Edar Duarte Santos

He was innocent, but pleaded guilty nonetheless

Edar Duarte Santos was one of four men wrongfully convicted of the torture-murder of a 56-year-old furniture dealer, Sindulfo Miranda, in the Logan Square neighborhood on the near northwest side of Chicago in July 1997.

The evidence against Santos included a false allegation by a police informant, Miguel LaSalle, and a false confession by one of the other wrongfully convicted men, Omar Aguirre. After awaiting trial nearly five years in the Cook County jail, Santos pleaded guilty in 2002 in return for a sentence of only 12 years. With day-for-day good time, he would be released in 2003.

Aguirre was convicted by a jury in 1999 and sentenced to 55 years in prison. Another of the men, Luis Ortiz, originally was convicted and sentenced to life, but later turned state's evidence against the fourth defendant, Robert Gayol, in return for having his sentence reduced to 25 years. Gayol was sentenced to life in prison.

Santos, the married father of two, including a 5-year-old son born with brain damage, was out watching a televised prizefight in early November 1997 when his wife called him on his cell phone and said Chicago police wanted him for questioning. He then learned that Miguel LaSalle, his landlord, had accused him of the Miranda murder.

LaSalle claimed that he had overheard Santos, Aguirre, Ortiz, Gayol, and a fifth man plotting the crime at Ronny's Bar, 2103 N. California Avenue, then saw them with the victim the night of the crime, and even spoke to Santos via cell phone during the crime. The fifth alleged plotter was the owner of the bar, Ronnie Gamboa, who also was charged in the case but acquitted.

The truth came to light when the FBI and U.S. Attorney's Office in Chicago developed evidence that the Miranda crime actually had been one of a string of drug-related kidnappings and torture committed by nine members of the Latin Kings street gang, who were charged in December 2002. The U.S. Attorney also charged Miguel LaSalle with making false statements implicating the innocent men in the crime.

Case Data

Jurisdiction: Cook County, Illinois
Date of crime: July 1997
Date of custody: November 7, 1997
Sentence: 55 years
Release date: December 18, 2002
Months wrongfully incarcerated: 49
Defendant date of birth: June 10, 1971
Defendant race: Hispanic
Race of victim(s): Hispanic
Defendant prior felony record: None
Known factors leading to wrongful conviction: Eyewitness perjury, coerced confession of co-defendant
Exonerated by: Federal investigation identified actual killers

— Rob Warden