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Eye-witness recants 23 years after murder

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The sole eyewitness in a 1988 murder case has recanted his testimony, telling an Illinois’ Cook County court that he identified the wrong man. Orlando Lopez recently swore in an affidavit that he did not see then 24-year-old Jacques Rivera shoot 16-year-old Felix Valentin in a car in August of 1988.

Northwestern University Law School’s Center on Wrongful Convictions is asking for a new trial for Rivera, now 45, who has been in prison for 23 years. Rivera was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to 80 years, based exclusively on Lopez’s identification of him as the shooter.

Valentin was shot multiple times while sitting in a car parked in an alley in Chicago’s West Humboldt Park. Orlando Lopez, 11 years old at the time, was crossing the alley on his way to the video store when he saw a man shoot into Valentin’s several times. Valentin’s older brother was a member of the Campbell Boys street gang, which was feuding with two other area gangs, the Latin Kings and the Imperial Gangsters, at the time.

Lopez told police he saw a man approximately 5’10” tall, dressed in black, with long dark hair worn in a ponytail that was painted gold, shoot into the car. Lopez initially identified three different men, including Rivera, as the shooter. Lopez later identified Rivera as the shooter in a police line up and from the witness stand at trial.

Rivera said he was home with his wife and children at the time of the shooting. A week after the shooting, Lopez told police he saw the actual perpetrator in his neighborhood, who was not Rivera, but police ignored him assuming he was afraid of gang retaliation.

Final arguments in Rivera’s case are scheduled to take place at the end of August.

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