After 21 years in jail for a murder he didn’t commit, Jacques Rivera walked out a free man to the shouts of family and supporters. Rivera’s freedom was won by Northwestern University’s Center on Wrongful Convictions. The Center has an incredible track record of success on cases like this – ones that DNA cannot help. The only evidence against Rivera was the testimony of a 12 year old boy, Orlando Lopez who said he saw Rivera fire a gun into a parked car, killing the victim. Northwestern lawyers, headed by Jane Raley, were able to track him down. Here’s what he told them:
“I have been waiting for years for someone to find me so I could tell the truth,” Lopez said in the sworn statement. “… My coming forward now is all about redemption.”
He testified at a hearing that he subsequently told police after the trial that he had identified the wrong man but nobody would listen to him. He was found credible by Cook County Criminal Court Judge Neera Walsh who ordered a new trial. Prosecutors instead decided to drop all charges in light of Lopez’s testimony.
Rivera will never get those years back, but at least he is still only 46 and has the rest of his life to live as a free man. One witness ID cases are dangerous and it makes you wonder how long it will be before they ban capital punishment or life sentences without parole (essentially what Rivera got when he was given 80 years) in these cases. I am honored to be currently working on my third wrongful conviction case with Steve Drizin who is the Chair of the Center and can attest that the effort he and his team put out on each and every case is second to none and is inspiring. Barry Scheck and the Innocence Project get a lot of credit (much deserved) for their work but proving innocence through DNA is frankly easy; it often involves making one motion. These kinds of cases take an incredible amount of hours, research and elbow grease. Then it takes litigation skills to convince an often cynical bench that your client deserves freedom.
Kudos to Jane Raley and the entire Northwestern team on giving a man at least part of his life back!