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Court Overturns Inmate’s Conviction In ’92 Slaying Of Waukegan Girl

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Juan Rivera (CBS)

Juan Rivera (CBS)

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WAUKEGAN, Ill. (CBS) — He was sentenced to life in prison for a horrifying crime he claimed he never committed. Now, Juan Rivera could go free.

A state appeals court overturned his 1992 conviction for murdering an 11-year old girl. Holly Staker was fatally stabbed and sexually assaulted while babysitting in Waukegan.

Eventually, Rivera was brought in and interrogated for nearly 24 hours straight. He ended up confessing to the crime and was ultimately sentenced to life.

Now, an appeals court has ruled in his favor. As CBS 2’s Mike Puccinelli reports, his family members say the Lake County state’s attorney and one of his lead prosecutors should now be punished.

“We started jumping up and down. We were hugging and crying.  I can’t describe the emotions we were going through,” Miguel Diaz ,  Rivera’s brother, said Saturday.

Melissa Sanders-Rivera is married to Juan Rivera.  She spoke to him in Stateville Correctional Center after he learned he’d likely be getting out soon.

“It seemed surreal.  He’s in shock,” Sanders-Rivera said.

Rivera is hoping to be with his family by Christmas.  But his brother says that hope and joy is tempered by the realization that his brother lost 20 years of his life.

“They destroyed not only my brother but the entire family,” Diaz said.

“They” are the state’s attorney and main prosecutor in Lake County.  Diaz says they prosecuted his brother, even though a court-ordered leg monitoring system showed Rivera never left his house on the day of the murder.

More importantly, Diaz says, they prosecuted his brother even though DNA found on the victim wasn’t his. Diaz says Lake County has become a national laughingstock.

Rivera’s wife says what happened to her husband can be summed up in a word – “injustice.”

The Lake County state’s attorney could not be reached for comment.

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