County of Conviction: Cook (Illinois)
Convicted of: First Degree Murder
Sentence: Death, Commuted to Life without the Possibility of Parole
Year of Conviction: 1992
Cost of Wrongful Incarceration*: $2,192,481 and counting
*According to the Legislative Analyst’s Office 2018-19 annual costs per CA inmate
On May 12, 1992, two members of the Latin Kings gang were shot and killed in a bathroom in Humboldt Park in Chicago. Late the next evening, Chicago police arrested Marilyn Mulero and Jackie Montanez, took the women to Humboldt Park, and displayed the women to Latin King gang members telling them, “These are the two who killed your homeboys,” putting the women in grave danger. The officers displayed Marilyn and Jackie to Latin Kings members, which associated the women with the crimes. Detectives then brought Mulero and Montanez to the police station and interviewed them separately. They were both denied legal representation and questioned for more than nine hours in their non-native language.
After interrogation without counsel or sleep, Marilyn signed a prepared statement, which implicated her for both murders, one as a shooter and one for conspiracy. Marilyn’s attorney, Jeremiah Lynch, entered a blind plea of guilty, paving the way for Marilyn’s death sentence. Lynch’s representation fell far below the objective and professional standards of reasonableness. Lynch failed to provide Marilyn an accurate and honest assessment of the strength of her case. Lynch did not interview a single witness, police officer, or verify any witness accounts, despite the fact that Marilyn maintained her innocence. Shortly after a court sentenced Marilyn to death, Lynch quit the legal profession and entered the priesthood.
The prosecution’s key witness, Jackie Serrano, claimed she witnessed the murders from her apartment window, however subsequent investigation showed that was impossible. Serrano’s apartment was more than 489 feet away, there was foliage that obstructed the view, and the crime occured at midnight. Other witnesses who came forward to claim that Mulero and Montanez both took responsibility for the murders were later discredited.
Jackie Montanez has admitted in an affidavit and verbally on multiple occasions that she alone planned to shoot the men, shot both of them, and that Mulero was unaware of the plan. Bullet angulation confirmed that both men were shot from the same angle and Montanez is significantly taller than Mulero.
In addition to Marilyn receiving ineffective assistance of counsel in terms of her lawyer’s failure to investigate or litigate the case, two notorious Chicago detectives fabricated the evidence against her, both in obtaining the false confession and the false witness statements. To date, Detectives Guevara and Halvorsen have been responsible for 19 wrongful convictions that have led to exonerations. It is unknown how many more of their innocent victims are still incacerated. If granted clemency or exonerated, Marilyn would be the 20th person and first female victim of Guevara and Halvorsen to receive justice.
Despite strong evidence of innocence, Marilyn has been wrongfully incarcerated for nearly three decades. Most recently, the California Innocence Project, along with the Exoneration Project and the Illinois Innocence Project, filed a new clemency petition on Marilyn’s behalf. The petition is pending.
Marilyn Mulero in the Media
In August of 2019, the movie Brian Banks was released worldwide. In the film, California Innocence Project Director Justin Brooks (played by Greg Kinnear) tells CIP prospective client Brian Banks (played by Aldis Hodge) that, even with strong new evidence, it is nearly impossible to reverse a plea baragain that has led to a sentence even if the person is innocent. Brooks explains how he has been working on the Marilyn Mulero’s case for 18 years, that she pleaded guilty, and still received a death sentence, and that new evidence of innocence has not helped to free her from prison.
Marilyn maintains her innocence and the California Innocence Project is working towards her exoneration.