Sole witness in 1988 murder says he identified wrong man as killer
BY FRANK MAIN Staff Reporterfirstname.lastname@example.org August 4, 2011 6:10PM
Jacques Rivera is serving an 80-year sentence for the 1988 slaying.
Updated: September 6, 2011 12:42AM
Nearly 23 years after he fingered a Humboldt Park man as a killer, Orlando Lopez is now saying he identified the wrong suspect.
Jacques Rivera is serving an 80-year sentence for the 1988 murder of Felix Valentin, who was shot 11 times in a car.
Chicago Police detectives visited Valentin in the hospital twice, and he identified two different men as his shooter, including Rivera.
But Valentin died 18 days after the shooting, leaving Lopez as the only eyewitness. Lopez — then 12 — identified Rivera in a lineup and later pointed to him from the witness stand during his trial.
Last year, though, Lopez recanted his eyewitness identification after an investigator from Northwestern University Law School’s Center on Wrongful Convictions visited him at his Ohio home.
As they drove to a Starbucks to talk, Lopez started crying and said: “Redemption — this is all about redemption,” the investigator, Cynthia Estes, testified Thursday at a hearing on Rivera’s petition to reverse his conviction. Lopez “spilled his guts” and told Estes and her colleague that he had identified the wrong man, she testified.
According to Rivera’s petition, Lopez saw the real shooter a week after he identified Rivera as the killer. Lopez claims he told authorities but they didn’t believe him, the petition said. Police at the time thought he was recanting because he was afraid of gang retaliation, so Lopez decided to stick to his story, the petition said.
On Thursday, prosecutors put former detective Gillian McLaughlin on the witness stand and she said she did not remember Lopez ever approaching authorities in 1988 and telling them that he had changed his mind about Rivera.
Cook County Judge Neera Walsh, meanwhile, refused to allow Lopez’s pastor, Thomas Bryant, to testify that Lopez admitted he identified the wrong man. Outside court, Bryant said Lopez made the admission in 1998 during a counseling session with Lopez and his wife.
After the hearing, Rivera’s mother, Gwen Rivera, said she was cautiously optimistic that her son would walk away from prison.
“This could turn it around,” Rivera said. “Anything can happen.”
The attorneys on the case are scheduled to make their final arguments Aug. 24.