The Illinois Appellate Court has reversed the first-degree murder conviction of Juan Rivera Jr., who was found guilty in three jury trials of the 1992 murder of 11-year-old Holly Staker.
Rivera was convicted for the third time in 2009 despite DNA evidence that showed semen found inside the Waukegan girl's body was not his. He was sentenced to life in prison.
Rivera's attorney, Lawrence Marshall, said he will ask the appellate court next week to order Rivera's release.
"This is something that Juan Rivera has been waiting to hear for almost two decades," Marshall said.
The Lake County state's attorney's office could not immediately be reached Friday.
In its ruling, the three-member appeals panel, which ruled unanimously, wrote: "After viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, we hold that no rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt."
Rivera, now 38, was in custody on a burglary charge when he became a suspect in the murder of Holly Staker, who was stabbed to death in a Waukegan home where she was baby-sitting. He signed two confessions to the murder over four days of questioning.
In his third trial, Lake County prosecutors argued that the detailed confessions that Rivera signed were compelling evidence and discounted the DNA.
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