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updated: 12/7/2011 2:14 PM

Mermel retiring from Lake Couny prosecutor's office

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A top Lake County prosecutor who came under fire last week for comments attributed to him in a New York Times article has decided to retire from the office.

State's Attorney Michael Waller said Wednesday that Michael Mermel, who joined the office in 1990, will leave next month.

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Mermel was quoted in a Nov. 26 article in The New York Times Sunday Magazine making an analogy to a motel room television remote control covered with DNA in an attempt to explain the office's position in the 1992 Juan Rivera murder case.

Rivera has been convicted three times for the murder of 11-year-old Holly Staker, even though the semen found inside her body does not match Rivera.

Waller said Wednesday he would not comment directly on the Rivera case because it is being reviewed by the appellate court.

He did say he believed Mermel's comments to The New York Times were offensive.

"The comments attributed to Mike Mermel do not reflect my view of the role of the Lake County State's Attorney's office, nor do they reflect the manner in which my staff has conducted itself over the last 21 years," Waller said. "The sole duty of my office is to seek justice."

The New York Times article was about Rivera and other Lake County cases in which post-conviction evidence has turned up to cast doubt on the people convicted.

It was critical of prosecutors for the Jerry Hobbs case, in which Hobbs spent five years in jail after the murders of his daughter and her friend before DNA evidence from one of the girls pointed to another man.

The article relates several controversial statements Mermel has made to support his prosecutions when the DNA evidence points another direction.

The comments prompted Lake County Sheriff Mark Curran to publicly call for Mermel to be removed from the job after a closed-door meeting with Waller on Dec. 1.

Curran later said 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.

Waller said Wednesday he told Curran during the meeting that he was dealing with the matter and it would be resolved in the near future.

Lake County Sheriff's Lt. Christopher Thompson said Curran would have no further comment on the matter.

Mermel is serving on jury duty this week and was also unavailable for comment.

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