Photo: Juan Rivera
A Hispanic man who spent almost 20 years in jail for a murder he did not commit has been freed after prosecutors decided not to challenge an Illinois appeals court’s ruling.
On Dec. 9, the Illinois Appellate Court overturned Juan Rivera’s third conviction in the case, ruling there was a lack of evidence connecting him to the 1992 rape and murder of 11-year-old Holly Staker in the city of Waukegan.
Lake County State’s Attorney Michael Waller said Friday he had decided not to appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court after “carefully reviewing and assessing the appellate court’s opinion, as well as considering the strengths and weaknesses of all the evidence.”
“Therefore, the prosecution of Mr. Rivera comes to a conclusion today.”
The case was resolved with a DNA examination of material taken from the victim’s body in 1992 but was not analyzed until 2004, when it was shown to have come from another person.
Furthermore, at the time the crime occurred, Rivera was under electronic monitoring for another, unrelated crime, which showed that he never left home the night of the murder.
During the almost 20 years that have passed, Rivera was found guilty three times - in 1993, 1998 and 2009 - and each time was sentenced to life in prison.
The only solid evidence linking the Hispanic to the crime was his confession to Waukegan police, which according to appeal court judges had been obtained by force.
Jeffrey Undangen of the Northwestern University Law School’s Center on Wrongful Convictions, which was involved in Rivera’s appeal, was excited about the Hispanic’s release.
Undangen told the press that the corresponding paperwork was done to get the Hispanic out of jail as soon as possible and that Illinois’ Department of Corrections accelerated the procedure so he could be free on Friday.
Rivera, 39, left the Stateville Correctional Center in Crest Hill, Illinois, where he was confined, at aproximately 4:30 p.m.