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 at Humboldt Park. Late the next evening, Chicago police arrested Marilyn Mulero and Jacki Montanez, took the women to Humboldt Park, and interrogated them about the murders. The officers displayed Marilyn and Jackie to Latin Kings members, which associated the women with the crimes. Detectives then separately interviewed the women and pitted them against each other. Police denied Marilyn legal representation and questioned her for over nine hours in her non-native language.
After interrogation without counsel or sleep, Marilyn signed a prepared statement, which implicated her for both murders. 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. In total, Lynch only spent about ten minutes with Marilyn. 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 through her apartment window. Serrano saw three women and two men in the park from her apartment. Serrano saw the tallest woman enter the bathroom with a man and heard a firecracker sound. Serrano saw the tallest woman leave the bathroom, without the man, and saw the shorter woman shoot the other man in the back of his head.
However, subsequent investigation showed it was impossible for Serrano to observe the homicide. In addition, law enforcement officers, with almost two decades of experience, concluded Serrano’s account was impossible. Not only was it impossible to hear a gunshot, but it was physically impossible for anyone, at night, to have seen the murder from Serrano’s apartment, over 489 feet away and through obstructing foliage. Jacki Montanez later admitted in an affidavit to shooting both men.
Despite strong evidence of innocence, Marilyn has been wrongfully incarcerated for over two decades. In 2015, the California Innocence Project filed a petition in the United Nations. She maintains her innocence and the California Innocence Project is working towards her exoneration.