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updated: 12/2/2011 5:12 PM

Waller: Lake County prosecutor's comments a personnel matter

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Comments made by a top Lake County prosecutor in a New York Times article are being addressed as a personnel matter, according to a statement issued Friday by the Lake County State's Attorney's Office.

On Thursday, Lake County Sheriff Mark Curran took the unusual step of asking Lake County State's Attorney Mike Waller to fire Michael Mermel, an assistant state's attorney in Waller's office since 1990.

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Daniel Jasica, chief of the state's attorney's office civil division, said Friday that the Mermel situation "is a personnel matter that is being dealt with in the appropriate manner."

Jasica said Waller's office would have no further comment on the matter Friday, "but we expect to have more to say early next week."

Mermel was among those quoted in a Nov. 26 article in The New York Times Sunday Magazine about the Juan Rivera murder case and other cases in Lake County where post-conviction evidence has turned up to cast doubt on the people convicted.

Rivera has been convicted three times for the 1992 rape and murder of 11-year-old Holly Staker in Waukegan, but the DNA in semen found inside the girl does not match Rivera's.

The Times article is critical of Lake County prosecutors for the Jerry Hobbs case, in which Hobbs served five years for killing his daughter and her friend before DNA evidence from one of the girls pointed to another man, and Hobbs was released.

The article relates a number of controversial things Mermel has said to support his prosecutions when the DNA evidence points another direction, including his explanation that the 11-year-old Staker must have had sex with a man other than Rivera before she was murdered.

Lake County Sheriff Mark Curran requested a closed-door meeting with Waller on Thursday, in which Curran asked for Mermel to either resign or be fired.

Curran said Friday it wasn't just The New York Times article, but "a 16-year record of outrageous statements" by Mermel that led to his unusual request.

Mermel declined to comment on the controversy Friday and Waller could not be reached for comment.;http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/27/magazine/dna-evidence-lake-county.html?pagewanted=1&sq=Juan Rivera&st=cse&

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