On December 9 of this year, a panel of Illinois court judges reversed Juan Rivera’s 1993 conviction for the raping and the murdering of an 11-year-old babysitter Holly Staker in Waukegan back in 1992.
The ruling–which came almost two whole decades after Rivera was tried as guilty at the first of what would eventually become three trials–represented a big pro bono win for Jenner & Block which estimates that more than 80 of the lawyers and the staffers spent over 12,000 hours on Rivera’s last trial and his latest appeal.
Rivera’s original conviction was declined based on the questions about the evidence that was being used against him. A second verdict, found guilty, was vacated back in 2006 when new DNA tests had determined that he was not the source of the semen that had been found inside of Staker’s body. The exculpatory DNA tests were obtained by the lawyers from the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law who continued with their work on this case–also being joined by a full Jenner team–for Rivera’s third trial, which was set back in 2009, and his last appeal.
During Rivera’s 2009 trail, the state prosecutor tried to explain the lack of DNA evidence against Rivera by saying that Stalker was having sex with someone else around the time that Rivera had decided to kill her. This was apparently enough to satisfy the jury, who ended up disregarding the newest DNA tests, then they convicted Rivera back in May of 2009, also sentencing him to a life in prison with no parole. In this new decision, the appellate panel stated that there is ”no rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.” All of the judges pointed to the fact that there was no DNA evidence, and also noted that Rivera’s confession did not prove his guilt because police officers fed him some leading questions.
Stanford University of Law School professor Lawrence Marshall, who is a cofounder of the Center on Wrongful Convictions, served as lead counsel on the most recent appeal, working side-by-side with a fellow center lawyers Jeffrey Urdagen and Jane Raley, and a group of Jenner lawyers who were led by the litigation partners Terri Mascherin, Thomas Sullivan, and Andrew Vail.
”How did Jenner & Block first get involved with the River case?” ”In the fall of 2006, we were asked to be on the case with the [Center on Wrongful Convictions]. In the spring of 2009, the court had granted a post-conviction petition vacating Juan’s conviction and ordering a new trial. At that point, Jane Raley, the lawyer from the center who had really spearheaded [getting] the DNA testing done and had persuaded the court to vacate the conviction, wanted to get a trial team involved. So one of the lawyers at the center who is a trial lawyer, Jeff Urdangen, signed on to try the case, And [Raley] approached a couple of us here and asked us if we would work with them.”