Appeals court slams Lake County, Illinois prosecutors

December 11, 2011

By Robert Wildeboer

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An Illinois state appeals court is scolding Lake County prosecutors for distorting evidence in the trial of Juan Rivera. Rivera was convicted by three juries for the 1992 rape and murder of an 11-year-old girl in Waukegan, Illinois, about 40 miles north of Chicago.

But the appeals court found the last trial should not have resulted in a conviction, and that no rational trier of fact could have found Rivera guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

The third trial was ordered after new DNA testing excluded Rivera as the source of semen taken from inside the victim. Prosecutors argued that the 11-year-old may have had sex earlier in the day before Rivera raped and murdered her.

The jury convicted Rivera in 2009.

In throwing out the conviction the appeals court said Lake County prosecutors under Mike Waller offered up unproved and speculative scenarios.

The court wrote, "The state's theories distort to an absurd degree the real and undisputed testimony that the sperm was deposited shortly before the victim died."

Rivera has spent nearly two decades in prison.