Officials weigh appeal in overturned murder conviction

December 12, 2011 3:00:30 PM PST
The Lake County State's Attorney is still deciding whether to appeal last week's appellate court decision to overturn the murder and rape conviction of Juan Rivera.

Rivera was convicted three times in the stabbing death of 11-year old Holly Staker of Waukegan.

ABC7 spoke with Rivera's family today at Stateville prison in Joliet where Rivera has spent nearly 20 years.

Hundreds of times over the past two decades, his family has driven to Stateville to visit Juan Rivera, but their visit this morning would be different.

"I think the emotions are gonna be - I don't know how it's gonna feel when we see each other, but we're gonna talk about when he comes home," said Rivera's brother Miguel Diaz.

On Friday a state appellate court threw out the conviction of the now-39-year-old Juan Rivera, who years ago confessed to the 1992 rape and murder of 11-year old Holly Staker in Waukegan.

At the time, investigators claimed Rivera knew things only the killer would know, but the court found that was not true, and with no forensic evidence linking him to the murder scene, and DNA pointing to someone else, the conviction was thrown out.

Prosecutors must now decide whether to appeal a unanimous appellate decision.

Lake County State's Attorney Mike Waller says the decision on whether to appeal the appellate court ruling will come late this week or early next.

Meanwhile, at Stateville, Juan Rivera will wait.

"I did give him a hug and a kliss, and he said he was waiting for that, and there was a lot of emotion going through," said Diaz. "I had an awesome visit with him."

His brother, father, and Melissa Sanders, who married Rivera 11 years ago in prison, say that Rivera is calm, and with little other choice, content to be patient.

"Has it sunk in? Yeah. He knows he's coming home," said Sanders. "It's just a question of when."

It is also a matter of what prosecutors decide, and, if they do choose to appeal, what the State Supreme Court would do with a unanimous decision that strongly discredited the case against Juan Rivera.

Until that decision, the Rivera family will continue their trips to Stateville.

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