A New Lenox widower held 13 days on a murder warrant for a different man said he feared he would be locked up for the rest of his life.
"I panicked," said Pedro Hernandez, a 67-year-old father of four who was arrested March 14 in connection with a 1978 murder.
"I know for this crime they can send you away for life," he said.
Hernandez was taken into custody by the New Lenox police following a traffic accident. He was charged with driving under the influence, and when officers ran his name and identifiers, they reportedly discovered someone matching his description was wanted for a 35-year-old Joliet murder.
The wanted man, also named Pedro Hernandez, is 66-years-old, according to court records. This Pedro Hernandez allegedly stabbed a man named Julian Briseno in the chest on April 2, 1978, killing him.
Joliet Police Chief Mike Trafton said he will release details of the murder but those details have yet to be made available.
The Pedro Hernandez arrested March 14 was taken into custody on a no-bond arrest warrant and locked up in the county jail. He appeared in court the following day and was scheduled to return to court April 5.
He said he begged court personnel not to make him wait in jail that long.
"I said, 'Ma'am, please don't wait until April 5," he recalled.
Hernandez said he joined the military at 17 and knows "sometimes you live hard," but that nothing prepared him for the misery of the Will County jail—or the terrible food served there.
"It was horrific," he said. "No human being should be treated like they do."
Hernandez, who says he has lived in New Lenox for the last 25 years, still does not know what took so long for the authorities to figure out he was not the Pedro Hernandez they were looking for, or why they did not simply check his fingerprints against those of the man wanted for murder.
"That's what I kept telling them," he said.
Charles B. Pelkie, the spokesman for the Will County State's Attorneys Office, said prosecutors and police teamed to determine whether the right man was in custody.
"We've got a murder case from a different administration that was filed 35 years ago," Pelkie said. "We worked closely with the Joliet Police Department to determine whether this person was the subject of the warrant and worked quickly to release the person once we realized he was not the subject of the warrant.
"They were combing through evidence and police reports that dated back 35 years," Pelkie said of the police, adding that detectives were trying to locate and speak with witnesses from the 1978 killing.
As it turned out, Hernandez did not have to wait until his April 5 court date. prosecutors filed papers Thursday afternoon acknowledging he is "not the defendant int the above captioned matter" and ordering his release from jail.
Now that he's out and can look back at his arrest and time in jail, Hernandez said he will "live with it," but also noted that, "Right now, I'm looking for a lawyer."
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