CHICAGO (AP) — An Illinois man who served more than 19 years in prison after being tried three times for the 1992 rape and murder of an 11-year-old girl filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday against prosecutors and police involved in the case.
Juan Rivera Jr. accuses the Lake County state’s attorney’s office and the sheriff’s department of coercing a confession and conspiring to deprive him of constitutional rights. Although the lawsuit does not specify the amount of money being sought, it asks for compensation and punitive damages for the time Rivera was in prison, as well as attorney fees.
“I need to look for justice, not just for me, but for the family of the victim,” Rivera said. “This lawsuit will make sure this type of thing will not occur in Lake County or anywhere else ever again.”
Rivera’s first conviction in 1993 was reversed on appeal and he was granted a new trial. He was convicted again in 1998. In 2004, a Lake County judge granted Rivera DNA testing and a new trial. He was most recently found guilty in 2009.
Northwestern University’s Center on Wrongful Convictions represents Rivera. His attorneys filed a motion in response seeking his immediate release after prosecutors made their filing.
An Illinois appellate court threw out his conviction late last year based on DNA evidence. Rivera was released from prison in January after prosecutors announced they wouldn’t seek a retrial.
Rivera was in custody on a burglary charge when he became a suspect. The lawsuit contends the then 19-year-old Rivera underwent several days of interrogation, leading to a mental breakdown on the third day. Medical officials at the Lake County Jail allegedly diagnosed he suffered from “acute psychosis” and was put in constraints and placed in a padded cell. The lawsuit claims that on a fourth day of interrogation, Rivera signed a confession written in English, although he had no ability to read and write in the language.
The lawsuit notes police knew Rivera “suffered from intellectual deficits and that he had a history of pronounced emotional problems that would render him especially vulnerable to their coercive techniques.”
In addition to Lake County, the lawsuit names former Sheriff Gary Del Re; current Sheriff Mark Curran; State’s Attorney Michael Waller; assistant state’s attorneys Jeffrey Pavletic, Michael Mermel and Matthew Chancey; Lake County Major Crimes Task Force officers Chuck Fagan, Lucian Tessman, and Donald Meade; the cities of Waukegan and Lake Forest; and the village of Buffalo Grove.
A message by The Associated Press seeking comment from the Lake County State’s Attorney’s office was not returned.