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Sunday, January 15, 2012

Juan Rivera: Vegan pizza to go

Justice (Fresco by Luca Giordano)

A man who spent nearly 20 years of his life behind bars for a crime he apparently didn’t commit is now able to freely experience such simple gifts as no-cheese pizzas.

Said pizzas - reflecting the veganism that Juan Rivera first embraced while imprisoned - were joyfully shared with him and his family at Northwestern University’s Center on Wrongful Convictions (CWC) after Rivera’s recent release from Stateville Correctional Center in Joliet, Illinois.  The Chicago Sun Times reported that “Rivera’s appeal was led by Northwestern University law professor Lawrence Marshall,” who co-founded the CWC in 1999.  Co-counsel was provided by “the firm of Jenner & Block” and the CWC.

The CWC website explains that even though the terms “wrongful conviction” and “exoneration” technically refer to “legal innocence” (as in cases where “a defendant was convicted of a crime and later restored to the status of legal innocence based on evidence not presented at the defendant’s trial”) - there is also “compelling evidence of actual innocence in a substantial majority of wrongful conviction cases.” 

Of the CWC’s many exonerees, “13 had been sentenced to death.”  In addition to the moral implications of this injustice, the financial ones are staggering.  The CWC reports that “the taxpayer’s tab” for the wrongful imprisonment of 37 of these innocent men and women was “well in excess of $15 million…”  These costs pale in comparison to “the social costs of lives and careers destroyed and families devastated” – not to mention the death and destruction that resulted from leaving violent criminals on the street.”

Juan Rivera emphasizes that he is not only free in body, but also in mind and spirit.  He told the Chicago Tribune:  I always knew I was a lifer, but I never lived as a lifer.  The only thing that was incarcerated was my body  Rivera also talked about “his devotion to the religious faith he found” while incarcerated. 
When asked if he were angry about his wrongful conviction, he replied:  Am I mad?  No.  I’m disappointed that mankind would do this.           


Copyright January 15, 2012 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

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