like one of the home invaders, but he wasn’t sure. His wife would later confirm that Ricardo was involved.
On August 4, 2019, police raided a Portage Park home that’s allegedly connected to the Rodriguez family. Cops found three bulletproof “police” vests in a closet, more vests in a china cabinet, a police badge hanging on a chain necklace, and 10 firearms that only shoot blanks, prosecutors said.
That same day, the kidnappers dumped the abducted woman on a street corner in Hermosa.
The very next day, police returned to the Portage Park home upon hearing that the people who lived in the raided apartment were moving out.
Cops arrested 38-year-old Juan Rodriguez at the scene. Prosecutors charged him with multiple counts of home invasion, aggravated kidnapping for ransom, and unlawful restraint. He’s being held without bail.
About 10 days later, police arrested Christina Rodriguez, 41, after the abducted woman identified her as someone who was at one of the hideout locations. Prosecutors charged her with aggravated kidnapping for ransom. Her bond status was not immediately available.
Teresa Rodriguez, who was extradited from San Diego earlier this month, faces an identical charge. She’s being held without bail.
And, then, there’s Ricardo.
As his case was called on Friday, Judge Beach instructed the state to begin presenting its case. Rodriguez misunderstood what was happening.
“Um, if I could get an I-bond, I don’t have any felonies in my background,” he said.
Beach explained that he wanted the prosecution to speak, not the defendant.
Murphy, the assistant state’s attorney, quickly countered Rodriguez’s claim by saying he actually has a murder conviction. Then, the veteran prosecutor laid out the government’s case.
After the state’s presentation, Rodriguez again insisted that he was cleared of the murder rap: “I was wrongly convicted. It was vacated.”
Beach weighed the confusion over the murder case and decided that he would not consider the murder while setting bond in the new kidnapping and home invasion matter. He set bail at $700,000. Rodriguez will need to post a $70,000 deposit bond to get out of jail.
“Oh, my God! That’s too high,” Rodriguez exclaimed. “I just got out on a wrongful conviction, your honor.”
How is it possible that Cook County’s State’s Attorney would exonerate a man who had been convicted of murder — and then not clear that conviction from its own records? Ricardo Rodriguez is probably wondering that, too.
Records show Ricardo Rodriguez was arrested Thursday at O’Hare after he returned to Chicago from Mexico.