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Suit against Lake County filed so ‘justice done properly’

Juan Riverwrongfully imprisoned for 20 years filed lawsuit with Attorneys press conference Northwestern University Law School 375 E. Chicago Ave.

Juan Rivera, wrongfully imprisoned for 20 years, filed lawsuit and with Attorneys at press conference, Northwestern University Law School, 375 E. Chicago Ave., Tuesday, October 30, 2012. I John H. White~Sun-Times

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High-profile cases

The lawsuit filed Tuesday in federal court by lawyers for Juan Rivera is the fourth against Lake County authorities in high-profile arrests. Others include:

Jerry Hobbs of Zion, who spent five years in Lake County Jail awaiting trial for the Mother’s Day 2005 murder of his daughter and her friend. He filed suit after DNA, again, cleared him. Authorities in May charged another man, who lived near the Hobbs family, with the two murders.

Relatives of Eugene Gruber of Grayslake filed suit after he died of injuries in March following an altercation with guards at the jail. The Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office ruled Gruber’s death a homicide.

Relatives of Lyvita Gomes, a Indian national from Vernon Hills, also filed suit after she died Jan. 3 after staging a hunger strike for 15 days.

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Updated: December 30, 2012 1:23AM

CHICAGO — 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 saythey 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 on Tuesday. “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, of Waukegan. 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 attorneys 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.”

The Lake County Sheriff’s Office didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment about the lawsuit.

A lawyer for the city of Waukegan, one of defendants in the lawsuit, said she had not yet seen the suit and so couldn’t comment.

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