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Waukegan chief: Holly Staker probe begins anew

Juan River

Juan Rivera

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Updated: February 11, 2012 8:14AM

Authorities have no option other than to reopen the Holly Staker murder after Juan Rivera was set free this past week, Waukegan Police Chief Dan Greathouse said Monday.

“We reopened the investigation,” he confirmed.

At the time, the Staker murder probe was a lengthy investigation and at this point authorities are reviewing it. “Then we’ll see what course of action we take after that,” he said.

Greathouse said after the review they will decide how many detectives will be assigned and whether or not the Lake County Major Crime Task Force will be involved. “It will take some time,” Greathouse said.

“We’ll see how this plays out. I’m very sensitive to the feelings of the family,” he said.

Holly’s twin sister, Heather, still believes Rivera murdered her sister.

“I need closure,” she said, “I need to know what happened, exactly what she went through. Before I even knew she was dead, I knew she was dead. I felt it.”

Rivera was jailed for more than 19 years for the 1992 stabbing and rape of 11-year-old Holly Staker. He walked out of prison a free man Friday afternoon after Lake County State’s Attorney Michael Waller said earlier in the day he would not appeal an Illinois Appellate Court’s decision last month that reversed Rivera’s third conviction.

“Twenty years of prison walls,” Rivera told reporters outside Stateville Correctional Center in Joliet. “This is surreal.”

In 1992, Rivera confessed to the crime in an unrecorded confession after a 26-hour interrogation.

“We are delighted ... this could have been dragged on a lot longer,” said Rob Warden, executive director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern Law School, which was involved in Rivera’s appeal.

Waller’s decision not to seek to re-try the case came in the wake of a 3-0 ruling by a panel of the Illinois Appellate Court in December that Rivera’s 2009 conviction was “unjustified and cannot stand” because of a lack of evidence tying him to the rape and murder.

The case attracted national attention in part because DNA evidence found in the girl’s body after her Aug. 17, 1992, killing didn’t match that of Rivera, a former Waukegan resident who lived near the apartment where she was killed while baby-sitting two younger children.

Rivera initially was convicted of the killing in 1993, but that guilty finding later was overturned on appeal. Rivera was re-tried in 1998 and convicted again. But a Lake County judge agreed in 2006 to allow a third trial after advances in DNA testing confirmed that evidence found didn’t match Rivera.

Despite that contradictory DNA evidence, a Lake County jury again convicted Rivera in 2009 after four days of deliberations. He was sentenced to life in prison after each conviction.

One of the lead investigators in the investigation 19 years ago was Waukegan investigator Lou Tessmann, former commander for the Lake County Major Crime Task Force, who argued in a letter to the newspaper that people need to know the law enforcement officials working on the case were not the kind of people to frame an innocent person.

“To suggest that any of these people would knowingly pursue the conviction of an innocent person is irresponsible and frankly, ignorant,” he said.

“The public needs to know that the men and women who worked on this case are/were all dedicated public servants whose only motive was to find, arrest and prosecute the killer of Holly Staker,” he wrote.

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