Juan Rivera, exonerated after three murder convictions, sues Lake County sheriff’s office
In getting Juan Rivera Jr. to confess to a 1992 murder and rape he didn’t commit, investigators pushed the Lake County man to the brink of “madness” in one of the most “monumentally, psychologically abusive interrogations” in Illinois’ history, Rivera’s attorneys said Tuesday.
“They just decided they were going to solve this crime, and they lost sight of the fact that you have to actually catch the guy who did it, not just get somebody to say they did it,” said one of Rivera’s attorneys, Jon Loevy, announcing a federal lawsuit against the Lake County Sheriff’s office and other agencies involved in the investigation into the 1992 murder of 11-year-old Holly Staker.
Rivera, who spent 19 years in prison before finally being released earlier this year, said the lawsuit is about “retribution,” but not only that.
“It isn’t just about me,” Rivera told reporters at Northwestern University Law School Tuesday morning. “It’s about the next individual [who] may go through Lake County. [It’s to ensure] justice is done properly, according to the law — the letter of the law, not just fabrication or overzealous detectives.”
On three separate occasions, juries convicted Rivera of the rape and murder of Staker, a Lake County girl. But late last year, the Illinois Appellate Court reversed the convictions, citing DNA evidence. Rivera went free after Lake County State’s Attorney Michael Waller said he would not appeal the appellate court ruling.
Rivera and his attorneys say he should never have been locked up in the first place. They say investigators, desperate to solve Staker’s murder and without any good leads, latched onto Rivera, who at the time was on house arrest for a minor crime and lived near the apartment where Staker was killed.
In their lawsuit, Rivera’s attorney allege police relentlessly interrogated their man for four days, finally getting him to sign a false confession — and then another one when the first didn’t match the facts of the crime. At times during the interrogation, Rivera, 19, was “hog-tied” in a padded cell, according to the suit.
A jury convicted Rivera of murder and rape in 1993, in a retrial in 1998 and again in 2009 — despite DNA testing confirming evidence found in Staker’s body didn’t match Rivera.
Rivera went free after the appeals court said his 2009 conviction was “unjustified and cannot stand.”
Lake County spokesman Jim Sotos said Tuesday the offices of the sheriff and state’s attorney “acted appropriately and with integrity throughout this lengthy saga and the allegations that those officials conspired to convict an innocent person of this horrific murder are both offensive and not true...we intend to vigorously defend the case.”