Huffpost Chicago

Jacques Rivera, Man Wrongfully Convicted Of Murder, Released After 21 Years In Prison (VIDEO)

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A Chicago man convicted in 1988 of killing a gang member and sentenced to 80 years in prison was released Tuesday after the purported crime's only eyewitness recanted his testimony and the charges were dropped.

Jacques Rivera, 46, sobbed Tuesday night as he was reunited with his mother and three children -- Jacques Jr., Richard and Jennifer -- all of whom have done lot a growing up in the over two decades since their father was imprisoned.

"I definitely look at life differently," Rivera said Tuesday, as reported by NBC 5. "I appreciate it more and I respect life more … After all these years, especially seeing my kids, I thank God."

Last month, Judge Neera Walsh ordered a new trial for Rivera after the sole witness Orlando Lopez, a 12-year-old at the time of the alleged crime, recanted his testimony concerning the shooting of 16-year-old Felix Valentin. After prosecutors realized they had little evidence to draw from, they dropped their charges against Rivera, as the Chicago Sun-Times reports.

Though he spent 21 years of his life behind bars based on Lopez's incorrect testimony, Rivera told NBC 5 he forgave the man, whom he described as "misguided" and "manipulated." The former Latin King now plans to work with inner-city youth. He also said he will sue both the City of Chicago and Cook County.

Rivera's conviction was the subject of over a decade of work by the Northwestern University Law School’s Center on Wrongful Convictions to locate the shooting's only witness. David Protess, a co-founder of the center and Chicago Innocence Project told the Daily Northwestern that, though he was not involved with this specific investigation, the case reflected "a national phenomenon" of the accused being wrongly convicted due to incorrect witness testimony.

"The reasons range from police pressure to falsely implicate someone to simply misidentifying the perpetrator," Protess, who is also a Huffington Post blogger, told the Daily Northwestern.

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