Waukegan agrees to $7.5M settlement for man who served 20 years on wrongful murder conviction

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WAUKEGAN, Illinois — The Waukegan City Council has voted to approve a $7.5 million settlement of a lawsuit filed by an Illinois man who wrongfully served nearly 20 years in prison for the 1992 rape and murder of an 11-year-old Waukegan girl.

The $7.5 million is Waukegan's share of a $20 million settlement with Juan Rivera. City attorney Steve Martin told council members that the settlement was "the best economic decision the city could make" after it was left out of negotiations between Rivera and other parties involved in the murder investigation, including Lake County, which will pay $3.5 million, the Chicago Tribune (http://trib.in/1c1QDKi ) reported.

The original demand was for the city of Waukegan to pay $20 million to Rivera, according to Martin.

"We all agreed that this was an excellent settlement for the city of Waukegan," he said. "I understand ($7.5 million) a lot of money, but considering the downside that could have occurred in a courtroom with the case, it was felt economically, it would be extremely beneficial to the city to pay out that amount of money."

The murder case against Rivera spurred more than two decades worth of court proceedings.

In 1993, Rivera initially was convicted and sentenced to life in prison in the rape and stabbing death of Holly Staker. He was retried twice, in 1998 and 2009, after successful appeals. The final trial came a few years after DNA testing ruled Rivera out as Staker's rapist, but the jury still found him guilty and he again received a life sentence.

But the conviction was overturned by the Illinois Appellate Court in December 2011, and Rivera was released from prison a month later when Lake County authorities ruled out a fourth trial.

He then filed a lawsuit against Waukegan, Lake County, the state of Illinois and communities that provided officers to a crimes task force that allegedly coerced a signed confession out of Rivera after a four-day interrogation, including Buffalo Grove, Lake Forest and Round Lake Beach.


Information from: Chicago Tribune, http://www.chicagotribune.com

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