Criminal Justice

Shoes said to contain killer's blood weren't for sale in US at time of murder, suit claims

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Lawyers for an exonerated Illinois inmate allege police falsified evidence in an effort to link him to the August 1992 rape and murder of an 11-year-old girl. The evidence: blood on tennis shoes that weren’t for sale in the United States at the time of the slaying.

Police had claimed the blood linked Juan Rivera to the stabbing death of Holly Staker in Waukegan, Illinois, but lawyers for Rivera now claim in a federal lawsuit that the blood was apparently planted, the Chicago Tribune reports.

Rivera had confessed to the crime and spent 20 years in prison before his exoneration. He was tried and convicted three times; an Illinois appeals court barred a retrial after overturning his conviction in 2011.

An investigator for the public defender’s office found that Wal-Mart didn’t begin selling the shoes in the United States until after the slaying, the Tribune says, citing court records. In addition, the investigator went to the Wal-Mart where Rivera’s mother claimed to have purchased the shoes, and found cash register tape showing the transaction took place after Staker was killed.

Prosecutors opted not to introduce the shoes as evidence at Rivera’s first trial after the investigator’s findings were disclosed; lawyers did not question how the blood got on the shoes in a pretrial hearing addressing the issue, the Tribune says.

Recent DNA tests indicate the shoes contained not only Staker’s blood but also a genetic substance matching the DNA of semen found in Staker’s body. The DNA does not match that of Rivera; instead it matches DNA found on a bloody two-by-four used in a fatal 2000 beating. The man serving time for that beating is not a genetic match for the blood on the two-by-four; he claims the evidence exonerates him.

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