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Court of Appeals Admits Time-Barred Petition of Man Convicted of Murder in 1987
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On Monday, a three-judge panel at the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said that although the petition of the man imprisoned since 1993 may be time-barred, his case should proceed because he had “raised a credible and compelling claim of actual innocence.” The panel sent the case back to District Judge Gary Sharpe in Albany to decide whether Rivas, the imprisoned person, should be freed. Rivas, 60, had been found guilty at a trial in 1993 for murdering Valerie Hill, 28, a pediatric nurse. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

Rivas claimed that in 1992, the prosecutors in Onondaga County, in order to close the unsolved murder, had persuaded the local medical examiner to push back the victim’s time of death by one day to March 27, depriving Rivas of any alibi. The 64-page opinion of the Court of Appeals noted that until now, the 2nd Circuit had “resisted deciding” similar cases, but Rivas had established substantial questions about his actual guilt.

As part of his petition, Rivas produced an external forensic pathologist who testified that the original medical examiner’s “explanation for expanding the possible time of death to include Friday” was “unsound, and perhaps improper.”


Writing for the panel, judge Cabranes observed that Rivas’ “claim is based on new information not presented to the jury that dramatically undermines the central forensic evidence linking him to the crime of which he was convicted.”

In its decision, the 2nd Circuit relied on a 1995 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Schlup v. Delo in which the Supreme Court found that in a habeas corpus case where a credible and compelling claim of actual innocence is made, the petition could proceed despite being procedurally barred.

Rivas had filed a federal habeas petition in December 2001 after his state court appeals were rejected. In that petition he admitted that he had missed the one-year deadline to challenge his conviction but asked for an exception given the newly discovered evidence.

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The case is Hector Rivas v Brian Fischer, 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 10-1300.


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