By Tommy Nguyen
CHICAGO, IL – Late last week, the two men who were wrongly convicted of arson and murder as teenagers finally had their sentences vacated—35 years later—and were released from prison back to their families.
John Galvan and Arthur Almendarez were accused of burning an apartment building in the Little Village neighborhood in 1986, where two other young men—Guadalupe and Julio Martinez—were killed.
Galvan and Almendarez were convicted in 1987 of aggravated arson and first-degree murder and sentenced to life without parole. Galvan was only 18 and Almendarez 19 when they were taken into custody.
Galvan was convicted based on a coerced confession that involved the use of police torture—including being handcuffed and beaten—and invalidated testimony by a Chicago arson investigator. Similar evidence and misconduct were used to convict Almendarez.
“I’m trying to not let the anger poison my soul,” Almendarez told CBS and embracing his family. ”I’ve been fighting this whole time. I’ve been so mad.” His mother has passed away and could not be there to see him walk out as a free man.
The sentences of Galvan and Almendarez are only vacated and not yet exonerated. They will be returning to court in two weeks, where it will be determined whether the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office will drop the case or retry it from the beginning.
“It took 35 years, but today Mr. Galvan and Mr. Almendarez finally walked free, and were reunited with their families,” said Tara Thompson, Galvan’s Innocence Project attorney.
She added, “They have shown such determination and strength over the last three and a half decades. We will continue to fight for them until they are fully exonerated.”