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DNA tests cast doubt on death row case

©Associated Press
March 22, 2003

FORT LAUDERDALE -- A man sent to death row for the murder of an 11-year-old girl could get a new trial because DNA tests show the hairs used to link him to the crime did not belong to the victim, an attorney said Friday.

Michael Rivera was convicted in 1987 of the abduction and murder of Staci Jazvac, a Lauderdale Lakes girl who vanished while riding her bike.

"We told Michael about the DNA results and he's very happy," said Marty McClain, a death penalty lawyer who represents Rivera.

McClain was optimistic his client would get a new trial. The hairs were the only significant scientific evidence linking Rivera to Staci's disappearance Jan. 30, 1986. She was asphyxiated, her body dumped in a Coral Springs field.

Prosecutors focused on two hairs found in a van during their opening and closing statements to the jury, and a crime lab technician testified that the hairs "could be concluded as being" from Staci's head. The blue van belonged to a friend of Rivera, and Rivera sometimes drove it.

But mitochondrial DNA testing, unavailable at the time of Rivera's trial, proved this month that the hairs did not come from Staci.

Former Broward County prosecutor Kelly Hancock, who tried Rivera, downplayed the finding. The hairs were "a very insignificant piece of evidence," said Hancock, now in private practice.

Rivera had admitted exposing himself, making obscene calls and accosting young girls. He made a series of ominous statements to a detective, including, "Every time I get into a vehicle, I do something terrible."

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