Leader of Waukegan murder investigation defends police work

In overruling the Lake County murder conviction of Juan Rivera and essentially freeing him from prison after 19 years, the Illinois Appellate Court harshly criticized the police investigation and prosecution as another example of “the nightmare of wrongful incarceration.”

But in a three-page letter to the Daily Herald, one of the leading police officers who worked on that case says the law enforcement officials responsible for that conviction “were not the kind of people who would frame an innocent person.”

“The public needs to know that the men and women who worked on this care are/were all dedicated public servants whose only motive was to find, arrest and prosecute the killer of Holly Staker,” writes Lou Tessmann, a former commander of the Lake County Major Crime Task Force who was a Waukegan police sergeant when his interviews with Rivera played a key role in Rivera's guilty verdicts. “To suggest that any of these people would knowingly pursue the conviction of an innocent person is irresponsible and frankly, ignorant.”

In his letter that criticizes the appellate court and the media, Tessmann tells how Rivera initially came to police attention as a potential witness and only became a suspect after “every story Rivera told us was checked out, and each one proved to be a lie.”

While the appellate court concludes that Tessmann and others manipulated Rivera into a false confession with leading questions, Tessmann says the ruling cites only one such example and ignores other facts Rivera gave to police.

“To recite every fact that supports the decision to arrest, charge, prosecute and convict Juan Rivera would require many more pages,” Tessmann says, adding that 36 jurors during three trials heard the evidence and unanimously decided that Rivera was guilty.

The court left no doubt that Rivera should not have been convicting, calling elements of the case “unjustified,” “highly improbable” and “absurd.” The court's decision that “no rational trier of fact” could have found Rivera guilty essentially tells jurors and the judge that “they were too stupid to get it right,” Tessmann argues.

“I respect the opinions of those who, being aware of all the facts, conclude that there is reasonable doubt of the guilt of Juan Rivera,” Tessmann writes. “I do not and cannot respect those who, based upon incomplete and frequently biased reporting, condemn and castigate ‘better men and women than they.' These people can't allow the possibility that the police and prosecutors acted honorably, but are subject to human error.”

The full text of the letter is online at

Investigator defends police conduct

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