Harvard man on trial for sexual abuse of girl ‘never did’ it, woman testifies

McHenry County judge took case under advisement, to announce ruling Sept. 1

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

A Harvard man accused of sexually assaulting two minor girls “never did anything like that,” the man’s wife testified Tuesday.

The testimony was heard on the last day of the two-day bench trial of J. Santos Nova-Rivera, 37, who has pleaded not guilty to six counts of criminal sexual assault, Class 1 felonies, and four counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse, Class 2 felonies.

McHenry County Judge Michael Coppedge, who heard the case in lieu of a jury, will announce the verdict on Sept. 1, he said.

In April, Coppedge found the former landscaper guilty of two counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse against a child younger than 13 in a case involving a different girl. He was subsequently sentenced to five years in prison, to be served at 50%, and will be required to register as a sex offender for life.

On Monday, Nova-Rivera took the stand in his defense and denied touching either of the girls in any sexual manner. He said he did not know why “they are doing this to me.” The girl, now 18, also testified Monday, saying he began touching her inappropriately when she was 14 years old.

The 38-year-old woman, who is not legally married to Nova-Rivera but describes herself as his wife, testified Tuesday that he was never alone with the girls. The pair lived together in Harvard prior to his arrest in 2020 and have a daughter together.

Since Nova-Rivera has been in jail, the woman said she has had no support for herself and her two daughters, ages 10 and 12. She said she has “had to sell everything” to pay the bills, and she needs him home.

In closing statements, Assistant State’s Attorney Ashur Youash said the girls’ testimony – which included similar details of how he had allegedly touched them – was consistent.

“Judge, everything they said was consistent, no confusion, no uncertainty,” Youash said. “Their testimony could not be more clear” of what they said he did “when they were alone with him.”

When Nova-Rivera was alone with the girl, ”he seized his opportunity to molest her, to touch her inappropriately,” Youash said.

But, Nova-Rivera’s defense attorney, Robert Ritacca, said neither of the girls’ testimony was consistent or reliable. There are no witness or corroboration, and his wife insisted Nova-Rivera was never alone with the girls, he argued in closing statements.

Ritacca faulted detectives who investigated the allegations saying they failed to go to the home where the alleged abuse occurred and did not talk to his wife.

Ritacca alleged that the girl at the center of this week’s trial only made the allegations to support her younger sister’s case against Nova-Rivera and “make her look more credible.”

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