An appellate court has overturned a man's conviction in the 1992 rape and murder of an 11-year-old girl.
The 2nd District Appellate Court north of Chicago said the evidence against Juan Rivera does not go beyond a reasonable doubt that he stabbed 11-year-old Holly Staker.
Rivera in 1992 was convicted in the Waukegan girl's death and since then has been serving a life sentence at Stateville Prison in Joliet. His conviction has been appealed three times, and each time a jury has found him guilty.
But during his last trial, in 2009, advancements in technology allowed investigators to test DNA recovered from Staker's body. The genetic profile recovered from the fingerprints, hair and other evidence collected at the scene of the crime could not be traced back to Rivera, nor was it a complete match of any other profile already in the national database.
"I'm not the person who committed this murder," Rivera insisted during an interview with NBC Chicago earlier this year, his first from prison. "I refuse to plead guilty to something I didn't commit. I'd rather die in prison as an innocent man."
The majority of the case prosecutors built against Rivera revolved around a confession he signed. Though he admits to initially lying to investigators about where he was the night of the crime, Rivera argues the confession he signed after a four-day police interrogation was coerced.
"I lost consciousness. I blacked out. I don't remember anything that occurred," he said.
Appeals judges ripped Lake County police and prosecutors for their investigation, the Chicago Tribune reported.
In an unusual step, the court barred prosecutors from taking Rivera to trial again.
Prosecutors can appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court.
The team of lawyers representing Rivera are pushing for a change to Illinois law that would allow the use of a process called "familial DNA testing" that they say would exonerate him.