Wrongful conviction center of NIU panel

Posted: April 8, 2012 by scaryhouse in Uncategorized

DeKALB – Juan Rivera Jr. said he had to fight for his shoes, his food and even his virginity during the 19 years he spent in prison wrongfully convicted of the rape and murder of an 11-year-old girl.

But he said he never lost himself.

“I was in a place that literally is hell, but I still came out not being bitter,” Rivera said. “I always looked to the future.”

Nearly three months after his release, he and others connected to the case shared their experience during a discussion called the “Innocence Panel” on Tuesday at the Northern Illinois University College of Law.

Rivera, who was 19 at the time he was convicted of the 1992 murder of Holly Staker, walked free from the Illinois Department of Corrections on Jan. 6 after DNA evidence helped prove his innocence.

Jane Raley, senior staff attorney for Northwestern University’s Center on Wrongful Convictions, started looking at Rivera’s case in 2003. It took nine years, 30 law students, nine lawyers and countless experts to set Rivera free, she said.

“It’s very, very difficult to unravel a wrongful conviction. It takes a village,” she said.

The Innocence Panel, hosted by the NIU College of Law’s Criminal Law Society, included Appellate Justice Susan F. Hutchinson of the Illinois Appellate Court, Second District and NIU Law alumna Stacey Mandell, senior law clerk to Justice Hutchinson.

Rivera’s case was tried three times before he was exonerated. A man in the Lake County Jail, who was a suspect in the case, was the first person to point the finger at Rivera, who was in police custody at the time for a property crime.

When police started questioning him, he claimed to be at a party across the street from the crime scene but wasn’t. Raley said he got so deep into the lie that he couldn’t get out of it.

Rivera was interrogated for four days. Prior to confessing, 10 officers spent 26 hours interrogating him.

Raley said his clothes were soaked because he had been crying, and he had a psychotic episode while police were preparing his statement.

Rivera said he blacked out and woke up in the fetal position.

via Daily Chronicle | Wrongful conviction center of NIU panel.

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