January 27th, 2012
Juan Rivera, who was profiled in a November 27 New York Times Magazine article, was freed from prison in early January after an Appeals Court overturned his conviction. Rivera gave a confession to police after almost 24 hours of intense interrogation. Despite the confession, DNA tests conducted in 2005 showed that he was not the source of the semen found in 11-year-old Holly Shaker after her rape and murder. After DNA results seemed to exclude Rivera, prosecutor’s had came up with an alternate theory in which 11-year-old Holly Shaker was sexually active, and had had consensual sex with Rivera before her murder. A jury in 2009 re-convicted Rivera on the prosecution’s alternate theory, even though the DNA seemed to point to a different perpetrator. The appeals court was very critical in its decision, stating that the prosecutor’s theories were, “highly improbable”. Rivera, who was 19 when first arrested by police, is now 39 and described his release date of January 6 as, “the beginning of a new life. All I know is prison life and now there’s no longer a prison life but a family life. That’s what I look forward to. … It’s a long-awaited experience, you know, to finally show my innocence.”
(originally published on 12/9/11) On Wednesday, the Lake County Illinois state’s attorney’s office announced that Michael Mermel, who was featured heavily in a November 25, 2011 piece in the New York Times Magazine about some prosecutors’ resistance to the exculpatory power of DNA will be resigning early in the new year. The New York Times piece examined the case of Juan Rivera, who was convicted of raping and murdering an 11-year-old girl in 1992. After DNA tests were performed on the rape kit in 2005 and the semen didn’t match Rivera, prosecutors revised their theory to conclude that Rivera was still guilty for the murder, but that the 11-year-old victim was sexually active and had had sex with an unknown lover hours before the murder, explaining the presence of the foreign DNA. Rivera gave a confession to police after almost 24 hours of interrogation which he now explains was coerced. Despite the DNA results, Rivera has now been convicted by three separate juries, who believe the confession that he gave to police. Read more about false confessions here.
Mermel told the Chicago Sun-Times last year in response to a question about a different case where he has a theory explaining why DNA does not match the person convicted of the crime, ‘The taxpayers don’t pay us for intellectual curiosity. They pay us to get convictions.’