One of the detectives who took Juan Rivera's second confession to the 1992 rape and murder of 11-year-old Holly Staker called the appellate court decision clearing Rivera of the crime "outrageous."
Late Friday, a three-judge panel of the 2nd District Appellate Court in Elgin ruled that there was not enough evidence against Rivera for his conviction to stand and barred, at least for the time being, prosecutors from trying Rivera for a fourth time.
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"It is just outrageous," former detective Lou Tessmann said Sunday in a phone interview from his home in Montana. "I hope (State's Attorney) Mike Waller decides to appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court because there is not a doubt in my mind that we got the right guy."
Tessmann, who retired from the Waukegan police department in 2005, was a detective assigned to the Lake County Major Crimes Task Force at the time of Staker's slaying. He was one of two detectives sent to interview Rivera after he had already admitted killing the girl.
Prosecutors said Rivera's first confession contained errors and was insufficient in detail, so Tessmann and then Illinois State Police Detective Michael Maley went to see Rivera for a second time.
When the duo emerged from the session with Rivera's second confession, which they had typed and Rivera had made several corrections to, prosecutors said that Rivera had given them information that could have been known only to the killer.
Among the things Rivera told the investigators, Tessmann said, is that he had used a blue mop to damage the rear door to the apartment where Holly was murdered in an attempt to make it appear that someone had broken in.
Tessmann testified at Rivera's 2009 trial that the statement was the first he knew of any damage to the door and that he was surprised to see the mop in a video recording taken at the crime scene the night of the murder.
"I did not know that the door was broken, I did not know that there was a mop involved at the time Maley and I talked to him (Rivera)," Tessmann said. "I knew none of the details of his first confession, and I had never even been to the crime scene."
The appellate court ruling said that Tessmann asked Rivera leading questions such as "She had a multicolored shirt on, right?" and that he had testified to doing so at Rivera's 2009 trial. Tessmann said Sunday he could not remember saying the exact words quoted by the appellate court but instead recalls asking Rivera for more details about what the girl was wearing.
"He (Rivera) had said something to Mike (Maley) about her having a floral shirt on or something like that," Tessmann said. "I remember asking him something along the lines of 'Was it one color or multicolored?' but I never told him what to say."
Tessmann said. "It is just horrible that Holly's parents and sister have to continue going through this." But he said he is at peace with his actions and those of the other investigators involved in the case.
"There are plenty of people who know who did this," Tessmann said. "They are Holly Staker, Juan Rivera and the men and women of the Lake County Major Crimes Task Force who worked unbelievably hard on that case." Jeffrey Urdangen, the lead defense attorney for Rivera at the 2009 trial, declined to comment Sunday on Tessmann's remarks.