Man wrongly convicted in rape, murder of Waukegan girl gets $20M

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LAKE COUNTY, Ill. -- Lake County authorities have reached a $20 million settlement with Juan Rivera, who spent two decades in prison before he was cleared by DNA in the rape and murder of 11-year-old Holly Staker in 1992.

Lawyers said they believe the settlement made with the city of Waukegan and other governmental bodies, including Lake County and the state, is the largest individual settlement in a wrongful conviction case. While other cases have settled for more money, they had multiple defendants; the so-called Ford Heights Four, who were convicted of a double murder, settled with Cook County in the mid-1990s for $36 million, for instance.

"This will go a long way towards compensating Juan Rivera for spending 20 years in prison for a crime he didn't commit," Steve Art, an attorney at the Loevy & Loevy law firm and one of Rivera's lawyers, said Friday. "It demonstrates that there was serious alleged misconduct and that this case was very winnable for Mr. Rivera at trial. It also shows taxpayers in Lake County that there's a serious price to pay when police and other actors in the criminal justice system violate individual rights."

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