The massive popularity of media productions like Serial and Making a Murderer have rightly focussed attention on the plight of the wrongly convicted. Prior to podcasts and box sets, it was left to traditional media outlets to try and raise awareness of the issue.
In November 2011 The New York Times Magazine published this article about the plight of, amongst others, Juan Rivera. As a 19 year old, Rivera was accused of raping and stabbing 11 year old Holly Staker (click to play the video):
Interrogated by Police for almost 24 hours straight, Rivera eventually gave Police a ‘full confession’. According to this confession, the 11 year old babysitter was standing outside the building where she was supposed to be babysitting in a second floor apartment. She asked the then 19 year old Rivera to come up to the apartment because she was lonely.
“I played with a little boy and little girl, because I really like kids,” Rivera told police. When the 2-year-old got tired, he took her to the bedroom to rest, and the boy left the apartment to play. Soon, Rivera said, he was naked and trying to have sex with Holly, but he was unable to get an erection, and she began making fun of him. When the 2-year-old started crying and he went to the bedroom to comfort her, Holly followed him and grabbed his crotch and insulted him again. “Is that all you got?” she said.
“This is when I got really mad, and she kept making fun of how small I was and that I could not get hard,” he said.
It was at this point, according to his confession, that he got mad at the young girl, stabbing her 27 times before raping her. The confession was a major part in his conviction – not only in his original 1993 trial, but at the two subsequent trials with the most recent trial being in 2009.
In 2004, Rivera’s defence team had ordered DNA testing on vaginal and anal swabs taken from the youngster’s body. The DNA found was not a match for Rivera and his conviction for rape and murder was vacated a second time.
Undeterred, the State indicted him with the youngster’s rape and murder again and proceeded with a third trial. They claimed that the 11 year old had been having consensual sex with another man before Rivera killed her, and using the child that she’d been babysitting for as a witness – even though the child had only been two at the time, they were supposedly able to provide a positive ID of Rivera. Unbelievably, the State succeeded and Rivera was found guilty a third time. It was not until 2012 that judges reversed the decision.
Rivera received a $20 million settlement for the triple wrongful incarceration. The city’s attorney stated that it was:
the best economic decision the city could make in this case. We all agreed that this was an excellent settlement for the city of Waukegan. I understand it’s a lot of money, but considering the downside that could have occurred in a courtroom with the case, it was felt economically, it would be extremely beneficial to the city to pay out that amount of money.