Jacques Rivera served twenty-one years in prison after he was convicted of a murder that he did not commit.
In 1988, somebody shot Felix Valentin eleven times while he sat in his car in the Humboldt Park neighborhood of Chicago. Valentin implicated more than one individual as the single gunman, including Mr. Rivera, but died several days later, leaving twelve-year-old Orlando Lopez as the only remaining witness. Lopez witnessed the shooting from a concealed spot in an alley and initially identified Mr. Rivera as the shooter. A week later, the young witness contacted the police to inform them that he made a mistake—Mr. Rivera did not shoot Felix Valentin and Lopez saw the real shooter in his neighborhood. The police believed Lopez changed his story only due to the fear of gang retaliation and disregarded his changed statement. Despite the lack of additional evidence tying Mr. Rivera to the murder aside from Lopez’s statement, Mr. Rivera was convicted of murder in April 1990 and sentenced to serve eighty years in prison.
While serving his sentence, Mr. Rivera maintained that he was innocent and eventually received the attention of Northwestern University’s Center on Wrongful Convictions. Members working for the Center finally contacted Orlando Lopez, now in his mid-thirties and living in Ohio, who recanted the testimony that implicated Mr. Rivera in the murder. Mr. Rivera was granted a new trial in September 2011 and prosecutors dropped the murder charges against him.
Mr. Rivera walked out of the Cook County jail in October 2011, finally a free man at age forty-six. When asked whether he was angry about his wrongful conviction, Mr. Rivera stated that he cannot let anger hold him down and that he “learned to appreciate life.” He continues to adjust to his recent release and spends time with family, including his mother and his three children, the youngest of whom was only four months old at the time of Mr. Rivera’s arrest. He currently lives on the northwest side of Chicago and works in the city.