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updated: 1/6/2012 6:19 PM

Lake County State's Attorney Michael Waller's statement on Rivera case

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From Michael Waller

"I have spent the last few weeks carefully reviewing and assessing the appellate court's opinion, as well as considering the strengths and weaknesses of all of the evidence in the Juan Rivera case. As a result of that examination, I have decided that I will not ask the Illinois Supreme Court to review the appellate court's decision reversing Mr. Rivera's guilty verdict. Therefore, the prosecution of Mr. Rivera comes to a conclusion today.

In reaching that decision, I want to emphasize that I have great respect for the extraordinary time and efforts of the three juries that heard all of the evidence in this case and three times found guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Twice previously the Appellate Court found the evidence at trial had been sufficient for a jury to make such a finding. However, I am also equally respectful of the Appellate Court's most recent decision concluding that the State's case against Mr. Rivera was insufficient to establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. This is, undoubtedly, a very difficult case with complicated facts and evidence, much of it now nearly two decades old.

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I am mindful that for Mr. Rivera and some others, this decision will be viewed as too late in coming. I am also mindful that for others, including the experienced and dedicated law enforcement officers who investigated this crime and the family of Holly Staker, this decision will be perceived as premature. All I can say is that I believe this is the right decision at this time.

I want several points to be clear, however:

First, all of the evidence in this case was made known to Mr. Rivera and his legal team, to the trial judge who presided over this case, and to the juries that heard this case. The Lake County State's Attorney's Office has not withheld, nor has it been accused of withholding, any evidence or documents from the defense counsel, the court, or the jury. Our Office was forthright with Mr. Rivera's attorneys and with the trial judge and all the potentially exculpatory evidence referenced in the appellate court's decision was well-known to Mr. Rivera's team of attorneys well in advance of trial

Second, Mr. Rivera had confessed to the murder of Holly Staker and, it was our understanding, possessed information about the crime and the crime scene that, we felt, warranted his prosecution. In light of this evidence, we advanced evidence and theories that could account for the DNA of another being found on the body of Holly Staker. Critically, the trial court found that the evidence and theories were proper to present to the jury for its careful consideration. Mr. Rivera's experienced attorneys were given ample opportunity to rebut these theories because, as the appellate court aptly noted: DNA, though an extremely important evidentiary tool, "does not trump all other evidence" in all instances, As a result, the appellate court's disagreement with the trial court's decisions, and with the jury's acceptance of the prosecution's evidence after careful consideration, does not warrant criticism of the integrity this Office has demonstrated throughout this case.

Throughout this case, this Office has never strayed from its core mission, which is to seek and do justice. As a lifelong prosecutor, I have always, in every case, done what I believe to be the right thing based on the best evidence and information available to me at each critical decision point. Today, I believe the right thing is to bring to a conclusion the case against Mr. Rivera by electing not to appeal the reversal of his conviction.

At this time, the Office will have no further comment on this matter."

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