Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Holly Staker

DNA and a confession were the focus of opening statements Wednesday by attorneys in the trial of Juan Rivera, who is accused in the 1992 rape and murder of 11-year-old Holly Staker in Waukegan.

Rivera is on trial for the third time in the case. Since 1993, when he was first convicted, Rivera won a second trial, and was convicted again, then won a third trial when advances in DNA showed the semen found on the victim did not belong to him.

Lake County Assistant State's Atty. Michael Mermel told jurors the DNA was contaminated by sloppy lab work. Mermel instead focused on the statements Rivera, now 36, gave police, describing them as containing details "only the killer would know" about Staker's murder.

Defense attorney Thomas P. Sullivan said during his opening statement that the DNA excludes Rivera, and scientists will testify that it was not contaminated.

Sullivan also countered Mermel's claims about Rivera's confession, saying a team of investigators knew the details police say Rivera gave them. He also hinted to jurors that more evidence disputing the confession is on the way.

Sullivan said the jury will be able to look at both writing by Rivera, who has an IQ of 79, and the confession police say he gave, which has language Sullivan described as "college level." Sullivan said some may find the comparison "comical."

Witnesses called to testify Wednesday included officers who took photographs and video after discovering Staker's killing. She had been baby-sitting two children when attacked in a second-floor apartment and stabbed more than two dozen times. The DNA found on her body has been entered into state and federal databases, with no match found.

Rivera was convicted the first time largely on the basis of his disputed confession. That conviction was set aside in 1996 by the Illinois Appellate Court, which ruled Judge Christopher Starck made a series of errors as he presided over the case.


Police in Waukegan have reopened the investigation into the 1992 stabbing death of an 11-year-old girl. 

Police Chief Dan Greathouse says his department has to start again now that the man convicted of the crime has been set free. Juan Rivera was sentenced to life in prison in Holly Staker's death, but he was released after more than 19 years in prison last week because of an appellate court ruling.

Staker was found stabbed 27 times and raped in the Waukegan apartment where she was babysitting two young children.

Greathouse tells The News-Sun that authorities are reviewing the past investigation to determine how many detectives will be assigned to the Staker case and whether the Lake County Major Crime Task Force will be involved.

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