McHenry County judge finds Harvard man not guilty of ‘predatory’ charge, but guilty of a lesser felony

Inset of J. Santos Nova-Rivera in front of Northwest Herald file of the McHenry County courthouse.

McHenry County Judge Michael Coppedge found a 37-year-old Harvard man not guilty on two counts of predatory criminal sexual assault of a child younger than 13, which could have sent him to prison for up to 30 years.

Coppedge said because J. Santos Nova-Rivera had his case heard in a bench trial, meaning his case was heard by a judge alone rather than a jury, the judge has the right to consider a lesser charge if the state does not prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt.

The state did not prove “direct contact,” as the predatory offense is written, was made between Nova-Rivera and the child who was 9 or 10 years old in 2015 and 2016 when she said he touched her private parts, Coppedge said.

However, he did find that Nova-Rivera touched the girl on her private parts while clothed, it was not an accident and it was for his own gratification, leading to convictions on two counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse. This is a Class 2 felony with a potential sentence of three to seven years in prison.

Coppedge revoked Nova-Rivera’s bond and set sentencing for June 8.

Nova-Rivera still faces two counts of Class X predatory sexual assault of a child younger than 13 involving a second girl. She would have been between the ages of 11 and 12 at the time she said he sexually assaulted her in 2015 and 2016.

Status on that case was set for June 21.

Last week prosecutors said Nova-Rivera was a “predator” when he was alone with the both of the girls and touched them inappropriately for his own “sexual gratification.”

Nova-Rivera was charged in 2020 when the abuse was first reported to authorities.

He has been held in the McHenry County jail on $200,000 bond since his arrest Jan. 30, 2020. On Tuesday, Coppedge revoked his bond after finding him guilty.

Both girls testified last week to similar scenarios of being inappropriately touch by Nova-Rivera while visiting his home.

Nova-Rivera’s defense attorney Robert Ritacca said last week during closing arguments both of the girls’ testimony lacked credibility and questioned why the girls waited five or six years to report the alleged abuse.

Both girls said they did not know what he allegedly did to them was wrong. Coppedge said Tuesday he believed the girls and understood why they did not tell anyone.

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