Prosecutors stunned two Aurora men and their defense attorney during a pretrial hearing Thursday by asking that murder charges be withdrawn against the men.
Sixteenth Circuit judge James Doyle satisfied the prosecutors’ request, and the defendants, Renee Saldana, 20, and Leonides A. Gonzales, 23, were to be released from the Kane County jail later Thursday.
After the ruling, defense attorney Kathleen Colton told her clients, “He just dropped the cases. You are free.”
The defendant’s families cried and cheered the ruling before Doyle restored order. Both men wiped away tears and hugged Colton
Police arrested in Gonzales in March for the November 6, 1999, murder of John Dawson in the 300 block of South Lincoln in Aurora. Dawson was shot in the head as he slept in his bed. Saldana later turned himself in to Aurora Police.
Both men had been charged with first-degree murder.
“I knew they were innocent,” said Yolanda Alegria, Saldana’s mother. “1 didn’t expect this today, but my prayers were answered.”
Gonzales’ family carried his baby daughter, Hazel, who watched in wonder as her mother and grandmother cried with joy. The baby celebrates her first birthday next week, family members said, and her father’s return home will be her gift.
Source tips detectives
Colton said police didn’t have a case against her clients. They pressed for murder charges against Saldana and Gonzales anyway. she said, despite having information from a confidential source who had told detectives that someone else had confessed to the killing.
The source came forward late last year and named the man who had confessed. Detectives interviewed the man earlier this year at a Puerto Rican jail where he was being held, ironically the man became a key witness he initially gave police the names of Saldana and Gonzales. The confidential informant fled Aurora.
Colton said the investigation into the man named by the informant ended. That man was extradited to the United States from Puerto Rico on unrelated charges in Kane County but was released from the county jail after he posted $750 bond this week.
“I’m excited. I’m absolutely thrilled for my clients because they get to go home with their families,’ Colton said, “but I am disheartened charges were brought in the first place on the word of two convicted felons, one of who himself confessed” to Dawson’s killing.
Colton had filed a separate Speedy-trial request, and a jury trial for her clients had been set for Aug. 13. Because Colton represents both Saldana and Gonzales, they were to go on trial at the same time.
Thursday afternoon, Doyle planned to hear a pretrial motion requesting the name of the confidential informant be released, but Kane County First Assistant State’s Attorney Robert Berlin asked Doyle to withdraw all charges against the duo.
“The investigation into this case is continuing,” Berlin said later. “The decision that we made in court today was based on not only what information we had when we charged the defendants but additional information we have gathered.
Berlin said the decision does not mean Saldana, Gonzales or anyone else won’t be charged in the future. “If additional evidence is discovered, charges in the case could be filed again,” he said. He declined to comment on the status of the investigation.
However, Colton said, “it’s unlikely Saldana and Gonzales will face charges again in this case,” She said she considers the case against her clients closed.
Colton added that police should start focusing on solving Dawson’s killing and not let it become an unsolved murder.