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No. 2 of 2012: After 19 years in prison, Juan Rivera freed

Juan Riverwrongfully imprisoned for 20 years filed lawsuit with Attorneys. Locke Bowman (left) JLoevy (right) following press conference Northwestern University

Juan Rivera, wrongfully imprisoned for 20 years, filed lawsuit and with Attorneys. Locke Bowman (left) and Jon Loevy (right) following press conference, Northwestern University Law School, 375 E. Chicago Ave., Monday, October 30, 2012. I John H. White~Sun-Times

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Juan Rivera Jr.’s federal lawsuit will be wending its way through the justice system in the new year.

He was released after 19 years in prison for a murder he confessed to, but then was exonerated, through DNA evidence.

Rivera confessed to the 1992 murder of 11-year-old Holly Staker and was found guilty in three different trials over the years.

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 in January of this year after the appeals court said his 2009 conviction was “unjustified and cannot stand.”

Rivera said he filed the lawsuit as retribution and to help those who will come into the Lake County justice system in the future.

“It isn’t just about me,” Rivera said. “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,” he said.

His attorney, John Loevy, said investigators pushed the Lake County man to the brink of “madness” in one of the most “monumentally, psychologically abusive interrogations” in Illinois’ history.

“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 Loevy when announcing a federal lawsuit against the Lake County Sheriff’s Office and other agencies involved in the investigation into the murder of the 11-year-old Waukegan girl.

Asked how people wind up confessing to crimes they didn’t commit Rivera said, “Simple, all you have to do is keep beating them up.” He meant mental, not physical abuse. Police interrogated him for 26 hours and he said he was “beat up verbally until they had a confession.”

“I was 19 years old (when interrogated) with a 79 IQ. I didn’t know left from right. Friends helped me educate myself (since then). I’m disappointed that I lost half my life,” Rivera said. Rivera doesn’t remember much of the interrogation. Police gave him a confession to sign, which he did.

There have been 104 documented cases of wrongful convictions in Illinois since 1989, 37 of which were based on false confessions.

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