To this day, Joe continues to maintain his innocence and has never once changed his story. He is currently being represented by renowned defense lawyer Kathleen Zellner, and has also attracted the support of the Innocence Project.
Joe continues to work through a long and slow appeals process. He has been through at least six appeal hearings. The first three were in the Illinois State Courts where he filed his initial Direct and Post-Conviction Appeals before presenting his case before the Illinois Supreme Court. All were denied.
Exhausting the state-level options, Joe and his team continued to appeal three times at a Federal level. They first requested a habeas corpus. Next he filed an appeal with the with 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, which seemed promising at first as the 7th Circuit, in a rare move, agreed to hear oral arguments before making a decision. Part of those arguments can be heard in the recording at the bottom of this page. Eventually, the case was brought before the United States Supreme Court, the highest court in the country. Unfortunately, all of these appeals were ultimately denied.
One of the main issues Joe and his team raised at these appeals is that the Sixth Amendment constitutional rights had been violated. The Sixth Amendment to the US Constitution right guarantees a defendant a right to confront his accuser, and that this right had been denied by the court not allowing his lawyers to question Alfonso directly on the recorded phone conversation. The motion to block the transcript as evidence was made in limine, prior to trial. The fact that prosecution was able to use one or two lines from the transcript out of context really amounts to a further violation of this right as those lines couldn't be answered.
Joe's lawyers fought very hard to be able to use the phone call, and when the judges sided with the state's motion to ban it, they attempted to use excerpts of the transcript instead of the whole thing. These were meant to prove the falsehoods of Alfonso's statement of confession since he had agreed with Joe's statements of innocence. The state's only "witness" could not be questioned with what was essentially proof that his claim of Joe's confession was untruthful.
It is important to realize the inherent bias in the rulings not to acknowledge the importance of the context of the phone call in the case, which is something even the judge in the 7th Circuit oral arguments brought up at one point. No jury was ever allowed to hear it in its entirety.
The Palatine Police went to a judge and requested permission in writing to record the call they set up between Alfonso and Joe (who had no idea it was being recorded), intended to confirm the supposed confession. What they created was a recording of Alfonso not contesting Joe's claims of innocence, and even affirming them at several points. The police recording meant to confirm the confession is actually Alfonso making statements that directly contradict his statement of Joe’s guilt.
Prosecutors then argued that the conversation was hearsay and managed to get it banned as evidence, yet they were able to use one of Alfonso's statements in their arguments, claiming it indirectly referred to the confession, while Joe's defense was not allowed to call attention to Joe's response to it, where he didn't seem to know what Alfonso was talking about.
Every court since has ended up supporting the hearsay arguments because Joe claimed innocence, but it is Alfonso's statements and responses in context, not Joe's, that are impeachable and that the defense intended to use. To this point, no jury has been allowed to hear the full recording and a fair judgment has not been able to be made. Joe and his legal teams continue to remain hopeful and vigilant, exploring every avenue available to prove his innocence and win back his freedom.
In 2015, Kathleen Zellner wrote to Assistant State Attorney Nancy Adduci regarding Joe's case and requesting that it be reviewed by the Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU). Nancy acknowledged and agreed that the case has "quite a few earmarks" of a wrongful conviction and ordered that a review be granted. The State Attorney's office began requesting whatever evidence and information was available for test and comparison in October 2015. It took nearly 4 years to make any headway. The Palatine Police Department dragged their heels and tried to slow the process in any way possible, refusing to release pieces of evidence and documents for various technical reasons. They do not want the fact that they made a mistake to come to light. Eventually the state CIU had to actually file a court order for the evidence to be released and finally began receiving it in 2019. Testing continues to be resisted by the local authorities but the review process is still ongoing with the hope that the truth will give Joe the justice he deserves.
Issues regarding the complete lack of evidence against Joe and the denial of Joe's defense team's right to properly confront Alfonso Najera on his testimony are brought up clearly in this recording from a 2010 appeal.
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