Convicted Rapist and Murderer Begins Third Trial | WBEZ
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Eight Forty-Eight

Convicted Rapist and Murderer Begins Third Trial

Most criminal cases never go trial. Defendants plead guilty, or parties come to an agreement out of court. Not so with Juan Rivera. In 1992 he was charged with raping and killing an 11-year-old girl in Waukegan, Illinois, about 40 miles north of Chicago. Two previous trials resulted in convictions, but a large legal defense team is hoping that a third trial scheduled to start today will bring a different result.

Rivera's first conviction was overturned by an appellate court because of trial errors. The second conviction withstood review but new evidence caused the judge to order a third trial. New DNA technology allowed defense attorneys to re-test a semen sample from the scene of the crime and the test excluded Juan Rivera.

URDANGEN: We have asked the state to drop the charges, and, we've been rebuffed.

Jeff Urdangen is one of the members on the rather large defense team which has taken on Rivera's case. The team includes members of Northwestern University's Center on Wrongful Convictions and high profile lawyers from the firm Jenner and Block.

URDANGEN:The defense contends that the sample that was evaluated came from the girls vagina, that it excludes Juan Rivera, and that it's not contaminated. The state agreed with every single one of those propositions.
 
Prosecutors say they have effective arguments to explain the DNA evidence but they're not about to show their hand. In a 2005 article in the Chicago Tribune one of the investigating officers put forward the theory that the 11-year-old had had sex earlier in the day, before she was raped and murdered. In addition to the DNA evidence that excludes Rivera, there's no physical evidence to connect him to the crime scene, even though lots of evidence was gathered there.

URDANGEN: Investigators recovered hair fibers, semen blood, fingerprints and not a single artifact of forensic evidence is linked to Juan Rivera.

In fact, Urdangen says there was some blood and skin found on the apartment's broken door and it didn't match Rivera or anyone else who lived there. Despite the DNA evidence and lack of physical evidence tying Rivera to the case prosecutors are going forward.

Lake County State's Attorney Michael Waller says they still believe Rivera is guilty. Waller wouldn't talk on tape for this story because he says there's no benefit, and he says there is a risk. He says the defense attorney's are over zealous lawyers. He says they're like rabid dogs who might try to twist his public statements.

The two previous convictions that prosecutors under Waller won rested heavily on a confession that Rivera signed and that will no doubt play a big role in this third trial and it may be enough to convince jurors once again. Patrick Tuite represented Rivera in his second trial and he says the simple fact is that when you're talking about the rape and murder of a child, the presumption of innocence gets turned on its head.

TUITE: If they have a doubt that he could be the killer, or if they think he could be, they're not going to turn him loose.

When Tuite tried the case the jury deliberated for 30 hours showing they struggled to make a decision. Tuite hopes the new DNA evidence results in an acquittal or a hung jury but he's not betting on it. Jury selection is scheduled to start today and attorney's estimate that it will take until at least tomorrow morning before there are opening statements. The entire trial is expected to last around three weeks.

Kieran Hebden and Steve Reid, “The Sun Never Sets”, from the release Tongues (Domino Records).

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