On January 25, 2017 the Illinois Supreme Court declined to review a ruling by the Illinois Court of Appeal that Juan Rivera’s $20 million wrongful conviction lawsuit settlement is marital property in his pending divorce.
Melissa Sanders married Rivera on October 31, 2000. At the time he was imprisoned for life in Illinois for his 1998 first-degree murder conviction in the 1992 rape and murder of 11-year-old Holly Staker in Waukegan, Illinois. Sanders had met Rivera in 1998 after she had taken an interest in the law, and volunteered to work on his case.
Sanders was a staunch advocate of Rivera’s innocence. After years of legal proceedings, which included Rivera’s reconviction in 1999, on December 9, 2011 the Illinois Appellate Court overturned Rivera’s conviction on the basis his confession was unreliable and without it there was not enough evidence to support his conviction.
Justice Denied published an article about Rivera’s release: “Juan Rivera Released From 19 Year “Nightmare Of Wrongful Incarceration”.”
The Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office decided not to retry Rivera, and their motion to dismiss the charges against him was granted on January 6, 2012. Rivera was released after more than 19 years and two months in custody.
In October 2012 Rivera filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against Lake County, the City of Waukegan, and other defendants, that alleged violations of his constitutional rights.
In 2014 Rivera was granted $213,000 compensation by the State of Illinois.
Rivera filed a petition in May 2014 to dissolve his marriage to Melissa, and she filed a counter-petition in July 2014.
While their divorce was pending, it was announced in March 2015 that Rivera’s lawsuit was settled for $20 million. Lake County agreed to pay $12.5 million, and the City of Waukegan agreed to pay $7.5 million.
Rivera was to receive $11.36 million after the deduction of $8.64 for legal fees and costs to his lawyers.
In May 2015 Rivera filed a motion in his divorce case that sought to exclude Melissa from receiving any money from either the lawsuit settlement or Illinois’ compensation. He argued he was convicted of crimes that occurred in 1992 — eight years prior to his marriage.
Melissa countered the motion by making claims that included arguing the money “is marital property because the lawsuit accrued during the marriage.”
The divorce court judge sided with Rivera and granted his motion.
On September 30, 2016 the Illinois Appellate Court reversed the judge’s decision, in ruling the lawsuit settlement is marital property, and Melissa has a right to a share of the settlement.
Justice Denied published an article in October 2016 about the divorce case: “Juan Rivera’s Wrongful Conviction Lawsuit Settlement Is Marital Property In Divorce.”
Rivera sought review of the ruling by the Illinois Supreme Court.
On January 25, 2017 the Supreme Court announced it would not review the appeals court’s ruling.
Juan and Melissa-Sanders Rivera’s divorce trial is scheduled to begin on July 18, 2017 in the Cook County Circuit Court’s domestic relations division.