Illinois Pardons 4 Mexican Men Convicted of Murder
Four Mexican men who spent nine years in an Illinois prison for a 1981 quadruple murder received full pardons Thursday from the governor.
“I’m pardoning them not because I’m saying they’re innocent,” Gov. Jim Edgar said at a news conference. “I’m pardoning them because of the hardship on their families” if they were to be deported.
Rogelio Arroyo, Isauro Sanchez, and Ignacio and Joaquin Varela were convicted of murder, but Edgar said a subsequent investigation raised “serious questions” about their guilt.
If the conviction had been allowed to stand, the men would have been subject to automatic deportation, which Edgar said would be unfair. Edgar’s pardon could improve their chances of staying in Chicago with their families, said attorneys for the men, who are illegal immigrants.
“It’s a great victory,” attorney Gary Adair said. “It does indicate, . . . after the criminal justice system has run its course, that there still is hope for people who were wrongfully convicted.”
The four have insisted that they are innocent of killing four men and wounding two more in a 1981 North Side shooting. One of the Mexican citizens has said authorities took advantage of them partly because they did not speak English and did not understand the U.S. legal system.
In January, then-Gov. James R. Thompson commuted the men’s sentences to time served, but he refused to pardon them. Thompson said he believed that the men had helped conceal the crime, even if they did not commit the slayings.
Duane Sigelko, an attorney representing the men in deportation proceedings, said the pardon would not automatically result in the Immigration and Naturalization Service dropping deportation proceedings against the men, who missed the chance to seek immigration amnesty in 1986 while they were in prison.
But a pardon “opens up some avenues of possible deportation relief to them,” Sigelko said.
Carol Massar, a spokeswoman for the INS in Chicago, would not comment on the case.
After the Thanksgiving Day shooting, a survivor questioned by police identified one of the attackers as a man named Gilberto Varela, a relative of the four who were eventually arrested.
Authorities went to Gilberto Varela’s home and arrested Arroyo, thinking he was Varela, who had fled to Mexico. Arroyo, a relative by marriage who lived in Varela’s house, insisted that he was not at the shooting scene.
Police conceded that they had erred on his identity but still charged Arroyo with murder.