Rivera juan 02

Rivera: Case Timeline

  • Period: to

    Investigation, Trial One

  • Rivera placed on probation

    Nineteen-year-old Juan Rivera is sentenced to 24 months probation for residential burglary in Lake County, Illinois.
  • Rivera arrested again

    Rivera is arrested and jailed for stealing a stereo from a parked car in Waukegan.
  • Rivera released under house arrest

    Rivera is released under home arrest with an ankle bracelet providing 24-hour electronic monitoring. (The device is designed to notify police if the wearer moves more than 150 feet from the monitor.)
  • Holly Staker Murdered

    Holly Staker Murdered
    Eleven-year-old Holly Staker is raped and murdered while babysitting in Waukegan for two children, ages 32 months and 5 years. (Electronic monitoring records indicate that Rivera was at his home, two miles from the crime scene.)
  • Rivera imprisoned

    Rivera is sentenced to three years in prison for violating conditions of his bond, unrelated to the Holly Staker murder.
  • Jailhouse informant lead

    Jailhouse snitch Edward Martin tells police that, while he and Juan Rivera were together in the Lake County Jail, Rivera made statements indicating he knew something about the Staker murder.
    Click here to find out more about jailhouse informants.
  • Rivera Interviewed

    Rivera Interviewed
    Detectives from the Lake County Major Crimes Task Force interview Rivera at the Hill Correctional Center. Rivera tells the detectives that the night of the murder he had been at a party where he had noticed a guest who was acting suspiciously and who had a fresh scratch on his face. Rivera agrees to provide samples of his own blood and hair to police.
  • Interrogation Begins

    Interrogation Begins
    After detectives conclude that Rivera was not at the party he described, he is taken from the Hill Correctional Center to the Lake County Jail for further questioning.
  • Interrogation continues with a Polygraph test

    Interrogation continues with a Polygraph test
    Detectives accompany Rivera to John Reid & Associates in Chicago for a polygraph examination he agreed to take. Michael Masokas, the polygraph examiner, reports that the results are inconclusive. Because Rivera had slept only an hour on the jail floor the night preceding the test, Masokas recommends that Rivera be brought back for additional testing after he has had more sleep.
  • Interrogation and first statement

    Interrogation and first statement
    At the behest of detectives, Rivera writes an account of what happened at the party (which the detectives already know he did not attend). The statement, which is worded simply and contains many misspellings and grammatical errors, repeats in substance what he had said when interviewed at Hill Correctional Center on October 2.
  • Interrogation continues, Polygraph 2

    Interrogation continues, Polygraph 2
    Rivera is taken to Reid & Associates for another polygraph examination. His interrogation resumes at 8 p.m. at the Lake County Jail. He is accused of the murder, which he denies. (Masokas, the polygraph examiner, later testifies that Rivera’s answers to some questions were indicative of deception, but another polygraph expert, Charles Honts testifies that the test indicated that Rivera was truthful when he denied involvement in the Staker murder.)
  • Juan Confesses

    Juan Confesses
    Following a sustained 26 hour intensive interrogation, Rivera suffers what a psychiatric nurse describes as a psychotic episode. In a rubber padded cell, Rivera signs two confessions.
    For a detailed description of his interrogation and false confession, click here.
  • Trial Opens

    Trial Opens
    Trial opens before Lake County Circuit Court Judge Christopher C. Starck.
    The State's attorney relies wholly on Juan's confession as the only thing linking him to the crime. No physical evidence collected at the crime scene could be tied to Juan. Additionally, an ankle monitor showed that Rivera was at home during the time of the murder, but the prosecution claimed to the Jury that this monitoring system was faulty and should not be taken as evidence.
  • Verdict

    The Jury returns verdict of guilty.
  • Sentencing

    A sentencing hearing — to determine whether Rivera will be sentenced to death — is conducted before the same jury.  Juan, who did not testify on his own behalf during the trial, testifies at this sentencing hearing that he did not commit the crime. 
    The jury decides to spare his life and Judge Starck becomes responsible for the sentencing.
  • Life in Prison

    Life in Prison
    Judge Starck sentences Juan to life in prison.
  • Period: to

    Appeal and Trial Two

  • Appeal Decision

    Appeal Decision
    The Illinois Appellate Court, in an unpublished opinion, reverses the conviction based on the cumulative effect of trial errors and remands the case for a new trial.
  • Second Trial Begins

    Juan's second trial begins, again in the Court of Judge Christopher Starck. In this trial, Prosecutors produce a new witness who placed Juan in the house and identified him as the man who had stabbed Holly. The witness, Taylor Englebrecht, was one of two children Holly was babysitting when she was attacked. Taylor was only two years old at the time of the murder, and had not previously identified Juan. A crime lab analyst testifies that DNA testing was inconclusive in naming Juan the attacker.
  • Verdict Two

    Verdict Two
    The jury, after deliberating 36 hours over four days, finds Rivera guilty.
    Again, the prosecutor's key evidence is Juan's confession.
  • Sentencing

    For the second time, Judge Starck sentences Rivera to life in prison, calling the crime one of “uncommon savagery and unspeakable brutality.” This statement came after DNA tests were unconclusive and State's Attorney Mermell called the request for testing "grasping at straws on the part of the defense." Further, more advanced tests weren't allowed.
  • Conviction Affirmed

    Conviction Affirmed
    The Illinois Appellate Court affirms the second conviction.
  • DNA test performed

    DNA test performed
    DNA test eliminates Rivera as a source of the semen recovered from Holly Staker’s vagina.
  • Period: to

    DNA and Trial Three

  • DNA results vacate conviction

    DNA results vacate conviction
    Based on DNA test results eliminating Rivera as the source of semen recovered from Holly Staker’s vagina, Judge Starck vacates Rivera’s conviction and orders a third trial, as is standard.
  • Dawn Englebrecht recants

    Chicago Tribune's pre-trial article.Dawn Englebrecht, whose two children Holly was babysitting at the time of the murder, interviews with the Chicago Tribune.
    "Engelbrecht said the entire family was pressured and that they cannot link Rivera to the case. She even recanted claims she had made tying Rivera to the scene after the murder. She said she "caved" against pressure from detectives. "I was wrong, and I knew I was wrong," she said in a recent interview. "I just went along with it. And I shouldn't have.""
  • Third Trial Begins

    Third Trial Begins
    Rivera’s third trial opens, again under Judge Starck. State's Attorney Michael Mermel, prosecuting Juan for the third time, discounts the exculpatory DNA evidence, calling it a "red herring." He suggests at trial that Holly, at age 11, was sexually active and DNA found at the scene was not that of her attacker. He also suggests that the DNA might be Rivera's but was compromised by lab technicians.
    Read about Mermel's treatment of DNA Here.
  • Confession Debated

    Confession Debated
    State's Attorney Mermel discusses Juan's confession, claiming that it contained details "only the killer would know" about Staker's murder. Defense Attorney Tom Sullivan argues that the team of interrogating investigators knew the details police claim Rivera gave them.
    Eric Zorn covered the debate at the time. Read his coverage here.
  • Break-in forensics

    Break-in forensics
    Defense expert, Kenneth Moses, who operates Forensic Identification Services testifies that Juan's confession does not match important crime scene evidence. Moses finds that the break-in could not have been staged, as Rivera's 1992 confession holds. Cross-examined by Mermel, Moses says that the forensics "might be old."
  • Third Conviction

    Third Conviction
    Rivera is convicted a third time following a jury trial, despite the evidence eliminating him as the source of DNA at the scene.
    Juan's Center on Wrongful Conviction Defense team is denied the ability to put an expert on False Confessions on the witness stand. The main evidence against Juan is his confession.
  • Post-Trial Motion

    The Center on Wrongful Convictions files a post-trial motion, a request for a new trial. Read the Motion here for further details about how this miscarriage of justice occured during Juan's trial. Support the Center in their continuing fight for Justice for Juan.
  • Sentencing Three

    Sentencing Three
    Juan is sentenced to natural life in prison.
  • Appeal Filed

    Center on Wrongful Convictions lawyers file an appeal for a fourth trial on the basis that Judge Starck improperly allowed evidence that violated the rape shield law and excluded necessary expert testimony. Read the Chicago Tribune's coverage here.