A man convicted three times of and sentenced to a life prison sentence in the 1992 stabbing death of an 11-year-old girl was released Friday after authorities chose not to challenge that conviction's reversal by an appellate court.
Juan Rivera, 39, formerly of Waukegan, Ill., was greeted by a group of friends, family and supporters as he exited the Stateville Correctional Center in Joliet Friday.
Rivera told NBC Chicago that he now considers the date of Jan. 6, 2012, as something of a birthday:
"It's the beginning of a new life. All I know is prison life and now there's no longer a prison life but a family life. That's what I look forward to. ... It's a long-awaited experience, you know, to finally show my innocence."
As the Chicago Tribune reports, the Illinois Appellate Court on Dec. 9 ruled that Rivera's conviction in the 1992 murder of 11-year-old babysitter Holly Staker was "unjustified and cannot stand." Lake County State's Attorney Michael Waller announced Friday that he would not ask the state Supreme Court to review the appellate court's decision.
"Therefore, the prosecution of Mr. Rivera comes to a conclusion today," Waller said, according to the Tribune.
Rivera was initially convicted in the slaying in 1993, but that decision was overturned upon appeal. He was tried a second time, and was convicted again, in 1998, CBS Chicago reports. And in 2009, he was tried a third time using advanced DNA testing. Despite contradictory DNA evidence, a jury in the final trial convicted the man.