$20 Million Settlement for Wife of Exonerated Prisoner

December 13, 2016

An appeals court in Illinois determined in October 2016 that a woman who married an inmate is now entitled to the $20 million settlement he received in a wrongful conviction case as part of marital property.

The defendant, Juan Rivera, was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the murder of an 11-year-old girl in 1992. He appealed in 1998 but was again found guilty and re-sentenced with the same penalty. In 2009, he was retried. Evidence showed that he was on a home monitoring system and could not have possibly committed the crime. Even so, he was again found guilty and sentenced to life in prison without parole. DNA evidence finally cleared him in 2011, and he was subsequently freed.

His wife, Melissa Sanders-Rivera, married him on Oct. 31, 2000. He sought a divorce in May 2014. He received approximately $11.4 million after legal fees and taxes.

He contested that she was not entitled to the money because he had allegedly committed the “crime” in 1992. She countered that the money stemmed from a lawsuit as a result of his exoneration in 2011. The appellate court ruled that since the defendant filed the wrongful-conviction lawsuit in 2011 when he was married, the settlement should be shared with his wife.

The woman’s attorney felt the ruling was fair and hopes that the decision will be upheld. He claimed that she was caring and added that she visited her husband hundreds of time while he was in custody. He further explained that she provided him with the emotional support that carried him through the years of difficulties when everyone else had turned against him.

The man’s attorney felt that the ruling was an injustice to him and hopes that the appellate court’s decision will be overturned. In the event that the ruling is not overturned, the attorney hopes that a jury will reduce the payout amount to his ex-wife.

If you have questions about equitable property division when a marriage ends, our team of seasoned legal professionals can provide you with answers. Call us to be sure that you are treated fairly during a divorce.