Panel discussion on false confessions, featuring Juan Rivera, set for Sunday

A panel discussion on false confessions and how they affect society is scheduled for Sunday at Lake Forest College.

The featured speaker will be Juan Rivera, the former Waukegan man who spent nearly 20 years in prison for a 1992 murder before his conviction was reversed by the appellate court late last year.

Other speakers include Rob Warden, the executive director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University, and Waukegan defense attorney Jed Stone.

Rivera, now 39, was convicted three times of the rape and murder of 11-year-old Holly Staker, but the appellate court in December threw out his most recent conviction saying that “no rational trier of fact” could find him guilty.

Prosecutors had successfully argued to the juries that Rivera's confession to detectives of the Lake County Major Crimes Task Force outweighed DNA evidence showing Rivera was not the donor of sperm found in Holly's body.

Warden's group defended Rivera at his last trial and prepared and argued his successful appeal.

Rivera was released from Stateville Correctional Center in Joliet on Jan. 6, hours after Lake County prosecutors said they would not challenge the appellate court's ruling.

Stone said it is important for all of society to become involved in the effort to stop false confessions.

“False confessions result in false convictions,” Stone said. “We as a society ought to be doing everything we can to make sure only the right people are going to prison.”

The discussion will be in the Lily Reid Holt Memorial Chapel on the college's middle campus, 555 N. Sheridan Road. It is scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. and is free to the public.

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