Harvard man on trial again this year for allegedly sexually abusing another girl

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

A 37-year-old Harvard man convicted and sentenced to five years in prison earlier this year for abusing an underage girl, took the stand Monday in his second trial and denied sexually abusing the girl’s older sister.

In his current case, J. Santos Nova-Rivera is charged with criminal sexual assault, a Class 1 felony, and aggravated criminal sexual abuse, a Class 2 felony.

In April, he was found guilty of two counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse against a child younger than 13 after a bench trial in front of McHenry County judge Michael Coppedge.

Like his current case, Nova-Rivera chose to have his first case heard in a bench trial before Coppedge, rather than in front of a jury.

In June, Coppedge sentenced him to five years in prison in that case despite the man proclaiming his innocence.

On Monday, the second girl, now 18, testified he began touching her inappropriately when she was 14 years old. Nova-Rivera was accused of inappropriately touching the girl in the first trial when she was around 10 years old, prosecutors said during the trial.

Nova-Rivera was charged in 2020 when the girls reported the abuse to a police officer at their school, both girls testified Monday. They testified during the first and second trial to similar scenarios of being inappropriately touched by Nova-Rivera while visiting his home.

On the stand Monday, Nova-Rivera, who owned a landscape business prior to his arrest, denied touching the girls inappropriately, said he was being treated unfairly and did not know why “they are doing this to me.”

He said he was never alone with either of the girls.

In the first trial, Coppedge had the option of finding Nova-Rivera guilty of a more serious charge of Class X predatory criminal sexual assault. Had he been found guilty on that charge, he could have been sentenced up to 30 years in prison.

In finding Nova-Rivera guilty of the lesser Class 2 felonies in the earlier trial, Coppedge said the state did not prove “direct contact,” as the predatory offense is written. Coppedge said he found him to be guilty of inappropriately touching the child over her clothes and he did not think the contact was an accident.

The trial will resume Tuesday afternoon with testimony in his defense.

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