Judge to rethink ruling in arson case

Published8/4/2008 12:03 AM

A Carpentersville man charged with setting a fire inside a busy Algonquin restaurant could be getting a big break when his case heads to trial, perhaps later this year.

A McHenry County judge last week agreed to take a second look at his decision allowing jurors to hear that accused arsonist Jose Rivera has a history of setting fires in public places, specifically at his high school in 2001.


Prompted by the revelation of new evidence, Judge Joseph Condon said he would re-think his earlier ruling and issue a new decision Aug. 22.

At the heart of the issue is whether McHenry County prosecutors can inform a jury that as a 15-year-old Rivera, now 22, was found guilty in a juvenile court of setting a fire inside a bathroom at Dundee-Crown High School.

While that kind of testimony about past crimes typically is barred from trials, Condon made an exception because that incident is almost identical to the one for which Rivera now faces charges of aggravated arson and arson.

Those charges allege that in June 2005 Rivera went into a women's washroom at Mandile's restaurant in Algonquin and set a fire. The small blaze damaged the washroom but, fortunately, nobody inside the business was harmed.

Condon is reconsidering his earlier ruling after learning last week that one of the supposed similarities between the cases -- that Rivera claimed each time the fire was an accident - may not have been a similarity at all.

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A just revealed transcript of Rivera's interview with Carpentersville police after the 2001 fire shows that, contrary to earlier claims, the defendant never claimed the school fire was an accident.

That revelation had Rivera attorney DJ Tegeler back in court Thursday asking Condon to reverse his prior ruling.

"Because we now have conflicting evidence, the court should reconsider its earlier decision," he said.

Getting the judge to change his mind would be a big victory for the defense, but it hardly would mean Rivera is out of the woods. Prosecutors still would have substantial evidence against him, including his own admissions, when the case goes to trial.

Welcome back: One of two new prosecutors hired by the office of McHenry County State's Attorney Louis Bianchi is hardly a new face around the county courthouse.


Jessica Carrier, a former Assistant State's Attorney under Bianchi and his predecessor Gary Pack, is returning to the office this month after living out of state in recent years.

A former juvenile court prosecutor, Carrier is now will work in a misdemeanor courtroom.

Also joining Bianchi's office as an assistant state's attorney is Jameika W. Mangum. A former prosecutor in New Mexico, Mangum will also be assigned to misdemeanor cases.

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