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Sometimes You (Sort of) Win One


I blogged a couple weeks ago about the case of Juan Rivera, who Illinois prosecutors kept sending back to jail based although his confession was coerced and the forensic evidence pointed to another perpetrator.   I can’t say that justice has been served — too late for that — but the appellate court has had enough:

In its opinion, the appellate court on Friday said the confession was highly suspect and was not enough for a “rational trier of fact” to conclude that Mr. Rivera was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. For instance, while prosecutors insisted that Mr. Rivera’s confession contained details only the killer would know, the court said that detectives had fed some details to him by asking leading questions and that some other facts had been made public in newspaper articles.

“The evidence belies the state’s argument and supports an inference that details of the crime were provided to defendant, intentionally or unintentionally, during the investigative process,” the opinion said. “The evidence further supports an inference that the details that the defendant provided were the result of psychological suggestion or linguistic manipulation.”

The court also noted that while the DNA evidence does not exonerate Mr. Rivera, it nonetheless “embedded reasonable doubt deep into the state’s theory.” The judges said evidence in the case discounted the idea that the sperm sample was contaminated. And regarding the state’s suggestion that the sperm came from an unnamed lover of Holly’s, the court said, “The state’s theories distort to an absurd degree the real and undisputed testimony that the sperm was deposited shortly before the victim died.”

In addition, the prosecutor who came up with ridiculous stories about people going for walks in the woods and coming back with their genitals covered in semen as a reason first to keep an innocent man in prison and then to decline to go after the guilty one is apparently getting pushed out. It’s good when investigative journalism gets results, and Martin’s was superb.

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  • c u n d gulag

    Poor Andrew Martin – there goes any chance at a career on TV.

    He went and openly committed an act of “journalism.”

    • Anderson

      The TV career will be that of the fired prosecutor. Watch out, Nancy Grace!

  • Uncle Kvetch

    who Illinois prosecutors kept sending back to jail based although his confession was coerced confession

    Dude. The occasional typo is one thing, but you’re getting positively Yglesian here.

  • Snarki, child of Loki

    There seems to be something about the job of “prosecutor” that turns a significant subset of the people holding that job into enormous flaming assholes.

    I suspect a subtle psychoactive chemical in the office coffee. Perhaps OSHA should investigate.

    • rea

      No, it is simply that full-time righteous indignation is bad for the soul.

      • DrDick

        In many, if not most, cases, that should be faking “full-time righteous indignation is bad for the soul.”

    • Njorl

      I have a friend who became a prosecutor, briefly. I met him while he was in law school. He had always wanted to be a “tough on crime” prosecutor, locking up bad guys for as long as he could. After about a year of lying law-enforcement witnesses, and horribly uneven defense attorneys, he wanted no part of it. He was way too idealistic.

      It seems like it would be a difficult job to do well, requiring a strange mix of cynicism and humanity.

      • Anderson

        Yes, it’s a difficult job requiring a rare sort of lawyer, which of course is why America fills these positions by popular election.

      • L2P

        For me, the defense attorneys are the hardest part. Half of them (or more, let’s say a bunch) are great attorneys doing great work, but the other half? I don’t know who was most annoying. The true believer who won’t take offers that would keep their clients out of jail? The nincompoop who breezes in to blow some smoke for a couple appearances before wilting for nothing? The button-down yelling guy who bills the crap out of the case before settling for the standard offer? The PD who keeps arguing constitutional issues instead of looking at the damn discovery and working on the cross?

        For all the griping about prosecutors, if defense counsel routinely just did their job things would be much improved. And a lot of that frankly is giving defense counsel the resources they need.

        • mds

          And a lot of that frankly is giving defense counsel the resources they need.

          Which, unfortunately, piggybacks on the whole popularly-elected D.A. “tough on crime” problem. Giving resources to sleazy defense attorneys to defend people who are obviously guilty is “soft on crime.”

    • timb

      self selection, as I recall from the assholes aiming to be prosecutors I attended law school with.

    • StevenAttewell

      Nah, straight social psychology. When your career depends on winning no matter what, and in an environment in which civil liberties are seen as an obstacle, most people will conform.

      • Anonymous

        Winning, especially in high-profile cases. Seems like a lot of the big injustices tend to happen in sensational cases where there’s a huge amount of pressure to just convict someone, right person or not, just to get everyone to calm down.

  • Warren Terra

    As I recall reading from the story linked in the earlier post, wasn’t Rivera also under electronically monitored house arrest (being on parole or probation from some previous petty crime), providing further reason to think he wasn’t elsewhere committing atrocities?

    • Scott Lemieux

      Yes. He claimed he was out at a party to cover for a friend, but according to his monitor he was at home when the crime was committed.

  • wengler

    There’s a guy that lives down the road from me that was given the death penalty for killing his parents based on the prosecutor’s theory that he was a pothead, and pot makes you dangerous and evil.


    Anyways the guy was one of many released after the Northwestern project and is in the neighboring county to the one mentioned in this post.

    And lest anyone think the Rivera case is the work of a poorly funded local government, Lake County is one of the richest counties in the US.

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